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Standards Based Grading,

Explaining the Grade

As the new school year begins, one of the biggest challenges we face is explaining the whole concept of assessment for learning to students and parents.  

We, as teachers, know that it’s best for students, but how do we go about explaining our philosophy when their only comfort zone for grading is points for all? What do we say to make sure that students understand the grading procedures in the classroom and are willing to take the leap into the world of formative and summative assessment?

We start by saying that there are two categories of assignments in our classrooms.  The majority of work will be formative assessments (for the younger groups- “Practice”). Formative work includes homework, daily classwork, and informal checkpoints.  Summative assessments (for the younger groups- “The Big Game”) will be completed to demonstrate mastery of a concept. Summative work includes tests, projects, and essays.

As we enter our sixth year of implementing this system, we think we may have stumbled upon the perfect metaphor.  Now, stumble is definitely something you may see us doing from time to time, so it’s ironic that our metaphor is one that involves sports! With the exception of Lance, we aren’t known for our athletic abilities, but here we go to kick that touchdown! Ha!

Now let’s hit the playing field…  Here is an example of how we shared this with students and parents.  Formative assessments are what we do when we are forming our understanding of a concept or target.  This is just like when you are learning a new play/skill at practice. Are you expected to be an expert the first time? Absolutely not.  Your coach is there to help you learn the play/skill by giving you feedback on your performance.  As you apply the feedback, you begin to improve your skills.  By the end of several practices, you are confident in your ability to execute the play.  It’s the day of the big game; your job is to show mastery of the skills and plays you learned during practice. It’s the final seconds of the game, and your team is down by 3. You get the ball and score the winning touchdown, 6 points! Does your coach walk up to the ref, tap him on the shoulder, and say, “He really didn’t understand that play when it was first introduced.  In fact, this is the first time he was able to execute it successfully.  You should only give him 2 points.”?

In presenting it this way, the light bulb goes off for all those disbelievers.  How can you be penalized during a time when you’re just learning a skill? The learning process is a time when the coach/teacher creates a safe learning environment. An environment that encourages practice without penalty, provides constructive feedback, and allows students to master something new.  Every human being struggles with some new skill at some time in his/her life.  Would you have kept trying if you knew all the stumbling blocks would count against you in the end? We believe, this is why many students give up before they even get on the field in a traditional points based classroom.

Now swing that puck, shoot that racket, and spike that homerun!!! Right???

You can do it, and we’re here to help!

Mindy, Lance, & Lani

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