Basically, standards-based grading (SBG) is based around the idea that there are several “standards” students should be able to achieve by the end of class. The problems on quizzes, etc. are matched to at least one standard. If the student successfully answers the question, they get an indication that they have provided evidence of meeting the standard. If the student does not successfully answer the question, they can study the topic and be reassessed later.
The teacher’s gradebook looks very different. Rather than having a lot of percentages, the gradebook contains a copy of each standard, a record of every opportunity a student had an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge of that standard, and a record of the student’s success at that opportunity. If a student consistently demonstrates knowledge of a standard, then they will be eligible for a higher grade. I would imagine that there would be standards that correspond to each grade.
I see this system as having many, many advantages of the percentage-based grading system:
- It provides useful feedback. A “B-” on a quiz says very little about what a student knows (or doesn’t). Not meeting the “Able to use the definition of linear independence in basic proofs” standard says a lot about what the student does not understand.
- It seems like the percentage-based system encourages students to accumulate (meaningless) points, whereas it seems SBG would keep the focus on learning.
- Expectations would be very clear to students.
Here are potential problems:
- Is everything that a student should learn able to be written as a discrete standard? I suppose the answer is “yes” if you allow for fuzzy standards like “Writes clearly” or “Thinks creatively.” However, this is more difficult for students to directly use to improve. The percentage-based model allows for me to grade for these fuzzy standards on the fly, but the students never really know that they are supposed to “Think creatively.” So I think this point might be grading-system neutral—I just need to be a better teacher and clearly communicate my expectations.
- As JamiDanielle writes, it could be that SBG actually puts more emphasis on grades. Of course, the research suggests that this is a bad practice. For instance, see this video (again, thanks to JamiDanielle):
So the concern is that the students will move from grade-grubbers to standards-grubbers, and the result being that they are still more concerned with how they are doing than what they are doing.
- I suppose that I should mention that switching to SBG would be more work for me, but that is a bad reason not to do it. I am a professional, so this is not a concern.
So I am juggling three things right now: SBG, cooperative learning, and de-emphasizing grades. There is tension among the three:
- (My understanding of) SBG seems to be at odds with cooperative learning because it seems to focus on individual assessment. This is probably easy to modify, though.
- (My understanding of) SBG might be at odds with de-emphasizing grades for the reasons stated above.
- Cooperative learning might be at odds with de-emphasizing grades due to the fact that many cooperative learning techniques seem to revolve around using grades to motivate the group; for instance, I have bonus points on exams last semester if every group member got above a certain score. I am hoping to learn more about this at the workshop on cooperative learning next week).
Of course, I think that these problems can be solved with a little creativity. For instance, I could set-up an SGB-type system in my private gradebook while keeping the exact “standards” private from the students. This requires a balancing act—I need to communicate what they are expected to know, but keep them from thinking of the knowledge as a bunch of discrete things to be accumulated. Perhaps I would write a comment like “Please study how to determine if a subset is a subspace and be re-evaluated.” This would have the same functional effect, the student would still know his/her deficiency, but it might avoid the idea “I must accumulate the Subspace Standard.
On the other hand, it seems like it would be useful for the students to know in advance what they will be expected to learn. I would appreciate your thoughts on this.