Friday, June 25, 2010

The carnival is coming to town

Matt Townsley, through some gentle prodding by me, has agreed to host the first ever standards-based grading gala. Enter in your own posts on standards-based grading and other assessment-related posts. How you ask? Allow me to guide you.

First go here.

Click on "Submit an article." Edit: As Denise pointed out in the comments, you could also click on the GIANT ORANGE BUTTON in the top right corner. That would work too.

Fill out the form, submit it, and you're all done. Make sure you submit the permanent link to the exact post you want to feature, not just your home page.

They don't have to be brand new posts. However, please only submit your own posts. If you see one you like, comment to the author and tell them to submit it. I have no idea how many submissions we'll get so you may or may not be in the first carnival. This is the first one, so spread the word. We have no idea what we're doing so we may need to clarify some rules later. I'll update this post as needed.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Final exams in a standards-based system

Programming notes: If you actually visit the site instead of in your Reader, you'll notice there's a tab for the standards-based grading implementation series. You'll also notice I've changed the blog roll titles to Twitter names. I did it in my Reader because I had trouble mentally linking people on twitter to their blog. If you're on there and DON'T want your twitter name connected to your blog, please let me know ASAP and I'll change it. On the other hand, if you're not on there and should be, let me know that too. Don't be shy. I've got about 150 blogs in Reader so I probably just missed it looking over the list.
Shawn told me he's posting on this as well and I'll update this link when it comes out, but it's definitely in the comments here. Edit: As promised.

Note to Shawn and Matt: I'm going to need a list of all your upcoming posts. I hate that you say everything I have to say, only better. Oh wait. I love that.

Just to warn you, I'm a middle school teacher and we don't give finals at my school. Be more skeptical of anything I have to say than you usually are.

Before we move on, here's a reminder: Assessment is not just tests.

So what do we do about  finals in a standards-based system? It will require some compromises.

In the Ideal World you probably don't give a final. You might have some culminating project of awesomeness (edit:fixed link) but if you've really done your job you don't even need a final. Actually, if you've really done your job your students can just assign themselves a grade because they're such master self-assessors. Some would argue that the ideal world doesn't even have grades. I understand that argument but I don't fall into the all-grades-are-the-root-of-all-evil camp.

In the Almost Ideal World you still need to give grades and you still operate in a fairly traditional school setting. You need to give a written test, not some sort of showcase.

Assuming you've broken your curriculum into topics or skills lists, you've got specific things you want the students to know and do. You also assess them regularly. For me, when I start off a topic I'll give a quiz about once a week and the last week I'll give two. Then I'll move on and re-quiz1 every few weeks and slowly bring it back more frequently as the grading period closes.

During the last two(ish) weeks of the trimester, I will fully reassess each student on each topic as needed. A student who has been banging out review quizzes all trimester doesn't need to be reassessed. It would be hoop jumping, which is what we're avoiding with all this SBG business. Think of your student that has 102% in your class. There is nothing positive that can come from the final. At best, she stays the same. I've had teachers with "fail the final, fail the class" policies. It shocks me they're willing to invalidate an entire semester of hard work because of a single test.

On the other hand, some students will need to reassess on everything. They want to take your final.

Those students might be taking something that might look like a final. The difference is that the final is based on need and is transparent. They know what they need to take and can focus accordingly. It's not a guessing game of, "Is this cumulative? How much of the first month is going to be there? Is Mr. Buell going to ask anything about calculating acceleration?" A student should never fail your class because they guessed wrong about what would be on the final.

Just in as I'm writing this: Relevant tweet by @jerridkruse

Compromise 1: The final will be given as needed. Students will only take the parts you need more evidence for or they want another chance to show you something. Goals should be clear going in.

Ok, you probably do need to give everyone a midterm or final. You might be able to format it by topic and let certain students just cross out the ones they've passed out of. On the other hand, you might also be giving a common final and have no choice in the matter.
So what's a good SBGer to do?

Remember this: Finals are just one more piece of evidence. It is up to you to decide if that evidence overrides all of your previous evidence.

