Diving Into Standards-Based-Grading

I have a confession to make – I’m scared!

I’m about to try something totally, radically different, based solely on the praise of fellow education bloggers and a gut feeling that something is wrong with the way we traditionally grade students. I feel like I’m driving full speed towards a fog bank, and will either find myself driving over a cliff or find myself riding in green fields with the sun on my face (or maybe both). Here I go.

I’m finishing up my summer semester of College Physics I and I’ll soon be able to focus on next term full time. I thought I’d write up my thoughts and how I’m going to approach standards-based-grading (SBG).  The purpose of this post is three-fold; to provide others with another look into how to start using SBG, to provide my colleagues, both at Stout and further afield a chance to give me feedback, and to give me a record of just what the heck I was thinking.

Step 1: Read up on SBG.

My principal resource for SBG has been the blogosphere, which has me nervous.  I’m not knocking blogs, quite the opposite.  I think they provide an excellent way to share ideas with a larger community, to innovate, to improve on what others are doing.  But I like data, I haven’t been able to find any peer-reviewed articles on SBG in physics (anyone that knows of any links, please leave a comment).  So my starting point is the latest SBG gala, SBG Gala #5, which was hosted at John Burk’s Quantum Progress.  It is immensely helpful because there are links back to previous galas, and it helped me to find other blogs that are active in talking about SBG.  I’ve spent most of the summer doing this, so step 1 is done.

Step 2: Sketch out some standards.

I’ve always heard that “good teachers borrow, great teachers steal” or something like that.  I take that to mean you don’t need to reinvent the wheel (how many of you physics instructors feel the need to write your own labs even though there is a plethora of good labs already available?).  My suggestion to those of you starting out with SBG is to use what someone else has already done.  I’m using Matter and Interaction and haven’t been able to find any standards for this, but I’ve found a list of standards for a more general curriculum over at Kelly O’Shea’s Physics! Blog! to use as a starting point.  I’ve started writing down some ideas, but I keep changing my mind.  I’ll have more on this soon.

Step 3: Determine how I’m going to assign grades.

This step makes me the most nervous because I know this is what is going to cause the wheels to come flying off the wagon (i.e. make students crazy).  My current idea is to have a set of standards students need to get a C in the course, which would cover the most basic standards I feel they need to complete to move on, and another set of standards I’d expect an A or B student to complete.  Based on what other bloggers are saying I’m leaning towards four levels of competence for each standard: 1 = Clueless, 2 = does not meet expectations, 3 = meets expectations, and 4 = exceeds expectations.  Students would need at least a 3 to have mastered a standard.  This is still a work in progress, but my ideas are starting to gel.

Step 4: Figure out if any of my old activities can be assigned to standards.

I use VPython for computer modeling and have several labs and activities I really like to use, but I need to seriously ask myself if they fit into an SBG class.  I also received a grant to implement Calibrated Peer Review (CPR) into my class, so I will need to include writing assignments as well (click on CPR in the tag cloud to see more about what CPR is).  To do this I need to ask myself what standards apply to each activity and do I feel those standards are important enough to include.  I’ve got some ideas for including computer modeling, but I’m not sure how to include the writing assignments in my standards.

Step 5: Return to step 2, rinse, and repeat.

This is going to be an iterative process and I’ve already run through steps 2 through 5 a couple of times as ideas rise up, run into road blocks, and fall by the wayside.  The good news is that this thing is starting to look like a thing.  I’ll keep you updated and hopefully I’ll have a list of standards to share with you soon.

I encourage my colleagues, both on the web and closer to home to give me feedback.  This is an evolving creature which needs love and nurturing (and the occasional disciplining).  I especially encourage my fellow UW-Stout instructors to comment, because they are going to have to live with me for the next term, especially if this thing explodes.

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4 Responses to Diving Into Standards-Based-Grading

  1. Matt says:

    Okay, smart guy – when did you start blogging and why didn’t I learn about it until now…

  2. John Burk says:

    Thanks so much for the link to my blog. There are a bunch of SBG enthusiasts teaching M&I so it’s really time they got together and put together a good list of standards. Three folks I’d point you to are Rhett Allian (you know about him), Frank Noscheseand Mark Hammond. Also, you probably know about the M&I yahoo group, but they’re very progressive bunch that has talked about SBG a little bit—it might be cool to get their input on what good standards might be, and Bruce and Ruth read it regularly, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you got some feedback from them. Maybe someone could put together a google doc and share it with everyone (please include me if you do—I’m curious).

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