Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Accepting defeat

Wired.com has a good series right now on failure. I've been stuck contemplating this article by Jonah Lehrer. He's written a couple really fascinating books on the brain. His piece is on how scientists deal, or don't deal, with failure. Here's a quote I've been kicking around in my head:

The lesson is that not all data is created equal in our mind’s eye: When it comes to interpreting our experiments, we see what we want to see and disregard the rest. The physics students, for instance, didn’t watch the video and wonder whether Galileo might be wrong. Instead, they put their trust in theory, tuning out whatever it couldn’t explain. Belief, in other words, is a kind of blindness.
What beliefs are blinding me?

I've been working on school reform of assessment practices for awhile now. I keep getting stuck on that belief that teachers aren't buying in because they're those kinds of teachers that resist any change or maybe they're just bad teachers. I interpret every response in that way. I need to take a step back and have those difficult conversations. To paraphrase Susan Brookhart, when I listen I need to stop evaluating and start interpreting. What is it that the teachers at my school really need? What is really holding them back?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

All Else is Never Equal

In a previous post I mentioned one of the problems with educational research. A post by Andrew Gelman brings up another problem. I'm actually quoting Andrew Gelman quoting himself here:
The "All Else Equal" Fallacy: Assuming that everything else is held constant, even when it's not gonna be.
There are many books that try to tell us what works in schools. I certainly try to use them as a guide. However, they make the all else equal fallacy by removing the results from the context. Nearly all educational research looks like this:
  1. Multiple choice pre-test
  2. Treatment Group vs. Control group
  3. Multiple choice post-test
  4. Look at mean, calculate effect size and decide what works
 We then get results in summaries or meta-analyses and are told to do these things because they work. We don't have the context. We're told that all else being equal this will work. But as Gelman says, they're assuming all else will be held constant even when it's not gonna be. What does this mean for us? I guess a few things.

We need to read the original sources as often as possible. While this is not always possible we should try to understand the context of the original experiment as much as we can.

Use research as a map but don't let it take control of the steering wheel. While certain strategies and systems might have a higher probability of working, you can't let it get in the way of what you see in your own classroom.

Conduct your own research. With a standards-based assessment system you are better able to use data to look at differences between your classes and between other classes at your school. In a traditional system all As, Bs, and Cs are not created equal. Even within your own class it's hard to tell why each student has each grade and don't even try to compare students between classes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It creeps into higher-ed too

Rhett Allain blogs about physics over at Dot Physics. It seems he's noticed some problems as well with what the purpose of grades are and what they communicate.

If you haven't checked out his blog you should.

I wouldn't be completely against a mish-mash final grade that included all sorts of weird things the instructor thought was important. But without exception, the student's level of learning attainment needs to be clearly communicated. Most schools that move to a completely standards-based report card have separated out academic and non-academic scores. A student would have a grade for their level of mastery in writing as well as behavior, participation, work completion, and other factors that the school deems important.

In my school, we could have a writing mechanics score as well as an ability to bring in kleenex score.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The battles within

We're on the trimester system and our first one ended a couple weeks ago. I was looking over the grades for all my students. I'd have preferred if certain teachers just came up to me and slapped me in the face instead of unleashing these travesties:


These are two different teachers although they both teach history. If you can't see the examples, in the first one, the student received extra credit for bringing in Kleenex boxes. In the second, this student received extra credit for keeping her bathroom passes. You know already how I feel about this. Not coincidentally, teacher B is probably one of the biggest resistors to any assessment reform message my group tries to bring to the school.

So at my own school, in my own grade level, I have a teacher who allows students to purchase points and I have a teacher who rewards students for holding their bladder. Change starts at home.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I'm your father and you'll do it because I say so!

Remember when you were young and you'd get into an argument with your parents? I was a, let's say, special child in that regard. Eventually one or both of my parents would run out of reasons for doing something and resort to the "because I say so" argument. I have a vague recollection from Philosophy 10 that this is called argument from authority.

Points are our ultimate "because I say so." How many times have you as a student or teacher had this conversation:

Student: Why should I do this?
Teacher: Because it's worth X points.

When we don't do the work required to link our assignments with clear learning goals this is what we fall back on.

The key then to getting your students to complete their assignments is to create a clear link between "doing the work" and learning what you need to learn. Your new conversation should be:

Student: Why should I do this?
Teacher: Because it will help you learn X.

