Friday, June 30, 2017

Standards-Based Grading

This week I had the opportunity to attend a seminar by Rick Wormeli on Standards-Based Grading and Assessment. This topic is one that I have been thinking about a lot as I work to make my classroom more student-centered and to create more authentic assessments of student learning.

There were many salient points discussed during the seminar about the purpose of grading, assessment, and standards. Following are some of the ideas which have stretched my own thinking around these topics.

  • There is a difference between the public curriculum and the hidden curriculum of schools. The public curriculum includes the state-mandated content standards. The hidden curriculum includes all of the other non-academic factors that are sometimes included within grades. With standards-based grading, non-academic factors like attendance, behavior and effort should not be included in academic grades. The 'hidden curriculum' can be its own category on a report card, but it should not be used to inflate or deflate an accurate representation of student learning.

  • Standards are great - Standardization is not.  Standards are a wide-ranging collection of skills and knowledge that are important for a well-rounded education. Being good at standardized tests, however, does not equal the ability to make creative contributions to society. For my own courses, I need to determine what my power standards and what evidence can be used to demonstrate progress and proficiency towards the standards. I also need to find ways to move away from standardization towards greater differentiation in process and product. 

  • Grades are communication, not compensation. Grades need to be an accurate report of what was learned, not what was done. Doing and learning are two different things. A student can be compliant in completing an assignment without actually learning the material being covered. Standards-based assessments need to be designed and delivered to provide evidence of learning over time. Standards-based grades are then a reflection of  where a student's learning is at, whether they have demonstrated mastery or proficiency of a concept or whether their learning is still developing or not quite there yet.

  • No one knows ahead of time how much time it takes someone to learn something. Unfortunately, the structure of most schools is predicated on just the opposite. This idea actually comes from Dr. Tae's thought-provoking TED Talk "Can Skateboarding Save Our Schools?". Deviating from the fixed schedule of traditional educational institutions is not easy, but standards-based grading looks beyond arbitrary school calendar dates to ensure learning is not artificially limited. As a result, redos and retakes are an essential part of the standards-based grading process.

  • Feedback should be non-judgmental. When we look at what motivates student learning, it is clear from research shared at the seminar that low scores are not motivating for students, but authentic descriptive feedback is. Feedback needs to be given carefully. There should not be an evaluative component. Descriptive feedback talks about the decisions made and not the quality. With this idea, it is important to note that praise (in the form of "Excellent" and "Well Done") is a form of judgement, not feedback.   

As I move into the next school year, I am hoping to incorporate more of these concepts into my classroom. As my students graduate and move on to greater things, it is my goal that students would view failure as a necessary and normal part of life and that they would see a world of questions, and not finite answers. As Wormeli said during the seminar, the goal of teaching should not be that my students become as proficient as me, but that my students should surpass me.

Here are some resources shared during the seminar that can hopefully inform and stretch your thinking around the topic of standards-based grading: