On SBG

TL;DR – I teach freshmen, who have just come from a middle school with a poor implementation of SBG. I would like to implement a good SBG system in my Algebra 1 class, but I don’t know if I can overcome the years of bad habits their middle school has instilled.

As I believe I have discussed earlier, I did a lot of reading last summer about Standards-Based Grading. Seriously – a lot. I carefully considered all of the implications of the grading philosophy, and decided I wanted to move toward implementing a form of SBG in my classroom over the next few years. (Not my first year, necessarily, for a variety of reasons.) I did decide that I would allow re-takes of tests this year, and that would be my first step.

This has all backfired on me horribly since I started teaching in August. First, I don’t understand how you can allow re-takes of tests without creating an INSANE amount of prep and grading. I’d need a different version of the test for each kid re-taking it! I would need different problems to prevent the cheating inherent in a system where I give different kids the same problems on different days. (I will say, after teaching for a year, I’m not sure my students would know how to use this to their advantage. But it is a concern.) So I decided to change my strategy and allow corrections instead of re-takes. (This didn’t really help either, but that’s a whole different story.)

The further I got into the school year, the more I started to learn about the policies and resulting mentalities at the middle school all my students came from. I taught Algebra 1, so I taught mostly freshmen, so they had just been at the middle school the year before. As the year went on, I heard all kinds of weird things about the school-wide requirements for the grading system. I later realized these “weird” policies are an attempt at implementing SBG school-wide at this school. As I mentioned earlier, I love the concept and the resulting mindset that results from well-implemented SBG. However, I have spent the whole year fighting against the negative effects of poorly-implemented SBG.

For example, at the beginning of the year, I knew that the middle school required all teachers to make tests 95% of the kids’ grades and everything else 5%. Now, I know that in a good SBG system, you aren’t supposed to grade their “practice”. At our middle school, students were also allowed to make up work whenever they wanted, right up until the end of the semester. I know that in a good SBG system, you don’t care when students master a skill, as long as they master it eventually. Here’s my problem: my freshmen didn’t understand that they had to do their homework. They had spent the last 2-3 years learning that they didn’t really have to do it, it wouldn’t bring their grades down if they didn’t do it, and their teacher would still accept it (and be required by school policy to grade it for full points) months later. In short: my freshmen hardly ever did their homework.

The middle school requires re-takes for tests. In fact, teachers aren’t allowed to enter a score into the gradebook if it is less than 50%. Students also don’t seem to be required to do anything in order to re-test – the teacher tracks them down (or does the re-test in class), and gives them the exact same test while hoping for a different result. Students are not required to do extra practice in order to re-test, and they have no personal responsibility for the re-testing process. They take tests as many times as it takes to pass it, which can mean 5 times or more. I don’t believe the problems are even changed from one re-take to the next.

As freshmen, they then spend the whole semester assuming they can just re-take a bunch of tests and bring their grades up at the end. A few of them even started this habit of blowing off the test in class, telling me they “weren’t done” with it, and coming in a week later to “finish” it. (I had to stop allowing students to finish tests outside of class altogether during the spring semester.) Even the kids who don’t try to re-take it later have no concept of the importance of tests to their grades. They make no effort to prepare for these tests and then wonder why their grade dropped so dramatically after they failed. (The fact that tests are worth 30% of their grade means nothing to them.)

I still agree with the concept behind well-implemented SBG. I still believe that it would help my students to learn to internalize their own learning and develop a sense of personal responsibility when it comes to their grades. (This is something else they sorely lack – “Miss, can I do extra credit before our final in two days to bring my grade up?” “You have a 45% in this class. No amount of extra credit is going to bring you to a passing grade. Study for the final. That’s your only hope.” Then they get 30% on the final.)

Ahem. As I was saying, I still agree with the theory. I would like to implement a good SBG system in my class. However, I am not convinced that my students would truly benefit from it after having been exposed to a perversion of it for the last few years. I don’t know if they will understand what they need to do in order to be successful, or if they will take advantage of the re-takes (getting them to come in for tutoring was like pulling teeth, and even then I was lucky to get 8 of my 115 students to come in). I don’t know how to frame it to the students so they understand I will not be letting them continue in their terrible habits, and I will not be shouldering the responsibility they should have. Maybe this is my biggest issue – I don’t know what to say to the students so they realize I am different from their middle school teachers (especially without insulting those teachers and administrators, who I know are trying their best). They are not likely to listen if I just insist that I’m “different”. I don’t know what to say.

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One thought on “On SBG

  1. Kathryn Freed

    Sounds like a tough situation! I don’t want you to give up trying to implement SBG though. I have some similar issues and I wonder if I spend too much time comparing myself to other teachers (same as, different from) rather than just stating MY expectations.

    I also have a hard time balancing holding students accountable and wanting them to be accountable on their own (ie. When is it OK to have them escorted for tutoring time?). As freshmen they need to learn this because they are used to being forced to do what needs to be done (in middle school) and will need to transition to a high school level of self-accountability.

    I had two versions of each test and used both for the original (we have tables, so tablemates get different versions) and gave students the one they didn’t originally have if they needed to retake. They had to turn in their old test (with corrections and sometimes other stuff) in order to retake. I think only 1 or 2 times did students think to utilize the other versions of the test prior to retaking even though they were all “out there”. This year I’m going to shoot for 3-4 versions of each test, but we’ll see…

    Reply

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