So what happens? Students take the final like normal. Now you can sit with your excellent department and pour over testing data.

When it actually comes to the grade, you need to make a decision here. Does the evidence from the final override what you previously believed about the student's level of learning?

What does this mean? Assuming you've got some fairly recent assessment data on your student, you are within your rights to 100% totally and completely disregard something on the final. You have a section on your final about states of matter. Your student has aced every states of matter problem you've given her, she leads tutorial groups on it, she performed an interpretive dance on the states of matter, and has predicted the existence and properties of the Bose-Einstein Condensate through a pure thought experiment. On your final, she bombs it. Why does she bomb it? No idea. Almost Ideal World you can go back and talk with her. In Your World, she's on the beach somewhere because it's summer vacation and you're the only sucker still in school. Maybe she broke up with her boyfriend that day. Maybe she didn't get enough sleep because she was studying for her history final. Maybe she just read the question wrong.2 In this case, you, as a teacher and a human being and not a scantron machine, is able to required to morally obligated to make a decision. You need to decide if all of your previous evidence were wrong or if your final was wrong (or something in the middle).

This is where organizing your gradebook into separate topics is clutch. If you have an entry that says "Final exam" and it averages everything in, you're going to have to massage the points somewhere to make it work out. That usually means randomly giving points. That distorts the record of learning. Not to mention it gets...uncomfortable... and isn't very CYA friendly.

On the other hand, in a topic-based system, you just update the other scores as needed while keeping intact the current topic score.

Compromise 2: Give everyone the final. Use it as a single piece of evidence and decide for yourself if it is relevant and meaningful.

Before you decide what to do with your final, take a second to remember how angry you get when you hand out the All Important State Test to your kids and you realized you guessed wrong about what standards they would be testing. Sarcasymptote told me his recent NY test had 39 questions on 104 standards. Your final should NEVER be a game of chance. Take another second to remember how outraged we all get because someone out there is trying to measure our worth as a teacher based on a single test, on a single day.3

All of this is a way of saying that your tests should never override your judgment. Never let the points make a decision for you. You are the teacher. Own your grades.

1: Usually, mid-course that's not a full assessment. I'll lump all the previous topics together on one quiz and only include one or two big ideas per topic. The rest of the period or the next day, they'll work on the topic they had the most trouble with.
2: I once almost failed a class because I didn't turn over the page and see there were questions on the back of the final. My professor let me come in and just talked with me about what we learned. Take that "standards-based grading doesn't prepare them for college" people! Thank you Dr. Ebbesen.
3: If you want an assessment guiding principle, you couldn't go wrong with, "Don't do anything your state does for high stakes testing." or WWMSTD? What would my state test do?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

SBG Implementation: Setting up the Gradebook

If you've been following along, you've already created your topic scales, designed assessments, and tracked progress.

Next we're going to actually input scores into our gradebook.

Most of our gradebooks were designed for traditional assessments only. You give points for assignments and they're averaged for the final grade. Mine does that too. There are a few programs out there that are supposed to be compatible with standards-based grading, like Global Scholar. I have zero experience with those, other than sitting through a few sales pitches, so I can't vouch for how those work in practice. You can also follow along with Shawn or Riley or the Science Goddess and see how they're doing creating their own.

I haven't hit on the one-tracker-to-rule-them-all. As such, I've got a bunch of different systems that kind of do what I want but none of them are quite perfect. I use/have used three methods for recording scores before they ultimately get recorded into my online gradebook.
  1. Paper gradebook
  2. Sticky notes
  3. Excel
I still go old school with the paper gradebook. A picture would be ideal here but my scanner is currently on the fritz. It looks like a standard gradebook except that instead of each student name getting a single row, each name gets five rows. Instead writing down assignments I give another five columns to a topic and record scores as I see fit. I circle the score when I feel they've reached that level. A single class will take multiple pages in your gradebook. I don't record the specific assignment that was attached to each score. I used to have a coding system for the type of assessment but was terrible at doing it so I stopped. I can regularly record scores and comments but not much else.

