Department Wide Standards-Based Grading Year 1

27 Jun

Last summer I read A LOT of blogs about standards-based grading and pretty much started to re-evaluate most of what I did in the classroom. First semester I kind of talked it up a lot and ran ideas by the other teachers in my department. After several discussions and push-backs, the department decided to switch to something closer to standards-based. We’re not at 100% assessment, but 75% is better than 60%. The other 25% of the grade goes to homework/classwork/projects/anything but tests & quizzes (possibly changing this for this year).

We have an AMAZING PLC on my middle-school campus, and everyone in my department does essentially the same thing. We all give the same common assessments and all try to plan together at least once a week.

Here’s our ideal process that doesn’t always happen, but we try. I’ll also include some side notes of things I’d like to add or tweak this year.

Before we teach each unit, the department meets and deconstructs the state standards into teachable objectives. These objectives are how we grade the assessments for the unit. Everyone is on the same page for what we will be teaching. At our weekly meetings we do our best to actually talk through teaching strategies, but that doesn’t alway go as planned with data analysis and whatever else needs to be discussed.
**What I’d like to add this year is at this time to also create a rubric for all these objectives that includes at least one Released Test Question per objective. This will be given to students & families as a skills list for them to track their progress for the unit as well as a nice study guide for the summative test.

During the unit a teacher writes the quizzes and test, which are passed around for tweaking/approval before we go to printing. (Ideally this would be done before the unit began, but it’s tough to have everyone that ahead in planning) Again, everyone is on the same page and we’re all prepared to grade based on the same standards. Each assessment is graded on a 5-point rubric that breaks down something like this:

5 (Advanced)-Student has complete mastery of the concept and understands each step so well s/he could teach another student.
4(Proficient)-Student  has mastery of the concept but makes the occasional stray error. S/he would have a hard time teaching someone else, but could do it if s/he had to.
3(Basic)-Student has a general idea of the concept, but a consistent error keeps the student from mastery. This student would not be able to help a friend very easily.
2(Below Basic)-Student knows how to begin the problem but then gets lots. Several significant errors occur and the student would not be able to teach anyone else.
1(Far Below Basic)-Student likely doesn’t even know how to begin the problem. S/he could not help another student.

***The descriptions are slightly different from last year. I made the change because I’m going to describe them to students in this way. Before students turn their assessments in, I’m going to have them self-score, so that I can see where their confidence levels lie in relation to how they actually perform. Students who mark themselves as advanced who I also mark as advanced will be my peer tutors for intervention activities.

Nearly every objective is quizzed before it is tested. Occasionally those last couple of objectives in the unit are not quizzed before the test. Otherwise, all objectives are formally assessed twice. Of course other assessment is constantly occurring during classroom activities and assignments.

Students are given their quizzes back well before the test so they can see what skills need the most intervention before the day of the test. Last year if students did better on the test than on a quiz, the score was replaced. There is discussion about altering this next year by moving quizzes to the assignment category and only putting tests in that 75%. I’m sure there will be a post on that once school starts.

Once students have tested, they get their tests back and have the option to be tutored and to re-assess any objective on which they want to improve their scores. Students are required to do some form of intervention prior to re-assessment, and re-assessment may not occur during the same period as intervention.

Intervention occurred in several ways:
-Students came on their own accord before school, after school, or at lunch for both tutoring and re-assessing. We instigated this by giving parents assessment scores at conferences and e-mailing/calling home. We also had “come to Jesus meetings” and strongly suggested students do this if at all possible.
-For students who couldn’t or wouldn’t come in on their own accord, our campus did several things. Once a month, teachers would give up their prep period to go into other teachers’ classrooms and pull kids to the back of the room for short, intense intervention.
-Once a month teachers gave up their prep period and pulled kids from PE or electives for the entire period to provide a longer intervention.
-All of these groups were flexible and tailored to particular skills. We all took responsibility for the learning of all students, so we helped our own students as well as other teachers’ students.
-***This year our school adopted a 25 min. advisory period at the end of the day. We haven’t quite figured out how it all works yet, but we’re hoping to do more interventions during this time.
-For any of these during-school-hours interventions, the teacher would then give the re-assessment during class while other students were working on bellwork.

We’ll continue to refine and improve the process this year, but I was very pleased with the results. At any point, I could tell a student, parent, administrator, case carrier, anyone exactly what skills a particular student had mastered and what skills still needed work. I saw students take more responsibility for their learning. I also saw students less concerned with points and extra credit and more concerned with actually understanding material so they could perform better on assessments. Parents were wary at first, but they got used to the new system and whenever possible, they supported their students to get intervention and re-assessment. They began to accept that their child’s grade was not about points or missing assignments but about what skills their student still needed to master.

Here’s what I noticed in my grades, I had fewer As, Ds, and Fs than all my previous years of teaching. I really liked this. Students were not as easily able to inflate their grades with points for higher grades, nor were students who understood material but refused to do what they deemed pointless assignments penalized with a failing grade. I’m excited to see what changes we make this year as we continue on this journey.


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5 responses to “Department Wide Standards-Based Grading Year 1

  1. Matt Townsley

    June 27, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Okay, let me make sure I understand this right…your PLC breaks down the state standards into learning targets TOGETHER, you create and tweak the common assessments TOGETHER, then use this data to help plan interventions. Wow. Simply wow.

    • jalzen

      June 27, 2010 at 9:22 pm

      Matt: lol..yeah, we do pretty much EVERYTHING together. I love my department and everyone I work with. We can’t always get everyone there, but most of the time we do and everyone has the desire to be there and do their part. It makes it nice because we can parcel out tasks. We’re also all pretty consistent in grading too since we all take part in writing the assessments and can easily ask each other how we’ve graded things. I’ve been jealous of all you guys with your pre-determined skills lists, but since we do it as a collective whole I/we don’t have that. I decided I was ok with it though since there’s a group of us doing it together.

      David: Thanks for sharing. It’s good to hear validation that it wasn’t just me with the grades experience.

  2. David Cox

    June 27, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Nice. We went department wide this year as well and had the same experience re: A’s, D’s and F’s. Not quite there with common planning. Good for you and your department

  3. SarahKM

    August 19, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I’m currently going through the same process with the teachers at my school that also teach Geometry. The only problem is that I’m also teaching a remediation class for the students that have failed the state test and now I’m trying to break down some of the state standards on my own (and I know messing up in the process). I’m so glad to hear someone else is also having a good experience and working with others in the process!


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