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Quick Reflection on SBG

November 29, 2012

I’ve implemented SBG this year – an almost identical version of what Dan Meyer’s Assessment Consortium page recommends. I have lots of things to think about for next semester (which maybe I’ll have time to post about soon), but I had a moment today that highlights one of the things I think I really like about SBG:

The traditional grading labels – A, B, C, etc – are practically useless. They’re replaced by ‘Excelling’, ‘Proficient’, ‘Approaching’, etc. As a byproduct of this, grading gray-areas are practically eliminated. The term ‘I’m a C student’ doesn’t mean anything in SBG. The term ‘I’m good with these concepts, but need work on these ones’ does.

These are two things I really like about the holistic idea behind SBG and the way that it forces me to grade and how it forces my students to think about grades. It also helps having these ideas in mind when I assign grades and when I explain it to my students.

Here’s what made me think of this: I was talking to a student today about his grade. He’s used to being an A/B student in his classes, but in my class, he’s had a low to mid B the whole semester. He wanted to know what he could do to raise his grade to an A. We talked about why he had the scores that he had – he and I agreed that the thing that’s holding him back are sloppy mistakes (forgetting negatives is a big one). I pointed out the grading documentation that I’ve had around the room and on different handouts I’ve given him: getting perfect scores on assessments means no sloppy mistakes. I told him this was intentional: In my mind, an A student is a student who doesn’t make sloppy mistakes. They are careful and check their work and make sure they have the right answer. a B student has convinced me they know what they’re doing, but hasn’t convinced me that they can do it perfectly every time.

My student nodded his head and said “So no more forgetting the negatives. No more sloppy mistakes for the rest of the year. Gotcha. I’ll start taking my time and be more careful”.

I like that my answer wasn’t “do these homeworks” or “turn in this extra credit” or “do ‘better’ on the next test” (whatever that means). I don’t think I could have this conversation with such ease, clarity, and consistency without SBG. If I’m lucky, SBG has fundamentally impacted the quality of work this student will produce so it will be a true reflection (in my eyes, at least) of an A student.

PS – in case you’re wondering, I have very few students with A’s. Most of my students are in the 70’s. If they’re not, they’re in the 50’s. Very few are at that borderline D/F area – another reason I like SBG: very little room for gray area.

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6 Comments
  1. I’ll be curious to see what happens with your compressed grades (Fewer A’s & F’s). To me that’s one of the most interesting aspects of SBG.

    In our district parents are in a frenzy because GPA’s are affected. Last week one of our administrators called this grade compression an “unintended consequence.” I called BS and said NO, if our goal was to take non-academic behaviors out of the grade, mission accomplished. Those non-academic behaviors inflate at the high end and deflate at the low end. If we don’t have grade compression we’re doing something wrong!

    I’m not sure people understand that when embarking on their SBG journeys. Especially non-math people.

  2. Amy Gruen permalink

    This is a really nice reflection. I sometimes feel like I am the only blogger NOT doing SBG. The more I read, the more I think the philosophy matches with what I believe about teaching and learning. I particularly like that it puts the focus on what the student knows, and not their ability to play the points game. I am thinking I will join the SBG ranks soon.

    • Amy – your last comment – the emphasis on what the student knows and not the play the points game – that’s precisely why I switched over. If my classroom is a game (which it is – every class is a game), then I want the way to win to be ‘do well on tests and do whatever it takes to learn the material’.

  3. Scott Hlls permalink

    I’m planning on using SBG on one of the 4 units I teach this next trimester. (Baby steps, I’m only reading blogs so far too). Additionally I need the opportunity to sell this idea to administration and the school board.

    Is being a little bit scared normal in this process? Not even just the kids, but me….

    If most of your kids are scoring in the 70’s, are they ending up with C’s? What about the other kids?

    I love the promise of SBG, but working in a school where we’re just off an NCLB/Race to the Top, random useless acronym, etc list; I’ve got to be seen as not rowing too hard against the tide.

    That being said, I want my students to focus on the skills necessary- the challenges I set forth, not the letter on their transcript…

    Scott Hills

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