Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Urgent Need for Standards Based Grading

I love moving to an asynchronous flipped course. However, it is clear to me that the next major paradigm shift must be toward Standards Based Grading. 

The asynchronous nature of the course works well for so many reasons,which I have mentioned in the past. My major struggle is the model seems to encourage, or at least allow, students to submit late, and typically useless, assignments at the end of the quarter. Most of these assignments are irrelevant at quarter's end because students already completed their summative assessments. Students submit these late assignments solely to increase their average. While the flipped model decreases the opportunity for the typical "students playing school," clearly some of that is still happening in my course! I could ban submission of assignments after the subsequent steps but that would treat the symptom, rather than the cause.

The culprit seems to be grades, or at least the traditional assessment based grading system. I incorporate assignment completion percentage into the quarter averages to encourage students to do their work. But this seems wrong to me. If we have to assign a grade, shouldn't it be based exclusively on what students have learned, rather than behavior, participation and assignment completion and timeliness rates? Don't get me wrong, I understand why these aspects are included in grades; teachers want to encourage certain behaviors while discouraging others. The easiest method is including specific behaviors in the grading system. Unfortunately, the result is inflated grades for compliant students and deflated grades for noncompliant students. Rather than grades reflecting learning, grades merely correlate or relate to learning in the traditional system. This is an odd paradigm when you really think about it! 

Standards based grading can be the solution. Students are graded exclusively on how well they demonstrate mastery of learning objectives or standards. Students can choose which learning activities (readings, videos, labs) to complete. They can redo assignments to learn or practice objectives before opting for a graded objective check or mastery quiz. If students want or need to retake the summative assessment, they can revisit some or all of the learning activities -  but I won't include the completion percentage rate into the grade. I haven't figured out the logistics but I am sure that my current grading system needs a makeover.