Archive for the ‘sbar’ Category

Wed 1/11: SBG 2.01

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday I issued a minor patch to my new SBG rubric for programming. My students were complaining about how it was impossible to get a 4.0 through computer work, and I knew deep down that the system was flawed and antithetical in some way. So I decided to modify the rubric to allow 4.0 work on labs if the students completed a “challenge exercise” for that standard that I established ahead of time. As I told my students, I was going to make these challenges very hard, probably as hard as I could think of. I want the students to really feel like they had to sweat to earn that extra point. This will still end up being less work for me, as now I only need to think of a bonus challenge for each standard that I grade. So far on my first lab project, two of the three students in my class have elected to do the challenge. We’ll see how their efforts turn out.

Categories: CO552, sbar

Fri 1/6: Wrestling with SBG

January 6, 2012 4 comments

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

Fri 8/26: Blogging standards

August 26, 2011 Leave a comment

As the beginning of the year draws inexorably closer, I’m slowly gathering momentum for my fall classes. One of the biggest challenges in designing a new class with standards-based grading is developing all the new standards for the course. I haven’t really found any pre-established standards for my Web 2.0 class, so I’m trying to create them myself. Here’s my first attempt at a set of standards for the unit on blogging — any feedback?

Blogging – content Level 3

  • Each blog post is Well-written
  • Each blog post is Original
  • Each blog post is Relevant
  • Each blog post is Detailed

Level 2

  • Blog contains the required number of posts
  • Each blog post is the minimum length


Blogging – layout Level 3

  • Theme and color scheme fits well with tone of blog
  • Blog widgets arranged in decreasing order of importance

Level 2

  • Overall layout makes it easy to find blog posts
  • Theme and color scheme does not conflict with tone of blog


Blogging – extras Level 3

  • Blog contains a way to browse posts by category
  • Blog contains a calendar or monthly archive

Level 2

  • Blog contains a blogroll w/ at least 5 links
  • Blog contains a search bar


Categories: CO335, sbar

Sun 8/21: SBG, and why nothing different “makes sense”

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

I was reading my passel of edu-blogs tonight, and came across this excellent post by Frank Noschese  about the merits of standards-based grading. It reminded me of some of the feedback that I got from my math students last quarter when I introduced SBG to them during my stint as a maternity replacement. There were several objections, which I tried to answer then and will try to answer now because they are bound to come up again:

Student: The way you are averaging is unfair! (Ed. note: I use the “decaying average” that is the default in ActiveGrade)
Wistar: Well, the point is that I want to get the most accurate picture of how you are doing at the end of the semester, not the beginning

Student: I don’t like how your grade can go down if you do worse on an assignment.
Wistar: Well, that’s true, but you also have unlimited opportunities for reassessment if you are unhappy with your grade.

Student: I don’t like how you don’t grade our homework.
Wistar: I want to evaluate your understanding, not your work effort. If you work harder, it will translate into better understanding anyway. And grading homework turns every assignment into a take-home quiz.

Student: (freaking out) I don’t understand! I have a C average now! The world will end! I’ve never had a grade this bad before!
Wistar: You’re just not used to standards-based grading yet. Of course your grade is lower at the beginning — you don’t understand things as well now as you will later. And remember the reassessment?

Ultimately, what it seems to come down to is that a lot of students equate “fair” with “best for me”. (Wow, teenagers taking a self-centered view of the world? I’m shocked that there’s gambling in this casino.) And the ones that don’t are just struggling with something that runs counter to 8-10 years of prior education. After a while, they usually relax and relent.

Categories: sbar

Sat 7/9: SBG 2.0

July 10, 2011 4 comments

This year, I am definitely going to continue using standards-based grading, but I am going to make a few changes to my grading rubric in an attempt to further distance myself from the traditional 0-100 ABCDF system. Instead of grading each standard from 0-10, I am going to try Marzano’s four-point scale. Here’s my qualitative description from my rubric:




Expert: the student can achieve at a superior level, demonstrating abilities comparable or superior to those of the teacher.


Proficient: the student can achieve at a satisfactory level for the standard.


Developing: the student can accomplish simpler versions of the Proficiency tasks.


Emerging: the student can partially accomplish some of the Proficiency and Satisfactory tasks, but may need extensive help from the teacher.


No evidence of understanding

I’m curious to hear from other teachers who use SBG about what scale they use, and how it affects their students’ performance. As always, any and all feedback about my posts here is appreciated!

Categories: roger, sbar, teaching

Mon 6/13: CS standards, v0.8

June 14, 2011 2 comments

Amazingly, this blog actually generated comments off of the first two posts, and I am going to try to satisfy the thirst of its ever-widening audience. (OK, stop laughing — I was being ironical.)

