The journey towards the dark (light?) side.

Okay. My first blog and entry. Sorry if I try to cram too much into this…

This journey started back in mid-May, 2010, due to an email I received from the NSTA  physics listserv:

Hi, I need your input.  For 23 years I have been teaching chemistry and physics quite successfully.  I have a no late  homework policy, and  I don’t over load the kids by any means.  There are enough assignments  so if a student does get a 0 here or there, it is not going to hurt him much.  My tests count about the same point value as all the homework for that chapter.  Now I am being told that I have to accept late homework up to maybe the end of the semester, if not the chapter, with a slight penalty.   I am having a hard time with this concept, though I know it is the current trend.  How do you go over homework if half the class hasn’t done it?  Do you end up with massive amounts of late work to grade?  What if they still want more time?  Do they truly learn by doing late work if we have assessed that topic and are on to another one?  Maybe I should just stop giving any homework, but how are they going to practice the problems on their own.  If I give class time for the practice, won’t I have to cut out a lot of topics? Your thoughts would be appreciated.
I was reflecting on the past year and my HW policy. I was accepting late homework with 5 points off the value of the assignment whether it was worth 10 points or 40 points. Sometimes it hurt a student a lot worse than others. I also had a color coding system in my physical grade book so that I knew when I had to go back in to my electronic grade book to update late homework scores – got pretty aggravating. If they didn’t turn it in by the end of the quarter, they got the all powerful  0 . But, my main concern was that I knew a good percentage of the students were just copying homework from each other – just to get the points. It certainly wasn’t helping them towards the goal of understanding. I knew I needed to change something.

And thanks goes to Frank Noschese (no blog?) who responded on the listserv and gave links to Sean Cornally‘s blog as well as several others.

I spent many multiple hours pouring over blogs, articles, you name it, to find out more.

Ok…so now I had a vision – SBG.

I took the plan to my administrator. He was on board but wanted to me to pilot test it in one of my classes instead of going full bore in all of them. I guess I need to work on my power’s of persuasion

Since I’m no Jedi, I planned on starting with the age old wisdom of Mr. Miyagi: “Either you karate do ‘yes’ or karate do ‘no.’ You karate do ‘guess so,’ [get squashed] just like grape.” At least that is how I felt knowing I would be a man divided in my teaching approaches in different classes and what he would be asking of me.

Luckily, he has since done some research of his own and is now wanting to meet with me to plan how this will be implemented in all of my classes. Hooray!

Okay, here are some of my plans:

1)Homework assignments will be given, but not graded. They are practice.
2)Since grades are still necessary, I have adapted a rubric from a few different people’s posts I have come across in my journey. This will be used to determine the score for each standard as it is assessed. An average of all standards’ scores will determine the student’s grade.
3)Grades will reflect a student’s current understanding – they can go up or down.
4)Students will have a log sheet to track their own understanding.

I still need to decide what standards I will use for each class.

My big concerns are:

1)If an average of each standards’ scores is used, it is possible that a student could still pass the course and not be at least proficient in every standard.

Question: Is it necessary that every standard I decide upon is met at a proficient level? Or, can they be 75% proficient at 75% of the standards and “pass”?

2)Am I asking too much of high school students to be able to perform at an “9.5 – 10” level in order to earn an A? I am NOT saying I want a non-quota (un-quota, de-quota?) of students earning an A, a B, etc. All I am saying is that I think we have devalued an A and what it implies. The people who call a 4 out of 4, mastery seem off target to me.

Question: Shouldn’t an A mean an A?
An “A” should mean mastery of a subject above and beyond what was expected, consistently, extensively, automatically, inventively, excellently, and profoundly; that the student is ready for advanced studies of the subject area.
A “B” should show partial mastery; that with more work, they could undertake advanced studies.
A “C” should indicate that the student learned the material, i.e. they met the standard, but are more than likely not suited for advanced studies of that subject area.
A “D” should show that improvement needs to be seen in order for the student to meet the standard – they have work to do in order to move on.
A failing grade should only be seen as a position further down that continuum; not that the student can’t improve or is really any worse off than the “D” student, but that the student has a bit more room for growth.
Neither the “D” nor “F” student should be allowed to “pass” the course. The “C” student will pass the course, but only to move on to different subject areas.

