I”m in the process of thinking through
details that I probably don’t need to be thinking through in April when I have a million other things I should probably be doing right now how I can grade my Algebra 1 Support classes next year.
Let me back up. Last semester, I decided that I wanted to introduce a standards-based grading system in my Financial Literacy class. The material in this course is so important to students’ life after high school that I really wanted to come up with a way to help them internalize some of the motivation to learn it, and I thought SBG would help that. I got conditional approval from my principal and typed up a document describing specifically how I would implement it. (He asked for a paragraph and got two pages. I’m fairly sure he knows me well enough that he was not surprised by this.) I have written previously about why I’ve avoided this type of grading system with my Algebra 1 class, but the seniors are far enough removed from their middle school experiences that I thought it would be ok.
Then the spring semester happened. Financial Literacy is a senior-level math course, and is the course with the lowest level of math required (it counts as a deficiency for college). So I have 90 students who have had little to no success with math over their school careers and have absolutely zero motivation to change that. Over the course of this semester, I have gradually become more and more aware that a standards-based grading system would not make much difference, and would probably not be worth the amount of work I would have to put into it. So I’m thinking this is a terrible idea.
I talked to my principal today and told him that I’m changing my mind about this, but now that I know I’m teaching all of the freshman intervention classes, I think it is the only grading system that makes sense for this type of class. Sure, I can do percentage grades with category weights based on in-class work and participation and computer lab time and mastery tests…but wouldn’t it be so much more effective for me to grade based on how much they have shown me that they have learned? Furthermore, I will be supporting their Algebra 1 teachers – wouldn’t it be incredibly helpful for me to be able to say, “Student A is struggling in your class because he is lacking these specific skills…”? My principal agrees 100% so we were able to talk about what I will need to think about.
I’ll have to be careful in the way that I frame my grading system so it is clear that what I am doing will be different from what they had in middle school. We talked a bit about how an SBG-type of system is really only effective when the teachers have fully bought in, and the implementation has been effective. This is one of the reasons why an admin-mandated or district-mandated SBG system can be ineffective – not everyone has bought in. In my case, at our middle school, the issue is that no one is holding the students accountable for getting their work done and taking ownership of their learning. So I need to be careful to demonstrate how I will not just be letting them retake tests whenever they want.
I realize that this will be a lot of work if I do it well. It will be a lot of front-loaded work – if I prepare well, the year will be more successful and I will have the success and materials to build future years off of. Considering that I am basically creating a program from the ground up here, this means that I have the opportunity to really re-define the way we approach math intervention at my school.
I still need to figure out exactly how to approach a standard-based system within the confines of a traditional, percentage-based gradebook and report card system. Fortunately, I did a lot of thinking about how to do it in FinLit, so I have the skeleton of a plan that I can use for Algebra Support.
This should be good. Maybe I don’t actually have time to travel all over the country this summer, though – maybe I have too much work to do!