When the LEAD team met last week, the PLC leaders were able to share all that was accomplished on Monday’s institute day. Clearly, SO MUCH work has happened in PLC during the first term of school! And while all PLCs are at different points in their journeys, the talk of the day was aligned, leveled assessments and standards based grading.
It is really important that when we talk about Standards Based Grading (or SBG), we all are talking about the same thing. So, this blog is going to function as an SBG Q&A. FEEL FREE to submit more Qs about SBG by commenting on this blog!
Q: What is SBG?
A: Technically, “Standards-based grading is a system of assessing and reporting that describes student progress in relation to standards” (from A School Leader’s Guide to Standard Based Grading). But what does that really mean? When you are thinking about your class, you know there are certain skills or standards kids need to master. If you are shifting towards a Standards Based Grading model, you are giving kids feedback on their progress towards meeting these standards by formatively and summatively assessing their proficiency of each standard.
Q: Haven’t we always had standards that have driven our instruction?
A: Hopefully! But, the cool thing about SBG is that it forces you as a teacher to make sure your assessments are really aligned to your standards. Currently, I am teaching Julius Caesar (I know you are all jealous right now). In this unit, we are teaching kids how to decode a difficult text and how to analyze character motives that are both explicit and implicit in the text (inferences). So, when our PLC started going through the quizzes we have traditionally given for this play, there were some questions we could keep, but there were some questions we had to edit or completely throw away because they were not aligned. Now, when a student takes the Julius Caesar Act 1 quiz, we can see EXACTLY how he/she is progressing in terms of these reading standards (not just how much they remembered of Act 1). PLUS, as I am teaching now, I can really focus my instruction. I didn’t need to spend ANY time today explaining the whole “cobbler” play on words in Act 1 Scene 1 because it has nothing to do with the reading standards I am currently focusing on. Sure, if a student asked, we could delve into it, but I am free to focus on what is really important and let some of the other things go.
Q: So, is this the same as “essential skills”
A: Well, kind of. If you are experimenting with SBG in your course, you may only currently be transitioning to a standards based approach in your “essential skills” category of your course. However, some PLCs have taken the full SBG plunge! You can take any part of your course, identify clear learning targets, call them whatever you want (essential skills is just a Chris Rugg original), and start aligning instruction and assessment to those standards, and you are on your way to SBG.
Q: But there is something about levels?
A: When you identify the standards, or the essential skills, or the learning targets, or whatever you want to call them, of your course, you need to decide how you will assess a student’s proficiency of that standard. Hence, the leveling. When you look closely at that standard, what does a student need to do to demonstrate an “A” level of proficiency, a “B” level of proficiency, a “C” level of proficiency, or a lack of proficiency? Here is a real world example from you (sorry, from the English realm again):
When I read a students intro paragraph, I can place them at a level on this chart based on what they wrote. You can see how the levels are related. This does work on tests, too, not just essays or performance based assessments.
Q: But we are still using As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs. I thought SBG had to do with numbers?
A: Traditionally, a true SBG environment would not rely on letter grades and percentages, but we are not doing away with letter grades. District 214 still has a board approved grading scale, and students must still be issued final grades. While teachers may use numbers, or levels of proficiency, with their students, eventually that needs to be translated into a grade to put into the grade book. This can be difficult! Please know, this is something that the Instructional Leadership Team is working on. We want our grade books to not only reflect a final letter grade, but to be a communication tool that tells the story of a student’s progress towards mastering essential skills (or standards of a course).
I am going to resist the urge to keep going. Sometimes, less is more. Read through these Qs and As. Talk to your PLC. Talk to each other. Comment on the blog with more questions. Make an appointment to talk to me! I do NOT have all the answers, but I do find curriculum, instruction, and assessment design geekishly fascinating. And I like to think I can break it down into pretty understandable terms, too! I also love this blog which talks about applying the philosophy of SBG to any class.
As always, thanks for reading!