3)David Cox has a blog post that I think gets at what I am looking for in the 8.5 to 10 score range of my rubric.

Question: How do I assess/reassess students. Do they get only 8.0 and below type questions the first 2 attempts at a standard? Then they get progressively harder type questions in order to move higher up the ladder? How on earth will I keep that all organized?

Have I complicated this too much? Am I way off base in what a student should be able to do? Am I missing anything?

Well, that’s my opinion, and now I welcome yours.

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6 Responses to The journey towards the dark (light?) side.

  1. Thanks for a great post! I teach chemistry, and am also hoping to implement SBG for next year.

    As for the meaning of an “A,” Jason Buell has a post at his blog Always Formative ( where he describes how he uses conjunctive scoring to convert from SBG grades to letter grades. I can’t possibly describe it better than he did.

    • Matt says:

      Elena, thanks for the comment and link. I do need to figure out how I’ll implement what Jason says because something along those lines makes more sense than what I was thinking.

  2. Frank Noschese says:

    Hi Matt,

    My thoughts on your questions:
    1) While I don’t think your students have to be proficient at everything to pass, I don’t think you need 75% proficient standards to be equal to a 75% grade. You can set up your own system with your own cut-offs. In my first year, I thought it would be smart to err in favor of the kids, even if it means the grades are a bit higher. Last year, they needed to be proficient overall in at least one set of standards (grouped by topic). For some kids, the only set they were proficient in was the lab set — I knew this would happen and used it as a safety net.

    2) You’re right about meaningless A’s. But I think you are going to be banging your head against the wall trying when you are looking at student work and trying to sort out the differences from 5.0 to 10.0 in 0.5 steps. That’s 10 levels of precision. And you know kids do all kinds of crazy work. (And then there’s the “Why did I get 8.0 but she got 8.5?”) I think 5 levels of precision is the highest you could go. Four levels worked OK last year, but I’m moving to a binary Yes/No for next year. They can do it, or they can’t. Certain standards will be harder to achieve than others and that’s what will determine the A, B, C, etc.

    3) You might assess a standard with several questions of increasing difficulty, all on the same assessment. Set which questions must be answered correctly to earn the appropriate score. For example, given a a V vs. T graph, find: average velocity, acceleration, and displacement. A kid who can do all three top level. A kid who can only do average velocity is not proficient. I hope that makes sense.

    Way to go for making the leap to SBG and sharing your thoughts. There’s a lot of great SBG talk on Twitter, just look for the #sbar hashtag (Standards-Based Grading and Reporting). Many people looking to use it next year. Plus, there’s an SBG blog carnival coming up:

    I think its really hard to try to plan everything out before September. Once school starts and you implement it, you’ll have a better sense. I tell the kids its new, we’re going to learn together, and I’ll always err in your favor. Build trust!

    Good luck! Looking forward to reading more!

    • Matt says:

      Frank, thanks for the suggestions and glad to see you now have a site where I can follow your posts as well and not just the comments I see you making all over the place (good ones at that 🙂 ). I do see that too many levels will just make it harder for me, but I just concerned with how to map my SBG scores into GPA. I think Jason’s method that Elena commented on may be my help for that.

  3. Jason says:

    Hi, welcome to blogging. Found you via twitter. And yes Frank has a blog even if he didn’t link it in his comment. I’ll do it for him. Elena Bethea has also been working on it. I suggest you visit her blog. Chris Ludwig at is another science teacher.

    I blog about standards-based grading. you can find me on twitter if you’re on that. We’re a really helpful (and growing) community so if you need anything we’re out there.

    If it’s alright I’ll wait off on your questions before you check out the blogs that Elena, Frank, and I linked. There’s a lot around and we all have slightly different implementations to get at the same thing.

    • Matt says:

      Jason, thanks for checking my blog out. I’ve looked all those links up and am still digesting it all. I feel as though I’ve absorbed more material since May than I would have in 2 full semesters of graduate school. That was my impetus for starting this blog – to help me reduce it all to something I can work with this coming year. So, any other helpful hints you can give me on this post or my more recent one are much appreciated.

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