I use the sticky notes to jot down quick reminders of conversations I've had with the kids. In standards-based grading the assessment type is usually irrelevant.You'll find the conversations with your kids are incredibly valuable and you'll want to write stuff down. In my best times, I can keep little notes while they're doing labs or working out problems. Often I just scribble down a few notes after the bell rings. They say things like, "Still confusing speed and velocity." or "Gets light years" or "Double check can calculate density." One of the most valuable things I've found to keep track of is who's helping whom. The kid who's always explaining things to the rest of his group knows what's going on.

The Science Goddess's excel workbook is just like mine if mine went through a few cycles of the Barry Bonds workout enhancement system. I only include overall topic scores and use conditional formatting (Green for 3/4, Yellow for 2, Red for less than 2) to keep track. I also include a column named named Proficient in All Standards and an IF-THEN formula runs through and marks yes/no if they have at least a 3 in every topic.

There are bar graphs showing the number of students scoring at each level by topic.

Lest you think I'm a master teacher, this is my second highest performing class. I have a class that's the mirror image of this one.

Setting up the Gradebook
Here's a snapshot of my gradebook. Here's Matt's.

We use PowerSchool. It looks like it's also called PowerTeacher Gradebook.

When you set up your gradebook, you should be thinking - When a student or parent reads this, can they tell what they've learned and needs to be learned? They should be thinking about what they need to learn next.

If your gradebook says Wksht Ch1.2 or Midterm, that's not so helpful.

In my gradebook I have tried to decouple the assignment from the learning wherever possible.

Instead of using categories like Quizzes, Labs, Classwork, I named each category after a topic.

I enter in scores by time, rather than by assignment. This is new this year. I moved to entering in a score every Friday instead of a score for some sort of specific assessment.1 Using the old method, when a student or parent looked online and saw a low score, they immediately wanted to make up/redo that specific assignment, whether it was a test or lab or classwork. They were focusing on the assignment rather than the learning goal. By removing the assignment entirely, I forced them to focus on the learning goal.

Additionally, differentiation is hard enough as it is. Don't make it even harder by trying to figure out how to enter grades 30 students who are working on 30 different things.2

I've changed the naming conventions over the year because of how PowerSchool formats it when I look at the gradebook. At the end of my first week teaching a new topic I'll put in something like Graphing Progress Check 1. The next week I'll put in Graphing Progress Check 2. I may simultaneously be entering a score for Motion Progress Check 4. This score is purely for reporting purposes and is zero weighted. On a good day, I can leave a comment on the score stating which particular standards they have mastered or need to work on. If you're one of those people building a gradebook, allow me to import a list of standards, attach them to a student, and check them off.

I keep track of their current level in a particular topic using Motion Topic Score or Graphing Topic Score. I overwrite this one when I see fit. I don't have an algorithm for when this gets overwritten. I err on the conservative side and I need to be pretty sure before I will overwrite a score. This may take multiple assessments but doesn't always take multiple weeks. A student might have weekly progress that looks like 1,1,2,2 but then the Topic Score is 3 because they blew me away this week. In case you're wondering, yes, I do lower my scores.

When viewed online, parents or students can click on the Final Topic Score and see a quickie version of the 4-point scale.

I like this combination of progress checks and topic scores because it keeps the record of learning intact while allowing me to not be confined by either averaging the scores or using the most current score; both of which I think have serious drawbacks.

I really wish I could display the scores by topic, instead of chronologically. Our "update" over the summer to the java version only lets us view the scores chronologically. We used to be able to sort them by category which was much better and made more sense for this method. If you have the java version of PowerSchool and know how to do this, let me know. If I can't figure out how to list them by category, I think I'm just going to fudge the due dates next year.

Final note: I can't possibly emphasize enough how much of a critical change it was for me to remove assignments entirely from my gradebook. You will encounter two situations fairly frequently once you fully embrace a standards-based system. One, your students will pick what they need to work on and will be doing something completely different from the person next to them. I anxiously await the day I can tweet that I had 30 students working on 30 different things. As of now, 6 or 7 different things is reasonably common and 3 or 4 different things is the norm. Two, you'll have one student who needs 10 different assessments for a single standard and another who showed clear mastery on the pre-test. Your online gradebook is not designed to accommodate either of those situations. Do not waste your time trying to figure out how to enter all those different grades in and then trying to explain to parents why Matthew has an A but 40% of his assignments are blank scores.

