Friday, July 16, 2010

Standards-Based Grading: Year 2

NOTICE: For those coming from the SBG Gala, this post turned into a brain-dump about my entire experience with SBG. For a shorter read, please jump to my explanation of why everyone should try SBG.

Well, another seven months have gone by without a single post here...but when I saw an upcoming blog carnival on SBG it finally spurred me to start working on a new post. [Update: AUGH! Misread deadline as July 16 not July 15! Oh well, maybe this will still be a part of it…if not, finally wrote another post]

WHO, WHEN, & WHERE: I just finished my second year teaching, and my first full year attempting to use standards-based grading in my classroom. I wanted to work with disadvantaged kids, so I looked for work in the inner city – and found it. My school is 91% Hispanic, in an old barrio area of Phoenix. Overwhelmingly poor, illegally in the US, extremely high turnover, and non-English-speaking. On the other hand, I have an administration I LOVE (with few exceptions), a great math department, and I really do love our kids. They’re often brats, but they’re teenagers – they’re just doing their jobs! :-) And so many are hardworking, respectful, and sweet – enough to make it worthwhile.

I can sum up my students’ math abilities easily because I’ve used the same sentence when talking to friends and family: “I can assume that all my freshman students can add, and subtract when the answer is positive.” ( 5-3 is 2, but unfortunately, 3-5 becomes 2 as well) Sometimes I blame their earlier teachers, sometimes I sympathize with them. But for better or worse, my PLC doesn’t start Algebra 1 on the first day. Our district has budgeted 4 weeks for review; our school ends up spending NINE. That means that the true Algebra 1 curriculum is squeezed into the remaining nine weeks. Surprised that 40% fail and retake it? I didn’t think so.

WHAT: I tried a version in the fourth quarter of my first year, at the end of Algebra 1, but last year I started from the beginning. You can see a copy of the concept checklist (I’ve borrowed heavily from Dan Meyers) in a mandated (sorry Shawn, keeping that!) student notebook here:

From Classroom Activities

I worked hard over my first summer vacation to develop my concept checklist, and its continued to grow.). Here’s the Fall 2010 version:


Several changes are:

1)I used dy/dan’s latest suggestion to change the format. Now instead of writing in their scores, like in the student example above, they’re going to color in a new box every time their score goes up (but not erase if scores go down. I don’t agree with Dan’s assumption that if they learn it once they can relearn quickly, because I still don’t think two quizzes show understanding in long-term memory. On the other hand, I believe Shawn Cornelly’s idea of dynamic quiz grades will keep my kids from trying to raise their grade. So many times I told a kid “Just try! I won’t lower your score, so no harm in trying.” and this amazing look of PEACE came over their faces as they bent over the paper and started. I’ll be using in-class review, tests, and finals to work on long-term memory. And yes, this IS a long parenthetical comment.)

2)My PLC teaches about like terms and variables, then dumps them for integer operations and the kids forget. I feel like we’re pretending to ourselves. We aren’t doing Algebra 1 at the beginning, let’s be honest about that. I’m moving any mention of variables to the beginning of equations.

3)The thick bars across the page divide them into sections that I see as benchmarks. This list does cover everything in our district standards and final exam, and almost in the same order (see above). But I reorganized to cover “big ideas” as I see them: arithmetic, integers, one-variable equations, and two-variable equations. Last year my goal was to keep track of every student’s goals and reward them with a pizza party when the whole class mastered one set of standards. With four sets, I felt sure each class could get one party. But it never happened. This year I’m posting them on the board to get my students to hold ME accountable. Nothing makes my student happier than telling me I owe them something and I better hand it over now!

HOW: Last year I started with the most fresh, wonderful hopes of concept checklists beautifully filled out. It certainly made a difference, but I didn’t implement it well enough. Our school is a test site for a new plan to teach one semester of algebra and one semester of geometry each year. I was sure I could use my concept checklist through the first semester, but it petered out after 3 months. I already had a list of specific learning targets, vocabulary words, and “big ideas” (mostly involving different ways of modeling mathematical ideas) for each concept, and I built quizzes using that.

1) Like the rest of the math ed blog community, counting on kids coming in after school didn’t work. They would only flow in at the end of each grading period, when my tutoring hours suddenly become filled with students demanding – not asking – to know their grade NOW (they threw away the report I handed out three hours ago) and expecting to fix it in the next five minutes. Faced with a written record of their lack of work, many usually friendly kids can become almost verbally abusive. I’ve come to dread the end of each term. This year I’ll determined to implement that I only thought about last semester: mandatory tutoring for anyone two concepts or more behind. Even if it lasts one month, it’ll make a huge difference.

2) I have discovered what all parents and bosses know: there is a disconnect in many human brains that does not let them easily understand that “not understanding -> need to practice -> then will understand.” Since I don’t believe in extra credit and only rarely give it to get extra cooperation when my mental health is strained, I would require students to do extra practice to learn for no points, so they could take the quiz. This resulted in whining and/or anger for 90% of students who are trained to be rewarded by points like trained seals (and I confess, I use this to help me manage 34 teenagers at once. I’m required by my school to give points for HW and classwork, and anyway I’m just not ready yet to give that up. Maybe someday.) I’m still working on how to fix this. I know I’m a softie and let whining start and continue too much

3) Once a week in class is not enough. I’m going to try twice a week this year. Also, one HUGE difference: returning quizzes the next day isn’t enough. I sometimes fell behind and did even worse, but even one day is too long. I plan to give quizzes at the beginning of the class, give them a short review assignment, and grade and return them NOW. They’ll color in their checklist before they leave class that day.

WHY: It works.

I can see the potential in it.

I can see how it helped the kids at the beginning when I kept up and redid quizzes frequently.

I can see how easy it was to tutor someone in “multiplying and dividing integers” instead of tutoring them on “Test 1” or even “Quiz 1”.

I can see how they cheer when they hit a 4 on their quizzes – kids who NEVER get more than a 70 (or 60… or 50…) on a test because they can’t read word problems or directions, they get overwhelmed by the length of a test, they have test anxiety, etc. etc. etc.

I can see how much it helped me keep track of the true level of mastery and understanding in each class.

I can see how it changed the way I view grading! An unexpected bonus is that I LOVE grading concept quizzes. I am mandated to use PLC-made tests and quizzes, and grading them is the most boring, painful thing I can think of. But my extra concept quizzes are FUN! I cheer every time a kid gets a four or a three, and I know who I’m grading, unlike when I’m scanning along page four of a PLC test. Since I can grade a whole class in ten minutes, I have a gut feeling by the end as to what my next step should be.

I can see the potention for self-evaluation in our kids. It didn’t work well last year, but I’m just beginning.

SBG GOAL FOR NEXT YEAR: Use it all year. Follow all ideas about implementation.

REASONABLE SBG GOAL FOR NEXT YEAR: Follow my intentions of biweekly quizzes, returning quizzes in the same class period, and mandatory tutoring for the first nine weeks. If my gut is right, I’ll see enough success to give me an energy boost for the rest of the semester. If not, if stress and lack of energy take over, I’ll lick my wounds and assess as usual until December, spending that time in revamping my system to start again in January.

I’ll let you know how it goes!