SBG, Hold The G

I have been frustrated with grading for as long as I’ve been teaching. The numbers don’t tell me what I need to know about students’ learning. They certainly don’t tell students anything informative, unless it’s “Oh sh*t! My parents are gonna kill me!”

Each year I swear I’ll do something different. Each year I fall into the same old traps. I’m grading too many assignments. I’m not re-teaching enough. And by the time the unit test rolls around, I realize too late that way too many of my students don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

Worse, no one really seems to care until the week before grades are due. Then, they ask plead for extra credit. I, looking at the mountain of work I need to get through before I input grades, refuse to give them extra work (why didn’t you just do your work in the first place?). No one is happy with this scenario.

There has to be a better way!

And then. At the end of the year. I discover it! Standards Based Grading. The holy grail of formative assessment. I realize: this is what I’ve been making baby steps towards for the past several years. And here’s a system that someone else has already figured out, tested, tweaked. I go from baby steps to strapping on my seven-league-boots.

I sigh with regret that I found this too late to implement it during the current school year. But next year…I’m gonna rock this SBG thing. But, with one small modification. No grades.

My school for next year doesn’t do grades. Instead, students and parents get a combination of narrative reports and rubric checklists. [Note to self: need to see what’s on those checklists, will come in handy for my new SBG gradebook.] For about three point seven seconds I wonder whether this would be a problem. Could I do SBG without the G?

Then, I mentally smack myself upside the head. Uh, yeah. The whole point is to use an assessment system that tells me information about my students’ understanding. Who cares if I’m not going to turn that data into a letter grade at the end? The important thing is to collect the data. So that I know what my students know, and so I can communicate that information to my students. Not so that I can assign them a letter, or a percentage. That isn’t the point of SBG.

I’m looking forward to seeing how things go next year and posting that information here. Definitely one of my big goals for 2010-11. Who else out there will be trying SBG for the first time?

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Update: Maybe add a dash of G after all. Upon a closer reading of the school handbook, I discover that grades will need to be submitted after all. Not sure how I mixed that up. There are still narrative reports and rubrics, but also letter grades in the end. I think that this is better than just grades alone because of the scope of feedback that students/parents receive, but there’s just something about grades that bug me. I think it’s a labeling issue.

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9 thoughts on “SBG, Hold The G

  1. I am also seriously considering doing SBG next fall. I am still learning what it all entails and have been working through Think Thank Thunk to try to better understand it. I’ll be curious to see how it works for you. Good luck!

  2. Good luck on your process. It’s totally worth it. Keep posting on your no-grades grading system. I’m really curious about that. Found you via misscalcul8 so I’m back reading your blog – sorry about the pink slip, congrats on the job. Don’t know where you are in California, but I’m in San Jose.

    • Hi Jason,
      It makes me smile to read that you’re “back reading” my baby of a blog. Hopefully it will grow and thrive and you’ll have much more things to read in the future. It is certaninly in the master plan to keep posting on my no grades grading system (I like that, consider it officially stolen). Oh, and don’t be sorry at all about the pink slip. That school wasn’t the place for me and I knew it. I am currently in Oakland, soon to make the move into SF, which is also where I will be working next year.

  3. Alright! Local. We’ll go to a math circle meeting or something else suitably nerdy. Again, keep us updated. I’m also going to def be curious about your new school environment. I was talking to a friend today who teaches at a charter in SF (Envision?) and it was interesting to hear about all the diff thing they do. Some good, some bad, but nice to hear different things.

  4. Hey, thanks for the article – I’m in the same boat as you. I wish someone would have more clearly explained what SBG is and why to do it. Now that I’ve found ThinkThankThunk and others, I’m finally willing (and able) to make the switch. I will be doing it with grades, but I have a feeling that for the first time, I won’t be so frustrated with them. Good luck to you on your version!

    • No problem, glad you enjoyed it. I’m with you on the wish for learning about SBG earlier. I wonder if any teacher-ed programs talk about SBG in any depth. I know mine talked a lot about standards, and a fair amount about assessment, but I don’t remember any really meaty conversations about how to use the one to teach the other. The idea certainly was put forth, that teachers should use assessment to evaluate students’ understanding of the standards, but not so much about how to actually implement that and what it might look like on the ground.

      Not to mention all of the difficulties surrounding grading, which weren’t talked about at all. Other than one comment that one of my favorite professors made–which goes totally against the ThinkThankThunk philosophy, and my own current thinking–which was something along the lines of: you grade what you value. The idea being that therefore students will value these things more since they are being “rewarded” by the grade. To think of all the time I spent grading homework (which my students promptly wadded up into paper balls and threw into the recycling) because if I didn’t grade it, students wouldn’t think it was important. Ugh. I’ve come to the conclusion that feedback and grades are totally different beasts. I like the one; I’ll take it home with me. The other I’d like to see humanely euthanized.

  5. Ooo, I would love to do SB(G) too! I wish my school was ready to jump that far in the standards grading pool. I’ve just recently realized that I’ve been doing this for most of my teaching career without knowing it and I’m going to officially implement it this year in one of my classes. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures with it too!

    • Glad to hear that you’re excited about SBG. There are a ton of us out there. Have you been to the SBG wiki yet? It’s for those of us who are trying out SBG for the first time (and a few experienced teachers helping show the way).

      Also, I can’t say that my school as a whole is doing SBG. I’m not certain that anyone is doing SBG formally. Though, from random conversations it seems that at least some of my new colleagues are doing it on an informal, intuitive basis. I’ll keep you posted as to what I learn from my own process. Be sure to let us know about yours as well.

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