This is obviously a constant and ongoing conversation. I've mentioned it before in an older post but it's one of the crucial mindset shifts that needs to occur for your students to really buy in. You need to make their learning progress clear and relate it to the effort they've put in. Your classroom language is crucial here, which I'll post about in the future.

Here's one example I show my kids to help them link the work with the learning. I take a survey every trimester (I show last year's results in the beginning of the year). There are two questions:

  1. Think of everything you were asked to do in science this trimester, what percentage do you think you completed?
  2. What was your final trimester grade?
When I say everything I mean everything. I tell them to count exit slips, notes, turn to your partner types of activities, warm-ups, etc.,in addition to the traditional worksheets/lab stuff. I throw the results up on the screen the next day:

I remind them that I don't give them points for turning in work. What's going on in the graph is the students who are doing more work are learning more. I should probably print this graph out so I can just point to it every time the above conversation happens but paper has become quite the precious commodity at my school.

As a side note this is a good opportunity to do a mini-lesson on problems with self-report surveys. Generally, the A students tend to under-report how much work they've actually done. Some of them do it because they like to pretend they understood everything easily. Others don't count things like coming after school or getting help from friends during lunch. So while they may have only done 50% of everything in class, they more than made up for it with the extra time they spent outside of class that they don't think counts as work.

The F student results are also skewed because the super-duper F students don't even turn in the survey.  I've done this survey 7 times now and every time it ends up similar to that pattern above with A students doing the most, a nice even tapering by grade, and a huge drop off to F.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Turning the flywheel

I've been reading How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins. If you haven't gotten to them, Good to Great and Built to Last are also excellent reads if you're interested in organization building.In the appendix he restates the principles from Good to Great. The one that really got me thinking was The Flywheel. Quote:
There is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond. (182)
So how do we get the flywheel turning on changing assessment practices? How do we build that critical momentum to reach that breakthrough point? I've been taking the one-teacher-at-a-time approach but frankly, it's slow. On the surface it seems like I'm making progress. It was a team of 1 last year and now we're up to 8 teachers trying things out. The problem is I'm converting those that want to be converted. The low hanging fruit. How do we reach a point where even those that resist all change are swept up and brought along?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why industrial designers understand education more than we do

I was watching Independent Lens yesterday on KQED. The film was called Objectified. In the beginning a designer named Dan Formosa said this: (not quite word for word but the spirit is intact):

We have clients come to us and say here's our average customer: female, she's 34 years-old, she has 2.3 kids....we listen politely and nod and say well that's great but we don't care about that person. What we really need to do to design is look at the extremes: the weakest or the person with arthritis or the athlete or the strongest or the fastest person. Because if we understand what the extremes are, the middle will take care of itself.
Again with feelings..if we understand what the extremes are, the middle will take care of itself.

An industrial designer has summed up very nicely my feelings on both educational research and teaching in general.

So much in educational research goes to the average kid. We look at the effect size. We do meta-analyses. We care about how a giant lump of kids does on average against another giant group of kids. What we should care about are the extremes. A .4 effect size is nice. What I really care about is the outliers in the group. What type of student did this treatment make a HUGE effect on? It gets washed out because of our love of averages. When we look at research, we shouldn't care so much about the stuff that makes the group move a little on average (although that's still good to know). What we should be looking at is those students or groups of students in the treatment that were extremely positive and negative. What conditions existed for this specific student to make such an extreme gain? We can move towards truly individualized education only when we can say what works for this specific student under these specific conditions.

As for teaching, I don't know how many times I've been told by a principal/other teacher/staff developer that I should choose 3 or 4 kids in the middle and design my instruction around them. I've done that for a long time and had pretty good results. I'm becoming convinced though that I need to be more like Dan and design for the extremes. I need to take care of the really high and the really low and the middle will take care of itself.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Getting rid of pretenses

I saw this article in edweek.org and have been sitting on it for awhile: District nixes cash-for-grades fundraiser. A middle school was offering 20 points of test credit for a $20 donation. People got up in arms and they had to cancel it.

The cynic in me says that middle school was just cutting out the middle man. The obvious parallels are teachers who give out extra credit for bringing in boxes of Kleenex or school supplies. It infiltrates our grades in other ways too. We're doing a canned food drive at our school and some teachers are also giving out extra credit for bringing cans. Some families can afford to donate cans while some cannot. How about extra credit for bringing a parent to back to school night? In general, middle or upper class families are less likely to have to work at night.

