I stated in my previous post that Standards Based Grading has been an improvement over the old system, but I also stated that there is a lot of room for improvement. In this post, I will suggest how SBG could be greatly improved (and provide evidence that these changes will lead to improved learning).

Basically, I like two-thirds of SBG—specifically, the “standards based” part. The part where there is an opportunity for great improvement is the “grading” part of SBG. In particular, we should get rid of it whenever possible.

I think that Shawn Cornally has the right idea: the goal should be to move toward Standards Based Feedback. I am not sure what Shawn means by this, but I interpret it to mean that we should keep the communication of the expectations for the course (the “topics/standards”), but replace the “grading” with detailed, ungraded feedback. All sorts of research says feedback is how students learn, and giving a score/grade negates the value of any feedback students are given.

In particular, one study split students into three groups. One group received only comments, one group received only grades, and one group received both. The group that received only comments improved the most. The other two groups did equally well. In other words, there is evidence that the “B+”/”3.5″/”Acceptable” we write on top of the students’ papers negates all of the brilliant comments we write to help them learn (in the literature, “ego-involving≈grades” and “task-involving≈comments”). So let’s keep the good part of SBG and get rid of the bad part.

In fact, once we do this, we are awfully close to Assessment FOR Learningstuff (I needed a fourth word for my fourth link. The proper term is Assessment FOR Learning).

But we live in a world where we are expected to give final grades at the end of the semester/quarter/year. How could Standards Based Feedback (SBF?) work in determining final grades? I will suggest having students create portfolios at the end of the semester that show of their best work for each standard. This means that students would have to reflect on what they have done in the class, re-evaluate it, and choose their works that best demonstrate their understanding (it is like studying for a final exam, but better). This would do multiple things:

  1. Students would be forced to reflect on what it means to demonstrate understanding. The class would have to decide early in the semester what it means to demonstrate understanding, and students would select items from their portfolio based on this discussion.
  2. This would give you a means of creating a final grade for the student—simply evaluate their portfolio according to the class’s idea of what makes for a good demonstration of understanding.
  3. In private communication, Joss Ives has correctly wondered about how “synthesis questions” fit into SBG. With portfolio grading, this would not be an issue. Students might be able to use a synthesis question as evidence for multiple standards.

There are certainly other ways of doing this, but the most important thing is to minimize the grading as much as possible. I am planning on implementing this in my real analysis courses in the fall. I will keep you posted.

What other ideas do you have? Please share in the comments.

[Update: My post is very similar to a post by Dan Anderson. If you like the ideas for SBF, please read his post.]

Tags: , ,

10 Responses to “SBF”

  1. SBG: A Small Tweak and a Feedback Inequality | A Recursive Process Says:

    […] Update (6/17/2011): Just found this post from (6/6/2011) that talks about very similar things in a great way: […]

  2. Joss Ives Says:

    Hi Bret,

    I have to say your discussion of SBF got my mind racing and I’m very excited that you are planning to try out an implementation in the fall. Here are some of my thoughts on the whole thing…

    1. I imagine that putting together the portfolio will be a new and challenging process for most of them. Many of them will need quite a bit of support to help them do a good job and one of the easiest ways to provide that support is to have them do one or two practice portfolios during the term. You could pick a small set of standards upon which basically everybody should have had an opportunity to be assessed. They put together a short portfolio based on these and you give them some feedback. Since the portfolio is your method of assessment for the greater course, you could consider making these midterm portfolios for some small amount marks despite the fact that it butts heads with the not grading philosophy.

    2. Another way to do something similar to the above would be to treat the portfolio like any form of communication which requires feedback and revisions. 75 or 80% of the way through the course, their first draft of the portfolio would be due and you would suggest revisions, with your final evaluation scheme in mind. Perhaps there could be a second draft a week or so before the course is done and then a final version at the end. Either of these options (point 1 or 2) would also help you (with help from the students) iron out the wrinkles of the overall scheme.

    3. In the end the work that they need to do over the term to show mastery of each of the standards can look basically the same as any SBG implementation. In regular SBG, each assessment would be accompanied by feedback+grade and in your case it is just feedback. As you mention the research suggests that they pay more attention to the feedback without the grade.

