In the style of Gladwell or Pink, I'm going to spend the next 1000 words on something I just summarized in one sentence.
- There are 3 sheep, 4 goats, and 7 pigs on a boat. What color is the captain's hat?
- You're going on a field trip. Each bus holds 10 people. You've got 31 students going and 4 chaperones. How many buses do you need?
The First Why: Why am I assessing so frequently?
If you think of a test as the thing you use to decide what to do next, standards-based grading makes a lot more sense. If you're still thinking of tests as something purely evaluative, you're going to feel like all you do is give your kids tests. I get that a lot from my teachers. When will I have time to teach stuff if I'm just testing all the time?
Yes, there are probably 15-20 minutes of "stop what you're doing and answer these questions" per week. I get that time back, and more, by using it to set the course for the rest of the periods, next day, or the rest of the week.
The old me would introduce something new. We'd work on it for a few days. Then I'd introduce the next new thing. Then the next new thing. Then I'd have a test on the last few weeks because, well, it's been a long time since my kids had a test. Then what did I do? I entered in grades. I'd be surprised by a few (good and bad) and then....move on. If some arbitrary amount of students didn't pass, I'd spend a day or two in front of the entire class "reviewing." Seriously. That's how I taught. I need to start drafting my own letter of apology.
Now? Sometimes I'll start with the new thing, sometimes I'll pretest.1 We get some feedback. I set up the next few days based on the results of the test. The non-intrusive assessment still takes place. I walk around. Give some feedback. Get some feedback. Adjust instruction again. Have a learning lab day. Then re-assess to see where we're going next.
If you look at the paragraph above, you'll notice the word feedback occurs three times while grading never enters the picture. Focus on feedback. Whenever possible, leave feedback but not grades or scores. I do spend time really breaking down certain assessments and I have been known to go all out with testing data. Most of the time, I'm simply looking to get and to give feedback. I get a lab report and take a look. I'll jot down a couple of specific pieces of feedback, including a next step for the student. The student can use my next step or choose their own. We get a chance to actually act on the feedback
Side note: One of the hidden benefits of standards-based grading is how much less time you'll spend "grading" papers. You're just looking for feedback. It's not this accounting game of going through and marking and tallying. You're also going to find yourself leaning really heavily on non-intrusive or only mildly intrusive forms of assessment. You'll ask questions as they're doing labs or working problems. You'll circle the room. You'll ask a question on a slide and choose your next slide based on the response. If you're worried about the paperwork that comes with standards-based grading, it's because you haven't changed your mindset yet.2
Teachers tend to worry about all sorts of technical details when it comes to standards-based grading. How will I input it into my gradebook? What should tests look like? How do I design my scales? That's important. But I'm going to freak you out a little here. That's the easy stuff.
The scariest part for me, BY FAR, was realizing that I might not know what I'm doing on Tuesday based on what happened on Monday. Take into consideration that I'm not an organized person. I don't write out my daily lesson plans and, despite being "required" to before I was tenured, I've never actually submitted weekly lesson plans to my principal.
So why am I assessing so frequently? Your assessments are the tools you use to help you move forward. The format is less important than what you do with them. You will like them. Your kids will like them. Ok, your kids will at the very least see the purpose of them. But if your assessments just go into this mystical gradebook and nothing ever happens to them, you've missed the point of standards-based grading. You're going through the motions and you're the kid who thinks 3.5 buses is a valid answer.
More mindful standards-based grading to come. Leave a comment if you'd like me to address something in the future. Here's a sentence starter, "I don't get why....."
Another last minute add! Twitter saves the day again. By @misscalcul8: Scroll to the bottom of this post for the words of wisdom from @PersidaB. Well said, Persida.
1: I plan on pretesting more this year. I didn't before because everything was new to my kids and felt it was just getting them discouraged. I've started a common assessment system this year and so we're going to pretest each unit, post test, then level the classes for a week. More on that when I actually, you know, figure it out.
2: I have now broken the record for "most times any blogger has linked to the same two other bloggers in consecutive posts."