In the end, when anything but grades reflect any mishmash of values this is what we end up with. In standards-based assessment, the achievement scores are reported and all that other stuff (work habits, participation, behavior, etc) is separated out.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Roadblocks to learning

It would be bad enough if it cost me $25 for a single article, but I'm only getting access to the article for 24 hours. I understand these journals need to make money but what's the use of publishing if the people who might actually benefit from the research can't access it. Can't we make some sort of Netflix-like arrangement where I pay a flat fee and I can access any article or journal I want? I need to enroll in a college somewhere just so I can get access to an academic library.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Curse your silence!

It's time for my yearly presentation to the staff on improving assessment practices. By now, they've heard it all before. Currently about 20% of the staff is actively working with me to improve our practices. A few have jumped all the way into standards-based assessment. I know what my next step is. I have to talk to teachers who have been doing more of the same and figure out what is holding then back. Are they satisfied with traditional grading? Do they see the problem but don't feel they have the time? Do they see the problem but feel standards-based is not the way to go? Really, I don't know. There's a part of me that automatically wants to throw all those teachers into the "doesn't want to improve so I don't want to deal with them" group. I know that's not really the case for most of them. Maybe all of them.

So why is this conversation so hard for me to have?

Is it my personality? Or is it part of those ingrained cultural mores of teaching? I don't know. But if I'm ever going to spread good assessment practices to the rest of the school, I'm going to have to overcome my problem.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Part 3 - The sacrifices

The final post in the series on criticisms of SBG. This was probably the second biggest hurdle for me.

This was my dilemma: How do I include my rocket project in standards-based grading?

For background, the rocket project is my favorite project of the year. Students build and test paper rockets. Here's a video from last year's class blog. I loved it. They built multiple rockets and had three different launches. In the end their grade was based on three things:

  1. How high their rocket went
  2. How straight the flight was
  3. Their ability to describe and calculate the forces acting on their rocket
So...how would I include this giant project in my grading system? Unfortunately, there isn't a California standard that had to do with building rockets. I could have included it in my general Science Skills standard but really it didn't fit. I was worried I would have to abandon the project all together. In the end it wasn't really a sacrifice. I simply changed how it was assessed. My standards all include a performance assessment component. Not only do they need to be able to calculate speed on a test, they also need to be able to set up and perform an experiment to find the speed of an object.

So in the end I only had to get rid of options 1 and 2 for the grade. It seems simple now but this caused me a lot of angst. I think this worked out for the best too. In the past so many kids failed just because they didn't complete their rocket or their car. If they really don't want to make a rocket, they can come up with an alternate assignment. I have a number of students who didn't complete the car and now are just coming after school to figure out the speed.

The biggest surprise for me was that I had the same number of students complete the car as before when it was, "Do the car or you fail."

Now what did I actually have to sacrifice? I got rid of quite a few labs. It turns out that a lot of labs I do are only tangentially related to the standards. Basically, I did them because they were fun. For me, that was really hard. One of the reasons science teachers become science teachers is that it gives us an excuse to blow stuff up. Are my student's suffering because of it? I don't think so. It turns out my definition of fun is not the same as most of my kids. It also turns out that if I looked or thought a little harder I could come up with a replacement lab that's more aligned.

I think you don't have to sacrifice your pet project if you don't want to. You just have to change the emphasis. Instead of my students building a junk car and trying to get it to roll five meters, they attempted to find the difference in speed between a high incline and a low incline. If a student has learned everything they've needed to learn, why should they fail just because they thought the car was a stupid project?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A brief interlude...

Before I finish the third post in my series on criticisms of SBG I wanted to share an article from SciAm. I'm unwilling to pay $11.95 for one article so I'm going to have to take Scientific American's word for it on what the research actually says. The gist is that if people tried and failed to retrieve information first, they recalled it better in the end. Here's the money quote:

People remember things better, longer, if they are given very challenging tests on the material, tests at which they are bound to fail. In a series of experiments, they showed that if students make an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve information before receiving an answer, they remember the information better than in a control condition in which they simply study the information. Trying and failing to retrieve the answer is actually helpful to learning.

At the very least this seems to argue in favor of pre-tests and guiding questions. Where does this fit in SBG?

The way I structure my class is twice-weekly quizzes. It seems like a lot but I like for students to have pretty up to date information on how they're doing. It also allows me to change gears mid-week. The quiz (I actually call them progress checks) usually covers every standard they need to learn for that topic. If it's a packed topic, they'll get every standard at least once a week. They can see where they are and what they still need to learn. There's a nice practice effect as well. In SBG all that matters is where they finish so the students aren't penalized because they continually fail the quizzes. I've struggled a little with this because I worry that they're reinforcing wrong ideas in the beginning. The SciAm article even mentions that worry.