    4. Another interesting thing is that, since they will be responsible for choosing which items best demonstrate understanding/mastery, it would be reasonable to give them something that looks somewhat like a traditional midterm, but with lots of opportunities for synthesis and to “explain their reasoning”. You don’t even have to grade it, just give lots of good detailed feedback. Students would then be able to pluck items that demonstrate mastery of certain standards. You could also do this with quizzes as well.

    Have you given any thoughts as to how group-work might fit into this whole thing? I still don’t know the best way to bring group-work into S-B-anything.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Joss,

      As always, great ideas. I have been kicking around some similar ideas in my head, but yours are much better formed. Here is what I have come up with (after reading your comment, which was very helpful):

      1. I absolutely must do a practice portfolio at midterm. I will likely give the students an option for whether they want a grade on it; ideally, there would be no grade (kind of like your second point), but I think that students might be really wanting a grade at this point.

      The research says that with good feedback, they do not miss being given a grade, since they already know how they are doing from the feedback. However, I do not completely trust that my students will behave like the research subjects, and I definitely do not trust myself to give really good feedback yet.

      2. I have been kicking around the idea of giving a feedback-only midterm. I am not sure of the placement yet, but I think that it is a great idea, Joss.

      3. I don’t know what other people would say, but I think that SBG is agnostic about group work. I had a good experience using Cooperative Learning this school year. Basically, I had the students work together in class on un-graded problems. The students were then mostly assessed individually on weekly quizzes.

      I did do some group assessments, though. If a group felt like they had a good handle on the material, I allowed one of them (randomly-chosen) to individually answer a quiz-question for the entire group. If he/she got it right, the whole group gets credit. Otherwise, no credit. The students loved this…a little too much. They would often race through the the material so they could take the group quiz. If I do this again, (I really hate to say this) I would probably attached a penalty for getting the quiz question wrong. Or maybe they would have to quality to take the quiz somehow.

      Anyway, I have been keeping assessment pretty separate from instruction. This makes group work work well with SBG. If someone were to integrate them better, there would probably be more issues (although I think that it would be good to integrate more). I am taking baby steps. Bret

  3. The Science Learnification (Almost) Weekly – June 19, 2011 « Science Learnification Says:

    […] Standards-Based Feedback and SBG Reflections – Bret Benesh has two SBG-posts one after the other. I was especially fond of the one on Standards-Based Feedback where he proposes that students would not receive standards-based grades throughout the term but would instead produce a portfolio of their work which best showed their mastery for each standard. This one got my mind racing and my fingers typing. […]

  4. Joss Ives Says:

    Hey Bret.

    On point 1: I agree that the students might really be craving something that is graded by that point. I really don’t know much about the feedback vs. grading research, but in my own experience I have found that the students pay attention to the feedback in a situation where the thing that has been graded is a draft that they will be revising (thus using the feedback) and resubmitting. I get my students to do multiple drafts for their lab report for upper-year Physics labs. With that in mind, a midterm portfolio can easily be framed as an early draft of their final portfolio.

    On point 3: Having not tried any SBG implementation in my own classroom, I am still trying to sort through how some of my favorite assessments (like group quizzes) might translate or how they would be suitably modified to allow them to translate. It’s good to hear about your experience with the group assessments.


    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Joss,

      On point 1: I really don’t want to grade the portfolios in the midterm, since the research can be summed up by “if the students are thinking about HOW they are doing, they will not be thinking about WHAT they are doing.” However, I fear that I might have a political problem if I don’t, so I am going to ease into it.

      And keep doing group quizzes. You can find a way to make them work. If you can’t, let me know and I will help you find a way. Bret

  5. SBF Grading Policy (Draft) « Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] previously wrote about transitioning from Standards Based Grading (SBG) to Standards Based Feedback (SBF). Here is a first pass at the policies. These will hopefully address Andy Rundquist’s question […]

  6. Real Analysis Syllabus « Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] syllabus for my real analysis course. It contains all of the course policies (including my plan for SBF), and has not been proofread […]

  7. Portfolio Assessment with SBF « Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] have previously posted my plan for grading this semester using SBF. Below is my template for the students to put together the final […]

  8. Students Figure Out Which Standards They Meet | Solvable by Radicals Says:

    […] and put the burden on the student to determine which standards they met. I have tried this before (as have other people), but I would implement it different from how I did it last […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: