Tag Archives: standards based grading

Standards-Based Grading: Work Ethic and Preparation for College

8 Jan

Today I was drawn into observing a Twitter debate between @stopsbg and various proponents of standards-based grading. The sbg opponent kept coming back to a couple of key issues he has with standards-based grading: 1) The perception that it does not teach students to have a strong work ethic and 2) it does not prepare students for college (and he spoke with many college professors who appeared to support his stance).

Now, here’s what I’ll say before posting my own thoughts on these important issues: I am not from Iowa- I’ve never been there. It could be that “@stopsbg” has valid concerns for his community. Looking at his website, from his point of view (and supporters) it looks like there are issues with a rushed implementation and lack of leadership involving stakeholders. Additionally, it appears concerns with the Common Core are directly linked to concerns some in this community have with “SBG”. I live and work in a non-Common Core state (Virginia). Honestly, I don’t know. Therefore, this is not a direct rebuttal to that particular situation or person, but rather what I felt compelled to share in regards to the two “issues” stated above- as they are commonly shared with me in discussions with teachers who are anti-SBG.

I went to college at the University of Maryland. At the time, UMD had over 25,000 students (important as I am about to describe an individualized and standards-based education I received from some professors there despite its size). As a freshman, I took an English class in which over 50% of the grade was based on the final paper. Along with a description of the paper, I was provided with a clear rubric detailing how my work would be assessed. Wanting to do well, I took the professor up on her offer of submitting drafts of the paper during the semester. I submitted a first draft, which was returned with comments based on my progress towards fulfilling the rubric’s standards (which was based on course objectives). I had some mistakes, fixed them, and turned my work in again. The professor said I was close to a great paper, but now I was ready to go further. She gave me specific ideas on how I could bring more analysis, and better rhetoric- I was now not only demonstrating knowledge- I was demonstrating skill. Well, by the time the paper was due, I turned in an excellent final product- my third attempt. It was worth it- I had learned how to write a great paper. The paper was still due on the due date. I did not get to re-write it- because I already had, so I didn’t have to. My grade was not based on an average of my initial drafts- it was based on what I had learned in the end, after revising and re-working it. (By the way, earning a high grade in this class exempted me from Junior English because it was based on many of the same skills….SBG advocates will know what I am saying here.)

Another example, again from my freshman year. A course on Game Theory. After all assessments, I received a B+. I did not feel that accurately reflected my knowledge. Luckily, my professor offered all students the opportunity to come to office hours and discuss grades. When I got there, we had a great discussion on Leviathan, which I had initially made some misinterpretations on. He saw that I improved. He stated that the grade he gave me was not accurate (before I did!). He gave me an A.

Now, let me be clear: I did not get all A’s, I do not consider myself a genius, nor do I consider myself a grade-grabber. I had educators who were concerned that I learned the course standards and offered me multiple opportunities to improve and demonstrate my competency. Did it happen in every college course? Of course not! Not in most- however I was able to deal with those sink-or-swim courses because my work ethic was developed by these professors early on. I believe both of these vignettes capture the spirit of standards-based assessment.

Proponents of SBG believe in preparing students for college and helping them learn work ethic. For example, for many teachers at my school, formative assessments are not calculated into the grade, and students can retake assessments. However, in order to retake a test, a student must have fully attempted all preceding formatives for feedback. Students quickly learn that they can not just show up on test day having done no work and can just keep trying- they must learn it. So, they begin doing the formatives, and getting feedback, and then they do not NEED a retake!

I believe in standards-based learning precisely because it promotes work-ethic and college and workforce preparation. It promotes learning and becoming proficient at skills and knowledge. It takes time to implement correctly in a school, but once it is, you will begin to see the mission of education fulfilled.