Home > CO552, compsci, programming, sbar > Fri 1/6: Wrestling with SBG

Fri 1/6: Wrestling with SBG

I’m a big fan of standards-based grading. In fact, since I switched to it midway through the first semester of last year, I can’t imagine going back. Escaping the shackles of a point-grubbing culture and refocusing my assessment on standards performance has really changed the way I teach — for the better, I hope.

But the implementation is still a work in progress. This year I decided to switch from a 1-10 scale to Marzano’s 1-4 scale, as detailed in his book. I even went to the trouble of creating a differentiated rubric that listed Level-2 skills and Level-3 skills. It was a lot of work and I’m not sure that it improved things very much.

The problem is Level-4. One of the reasons why I wanted to move away from points-based grading was to reduce grade inflation in my class. I wanted to make it really hard to get a top score. But the problem I encountered was, especially with take-home programming assignments, it was too easy for students to produce “perfect” work that satisfied all the requirements of an assignment.

Does a working program equal a 4.0? I don’t think that it should. In my mind, students need to go above and beyond the basic expectations to earn a 4.0. But it’s a bit like that old paradox: once you define what constitutes a 4.0, then that becomes the new literal benchmark that students will strive for. Marzano says that a 3.0 is “proficient”, so shouldn’t a 4.0 require students to exceed expectations.

Last semester I tried requiring my students to write me a narrative argument for why their work should earn a 4.0 if they felt they had exceeded the basic requirements of the assignment. That didn’t really work, because their explanations were really just facile restatements of the 3.0 proficiency standards.

Maybe my standards just need to be reworked so that I establish a new top tier. I can’t really figure out how to do that, but maybe other people in CS who are using SBG can help me with that. In the meantime, I am using a new rubric in my AP-level class:




Concept can be implemented on paper.


Concept can be implemented with no logical errors


Concept can be implemented with no runtime errors


Concept can be implemented with no syntax errors

In other words, to get a 4.0 you need to be able to do this stuff correctly on a test. I think this sort of fragmented rubric would get an angry letter from Mr. Marzano. But it’s the best way I can think now to reduce the “soft bump” that students get from doing their work at home with the benefit of compilers and other resources.

What do you think?



Categories: CO552, compsci, programming, sbar
  1. January 7, 2012 at 2:31 am

    First, I find grade inflation to be a somewhat natural occurrence of SBG. You’re telling the kids exactly what they need to do for an A, and giving them multiple opportunities to get there, doesn’t it make sense that they’ll do so? Because of this, I find myself worrying less about it. If I give all of my kids A’s because they successfully demonstrated understanding of all the concepts I require to get an A, then that’s a win for me, inflation be damned. But at the same time, I have done a few things to try to make sure that they really show that they are mastering the material. One, I made a mastering all the concepts = a 90% instead of a 100%. Students earn grades above 90 by completing capstones, which are significant projects of their own design that synthesize multiple concepts. For the most part, that has at least helped to cut down on some crazy high grades students might have received before. Here’s a I wrote fleshing out the ideas of capstones.

    Another thought I come back to is OLA’s policy back at Duke, which IIRC, was along the lines of “if you do everything I expect of you perfectly, you’ll get a B+; this is Duke, and if you want an A, you need to really go beyond the expectations. And I think his assignments did often at least offer hints as to how you could achieve that.

  2. Lauren
    July 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Since you’ve begun implementing SBG in your programming courses have you created a concept/objective list?

    For my first year teaching I’ve been given the responsibility of teaching a mixed programming course because of my background with Java. The course has 1st year students learning C++, 2nd year students learning the CollegeBoard AP Java, and 3rd year students who I’m planning to emphasize the AB material/GUIs/Applets/Mobile Device. This summer I’m scrambling to find any material I can from other high school CS teachers and could use any advice you have.

    • rwistar
      July 19, 2012 at 2:14 am

      I’ve got a few of them for my different courses. If you reply to me offline at rwistar (at) hotchkiss.org, I can email them to you. –Roger

  1. January 12, 2012 at 2:55 am

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