In my last post, I discussed the need for unpacking the standards and rewriting them in clear, easy-to-understand “I can…” statements. When approaching the standards based grading process, defining the standards in this way is an obvious first step.
After I finished writing my standards last summer as I was preparing to implement standards based grading, I went right into writing assessments. At the time, I thought that it made more sense to write individual rubrics for each assignment that would reflect the intent and objective of that assignment. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that this was a big mistake for a number of reasons.
When I first began musing about the idea of standards based grading, I realized that instituting the practice would mean rethinking everything in my classroom from top to bottom. It is not enough to simply change the way scores go into the gradebook. It requires retooling instruction, assessment, and management in a way that is completely focused on the course standards.
While I was very aware of the Utah State Core Standards and the Common Core, I hadn’t thought of them in the context of standards based grading. I had read through them, and I felt like I was teaching them to my students, but what I was really doing was teaching a broadly interpreted version of them without the laser focus that they really require. In order to grade based on standards, I needed to have a deeper understanding of them and narrow them down into teachable skills and concepts.
This is a video that I sent home to my parents to help them understand my grading policy. It is an example of the type of communication that I have found to be very valuable when instituting a standards based grading policy.
One of the first things that I had to do when I decided to do standards based grading was to develop a grading policy that would explain to students and their parents how I was going to grade and why I was doing it differently than all the other teachers in the building. To go through this process, I relied heavily on the works of Rick Wormeli and Robert Marzano, but I also wanted to make sure that the policy I developed reflected my own personality, goals, and strengths as a teacher. What follows is my grading policy as presented to my students and parents in the syllabus (note: SIS is our online gradebook system):
I believe that grades should tell a story of achievement and mastery. They should be a reflection of what a student has learned and what a student can do. The following guidelines will inform grades in this class:
Five years ago, my principal walked into my classroom as my students were chanting “One day without cocaine!” repeatedly and so loudly that it could be heard down the hallway. When she walked in and saw that I was leading the cheer, she asked me what the hell was going on and waited a little impatiently while I explained the purpose of the chant.
Since my classroom doubled as a computer lab, I had spent a lot of time learning to teach paperlessly and to use technology in useful and interesting ways. However, having technology in the classroom also led to management issues that I hadn’t encountered up to that point in my teaching career, like students wasting time on websites that had nothing to do with the lesson or the objective for the day. The problem wasn’t Facebook or Twitter. It wasn’t YouTube or any of the other typical time wasters.
My students were wasting insane amounts of time checking the online gradebook.
In a lot of ways, I was probably destined to become a teacher. The roots of education run deeply through my family, and have touched every facet of my life. When I was a kid, I knew that my mom was a teacher. She taught 4th grade at the local elementary school, and I was always a little jealous of the time that she spent outside of school working for her students, but I also saw how much happiness she got from the work and how much her students loved her and how much she loved them. As I got older, I realized that she wasn’t the only educator in my family. My grandpa on my mother’s side had been a teacher, a coach, a principal, and a lobbyist for UEA. Most of his professional life was spent in education. Even though he left the field to make lots of money lobbying for Utah Petroleum later in his career, he always had a special love for teaching and education that he passed down the generations.
With that being said, it’s not really a surprise that my older sister and I both chose to become teachers. Education has been the primary topic of conversation at Sunday dinner my whole life (including now). The people that I care about the most in this world are passionate about it and have instilled in me a healthy respect of the field and its power to change the world. I will be forever indebted to my family for helping me climb on this path.