Monday, April 22, 2013

2013 NCTM Conference: "Communicating Performance for Common Core State Standards"

2013 NCTM Conference (4/18/13 - 8:30 am - Forrest and Elizabeth Clark):
I was first introduced to standards-based grading (SBG) by Shawn Cornally at Think Thank Thunk. I thought the idea was a fascinating one, but I was interested in learning more. When I heard that Forrest and Elizabeth Clark were giving a session on their experiences with SBG, I knew I wanted to come collect the fruits of their experiences.

Forrest pointed out that assessments should predict what students actually know. He suggested that a gradebook should not be used to direct students' behavior, but should be used only as a measurement of academic progress. Therefore, the gradebook should not be used to score effort, participation, attitude, behavior, or, more controversially, group work (except individualized portions) and homework.

In defense of this stance, he noted that he can predict how well his students will perform on state assessment tests, simply by looking at his gradebook. A good grade indicates that a student understands the mathematical concepts explored in his class, while a bad grade suggests that students do not yet understand these concepts.

The first key to SBG is that grading is based on standards instead of a specific test or quiz. These standards are assessed and graded individually. Students' performance on each standard is easily communicated to students and parents, so all parties know what each student needs to work on. This is very useful for creating a plan to help students receive extra help on the specific skills defined by each standard.

Another key component to SBG is allowing students to be re-assessed if they performed poorly. This allows students a second chance to relearn concepts for the natural reward of a better grade.

The process for implementing SBG is as follows:
1. Identify learning targets
2. Align curriculm with the learning targets
3. Create standards-based assessments
4. Create the assessment process
5. Inform parents and students

1. Identify learning targets:
The teacher must identify what students should know, do and understand. These concepts should be drawn from the common core standards, but may need to be simplified as needed. It is easily possible to draw 30 concepts from the standards, but Forrest suggested whittling these down to 15-20 concepts that will be measured in the grade book.

2. Align curriculm with the learning targets:
The teacher needs to identify where in the curriculum each of these concepts will be addressed. What order will he or she teach these concepts? Instruction should be modified to flow with the learning targets, instead of meandering aimlessly.

3. Create assessments:
The teacher must create assessments that identify how well a student understands the learning targets, so that each student can receive an accurate score. The teacher can use existing assessments that already address the targets, edit existing tests, or create new assessments, depending on his or her needs.

4. Create assessment process:
Each teacher must ask himself/herself the following questions:
a) When should assessments be given?
b) When will re-tests be given?
c) What is required of students before a re-test?
d) When will extra help be provided?
Forrest provided plenty of ideas from his own classroom. He requires a mandatory re-test when students score below 80% on an assessment. Students who score 80% or above have the option to re-test as well. He provides the first re-test during normal classroom time (students who are not re-testing work on homework or other assignments during this time), but any other re-tests must be done before or after school. Students are only tested on specific targets that were not mastered, so the re-test may not be as long as the original test. He provides extra help as he can, during his planning time or before or after school as students have time. The re-test score replaces the original score, for better or worse.

5. Inform parents & students:
The teacher should let parents know the grading policy as often as possible, until they are used to the "new" style of assessing students' understanding. Forrest and Elizabeth suggested including the grading policy in the syllabus, in school newsletters, etc., and should explain the process the process to parents during open houses and parent nights.
Parents should be told that grades are determined by assessments only, but good behavior is still important and will be enforced in other ways. Parents need to understand that if a student scores below the standard on a learning target, the student will be re-tested and the most recent score will replace the earlier score.
Finally, it is important for administrators to be on the same page, or the SBG process will not work. If the principal does not have the teacher's back, the revolutionary style to grading will only cause strife.

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