LOBA and Standards Based Grading

I should probably clarify the distinction between Learning Objectives Based Assessment (LOBA) and Standards Based Grading (SBG). LOBA is a particular implementation of SBG. I want to be clear that LOBA isn’t some brand new grading paradigm that I created out of the blue. It is my take on what many others have done in implementing SBG in their classrooms.

So the next question you will ask is “what is SBG?” The heart of SBG is (1) to get students focused on concepts and skills rather than points, (2) make sure grades are an accurate measure of student understanding, and (3) give students multiple chances to master material. This is essentially the same as the LOBA philosophy. The distinction between LOBA and SBG is really in the mechanics. There is no one correct way to implement SBG and different instructors have tried a wide variety of techniques in terms of determining final grades, reassessing, the number of standards, and so forth. In LOBA, the final grade is determined by the fraction of learning objectives a student completes. There are typically A-level and C-level learning objectives (and sometimes more), and completion of most lower level learning objectives is required to earn higher grades. The number of learning objectives tends to be higher than some SBG implementations because LOBA focuses on more discrete skills and concepts, rather than big-picture standards. Reassessment opportunities have limitations to make the workload more manageable. I know there are SBG-ers out there using many and sometimes all of these features so it is fair to say that LOBA is a subset of SBG.

When I started using SBG I ran in to a number of faculty who would ask if SBG had anything to do with the state education standards, usually with a pinched face you’d make when finding six-month-old leftovers in the back of your fridge. University faculty tend to be dismissive of, unhappy with, or skeptical about the state-mandated education standards. Learning objectives are something that every educator is aware of and it doesn’t have the same stigma. I initially called my implementation Learning Objectives Based Grading (LOBG) but several of my friends made fun of how “LOB-G” sounded (I know peer pressure is a silly reason to change, but I wanted to be taken seriously. Sigh).

A lesser reason for using a different name than SBG was I didn’t feel right speaking for the whole SBG community. I was new to this type of grading paradigm and I felt better talking about my particular implementation rather than seeming to speak for all SBG-ers. I realize that it might limit my reach, since people will be searching the internet for “SBG” and not “LOBA”, but hopefully people will eventually start to equate LOBA with a type of SBG. It may turn out that not using the SBG moniker is a mistake and I may have to start referring to what I do as SBG at some time in the future.

Incidentally, according to the literature1, what we have been calling standards-based grading is actually standards-referenced grading. In true standards-based grading, students do not progress to new material until they have successfully demonstrated proficiency on a particular standard. In standards-referenced grading, students performance is reported (or referenced) to the standards but students are allowed to proceed to the next level.

1 – Marzano, R. J. (2010). Formative assessment & standards-based grading. Solution Tree, p18.

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