As always, leave any improvements or clarifications in the comments. I'm wrapping up this series soon. Thank you for the good comments and support. If there are any specific issues you'd like addressed - twitter, email, comment.

1: I just realized that the snapshot I used isn't spaced out weekly. The rest of the scores are pretty evenly spaced. I have no idea what I was doing with graphing.
2: It is unfortunate that grading program creators think that all students in a class will always be doing the exact same assignment on the exact same day worth the exact same amount. It is more unfortunate that this is usually true.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

SBG Implementation: Tracking Progress

So far we've designed our topic scales and written out a test. Now we're going to track our progress. By the end of this post you should have a pretty good idea of what my typical assessment cycle looks like. Matt Townsley has more thoughts here.

Step three in my adventures into standards-based grading: Tracking progress
I ask students to numerically track their individual progress for each topic scale.The purpose of the tracking sheet is to help them track their progress and self-assess. The tracking sheet is designed for student use.

For every topic I give students something like this:
Tracking Atoms

They store these in a two-pocket portfolio.1

Specific features:
1. Topic name at the top. My original tracking sheet didn't have a separate topic name, only a learning goal. I don't know what I was thinking.

2. A graph to track progress. The y-axis is a 0-4 score. The x-axis is individual assessments.

3. On the bottom you'll see the 0-4 scale along with a condensed form of my specific learning goals. I print out and posterize a slightly more detailed version on my bulletin board.

4. On the back there's a checklist of each specific standard. The far left column has the letter that matches up to questions on the tests. The next column is chapter and section the information can be found in the book.

How to use it:
Again, this tracking sheet is for them. They should get two things from it. Am I making progress? What do I need to work on next?

Testing day in a nutshell:
  1. Hand out test.
  2. Kids take test.
  3. We score the test immediately.
  4. Track progress.
  5. Set next individual goal.
  6. Start immediate remediation.
Testing day out of a nutshell:
Step 3: Score the test. I'm a big believer in immediate feedback. I need to know how I'm doing right away. Ideally, I can get feedback as I go. If you're a Montessori kind of person, they have all these self-correcting activities. If you're a coach of a sport, you teach music, or art, you guide them as they go. You probably have some self-checking worksheets. If I can't get my feedback as I go, then I want it as soon as I'm done. We go over the answers immediately. I want their test in front of them so they can immediately compare. If I want to input the score into the gradebook1 I have them copy their answers down onto a half sheet of paper and turn that in.

Here's how the scoring system works. They get a 2.0 if they got 100% correct all the way up to where it says 3.0. If scribd and the pdf export didn't mess up the formatting, that means all the questions on the first page. If they missed anything, even one thing, that's less than a 2.0. If they got ALL the 2.0 questions and ALL the 3.0 questions right, that's a 3.0. 4.0 means everything is 100% correct. I use half points as well as full so 1.5 and 2.5 are fair game. Why insist on 100%? Because your grades should have meaning. A student scoring a 2.0 in my class will understand, at minimum, all of the simple concepts on that topic. It dilutes the meaning of the score if it means, "Carina gets most of the simple concepts but there's something she's fuzzy on. That's different from the thing that Michael is unclear on, but his score is also the same." It's called standards-based grading for a reason. Their grade is based on meeting a well-defined standard.

Step 4: Track progress. I have my students write in the date in the line to the right of the graph and then do a simple bar graph. They lightly shade in the bar. You will be amazed at how often students point out the progress they've made. It is also incredibly powerful to point to the tracking sheet of the person next to them. My students usually think students are just born smart. It's a big deal for them to see that the straight A student sitting next to them also scored a 0.5 on the first assessment.

On the back, they traffic light each standard. They match the letter next to each test question with the corresponding standard. I just have them mark a plus/check/or minus for each one. I tell them that a plus means they'll understand it the rest of their lives, a check means they've pretty much got it but need a bit more practice, a minus means anywhere from "I get some parts of it" to "What class is this again?" This checklist is my way of getting the direct remediation goodness that skill-lists offer while maintaining the learning progression that topic scales build in.

