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.

To do this, I started by unpacking the standards, a useful, albeit time consuming exercise, where the teacher breaks down each standard into three categories: concepts, skills, and tasks.  As I went through each language arts standard, I noticed that the standards formed a pattern of tasks falling under 5 major skills:

  1. Reading
  2. Writing
  3. Language
  4. Inquiry
  5. Communication

Each of these sets of skills could be used to teach and assess standards in the language arts, so as I unpacked the standards, I worked to create tasks in each of these categories for every single standard.  The final result looked like the example below:

# Standard Concepts Skills Tasks
RL.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. 1- Textual evidence
2- Explicit examples
3- Inferences drawn from the text
1- Cite textual evidence to support analysis.
2- Draw inferences from the text.
Reading – The students will annotate a reading in order to track a specific idea or theme.

Writing – The students will write a paragraph that states a claim about a text and supports that claim using specific textual evidence.

Language – Students will describe the difference between something that is explicitly stated and something that is inferred.

Research – Students will read outside sources that analyze a text. They will underline and discuss the specific pieces textual evidence that they find.

Communication – In a modified think – pair – share, students will discuss themes and concepts from literature using specific textual evidence.

I found this exercise extremely valuable, and after I had unpacked several of the standards, I decided that I needed to rewrite the standards into simple “I can…” statements that would allow my students to see exactly what they needed to be able to do when they walked out of my class.  I indexed the standards according to the five skill sets that I identified when unpacking the standards.

These are the standards that I identified for my sophomore English classes.  If you compare them with the English Language Arts Standards from the Utah State Core Curriculum, you will see a lot of overlap, which is what should happen after this process.

10th Grade Language Arts Standards

Reading –

  1. I can read and comprehend various literary and informational texts using the close reading, annotation, and rereading strategies.
  2. I can cite textual evidence to support my analysis of explicit elements of the text and inferences that I have made.
  3. I can determine the central theme of a text and analyze its development.
  4. I can provide an objective summary of a text.
  5. I can understand the meaning of words in a text denotatively, connotatively, and figuratively.

Writing –

  1. I can write a clear, concise thesis statement that anticipates the structure of my essay.
  2. I can use clear and appropriate transitions to connect different parts of my writing.
  3. I can write interesting introductions and conclusions using relevant anecdotes.
  4. I can write for a specific audience and a specific purpose.
  5. I can use the writing process when producing formal writing (Prewriting, Drafting, Revising, Editing, Publishing).

Language –

  1. I can write using an appropriate academic tone and style.
  2. I can write using the conventions of standard written English.
  3. I can understand and use the critical verbs used in academic discourse.
  4. I can use parallel structure correctly and in a way that provides variety.
  5. I can understand and use correct sentence structure, boundaries, and variety.

Inquiry –

  1. I can write informally as a form of inquiry.
  2. I can use source material appropriately in my writing, using MLA format for parenthetical citations and endnotes.
  3. I can evaluate the credibility of a source and explain that evaluation.
  4. I can synthesize information from multiple sources in order to support my thoughts, analyses, or arguments.
  5. I can formulate questions to guide and shape my research.

Communication –

  1. I can actively participate in academic discussions, both orally and online.
  2. I can come to class discussions prepared, having completed the reading or the inquiry that the discussion will be based on.
  3. I can respectfully and objectively participate in class discussions by adding substantive comments, asking thought-provoking questions, or defending a point of view.
  4. I can use specific evidence and examples in my discussions to support my assertions and claims.
  5. I can work in cohorts to ensure my own success and that of my classmates.

These are the standards that guide my teaching and assessing of my students, and they are the skills that my students are focused on learning.  They inform everything that happens in my classroom, and as we continue throughout this course on how to institute standards based grading, they will play a key role going forward as we look at assessment, grading, and instruction.

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