In SBG, all those quizzes don't hurt the student's grade because all that matters is where they finish. If I graded them traditionally I wouldn't be able to give all those quizzes because it'd be unfair to the student's grades if I kept quizzing them on things I hadn't even taught yet.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The disadvantages of standards-based grading part 2

Last post I wrote about some common complaints I get from my staff about standards-based grading (SBG). For the most part, I don't consider them to be valid criticisms. The following arguments I get are arguments about the incompatibility of SBG with our current structures.

SBG doesn't work because our (middle school, high school, colleges) won't accept the grades.
In the system I use, students still receive a standard A-F grade in their subject area. The only difference is how that grade is calculated. Even if I kept it separated by standards, it doesn't seem to matter. A school district in Alaska has been using a fully standards-based system for years with great results.

Besides, my high school doesn't seem to care at all about the student grades. I teach science. The students that do well are supposed to advance to biology as a freshman while everyone else takes a class called Introduction to Physical Science which is essentially a redo of 8th grade. They used to use grades and teacher recommendations. Then they started using CST results. Last year they stuck everyone in Intro unless parents complained and moved them. Next year they're putting everyone in Bio. Clearly this is a dysfunctional high school. My point is not to complain (maybe a little) but I wanted to point out that what they do doesn't really seem to take what you do into consideration. Do what's best for your kids and don't worry about the rest.

We still pass on students that aren't proficient in each standard so grades don't really matter.
This is certainly true and perhaps there will be a day of fully standards-based schooling, like in Chugach, Alaska. However, this doesn't mean that SBG isn't a better system for student learning. Looking at a student's A-F grade from last year provides some help but not a lot. I can usually get a general sense for how the student is doing but I don't really have a way to help him or her until I get to know them better. Now imagine a standards-based report card:

Reading Comprehension


Writing Mechanics


It's very easy for me to tell that the student needs to work on writing mechanics but his or her reading comprehension is fine. I can lay out a plan early on. As an administrator I know that even though he or she might have an F in Language Arts, I don't need to put him or her into a reading intervention class. SBG communicates more clearly what a student's strengths and weaknesses are.

I don't like being different.
Ok, nobody really says that to me. That's what it sounds like though when my staff gives me reasons like, "Nobody else does it." or "I don't want to be the only math teacher using this system." Peer pressure doesn't just affect our kids.

My principal/superintendent will never go for it.
In this case you have two options: stay traditional and fight for change or go undercover. Option 1 is fairly obvious. You keep doing what you're doing but track down your principal and berate him or her with research papers and articles until they let you try it. Option 2 is what I did. Go stealth mode. Go to SBG without telling anyone. Your kids will start telling other teachers to change to the way you grade. The parents will ask them why they don't have this same system that helps little Johnny figure out what he needs to improve. Your test scores will creep up. You'll start destroying everyone on the benchmark assessments and the CST (or whatever your state has). Then, when your principal and everyone starts asking you what you're doing different you act innocent. "Hmm..well..I've tried more cooperative learning this year. Oh and I used that oh so helpful ELD matrix you left in our box. Plus I've been putting more student work on my walls like you asked me to in my last teacher eval. I really don't know. Oh wait. There's this one little thing....."

The take home message is yes, structural issues get in the way. But if you're waiting for something to be perfect before you start something, you'll never start anything. Change what you can. If you get a critical mass, someone will listen.

Part 3 later in the week.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What are the disadvantages of standards-based grading?

Sorry for the lack of updates. The power cord on the ibook I use broke and I can never remember to bring mine home from school. I'm in dead-battery land so using my laptop at home is a stressful race against time. I'll be better. I promise.

So what are the disadvantages of standards-based grading?

When you compare it to traditional grading based on points and percentages, I don't think there is one. I think standards-based grading is superior in every way. However, there are valid criticisms that I think should be addressed. It's a long post so I'm going to break it up into a few parts.

Part 1 - the criticisms from my staff
Part 2 - incompatibility with current structures
Part 3 - the sacrifices

Part 1 I'll write about today. Part 2 this weekend.

The following are the most common complaints from the rest of the staff each time I present assessment ideas:

1. Parents/kids won't get it.
2. Kids won't do X if they're not graded for it.
3. It's my class and I'll do what I want.
4. It's too much work.

Parents/kids won't get it.
False. They do get it. It just takes time. If you're a teacher, you know we live in fear of the hands-on (read: helicopter) parents. We hate posting grades at 3:00 and getting an email from a parent at 3:01. We don't like having to explain ourselves. In my experience, the key is the kids. They really have to get how it works deep in their very souls. For me, nearly two months in, I fully admit that not all of my kids understand how the grades work. I try to take a few minutes every week to highlight certain key points to the system to the whole class. When students are working solo or in groups I'll take a few kids aside that I know don't get it and try to break it down for them. It takes time. It doesn't really click for a lot of kids until two weeks before the first trimester ends when all of a sudden they're very interested in their grades. By second trimester it runs smoothly. Expect confused and annoyed parents at first.

Two things really save the day for the parents in the end. First, the kids by in. If you really work at teaching the system, the kids can explain it to their parents and really sell it to them. The second thing is the portfolio system. If your students are keeping track of their own learning, you probably have some sort of portfolio system showing their progress in their learning goals. Bring it to a parent conference. At our school we have these cluster conferences which consist of all the teachers, an admin, parent, and kid. It usually devolves into 8 adults yelling at a kid and at least 2 people crying. Not good, not helpful. It really clicks with parents though the conversation goes like this:

Parent: Why does Student have a 1.0 GPA?
Math teacher: Student doesn't do his homework. He has a 45% in class. He's failed his last 4 quizzes. He needs to work harder and stop talking in class.
Me: Here's Students's portfolio. Student what have you learned and what do you still need to learn?
Jose: I already know when an object is in motion and how to calculate acceleration. I need to learn how to calculate the speed of an object and the difference between speed, velocity, and acceleration.
Me: When Student learns those things, his grade will improve.

Ok. I admit I'm embellishing that conversation. Usually I have to read the portfolio to them but in my perfect world, that's how it goes. Either way, the path is clear and parents get that "learn this and your grade goes up" is far more clear than "you need to pass your next test and start doing your homework."

Not only do parents/kids get it, but most of them really believe in it. There are definitely students that don't like the system, for reasons I'll post on later, but so far, students really buy in.

Kids won't do X if they're not graded.
True and false. I have 8th graders. By now they know how school works and they can spot a waste of time. If you're wasting their time, they won't do it. The history teachers at my school have an assignment early on where students need to color in the map of the US and label all of the states and capitals. They lose points for not coloring neatly enough. Clearly, this is a waste of time. If that was my assignment, I'd just copy it. If you want your students to know the fifty states and capitals, clearly there's a better way. In standards-based grading, students probably wouldn't do it. What they will do is anything that's clearly related to learning the standards. I have this conversation a few hundred times at the beginning of the year:

Student: How many points is this worth?
Me: You don't get points for doing work. It will help you make progress on your learning goals. If you learn it, your grade goes up. If you just do it and turn it in but don't learn anything, it won't help you.

You'll get that a lot. If you make it clear that THIS is the learning goal and this assignment will help you reach that goal, they'll do it. If your assignment is a waste of time, they won't. And you know what? They shouldn't.

It's my class and I'll do what I want.
Ok, that's not what teachers really tell me, but I can see it in the back of their minds. First off, it's not your class. You're being paid by the state to educate children. You're not working for yourself. We are not lords ruling over our fiefdoms. Second, nobody is telling you how to teach your content. Standards-based grading is a way to assess. You can still teach how you want to, but you now need to assess differently. There are clearly some best practices that standards-based grading lends itself to but if you still want to teach the same way you can. You're really missing out though. In school meetings we talk a lot about formative versus summative assessments. Generally, people say things like, "Formative assessments are quizzes and quick things, summative assessments are tests." Generally, people are wrong. Formative assessment needs to change your instruction. It's what you do with it that matters. Standards-based assessment makes it much clearer what the teacher and student need to do next.

It's too much work.
True and false. At first, switching is a god awful amount of work. The front-loading is ridiculous and you feel like you're spending all your time just teaching your students how to tell what their grade is. It's terrible. But where you lose time on the front-end, you make up for it in instructional time once things start moving. I have been able to gain weeks of instructional time by cutting the fat out of my curriculum. By focusing on the standards I was able to cut out a lot of the extra stuff. In terms of grading itself, it's a breeze.

Grading goes faster as well. In the old way, you were an accountant. You made little red marks all over the page and tallied up points and it took forever. Now, a quick glance tells me where they are on their learning goals and I can focus on writing feedback. Yes, it's terrible at first and yes, you will have to re-write every assessment you have but you'll gain time and it will be focused time.

