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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.]