Trying to find math inside everything else

Archive for April, 2013

Grade Them Out of 10? This One Goes to 11

Previously on The Roots of the Equation: You All Have “A”s, followed by You All Have “0”s.

I talked about how I currently grade (or, more specifically, how I tabulate grades) in my last post, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m totally satisfied with the system. It was a great core idea, but is missing something.

When I first started student teaching, my mentor teacher’s school has just adopted a grading system called EASE (Equity and Access in Student Evaluation), essentially introducing me to SBG from the get-go, before I really knew what it was. Because the whole school used EASE (which had a 3-point scale: not yet proficient, proficient, and highly proficient), the report card could just display the list of standards and the proficiency level. But when it came time to send transcripts to colleges, they still needed to have final grades. So those were calculated based on the percentage of standards with a P or a HP.

However, you did not need to be highly proficient at every single standard in order to get a 100. That goal was achieved by earning HP for half the standards and P for the other half. But my current system (and possibly many SBG systems? Let me know) requires mastery of all learning goals for that A+. And that’s really hard to do! Why so we expect a student to be perfect at everything? No one is.

One way to deal with this is to weight mastery (5 on a 5-point scale) as worth more than it is. But that seems like a sloppy way of doing it. There must be something more elegant. And then I had the following thought:

Why average the standards, and then scale up to 100? Why not just add up the score? And then, if the problem is requiring all 5s to get to 100, why not just have more than 20 standards?

This requires thoughtful choices, but I think it has a lot of potential. Let’s walk through an example. Say I grade on a 5-point scale. If I have 20 standards, a 5 on each gets me a grade of 100. But what if I have 22 standards (sat, 8 standards of practice and 14 content)? Then someone who gets a 4 on every standard gets an 88, a B+. If then they turn half of those into 5s, that’s a 99, A+. Someone who has a 3 on everything, so some fatal flaw in all of their knowledge, but decent understanding, gets a 66, a D. This seems reasonable to me.

If you grade on a 4-point scale, you could have 28 standards. Unless your 4-point scale is 0-3 instead of 1-4, then you could have 40! The choice is yours exactly how you break it down. But I think the idea have potential. Am I totally off?

(To be clear, I’m not letting my grading system determine what standards I teach. I already break down complex standards and combine simple ones, until I find ones that fit my class best. Now I’m just having a target number of standards for that process.)

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You All Have “0”s

Last time, on The Roots of the Equation: You All Have “A”s.

To follow-up on my last post about grading, I wanted to talk about what I do in my class. What I do is applicable to all classrooms, whether they use SBG or not.

As I said last time, the promise of SBG is to promote a growth mindset with regards to grading: instead of being penalized by mistakes, you earn for proving you understand the standards and your grade rises. However, the responses I received belied that idea. When I asked what you would tell a student who asked their grade mid-marking period, most referred to something like a “snapshot” of their grade, simply averaging whatever they’ve done so far (whether it is standards in SBG, or test and projects and HW in more traditional grading).

If a student gets that snapshot every day, then it is quite clearly going to fluctuate and lead to some distress. Since my school uses on online gradebook, students can, in fact, check it. But I wanted my promise of rising grades to go through. So, I had to make it actually happen.

On the first day of class, I tell all my students they currently have a 0. Instead of 100 and dropping, every single thing they do in my class that is assessed will improve their grade. Even if they do terribly on an assignment say, getting a 50, that still improves their grade, because 50 is higher than 0.

That actual implementation of this, however, is hard. It means that, at the start of every marking period, I need to think ahead about what things I’m going to be assessing for the whole 6 weeks, and then enter those into the gradebook with a grade of 0. That way, everything will start at 0 and go up when actually completed. (Students can still see how they’ve done on things completed so far, and can determine their own “snapshot average” if they like, but this gives the view of the whole marking period.)

On the left, averages and assignments we have already completed. On the right, U grades mean “Unrated,” usually for assignments we have not done yet. The student who got an A- last marking period currently leads the pack with a 60.

But…thinking ahead 6 weeks about what I’m assessing…shouldn’t we be doing this anyway? Isn’t that just unit planning? My current Algebra course has 7 units, so it does work out to be almost one unit per marking period. And the process isn’t that inflexible: if I delete an assignment because I decided not to do it, or add something in, that’s a small fluctuation compared to the overall experience.

By the end of the marking period (as you see in my picture), everything will match up to the number it would have been had I gone top-down. But the way we get there is important. It is always better to grow.

ADDENDUM

After being questioned by Andrew Stadel and Chris Robinson on Twitter, I have some more explanations.

Andrew Stadel: I’d like to know more about this. Admin & parent understanding? Student response? Pros, cons, etc.

Me: Parents felt it was unclear at first, until I input marks that differentiated between “not done or graded yet” and “missing.” Then they were more on board. Students were confused by it at first, but liked it in the end. Admin supports it.

Pros include feeling like we are always improving and, a big one, it makes grading so much more enjoyable for me, because no one goes down.

Cons are that it’s hard to gauge sometimes (in terms of “snapshots”), especially when you get a big rush of grades at the end of the marking period.

Chris Robinson: James, can your “grades” go down per individual standard/learning target through the term?

Me: I’ve seen it go both ways in SBG. For me, they can’t go down in content standards, but can in practice ones. I do continuously assess but I feel like once someone has shown some understanding, they keep it, and they just need a refresher. (But I think I got that from Dan Meyer’s original “How Math Must Assess” post.)

Stadel: Thanks for explaining. What percent of students adjusted to & welcomed it? I like the premise of zero understanding and working towards mastery.

Me: Adjusted to, I would say over 95%. Welcomed, in the 80%. (Super rough estimates.)

Stadel: Do you have any materials/handouts explaining the philosophy to parents & students?

Me: I…really should.

You All Have “A”s

So I was thinking about grading a little bit, and how grading works in my classroom. I tried to ask people about grading on Twitter, but perhaps the medium is not the best for talking about it, because only one person responded. (Thanks, @algebraniac.) I wanted to get a feel for how people out there calculated grades, before I wrote about it, but I figure, what the hell! Just write about it anyway! (Maybe channeling Hedge a little bit here.)

So, like, I’m imagining the typical first day of class that happens. The teacher tells all the students, “As of right now, you all have ‘A’s.” With the intention being, of course, encouragement, because despite how bad they might have done in that subject in the past, right now, they have an A.

But when you think about it a little more…it’s really kind of terrible, isn’t it? “Right now, you have an ‘A’…and the only way to go is down.” So then the grades don’t reward good work, they only penalize bad. Your grade tracks every mistake you make, every little fuck-up, dropping in a downward spiral. And we talk about students “slipping” and “dropping the ball” and “not doing as well as they used to.” The whole terminology is pretty terrible.

On the surface, it might seem like Standards-Based Grading can help with this, like it helps with so many others. Students have standards, and if they are low they reassess and go up. At the end of the marking period or term, that certainly seems like a good system. For each individual standard, it works, but as a collective whole? Let me ask you this:

It is halfway through the (quarter/marking period/term), so report card grades are not due for another few weeks. A student comes up to you and asks what their grade is. What do you tell them? What is it calculated from? And how will the future work they do affect that grade, if they do well? What about if they do poorly?

I’d really like to know. Drop a line in the comments and tell me. I’ll follow up with people’s responses and what I do in another post.