I’ve been struggling with having to cram my SBG system into the constraints of my school’s antiquated system of grades. As much as I’d love to say that I’m happy with the results, I’m not.
This week I’m faced with the task of finally making students responsible for a grade that will appear on a report card. Even though it actually doesn’t mean anything in terms of my course grades (I carry over standards scores from quarter to quarter), students seem to be finally paying attention to their standards-based grades and freaking out.
Before I get to the freaking out part, let me remind you that I am using standards-based assessment and reporting for the first time at our high school, as is my fellow troublemaker and art teacher Justin Miller (@boundstaffpress). We deal with the school’s accountability system of printing student grades every week and threatening the wrongdoers (F-troopers), some of whom even get pulled out of class every Monday. I suppose they are given a stern lecture or some such punishment. Clearly the whole system is NOT student-driven and relies on administrators and athletic coaches being the big brother watching over students’ grades to tell them when they are off track.
Meanwhile, in my idealistic little corner of the universe, I figured that SBG was going to increase students’ independence. They would see their grades listed by standard and take charge of which types of evidence they wanted to use to show me that they were learning each standard. Sure, we would work on some core ideas as a class and take the occasional quiz, midterm, and final exam together, but overall, students would show me what they were learning more or less independently.
You see the conflict coming now I’m sure. What I forgot to take into account was how trained students are by our school’s systems of points and eligibility lists. It turned out that as long as they were not failing my class, an alarming number of students assumed that they were doing fine in my class, even though their blogs and SBG gradesheets (reasonably frequently updated, I might add) were practically empty of any evidence of learning. Parents, too, seemed happy with student grades as long as the overall percentage “grade” was high enough, even though some standards were not yet met.
I had been reserving judgement on some of these students who seemingly had a hard time getting assignments done, preferring to keep their grade posted at a 62% D, which meant that for most of the quarter, no one was failing my classes. But this week, reality set in. I had to match my system to that of the school and punish the unworthy who were not doing their work. F’s in abundance arose all at once because many students had missed at least one chance to meet one of the standards. And in my system, each standard counts Marzano/Buell conjunctive style. So one standard not met (there’s only 9, by the way) meant a stinky F appeared.
So now I have students flipping out and frantically trying to complete required blog posts that most students finished weeks ago. A few have even resorted to copying others’ posts in their panic to get off the ineligible list. Some are doing reassessments for a lab quiz that few students appeared to take seriously the first time around (sadly, it was the only assessment for the lab skills standard in that course so now their grade is hosed).
It probably doesn’t help that I don’t push hard and fast deadlines for blog posts so some students never wrote them. It also doesn’t help that some standards were only assessed once or twice in the quarter so that I didn’t feel confident enough in students’ ability on that standard to give them a ‘real grade’ until just this week. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been teacher-centered way too often (the students I have this year certainly expected to be taught that way when I met them) and haven’t allowed students to be more in charge of their own assessments and reassessments.
That was my downfall this quarter- I bought into the system that said I needed to have specific assignments from students or else they have to report on Monday mornings to the grade police.
That’s what will change next quarter- I’m giving them their independence back.
We will do labs and activities to help them meet the various content and skill standards. The rest is up to them. They have a place to post evidence of their learning (their blogs). They know what general skills I expect them to master (the Standards). They know that they can succeed if they work hard on each standard. I’ll probably need to throw in “forced reassessments” (Matt Townsley’s term) along the way if some of the standard scores appear to be getting stale, but hopefully it won’t come to that too often if students are demonstrating their learning.
Then we can sit down together in December and have a real conference where they can defend a grade for the standards-based portion of the class grade instead of having to freak out at the last minute when “real grades” appear out of nowhere. Will I continue to “grade” along the way? Probably, since both parents and students seem to really key in on a number. The grade police, too, are watching. Let’s show them what kids can do with a little independence.