Reflecting on Standards Based Grading

Now that the school year has come to a close I find myself reflecting on the changes I made in the classroom. One of the biggest changes was with my grade-book and my grading scale. I started the year using Standards Based Grading and overall I am very encouraged by the results! Now I will say the Fall semester was better since I had prepared during the summer but the Spring……well with my health issues in the Fall and the busy life of a teacher, it wasn’t as organized lol Either way I love the adjusted grading scale (students can only score grades between 50-100). Below you’ll find my reflections for each semester.

The Fall Semester – During the summer I began unwrapping standards and developing learning scales to use in my classroom. The goal was for students to use the scales so that both the student and I would know where they stood in their learning for a particular standard. When it was implemented it worked like I thought it would….for the most part. I learned that while Level 4 on the learning scale equaled an A it needed to be more than a flat 90. Level 4 should be a 90-100 so that if a student missed one question he/she would not slip to a B. I feel this was my biggest hurdle, trying to figure out how to use Standards Based Grading with our current, traditional model of grading (100-90 is an A, 89-80 is a B, etc.). I made more detailed answer keys, and truly thought about each students response and how that showed their level of understanding. I would place a score next to each question as it related to the learning scale (a 1-4), add those up when I was done, get an average and that would be their score on a quiz. Students slowly began to understand how their grade was determined and I had no protests. I made sure to encourage them to ask me questions about their scores and if I couldn’t explain my reasoning for it, we’d look at it together and determine a better grade. The only way to fail a quiz was to make a 0 or 0.5 on the learning scale, which would equal a 50% or a 55% in the grade-book. I never entered anything less than a 50% (I’ll discuss what this looked like during the Spring semester when I didn’t have learning scales in just a moment). This grading method worked great! My boarder-line students tried a little harder (a 50% seems easier to bring up than a 20%) and my final grades at the end were the best I’ve had in my 5 years of teaching. I made these changes to assist my struggling students (F’s and D’s) so those are what I’m using as data. On average, about 10% of students would fail Chemistry however this last Fall I only had ONE student fail! That was just 1%!!! This made me very happy!

The Spring Semester – The Spring semester was a little different. I did not have the time to unwrap standards and design corresponding learning scales like I did for the Fall. Instead I used learning scales from the previous year (which still help but are not as grounded in Bloom’s Taxonomy) but I kept the same grading scale: no one would have below a 50% entered in the grade-book. Instead of using the scales for grades as I did in the Fall I would enter a student’s percentage (so all quizzes were worth 100%). This would ensure that concepts were still weighed equally so that one bad grade wouldn’t ruin a student’s overall grade in the class. When I submitted my final grades for the Spring, about 4% failed. Not as great as the Fall semester but still much lower than previous years. There could be many factors for this (we do a lot of applied Algebra in the Spring) but a part of me wonders if I was able to provide the students with the same scales as I had in the Fall would it have helped? This is something I plan to have for my students next year.

Overall I am very pleased with the results. Implementation was hard. Change always is but I feel it was worth it. I plan on improving and applying this method of grading again. Hopefully I’ll continue to see advances in student learning.

***Side note: If you want to learn more about the grading scale I used, why I used it, and how I used it in the grade-book, I plan on writing a post about it soon! So check back in the next week or subscribe to this blog and you’ll get an email when it’s posted! Have a relaxing summer!

What’s that supposed to mean? Unwrapping Standards

Oh standards. What a frustrating topic. Teachers work very hard to align curriculum to new standards just for them to change the year implementation is supposed to occur. In my short 5 years of teaching I’ve learned this really is a norm in education (sadly 😦 ) so I’m going to avoid the politics that coincide with this topic and talk about how I’ve learned to interpret the standards and use them in my classroom.

I’ve always been aware of the PASS Process Skills and Standards for Science. In my first year of teaching the District I work for began implementing the Next Generation Science Standards and wanted us to find a way to incorporate more writing in the science classroom to align with Common Core. Needless to say standards have always driven my classroom instruction. Great right? Well when I reflected on my use of the standards there was plenty of room for improvement. I knew what the State required students to learn. I knew why the students were doing a particular assignment. I knew. I knew. I knew……but what about the students? It’s great that I know what’s going on but shouldn’t the student’s know too? You could ask a student what our topic was in class and he/she could (hopefully) tell you but I doubt he/she could tell you why we were doing something in particular. Think back to when you were a student, how many of you loved the syllabus in college? I know I certainly did. It outlined exactly what I was supposed to know and what the topic was going to be each time we met. Knowing this information helped me focus during lecture so maybe if my high school students knew what concepts we were going to learn it would help them. This was reason 1 for looking into how I could use standards more deliberately in my classroom.

