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More Reflections on SBG

December 3, 2012

In my last post, Scott posted this comment:

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…

Here’s my answer:

Hey Scott,

Yes – it is scary to do SBG. I feel like I’ve put it all out on the table – there is nothing to shield me from that grade I give students. Jason Buell had a blog post about this a while ago that I’ve returned to a few times this year to reassure myself – I highly recommend it:

My students tend to fall in 4 distinct categories:

My exceeding students have A’s and B’s – they perform nearly perfect on test and retake anything so they can have the highest score. They’ve internalized the idea that they need to take their time, check their work, and make sure they completely understand a concept before taking the test.

My proficient students are in the C range. Some are high-D’s (almost a C), some are high C’s (almost a B). For the most part, they’re doing fine – maybe a few skills that they need to pinpoint and work on. They still treat my assessments like the tests in their other classes: they’re mostly prepared when we take assessments hope to get enough correct to have a passing grade, except my assessments have so few questions on them that it’s obvious when they have a weakness. They’re not used to not having points and percentages to shield their understanding from their grade. Also, most of my class averages are in the low C/high D range. This isn’t because I have several high-achieving students and several very low-achieving students and the average happens to land here (as has happened to me before SBG). Instead, the averages are in these spots because my grades tend to follow a normal distribution and this is where the distribution lands. This also makes the average more meaningful to me when I look at my class data – in the past, I would sometimes examine the median because it was a better representation – SBG lets me consider the mean instead.

My approaching students are in the mid 40s-mid 50s range. Traditionally, these would probably be D students – they learn enough to barely get by; a surface understanding of the material. Or maybe they struggle with material from previous grades and it affects the math we’re learning now. They play the classroom game by asking ‘What is the bare minimum I need to get by?’. SBG makes their knowledge transparent: something major is missing and the only way to fix it is to change your behavior as a student, or seriously consider coming in for help on whatever it is that’s not clicking. One of my favorite things about SBG is that this group of students can’t hide behind a low D or high F and, at the last minute, make up a few assignments and still barely slip by.

My falls far below students have scores in the 15-30% range. They usually have attendance issues or need severe remediation (integer skills, algebra skills, etc). One nice thing about SBG is it makes remediation easier: we need to focus on just this one thing, then you can retake just this one thing, then we can move onto the next one thing. It doesn’t overwhelm this type of student.

Thanks for reading,

Dan Schneider

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