A Standards-Based Learning Chat with @WHSRowe

standards based learning

At our pizza party last month, we had the pleasure of meeting teacher named Rik Rowe who has taken standards-based grading, teaching, and learning and has run with it. Mr. Rowe teaches high school math here in Massachusetts and was kind enough to share his standards-based practices with us. He co-moderates an #SBLchat (formerly #SBGchat) Wednesday nights at 9 ET so standards-based educators, be sure to check it out!

Standards-based learning for CCSS proficiency

Standards-based Grading (SBG)  is about a paradigm shift in thinking, assessing, and encouraging students through timely and constructive feedback. SBG allows me to engage in higher-order teaching so our students can engage in higher-order learning. As stltoday.com put well, “[Standards-based grading] is a switch that seeks to move away from rewarding students merely for completing work, and instead bases grades on mastery of a subject.”

It’s not about having a perfect set of standards. It’s not about students chasing points or begging for extra credit. It’s also not about “gotchas” when teachers attach meaningless deadlines to learning or deducting points when students finally achieve proficiency but are told it’s ‘too late’. Our students appreciate that our learning is ongoing, fluid, and rich in connections. Even though our class as a whole may ‘move on’, students are encouraged to practice, get feedback, and reassess each standard until proficiency is reached.

This is my 14th year as a high school mathematics teacher, but my first year using SBG. I have learned so much this year about SBG and how it, combined with a genuine and inspirational Culture of Learning (COL), can create an engaging learning experience for students and teachers.  With SBG, our learning is focused on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and spiraling, or reviewing, the concepts until all students have the opportunity to achieve their highest level of proficiency. By creating a curriculum that weaves the CCSS together in a spiraled fashion, I can help students reinforce their proficiency through standards interdependence.

Formative assessments before summative assessments

With Standards-based Grading, I string together Formative Assessments (FAs) of 1-3 Common Core State Standards and encourage students to practice, receive feedback, assess, and optionally reassess after more practice until they become proficient.

I ‘suggest’ practice (HW), but do not assign it. I find that students who need the practice and want the ungraded feedback do the suggested practice and students who don’t need the practice are not penalized with pointless busy work. Zero percent of their grade is allocated to HW.

Students who pass in their practice for feedback are entitled to reassess until they become proficient.  Reassessing in our class is to have another opportunity to prove proficiency. The reassessment usually takes a different form, focused on where their original errors were. Students who choose not to do the practice are only allowed to reassess after doing some required practice and submitting it for feedback.

I’ve saved a considerable amount of time this school year, in comparison to prior years, by not collecting and reviewing everyones HW on a daily basis. This year, I’m reviewing significantly fewer HW submissions, but providing more useful feedback to students. Students who understood the material and did not believe that needed any additional practice are freed up to spend their time in a more productive way.

At the same time, I’m focused on identifying the areas needing correction from those students who submitted their practice. I believe I am bringing more clarification to our next class discussion based on the needs of the students who may have struggled through their practice. I noticed students are not only more engaged in our class discussions, but interacting more with me through Twitter (@WHSRowe) to ask questions when outside of class.

Number grades

Our grade book simply lists standards for each student. I record the most recent evidence of proficiency from each student, regardless of whether it is higher or lower than their prior evidence for that standard. Only on rare occasions is it lower. Proficiency is recorded on the 4-point scale as in:

4 – Mastery (consistent proficient)

3 – Proficient (usually proficient)

2 – Proficient with Assistance (sometime proficient, but often with help)

1 – Emerging (seldom proficient)

Once 80-90% of our students have reached proficiency on several standards, we have a Summative Assessment (SA) or a unit test. This encapsulates several related standards on which I already know they’ve achieved proficiency individually. The few students who are Not Yet Proficient (NYP) on the FAs, can delay their SA until they are ready. Of course, students can reassess our SAs only after more practice, feedback, and a conversation with me about their latest revelations.

At the end of the day

In conclusion, I’ve found Standards-based grading provides more focus on the actual learning and assessing process. Regular Formative Assessments, combined with useful and timely feedback and appropriate tweaks to our next class discussions helps to keep us on track to learn and retain the concepts woven into our CCSS. I noticed less “grade grubbing” and more students wanting to actually learn the material. Students have shared with me that they’re less anxious before and during our in-class assessments since they know they’re able to reassess and prove the level of proficiency.

I’ve heard criticism surrounding our reassessments as not being tied to the real world. I try to reassure disbelievers that learners can have second or third chances on initially failed driver’s license tests, a lawyer’s bar exam and pilot’s flight tests. Since these opportunities certainly deserve second chances, our students do as well since it’s the learning I’m after, regardless of how long it takes. It’s important to me that they learn it, not when they learn it.

For those of you seeking tools to take standards-based learning to the next level, check us out. Standards-based grading is one of the things Gradeable was designed to help teachers do! 

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