The front graph is almost always based on test results. They might traffic light a single standard after doing an assignment, notes, lecture, or whatever.  Anytime they feel like they've got it now, they can go ahead and put a plus next to a standard.

Step 5: Set a goal. Immediately after filling in their tracking sheet I have them set a goal. This year I just had them write at the bottom of their test,"The standard I will work on next is _______. I am going to____." I've tried a few different sentences frames but haven't really found a difference in how they perform. I think next year I might just include a separate goal sheet in their portfolios. I'd like to create a single reference place with the ultimate goal of being able to help them determine which specific strategies helped them achieve their learning goals.

Step 6: Start remediation. This one is always tricky. I usually go over the answers with a Keynote preso so the last slide will often include specific options I have prepped. They also have a textbook, an interactive reader, and a workbook. Most often it looks something like this where I have them break off into groups focusing on selected topics. I haven't gotten to the point where I can have 30 students working on 30 different things at 30 different levels. If you've got the technology and access, I know some teachers who screencast everything and send their kids off to different stations to watch those. Right now, I'm just happy that I've moved beyond all 30 students doing the exact same thing. I get them going then direct teach for a few minutes at each table. A quick description is here.

I have 53 minute periods so a typical test might take 15 minutes. It takes another 15 minutes to score, track, set a goal and get somewhere. That leaves a good 20 minutes of individualized time.3 If you're pressed for time or you want longer and more in depth tests, have them set a goal for the next day and just walk in and get going.

Sticking Points:
Your students have no idea how to help themselves. It's really hard to get this going and takes a ton of front-loading if they're not used to taking responsibility for their own learning. It took a lot of modeling. I think the first test I gave we spent a whole period just scoring it and doing the bar graph and traffic lighting. The next day we spent half the period writing goals. There are a special few that still just can't figure it out by the end of the year and wait for me to come around. I don't know what to do with those kids. Having them create a specific plan helped a lot. One of my major mistakes was just thinking I could tell them what they needed to learn and they'd go off and learn it. Totally not happening. Setting written goals was a big step and offering a range of choices was another. I was hoping to wean them off choosing something I had created and get them to create their own plan but I didn't have a lot of success with that.

It seems like an insane amount of prep for different kids to be working on different things. It is at first. No question. But you can reuse most of the same stuff for the duration of a topic. The student will get what they're supposed to get, move up the ladder, and work on something different next time. So, yes, there's a fair amount of prep the first time, but after that it takes care of itself. I'm not a master organizer, but you could have a bunch of numbered folders or trays on a back table. When you put up the choice list (or leave it up throughout the unit), they'd just match the standard to the number of the file folder. The internet is your friend so if you have access, make use of all the applets and videos you can find. The few kids at my school that have working internet access at home will tell me that a few minutes on an applet I pointed them to is worth a whole week of me blabbering at them in class. If I had computers in my class it would probably be pretty easy to send them to specific websites to get help.

In the last post, I added a fourth and fifth principle to Dan Meyer's. I've tried to set up my tests and tracking sheets in such a way that it does most of the work for me. I'm hoping to be as invisible as possible in this whole process. The more I interject myself into it, the more likely it is a student is going to attribute success (and failure) to me instead of to him/herself.

As always, leave any improvements/suggestions/modifications in the comments. I tend to write these posts at 11:30 at night so if something isn't coherent, I'll explain more as needed.

Edit: Probably should include this link again: It's the Word 2004 (mac) template for the tracking sheets.

1: I buy these for them in the beginning of the year along with a spiral notebook. I get the notebooks from Target. Office Depot usually has the portfolios in store for, I think, 29 cents each during back to school sales.
2: Don't worry, the gradebook post is coming next.
3: Ok, by the end of the year it takes that long. The first few tests take an entire period and remediation follows the next day. We get pretty quick as the year progresses though.

