Article by Ryan Townsend
Bismarck Public Schools
Lately it doesn’t matter what’s on the agenda, discussions eventually turn to standards based grading (SBG). Put more than two educators in a room, and the topic is bound to come up.
But what exactly is SBG? Standards based grading is ensuring that a students’ grade truly reflects his or her mastery of grade level and content standards. In order for grades to be standards based, we have to have curriculum and assessments that align to those standards. The curriculum is based on identified and prioritized standards sequenced across a set time frame whether that be a trimester, semester, or year. And just like traditional grading, SBG utilizes effective instructional practices (project-based learning, small group instruction, personalized learning strategies, etc.) that ensure student learning and promotes positive professional relationships between students and teachers.
In order to report those grades accurately, assessments should reflect a student’s learning of those standards through a scale of proficiency. While accurately reflecting student mastery, SBG does not hold students accountable for the rate at which they mastered the learning. In traditional grading, homework, quizzes, projects, and tests are all averaged together at the end of a unit. A student who struggles during that unit, but in the end masters the learning, will see their score lowered as we averaged their struggle throughout the unit. In SBG, that student is rewarded for that struggle and hard work with a report that demonstrates their mastery.
Likewise SBG would never reflect a zero. A zero would indicate that there was no assessment of learning. Why would we report that we don’t know how the student did? Certainly students need to be held accountable for missing such an assessment. But in traditional grading, for every zero received a student would need to score a 100% to average a 50%. That one zero alone will never allow a student’s report to accurately reflect their mastery.
A repeated concern that we have heard is the functionality of PowerSchool with SBG. Teachers feel that they cannot effectively report students’ progress, and parents feel that PowerSchool doesn’t allow for effective communication of their students’ learning. This is something that we are working on every day on both the programming of PowerSchool’s layout for parents and populating Moodle with relevant information—proficiency scales, I can statements, and resources for parents and students to use at home.
From feedback we’ve also heard of teachers who have gotten creative to become effective with their communication with parents. Recently a couple of teachers shared with me their ideas on how to communicate homework feedback with parents. We want to learn from those successful teachers and share their methods so they can be replicated and modified to work on a larger scale. Our thought is to share that collective wisdom through group and individual professional learning within the buildings.
I have had some amazing discussions in the last two weeks thanks in part to all the feedback we have been receiving about moving SBG through the middle schools. We take that feedback to help guide our planning for professional learning as well as identify where it is really working for our parents, teachers, and students.
In the end all of the discussions, communications, and feedback have been beneficial in making standards based grading more effective for the students and staff of Bismarck Public Schools.