Regular readers of this blog know that it was only a matter of time before I came up with a gimmicky new term for what I’ve been trying to achieve in my high school science classroom. I think names are important when I discuss what I do as a teacher to improve my instruction. I’d like to avoid the label “standards-based” because it has so many different interpretations lately. I was never sure that I was trying standards-based assessment the same way as other folks, many of whom had many content standards like a checklist to be marched through over the course of the year. I’m very sure that I’m not doing it the way some state boards of education would have me do it, with their state standards appearing in my gradebook and every lesson cross-indexed to which of their benchmarks I’m addressing that day. The “standards-based” movement has stolen the real meaning of what I do from that term so I’m going to coin another one that matches up better with how I operate.
I’m going to call the standards-based assessment and reporting system that I use in my classroom Skills-Based Grading (still SBG!) because that’s where I want the emphasis to be for my students: on developing important skills, not on memorization of content. I’ve had a semester now to watch how it works with students and I am thrilled at the success we’ve seen.
Here are the nuts and bolts of how I’ve arranged things for Skills-Based Grading:
- No daily assignments for points
- No homework for points
- Nothing for points
- Its not about points
Here is what it is about:
- Important concepts for each course I teach were determined by reviewing Colorado Department of Education science standards and Colorado Community College standard competencies.
- Important skills for each course were determined by reviewing the above sources, ISTE NETS, A Challenge to ACT (and be your best) by Paula White, and conversations with the outstanding educators in my Twitter PLN.
- The important skills turned out to be the same for all of my preps: research and fact-finding, lab procedural skills, experimental design, data presentation and interpretation, technological proficiency, communication, self-analysis, and cooperative learning.
- These 8 skill standards in addition to a single comprehensive content standard are the 9 gradebook columns in individual student GoogleDoc spreadsheets.
- The content standard 1 gets its own sheet within the student gradebook for separate tracking of student content knowledge progress.
- Any assignment that a student submits is evaluated for one or more skill and/or content standards using a 4-point scale.
- Comments are left on the students’ gradesheets so that they may make changes to improve their work.
- A student’s final grade depends upon demonstrating achievement on every standard since standards are not averaged together.
Here are some links for the visual learners out there about how SBG worked this semester:
In practice, what this system does is create the opportunity for students to be rewarded for their excellent writing skills, their technological savvy, and/or their ability to help others in addition to showing that they learned that fats are really called triglycerides and that plants respire as well as photosynthesize. Content will always be available to my students whenever they go online. My job is to teach them how to access and interpret that content and my gradebook now reflects how well they are able to do so.