SBG Implementation: Creating Assessments

Programming note: I'm breaking this post in to two parts. This one is on the test itself and the next will be on scoring and tracking progress.

Citation: I forgot to mention that I started off with the base system outlined in Classroom Assessment and Grading that Work and have spun it off a bit to better fit my context and style.

This is the second in a series on the process I went though implementing standards-based grading in my class. Part one here. If you haven't read that one yet, you should go back. You'll need to understand the 0-4 system before you read the rest.

Just as a refresher, here are the ground rules:
  1. There is no canon for SBG.
  2. Context is everything.1
In case you're one of twelve people in the world that hasn't read it, here are Dan Meyer's templates. I take a topic-based approach versus his skills approach so our formatting is different and the meaning behind the 0-4 scale is different. However, his guiding principles are the same. Excerpted here:
  1. It doesn't matter when you learn it as long as you learn it.
  2. My assessment policy needs to direct my remediation of your skills.
  3. My assessment policy needs incentivize your own remediation.
Adding a fourth: My assessment policy should do as much of the work as possible.
And fifth: The ultimate goal is self-assessment. Any assessment policy should help students to become better self-assessors.

Jargon alert: I use the term "standards" to refer to your in class learning goals, not your state standards. I use the term test and quiz interchangeably. I'm specifically referring to a written assessment that a student takes by him/herself

Step two in my adventures into standards-based grading: Creating Assessments
Before you get overly excited, this is not the post where you're going to learn how to write really rich and interesting problems. Look to your right. Most of those blogs devote themselves to that exact purpose. Grace has a good, short post on testing conceptual development. Personally, I like to use the rich problems for teaching, but not so much for written assessment. Context is everything here and I'd love for you to comment that I'm wrong about this. I have so many English learners that I find that I'm not really testing what I think I'm testing (h/t @optimizingke). My written test questions tend to be straight vanilla.

What I am going to write about today is test formatting. Not very glamorous, but it's one of those things that will make your transition much easier.

Tests exist so you and your students can tell where they are and what needs to be done next. The test itself should provide feedback.

There are many other ways to do this but tests have a couple of advantages. One: They're darn efficient. You can knock out a test in 15 minutes and get kids working on remediation in the same period. Two: There's a paper trail. It helps students to see how their thinking has progressed and to analyze the mistakes that they've made again and again (and again).

I definitely use multiple methods of assessment, and in fact it's necessary in any quality assessment system. However, written tests are the bread and butter for most teachers so that's what we're going to focus on here.

Here's a sample test. Most of my problems are drawn from sample state test questions, textbooks, and what we develop as a department:2

Specific features:
1. In the top right you'll see the topic name and which assessment number it is. They're going to reassess a lot. In my class that's usually a minimum 4-6 times for a single topic in class and even more if they want to come after school. You've got to have a way to keep them/you organized.

2. I wrote the learning goal on top. I'm actually planning to remove that. I think my original tracking sheets only had the learning goal on top and not the topic name. It was my way to help the kids match up the tracking sheet to the assessment. Now that I put the topic name on both, it's superfluous. You would think having the learning goal on the top would be like a cheat sheet to help my students answer the questions. Sadly, you'd be wrong. If anyone has a good reason for me to leave it, let me know.

3. After each test question, there's a letter that matches the question to the standard listed in their tracking sheet. Mostly, the reason for this is to help you and your students track their progress on each standard. There's a second plus. It serves as a self-check when you're writing your test questions. If you can't match up a question directly to a standard, or multiple standards, you need to edit your question, your standards, or both.

4. Questions are separated into 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0 questions. The front page consists of simple ideas, usually vocabulary or basic knowledge. The 3.0 questions are the more complex ideas. The 4.0 question has not been addressed in class but if they understand the complex ideas, they can apply those to arrive at a solution.

Most teachers I've observed cluster by problem type (multiple choice together, then matching, then short answer at the end.)

If you're clustering by problem type, please stop. It's unhelpful. You and your students should be able to identify some sort of pattern by looking at the results of the tests. That's really hard to do on tests like this. Unless your goal is to help students figure out what type of question they have the most difficulty with, I can't think of a good reason for doing this.