Part 2 will be coming shortly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How do I grade homework?

Short answer: I don't.

Not as short answer: I don't, at least, not directly.

Long answer:

In my previous post, I mentioned that the primary problem with grades is the misalignment of the purpose of assignments (what you were supposed to learn) and the grade it receives (what you actually learned). The question of how to grade homework should come down to purpose. There are many reasons for homework but usually it falls into one of three categories:
  1. To preview future learning
  2. To practice current skills
  3. To deepen subject matter knowledge
An example of number 1 might be reading a passage in a book for discussion the next day. An example of number 2 is a math skills worksheet. Number 3 might be an extension activity, like performing a science experiment at home.

None of these should affect your final grade in the class.

Number 2 is probably the most common and I'm going to throw it out right away. Clearly you shouldn't be graded for practice. I don't shoot 100 free throws in practice and then get credit for it in a game.

Number 1 and number 3 are a little different. In standards-based grading, the grade represents level of mastery in certain standards or topics. Your ability to complete homework should not show up in your grade directly, however it will show up in your mastery of the content. If you don't read the passage in the book or do the science experiment at home, you will lose out on an opportunity to improve your mastery. Similarly, if I don't shoot my free throws in practice I don't get punished. But I am also less likely to make them when it really matters.

What I actually do:

Anytime I assign homework I write it down in my gradebook. When it's turned in, I mark it completed. That's it. I report to the students their completion percentage every few weeks but it does not affect the grade. However, I make it as clear as possible that the homework is there to help them learn. I assign homework individually based on their needs and every few weeks I throw up a bar graph that shows the relationship in the class between grades and work completion. Eventually, most of the students see that the homework/classwork is not there just to get points. They stop asking about it. The homework/classwork is there to help them learn. That's it. As an added bonus, copying drops to almost zero because they realize they're not getting credit just for turning something in. Once students move away from points and percentages and towards levels of mastery, they begin to lose those "doing school" habits and focus just on the learning.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What is standards-based grading?

It's probably easiest to describe standards-based grading in comparison to traditional grading. Yesterday, as an introductory lab, I asked the kids to try to figure out how fast a toy car goes. My kids didn't have any real background knowledge yet, but I did provide them with a meter stick and stopwatch.

Traditional grading:
In traditional grading I might have made this lab worth 50 points. Usually in science we require a lab report and assign point values to each section of the lab report. For example, I might have made a correctly written hypothesis worth 10 points, the procedure worth 5 points, and graph and data table worth 15 points. In the end, a student would receive a grade based on their lab report and some sort of point amount for "getting the right answer" that s=d/t.

There are many problems with this grading system and I will comment on them as I progress in this blog. I think the main problem is the misalignment of the purpose and the grading of the lab. The purpose of the lab was for students to attempt to figure out how to calculate the speed of a toy car and hopefully create a general rule or formula. What did I grade the students on? I graded them on how well they could follow a pre-assigned lab format. Imagine a student who was able to both calculate the speed of a toy car and figure out that s=d/t but for some reason decided not to number his procedure. On the other hand, you could have a student create the most beautiful data table in the world but completely miss the point of the lab. It's this misalignment of purpose and grade that is the primary failing of traditional grading.

Standards-based grading:
Here's where I always lose the holdouts on the teaching staff when I present standards-based grading to them. In standards-based grading, you only grade how well they have mastered a specific standard or topic. The grade completely ignores the format of the lab report1. Their grade is aligned with the purpose of the lab. The grade should answer the question,"How well do they understand the concept and calculation of speed?"

The grade reflects their level of understanding on that specific topic or standard and nothing else. It seems obvious, but in practice it's a huge paradigm shift.

1. Well, you might actually have a separate standard for writing a lab report in which case you would give two scores, one for the content and one for the format.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Into the breach

I guess introductions are needed. My name is Jason and I teach 8th grade science August Boeger Middle School. It's in San Jose, CA.

Why does the world need another blog?

Short answer is, "It doesn't." However, the reason I started this blog is to keep track of my progress with standards-based grading. I'm using a system laid out in the book Classroom Assessment and Grading that Work by Robert Marzano. It's my second year trying it out. I really like it and a few other teachers at my school are giving it a shot this year as well.

My students are also doing Scribe Posts this year and I wanted to be sure that I kept a record for next year.

Hopefully I'll actually put up posts. But if assessment is your thing, come back soon.