Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Looking Back on my First Year of Standards Based Grading

The move to standards based grading solved many issues from last year. Conversations shifted away from percentages to learning. When a student struggled, we talked about specific learning targets rather than scores or whether an assignment was turned in or not. Equally as significant was the shift in my role. I wrote at the end of last year's reflection blog post, I felt like a study hall monitor, spending the bulk of my time checking off assignments. This year, I'm proud to report I spent most of my time answering questions, giving feedback and challenging students as they tried to convince me they understood learning targets. 

I had a better clue about what my students knew and did not know. I was better able to communicate the progress of each student and many students had a much clearer idea of what they needed to work on.  Admittedly, a number of my students shared they didn't pay attention to the "I can" statements. I believe a solution is to change the hot seat discussions; students will decide how they want to prove to me they understand an "I can" statement before gaining permission to take a summative quiz. 

The tracking system and grade book were clear and helpful. All activities were aligned to learning targets. In previous years, students argued they could learn without completing certain assignments - this was not as much a criticism this year. Even if some students did not pay attention to the "I can" statements, students were aware of what they needed to do and why they needed to complete certain assignments.

Most important was the buy-in of my students to revise and redo assignments. Many of my students appeared to have or develop a growth mindset regarding science class - or at least, this particular science class. Of course, some students didn't want to do quiz error forms and the obstacles I put in place for permissions to redo quizzes, but they all wanted the redos. 

Given that some students paid very little attention to the standards, it's no surprise that only a handful of students opted for mastery level on the standards. Some students shared reluctance in completing the projects because they were fearful of falling behind. Students also questioned my prohibition of using class time for these projects - a decision made to encourage students to move forward and not fall behind, which I am currently rethinking.

There are other tweaks that come to mind. I wonder if I should require students to earn a perfect score on the quizzes to earn proficient, instead of 80%. The argument makes sense. If students really understand the concept, they should be able to answer 5 out of 5 application level questions. This would require expanding my question bank and opening quiz attempts to five, instead of three. I would have to adjust my retake policy to account for the increased attempts. Alternatively, the most recent, not the highest, score on a summative assessment will stand. If a student retakes a quiz and earns a lower score, then that score will be used to evaluate the student. Again, if a student truly understands a concept, they should be able to pass a similar assessment a few days after a previous attempt. If they earn a lower score after a subsequent attempt, then arguably, the student did not really understand the learning target.

The most important adjustment I need to make is crafting the learning targets that span over several units. This year, I focused on the content standards specific to certain units. This was a decision of convenience. Unfortunately, the result was inconsistent and informal tracking and assessment of the important science process skills like organizing and analyzing data and using evidence to support claims. 

Even though I'm rethinking some of the finer details and execution of standards based grading, I have enough evidence that the model works. I look forward to a second year of standards based grading.