We seem to be at a critical moment in education with regards to widespread adoption of Standards Based Grading (SBG). The #sbar edublogger crowd is doing a great job proselytizing to the masses and winning converts to grading reform. There was even a session on standards-based grading at the recent Educon at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Its not that SBG is brand new, but it does seem to be on the upswing of late, gaining potential to be the latest trend (fad?) in education.
I have some concerns, however, as we move forward with a wide-scale roll-out of SBG. One of these concerns is whether SBG means the same thing to everyone and whether we are sometimes talking past each other about ideas that could really help students achieve their goals.
For example, my school district is in the process of district-wide leadership training that hopes to address, at least in part, our low-performing status and high poverty levels. As part of this training, the out-of-district facilitators often mention “standards-based teaching and learning” in their discussions as a goal for our district, although our sessions have not yet focused on what this means exactly. It will be interesting to see how everyone on the leadership team reconciles their different ideas of what it means to be “standards-based” in some of our future conversations. Are we just talking learning cycle stuff here? I think most teachers would claim to have been “standards-based” in how they teach for a while now. Most have lesson plans they can point to that are linked to state and/or national standards. If not curriculum standards, are we talking “standards-based grading?” That will be new to most teachers, many of whom are teaching “standards” but not using standards for assessment.
Let’s assume that eventually we have a discussion as a leadership team about this issue of “standards” and decide that “standards-based teaching and learning” is pretty much the same as SBG/SBAR and that having standards-based assessment systems is a good thing for our district. Assuming we decide such a thing, should a small body of leaders in a district get to tell every other teacher how to run their classrooms?
As a practitioner (experimenter?) of SBG in my classroom, I cringe at the thought of a system like mine being forced on other teachers. Yes, students would probably benefit from the new system, if it were carried out in the correct spirit, but that’s sort of the hang-up, isn’t it? How does anything that’s forced upon us ever get carried out in the correct spirit? I can remember hating books that my English teachers assigned to me simply because I was being made to read them. When I read many of the same books later of my own free will, I enjoyed them a lot. Something about being made to do things pisses us off, at least the more cantankerous amongst us.
I guess I’m worried that decisions will be made that somehow make teachers convert to SBG and so a system that, for me, has been incredibly liberating and positive will be made into a hammer for inflicting the “best practices” upon other teachers. I’d love, instead, to continue doing what I have been all year: helping students, tinkering with my system, and spreading the word to other interested teachers as to how things might work for them in a SBG system. I get it that administrators and leadership team facilitators might love to see widespread sweeping changes to revolutionize instruction in a district, but I’d hate to push everyone to do something they didn’t believe in. It will be far better to let the climate of the school be changed from within by example, rather than by executive order.