Reason 2: my students struuuuuuuuuuugled last year with concepts that have never been difficult for my students before. When we were learning how to name compounds 39 of my 77 Chem 1 students were failing AND we struggled with naming compounds for THREE months. I tried everything I could think of to help my students. I asked other teachers and principals for help. Nothing seemed to work. I would get upset, mad, and frustrated with my students and with myself. It also didn’t make me feel better that the other chemistry teachers at my school were having the same issues. This was not okay and I was determined not to have another year like that. Reflection was a must here. What could be the problem? I can’t just blame the students and move on. I needed to reflect on what I could control, starting with the curriculum. We are using the same curriculum that’s been used for many years but our students are not the same. Five years ago I had Juniors and Seniors in Chemistry however I now have mostly Freshmen and some Sophomores. My thought? Maybe it’s time I rearrange the curriculum and alter how I teach it in my class. Sounds drastic but something needed to change and having a room full of seniors again wasn’t happening. (Side note – the number of students failing eventually dropped to less than 10 but that took so much remediation which no one enjoys lol)

With these thoughts in mind I attended the Marzano Building Expertise Conference and the High Schools That Work Conference. I chose seminars focused on increasing student achievement and I learned SO much. I became (and still am) excited about the coming year and implementing this new information. Starting with flipping my classroom to where the student becomes more responsible for their learning and I was going to begin this by making sure they knew our standards for the classroom and how to use it to learn the concepts. In order for this to happen I needed to “unwrap” the standards, when completed it will look something like this:

Unwrapping Standards

You may recognize the above image from the Student Progress Chart (SPC). The SPC is located in the Student’s Data Folder and you can find more information about the folder in the post called “Why Should Students Care?! Student Data Folders.” Once the standard is unwrapped you have started your Learning Scale! I love being able to combine strategies 🙂

Steps for Unwrapping Standards

Step 1: Once you have chosen a standard you need to identify the goal as declarative (informational) or procedural (skills, strategies, processes) knowledge. Generally, standards that require students to know specific information contain the words “students will understand” while standards that require students to show specific skills, strategies, or processes contain the words “students will be able to.” The new OASS for Chemistry all contain the terms “students will be able to” and thus are procedural standards. There are instances when standards can be both procedural and declarative. If you come across something like this remember to break it down into the two pieces so that you address both parts.

Example: The above scale is based on the following standard that addresses procedural knowledgeStudent’s will be able to construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, periodic trends, knowledge of chemical properties (Periodic Table trends), and formation of compounds.

Step 2: Determine the standards’ level of complexity by using either Bloom’s Taxonomy or Marzano’s Taxonomy (yes he has one). I actually use the New Taxonomy developed by Marzano because it is broken into only four levels of difficulty and he provides a list of common verbs that are used in each level (which helps when writing a learning scale).

Example: Look for the verbs in the standard and find where they would align in the taxonomy – Student’s will be able to construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, periodic trends, knowledge of chemical properties (Periodic Table trends), and formation of compounds. At this point you have identified what type of knowledge your students must learn and how difficult the State expects it to be.  The verb “construct” can be a way to symbolize information so is Level 2 Comprehension and the verb “revise” can be a way to analyze errors so is Level 3 Analysis.

The standard is the Learning Goal for the class. If you were to develop a learning scale the learning goal would be your #3. Students should always be aware of their learning goal. Using the above example students would know that they must be able to show their understanding of the standard by constructing something and revising something else. I would build upon this by completing the scale and then tying my formative and summative assessments to the verbs in each statement. Scale development will be the topic of another post. This one is already quite long!

My students seem to like having the standard “unwrapped” for them. As the year goes on I hope to involve the students in Step 2 – I’d like for them to identify the verbs in the standard and brainstorm ways to assess their understanding based on that information. We shall see how it goes. As always if you have questions let me know!

****As a reference outside of the conferences I attended this summer I read: Designing & Teaching Learning Goals & Objectives by Robert J. Marzano. This was a great resource!