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.


  1. Good post, you've given me quite a bit to chew over here. I have just written a similar post about my intentions for assessment next year. I might tweak one or two things over the next few weeks as I digest some of this.

  2. "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 don't understand the difference between a 3.0 and a 4.0. What's the difference between the two sentences? :o\

  3. Hi Frank,

    Sorry, I wrote this whole series in a row. Reading back they don't make much sense by themselves. My questions are clustered around a single topic (say, Motion). 2.0 questions are simple questions about motion. For example, terms, vocab, basic ideas like the difference between speed, velocity, and acceleration. 3.0 questions are the more complex ideas, like actually figuring out speed. All the 2.0 and 3.0 ideas I've directly taught in class. 4.0 questions are applications beyond what's been taught in class. Take it to the next level questions, synthesis questions, the nuances, etc.

    So three levels of questions. If they get the 2.0, that's the score. 2.0 + 3.0 is a 3.0. All of them are 4.0.

  4. Ah, thanks for the response. I see what you mean.

    Is there some sort of support group or online forum for SBG'ers? :oP :o)

    I still have a few questions and I'm sure I'll have more this upcoming year when I implement this, but my current way of asking questions is posting to one of the 3-5 blog authors that use SBG haha.

    If a community doesn't exist, I can easily start one with Google Groups, or maybe you guys know of better online tools. I just don't know if there's enough people interested joining and supporting such a thing.

  5. @Frank There are a bunch of us on twitter. If you follow the #sbar tag you'll start locating us. Also, I think the wiki set up by MissCalcul8 is a nice group of teachers, although math centric.

    I don't know if there's a centralized place for everything. The problem with that is it's one more thing people would need to go and check. I'm part of a few ning type things but really if it's not in Google Reader or Twitter (the two things I actually go to) my checking in will be sparse.

  6. First, thanks for all of the excellent resources. I am a newbie at the whole sbg system and I was just wondering if you had any suggestions for the following scenario. I do a lot of group projects and labs (biology, earth science). I was wondering if you or anyone else had any idea for tracking student progress on inquiry skills through such assignments. I have set the following standards for my class. I borrowed heavily from Chric Ludwig. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  7. @Rineer Will send you an email for clarification. Tracking is similar for inquiry skills and content skills. You specify ahead of time what each one "looks like" and go at it.It becomes more manageable if you specify ahead of time which inquiry standards you'll be paying extra attention to, that way you don't have to manage and track a dozen inquiry skills for every lab. The ELA teacher who did SBG last year did that for his essays. He told them what he was specifically going to offer feedback on (thesis statements, evidence, grammar, etc). I think that's a good approach since I can't see anyone looking at a dozen different standards for everything a student does.

  8. To help clarify my thought process on the inquiry skills, I am panning on treating the inquiry skills as more of a yes/no type of standard instead of creating topic scales (2.0, 3.0, etc) for each of the skills. Are they able to do skill target 1? Yes, then they are proficient and meeting the standard or no, they need to work on clearly identifying a testable problem or question. I am having a hard time trying to determine how I should use the group projects as part of the formative assessments for their inquiry skills. The problem is trying to assess a standard such as designing an experiment. I am unable to grade a single student on the group's ideas. They normally work in small groups during labs.
    I have begun listening to the groups conversations more without stepping in and controlling the conversations. Often, the students stare at me and wait for me to say something, but I guess the sudents and I will both have to learn to deal with this new approach. I only bring this up because I have read a few posts that deal with using these times (group discussions) as a form of informative assessment. The only problem is that I am not able to provide a grade for everyone because I don't get to hear everybody's converation. Do I use these as a type of assessment for the students I do hear and hope to catch the other students later?
    Chris Ludwig suggested completing assessment using "dry labs" or having the students explain their procedures. Much appreciation for the help.

  9. @Rineer - Sorry for the delay.My own blog ate my comment twice and I still haven't learned the lesson of typing it out and copying/pasting. This is kind of a long answer and will probably require a bit of back and forth. Would you mind sending me an email? It'd be more efficient. jybuell at gmail

  10. One thing I find myself wondering is whether you spell out a specific description of a 1.0, since I don't see it on the tracking sheet. I'm not sure if that's because you didn't include it here or if because 1.0 means "doing most of the simple stuff with help" you don't bother to spell it out. It's a detail, but I'm curious about your experience with this.

    1. On the first page I spell out what a 1.0 is but you're right, it's not on the back page.

      I don't put it on the back page because 1.0 isn't associated with a specific standard. An easier way to think of it is - you don't have a 2.0 until you've gotten 100% of the 2.0 standards. If you read Shawn Cornally, he uses binary (got it/don't got it). That's what I do for individual standards.

      Because I combine the standards together for the sake of connectedness, this is more of a compromise with Got it (2.0)/Almost Got It (1.0)/Dont Got It. (0) because I need to give a composite score.

    2. Okay, new question. when you start a unit, at the end of the first week, are you giving a quiz that is as comprehensive as the one you show in the "Creating Assessments" post? What if you haven't managed to get that far into the scale?

    3. I've tried a few things here. I've been happiest when I just gave the whole thing. Kids were able to see what they were going to need to learn and acted as a nice preview. On the other hand, if you don't really frame it right they freak out and get mad at you for putting something on a test that you didn't teach. What I don't like is how often tests seem like a surprise. If they can mentally shift to treating them more like pre-tests then it works well to give the whole thing.

  11. Hi Jason- your posts have been super helpful! I am just starting out and have followed much of your advice for SBG implementation. I am left with a couple burning questions:

    - If a given topic takes 3 or 4 weeks to completely cover, do you really wait that long to give a formal assessment? I am stymied in that my topic scales rely on the ENTIRE topic, so if I give them a quiz 1 week into it the questions would only cover up to the 2.0 or so.

    - secondly, just wondering how you keep tests from getting SUPER long if you cover all (up to 4.0) or each topic on a 2 or 3 topic assessment?

    - lastly, I am still having difficulty with the student who blows the small stuff in 2.0 but gets the bog picture (aces the 4.0). I gather you would give them below a 2.0?

    Thank you for any help or advice-