I’ve made a little progress towards implementing standards-based grading (sbar) for next year and thought I would throw it out there for those of you in the same boat and for the sbar pros to critique. It was actually pretty easy to choose the standards that will go in the grade book for my classes, since I teach mostly concurrent credit classes which need to be articulated with Colorado’s Community College Common Courses guidelines. The guidelines are very handy in that they have lists of “standard competencies” that students are supposed to master in the course. I have simply reworked those a bit to give my students the learning targets to achieve during the school year.
So far I’ve worked on my chemistry and biology preps and it is remarkable the difference between them in terms of the standards that are linked to each course. I am currently thinking of trying out 8 biology standards and 10 chemistry standards. As Shawn Cornally has pointed out here and here, there seems to be a difference between qualitative courses like biology (lots of facts to memorize) and quantitative courses like chemistry (lots of procedural skills to master) in terms of the standards one focuses on.
The biology standards are much more process-oriented and not necessarily tied to specific content topics. I like this set of standards because it downplays the sometimes disconnected trivial knowledge tidbits that we biology teachers get hung up on. Sure, the content is still important, but it will no longer make up the bulk of the grade.
Chemistry standards were much easier to organize, as I suspect physics standards would be, because we tend to teach sets of skills that build on each other as the course progresses. Understand atoms to understand compounds to understand reactions and so on. Hopefully with a standards-based system in place, I can have an easier time of reevaluating and assisting students who may take longer to acquire some of the skills taught earlier in the course so that they are not so lost in the later stages.
What I have yet to figure out, and some of you sbar pros can weigh in on this, is how to translate the standards that I have into what actually appears in the gradebook for students to see. I want students and their parents to know where their strengths and weaknesses are in terms of content and procedural knowledge, but I also want to keep the reporting and grade calculation as simple as possible: mutually exclusive goals, perhaps.
My initial thought is to have only the 8 or 10 major standards appear in my online gradebook along with midterm and final exam grades. Progress towards the standards would be tracked separately, perhaps in a student-accessible spreadsheet or using Shawn’s SBG gradebook. I’ve wondered, too, about visualizing student progress using Roambi if I go the spreadsheet route.
I’ll be working on the standards for my other two preps, Anatomy and Physiology and AP Biology, over the next few weeks, but I suspect that the standards for those classes will look a lot like the biology standards, given their qualitative content. I’ll also be working out the mechanics of how to track grades, keep students informed of their progress, assess and reassess, and compute final grades in an sbar system. No small task, but that’s what summers are for. (Update: revised standards and the philosophy behind them are discussed here)