The second most common method is to cluster by standard. I like this method, but don't use it. I really like it for some purposes and designed our department benchmarks in this way. The strength is that there's a direct line between "what I missed on this test" and "what I need to work on." Remediation is really straightforward. Since I cluster my test questions by complexity, there's an extra step they need to work through to figure out what needs to be done next. It's not a difficult step, but some students will need more hand holding than I prefer.

So why do I choose to group my tests in this method? The most obvious is that this is how my grading scale works. It's really clear both to my students and to myself what score the test will receive. There's a better reason for choosing this method though.

I often come back to how I think using topics helps create connections across standards better than skill-based assessments and here's another example. In a skill-based assessment, students can easily see what specific standard they need help on, however because of the very format of the assessment (chunked by standards and often on separate pieces of paper) it is harder to look for patterns of errors and broad misconceptions. In a topic-based system, it is easier to see systematic errors.3

Imagine a student missing questions 7 and 9 on the test above. I could ask them to go and learn more about both states of matter and the kinetic molecular theory. In a skills-based assessment that would be my default, especially if those standards were assessed at separate times. In a topic-based system, when I read the answers together I might realize that the student has a knowledge gap that's affecting both questions. For example he/she might not understand the relationship between temperature and molecular motion, which is necessary to answer both questions.

Additionally, by clustering from simple to complex, I can quickly focus on a few common problem areas. If they're stuck on the first page, it's usually something like, "He has no idea what an atom is so he's just guessing at everything" or "She is confusing velocity and speed." If the difficulties occur on the 3.0 questions, I can rule out all of the simple stuff because I've seen that they've mastered that already.

This is totally possible to do with an assessment grouped by standard. I think the trade off of more direct remediation for making connections/ease of scoring is worth it.

All of this is a really long-winded way of saying that if you're going to implement a topic-based system, it makes sense to design your assessments by topic. Since you've taken the time to build a learning progression into your topic, keep that intact as well.

Sticking Points:
You can't figure out how to cram an entire topic into a single test without making it the SAT. You're aiming for frequent smaller assessments rather than a big one at the end of a unit. Don't feel the need to cram every last question in. Get to it next time. Notice that the second question only deals with the charge of a neutron. In other assessments I would have the properties of protons or electrons as well. Generally, if a student doesn't know the neutron is neutral, they're also not going to know the proton is positive and electron is negative. I don't feel the need to put all three on the same test. I just want to get an idea for what they know so I know what to teach next.

You've made this great topic scale but don't know how to write questions for it. I've found that commonly the problem isn't that I can't come up with a question for a standard, it's that the standard doesn't lend itself to being answered in a standard testing format. You just can't assess your state's oral language standards in writing. In your classroom, anything is an assessment. You've got your topic scales, get them to do whatever it is they need to do and evaluate it against those scales. My textbook's assessment software includes questions with pictures of a triple-beam balance and different arrows pointing at the numbers. You're supposed to then tell the mass of the object on the balance. I could do that. Or I could not be the laziest person ever and get out the triple beam balances and walk around as they determine the mass of different objects. For the most part, teachers seem to be pretty good about understanding that different modes of assessment are necessary. We're not as good at realizing that those other modes should be replacing written tests. Most teachers I know would start with having the actual triple beam balances out but then pull out the written tests later. Either they don't think it should count unless it's on a test or they're worried about CYA or they're just in the habit of putting everything on a test. Break the habit. Everything doesn't need to eventually show up in multiple choice format.

Next up: Scoring the assessment and tracking progress

1: Forgot to mention this last time. The book Mount Pleasant is about the high school my kids feed into. Don't buy it, but if you're in California you might want to check it out from your library and read what our current insurance commissioner and aspiring governor thinks of public schools. 
2: Teaser: After the implementation series is done, I'm going to start on the joys of common assessments. Most teachers I talk to hate them. If you do, you're doing it wrong. More likely, your school is doing it to you wrong.
3: It's easier for me at least. I don't have a good system, or even a mediocre system, for teaching students to look for patterns of errors and misconceptions.