A minimalist standards-based grading system: dream version

Jason Buell got me thinking again with his latest post in which he gives some great tips for all the SBG newbies. A main point of his post was for us to not be too self-satisfied with our pretty lists of standards. Instead, according to Jason, we should be taking a close look at the assessments that we are going to use so that we can define our anchors and give concrete examples of good (and bad) work for students to follow.

Thinking about assessments, here’s what I realized that I needed to clarify about my classroom:

  • Will some (or all!) students be doing something unique to meet a certain standard?
  • Is it possible for one of my biology classes to decide to learn about a slightly different set of ideas about biochemistry than another biology class?
  • How do I go about writing the assessments ahead of time if these two conditions apply?
  • Most importantly: why did I write my standards and learning goals so broadly that they don’t drill down to specific content knowledge?

To answer these questions for myself and the occasional reader stumbling across this post, here’s how I picture my classroom in a couple weeks when school starts:

(insert dream sequence sound effect and shimmery visuals here)

Students will be introduced to the new system of assessment, we’ll call it SBG for now, in which points are not summed, averages are defunct (except in the inflexible beast of the school’s online gradebook), and the highest number anyone will see on an assessment is a 4. After the initial shock, the students and I will look at examples of what the record-keeping system will look like (in my parent lettersbgradebook.com, and a spreadsheet or two) and discuss the 4 level rubric and its descriptors.

We’ll talk about why we have major Standards and Learning Goals to focus us so it is not a completely student-driven system. (I do need students to meet the Colorado Community College Common Course guidelines for each course, if they are to deserve college credit for my classes. That’s why I have the Standards and Learning Goals that I do. They are borrowed directly from what the colleges of Colorado have requested as the SLO’s, the student learning outcomes, that students are to master.)

Then we will get down to the business of starting on our first units of study. Here’s where the classroom becomes intentionally unscripted, or at least less scripted than in past years. I hope to be the guide-on-the-side type and give students some freedom in what they study in my classes, so long as they are making progress both in the content-specific Learning Goals and the performance-based Standards.  The students and I will probably have a chat at the beginning of each topical unit to define in more detail the supporting concepts worth focusing on, both in my mind and theirs. From there, they will pursue their own paths to demonstrating mastery of the skill and content standards for that unit. Surely some Web 2.0 stuff will be generated. Some inquiry-ish lab experiments will be performed. Portfolios and blogs will be created. Much fun will be had by all.

(insert exiting dream sequence sounds and return to reality visuals here)

So that’s what my classroom might look like, based on a vision derived from my summer reading and the communal brain that was ISTE10, that students need to be producers of content and they need to follow their passions whenever possible.

With this sort of idealistic, student-driven philosophy, I don’t think I can write many assessments between now and when school starts.  I haven’t met my students yet.

2 thoughts on “A minimalist standards-based grading system: dream version

  1. gasstationwithoutpum

    Is that a daydream? or a nightmare? Around here community-college students are a mix of dedicated re-entry students and slackers, few of whom have the vision for student-directed learning. They signed up for a community-college class so that someone would show them the way through the thicket, not to watch them from the sidelines.

    If your standards don’t drill down to the content, then they are no better than the vague state standards that amount to little more than “teach them some random stuff”. You can correct for vague standards by having specific lessons and specific assessments, but you aren’t serving the students well if you have vagueness throughout.

  2. Chris Ludwig Post author

    @gasstationwithoutpumps: I think a more “vague” set of standards will work with my high school students in part because they are operating in a 1:1 laptop environment in my classroom. They’ll be able to at least partially control their educational experience in terms of which sites they visit, which tools they learn to use, and who they learn from on the web. To script every lesson and learning target in a 1:1 environment denies the full potential of what technology can do to transform learning.


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