I am starting understand the term standards-based grading. It’s one of those phrases I read in blogs and, assuming it was what it sounded like it was, just glossed over it. (In the same way I got by for a long time assuming that penultimate meant better-than-ultimate – ha.) I recently did my homework, which revealed an ever-expanding network of interrelated articles and posts – some of which said explicitly that if I didn’t already know what SBG was, I should stop reading the post and go read everything ever written by these other four people. Thank you very much. One of the most exhaustive and inspiring posts was this one by Daniel Schneider (already well-lauded in the math blogoverse) about how changing the way you assess effects your whole practice.
Frank Noschese instigated all this reading with his short but excellent post about standards-based grading, The Spirit of SBG, exhorting us not to worry about making the transition to SBG, but to make small, sure inroads. Recommendation number seven of ten (no trekkie pun intended) is: Assess what you value. What do my assessments reveal about what I value?
My dad, the family genealogist, recently shared this: my Grandma Nancy’s seventh grade report card from 1939. She lived that year in Ross County, Ohio and (just for that year) with her aunt – who happened to also be her teacher. What does this report say about what her school system valued?
There is a whole class devoted to geography. She took arithmetic, not math. The “Habits And Attitudes Desirable For Good Citizenship”, while a little quaint in its phrasing (Is dependable, Co-0perates with others, Keeps desk and floor clean), isn’t so different from items I have seen in the “conduct” section of modern report cards. Maybe what’s surprising is not that this looks so dated, but that it doesn’t look more dated. My high school report card looked a little bit like this. The reports I write to my students’ families much less so.
This makes me wonder about the next evolution of grading. If I value the mathematical practices (perseverance, modeling, critiquing the reasoning of others, etc), how and when do I assess them? The standards for these practices, despite being my favorite part of the Common Core, are mostly hidden in my classroom assessments. I observe students having or not having them, I comment occasionally on them in general to the whole class or privately to a student or his/her parent (“I notice how precise Sophie is in the way she explains her mathematical ideas. She helped the whole class understand why square numbers are the only ones with an odd number of factors.“) My colleagues and I have tried a few times to include “Perseverance” and “Communication” as items on our report to families, only to re-phrase or discard them a year later because they didn’t quite capture what we meant, or were too easily misconstrued.
One obstacle was that we didn’t formally assess these practices within the classroom first. Another is that the mathematical practices can only be observed in connection with mathematical content. The practices may be too abstract or too broad to be assessed independently. Even so, what would it mean to be more transparent? What would it look like for students (and ultimately their families) to know how their were progressing not only in their understanding of factors and multiples, but in their ability to, for example, look for and make use of structure?