Home > Calculus > Standards Based Grading – Calculus

Standards Based Grading – Calculus

I’ve read about SBG for a few years now.   My first exposure to the idea coming from Dan Meyer.  I liked some aspects of it, but had some misgivings.   This next year, I’ll be giving it a trial run in my Calculus class.

The problems that I have now with my current grading system are as follows:

  • Rampant cheating on homework due to the 30% chunk of the grade
  • Pursuit of grades/points more than knowledge of the topics
  • Gradebook doesn’t let me identify quickly what kids have trouble with
  • Students can’t identify what they have trouble with
  • No clear path of remediation for kids (can’t search on youtube for p. 154: #’s 3, 8, 12, and 16)

In my previous system, all homework was graded for correctness and could be fixed.   There was a process that went on (with lots of work on my time) where kids did and re-did problems over and over again (with my feedback) until they could figure things out.  The cheating that occurred with the homework and the other things I listed lead me to think a change is necessary.

I believe that SBG can rectify many of these problems.  I’ll be borrowing some things from Sam Shah at Continous Everywhere but Differentiable, John at Quantum Progress, Shawn at Think Thank Thunk, and Bowman Dickson.

I haven’t quite worked through the nitty gritty details of it all, but I’ve thought about a few obstacles.

Obstacle #1:  Discretizing the Subject

I do lots and lots of work to get students to see the big picture of the subject.  Learning is not the mastering of 85 discrete standards (as SBG might make it look), but rather the understanding of the overarching themes of the subject.  A true understanding of the overarching themes will manifest itself as the mastering of the 85 discrete topics.  However, it is possible (and done in many math classrooms across the country including my own at times) for students to never understand the overarching themes but still show mastery of the procedural aspects of the many different topics.  I believe SBG, if not done carefully, can turn a course into the mastery of discrete skills instead of the overarching themes.  Though of course there are probably large chunks of math teachers that don’t use SBG and still turn the subject into the mastery of skills.  I further think that an extremely valuable tool for students to have at their disposable is the ability to decide when to use which tool at their disposal. I think carefully written questions (and perhaps standards) can help avoid this obstacle.

Obstacle #2:  Grade breakdown

How do I breakdown the student’s grades?   Some people use a 100% standard-based model.  I’m wary to place such a huge emphasis on standards.   I don’t want to reward slackers.   There should be some penalty for students who aren’t ready for assessments (due to their own neglect) when they are given.  I believe that SBG doesn’t intrinsically reward slackers, but I moreso am afraid that students will think when they system is presented to them that they can put forth less than a stellar effort and it won’t harm them in the long run.    I’m also afraid that students won’t do homework if there is no credit for it.  For that reason, I believe that a hybrid system is something more up my ally.

Bowman has this breakdown in his hybrid SBG system:

  • 35% – Standards – How much I understand right now
  • 10% – Quizzes – I am keeping up with the pace of the class
  • 30% – Tests – Connecting topics and converting short term knowledge into long-term knowledge
  • 5% – Homework – I am doing my part in learning by practicing on my own
  • 20% – Final – Retained knowledge and have the big picture of Calculus.

I think the small percentage of homework would negate most of the cheating, but still allow me to track who is doing their part.  I think that I can ditch the quiz part of Bowman’s system.  Tests will determine that, and I don’t want to over-assess them.   I want to add  in some space for projects.  These projects would allow me to test for the bigger connections and, more importantly, give them some space for problem solving.   Here is my tentative grading system:

  • 50% – Standards
  • 20% – Final
  • 5% – Homework
  • 25% – Projects/Tests
Categories: Calculus
  1. June 5, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Welcome! It’s always great to have another blogger in the math/science blogging community. Ultimately, I’ve come to think the success of any grading system, and SBG systems in particular is the level of buy-in and trust that the teacher creates with the student. So if you devote enough time to explaining the rationale for doing what you’re doing, and work to create an atmosphere of trust with your kids, I think you’ll find it’s far easier to achieve whatever goals you may have for your grading system and students.

    • June 5, 2012 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks John. I liked the activity on your blog that I linked to as a way of generating buy-in. Do you introduce SBG on the first day of class, and then you do that on the second day? Or is that what you use to introduce SBG?

      • June 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm

        On the first day I try to do something awesome that pulls them into the class and tells them that this class will be different than others they’ve had in the past. For a while now, I’ve done the activity where we build marshmallow towers. I gradually introduce them to the idea of SBG, and reinforce it over and over, trying to keep them focused less on the grade and more on the idea that this is the best grading system I’ve to give them incentive to learn, and then gives the fairest measurement of the learning they’ve done in the end (ie It doesn’t penalize you for not knowing in the beginning).

  2. June 10, 2012 at 1:34 am

    Welcome to the conversation! You’re asking questions, seeking answers. I don’t have all of them, but there’s a lot of great info out here.

    I’m adding you to my RSS. Looking forward to the exchanges. I’m a retired (still certified) secondary social studies teacher who adopted what I call Stage One of SBG…that is, sound grading practices. Then I served eight years on the local school board, and started consulting independently and for ATI/Pearson in 2006.

    It’s all a matter of defining the goals for the system at the beginning, then being consistent.

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