Anyway, two people actually asked to see copies of the standards documents that I created for my computer science courses, so I am happy to oblige. First, a few caveats are in order:

  • This was my first attempt at SBG, and I created these lists on my own without consulting with any pre-existing literature in place. Anything strange you see here is just the product of my deranged mind.
  • In the case of my CO451 course, I actually began SBG halfway through the course, so that document is necessarily incomplete. I hope this summer to revise all these documents, and I will definitely add standards for the first half of that course.
  • Some of the standards are duplicated. This was a necessary evil that came with using ActiveGrade. The program is awesome, but it doesn’t let you call back to standards from a previous marking period in any graceful way. I needed to copy and paste them if I wanted to reuse them in the second half of a semester.

Having said all that, here you go. Just FYI, the courses lay out as follows: CO355 (Introduction to Programming) is a one-semester course offered each semester for students with no experience. It uses Alice at the core. CO451 (Programming in Java) and CO552 (AP Computer Science A) are a paired set of semester courses that covers the AP syllabus in a year.

Categories: compsci, sbar, teaching

Mon 6/6: Reflections on SBG

June 7, 2011 5 comments

Now that grades have been turned in and I can start to catch my breath after the year is over, my first major thought turns to my experiment this year with standards-based grading (SBG). Overall, I would have to say that I have been converted and plan to use it again next year. But it was certainly a learning process.

My road to SBG began innocently enough. I was at a local technology conference in a session run by Ben Wildeboer and heard him mention the concept. He had a link in his blogroll to Shawn Cornally’s blog, “Think Thank Thunk”. As I started to read his manifesto about SBG, a lightbulb began to go off in my head.

Let me back up a bit. I began this past year dissatisfied with my grading system. After more than 10 years as a teacher, I felt that I had become much too soft in my grading. If a kid did what I expected them to, wasn’t that a 100%? Kids were getting steered into my classes because they were easy A’s, and I knew that. And increasingly I felt like there was a disconnect between a bunch of abstract numbers in a gradebook and an actual appraisal of a student’s competency.

OK, back to the story. As I read and re-read Shawn’s blog in later sessions that were much less interesting than Ben’s (which, BTW, probably motivated me to create this blog, and also to start getting on Twitter), I had an epiphany. Here was a system that focused exclusively on student competence. More importantly, here was a system that made it OK — nay, made it important — to give underperforming students low scores, with the understanding that they could get reassessed at a later date.

So I did the unthinkable. I came back and totally changed my grading approach, right in the middle of the semester, in my three computer courses. I explained what I was doing to my students and why I was doing it. I showed them the SBGradebook program that Shawn had created to log and display grades. And then I sat back and waited to see what would happen.

That first semester, my approach to SBG was way too disorganized. I set up the standards, true, but then I allowed my students to decide what work to submit under each standard. Basically, I let them present me with a portfolio of best work for each standard. Needless to say, grades did not go down; if anything, they probably went up. Also I got swamped with grading; the students knew they could throw gobs of work in my inbox, because lower scores would not penalize them.

In the second semester, with a whole new set of classes, I knew that things would need to change. I decided to implement a structured system of mandatory assessments — usually a lab project and a quiz each week. This time, I decided which standards would be covered by each assessment. I tried to ensure that every standard got covered at least twice, and also that for each assignment I would go back and revisit at least one earlier standard. There was still the opportunity for reassessment, but this time, every score counted, and I used the “decaying average” model that is standard in Riley Lark’s ActiveGrade program (which even Shawn has switched to).

This time around, I got more pushback from students. Mostly, their questions were variations of, “Why isn’t my grade higher?” In particular, a lot of them had a hard time with the non-cumulative nature of SBG. I tried to explain to them the idea is to have the most accurate picture of a student’s understanding at the end of a semester, not what it was at the beginning. (Teenagers have a funny way of equating “fair” with “good for me” and “unfair” with “bad for me”, but that’s a subject for another post.)

Looking back on it now with a critical eye, I can hash out some of the pros and cons of my SBG experience:

The Good

  • As one of my students (ironically, one of the least engaged ones) said, “This actually makes me think about what I’m learning.” At least if students complain about their grades, they’re complaining about their score for a standard, not a number on the top of a quiz.
  • I don’t feel bad about giving low grades. If a kid bombs a standard in an assignment, I don’t feel bad about giving them a 4/10, like I would in a cumulative system where scores like that could be devastating. I look at the first grades in a given standard almost like opening bids that the students can then negotiate up through reassessment.
  • Forced curriculum mapping. SBG forces you to identify the important standards in your course and correlate them with your assessments. It may not be a very good correlation (see below), but at least you have to pick something. For Wiggins disciples like me, this goes hand-in-hand with my course planning.
  • It almost creates an individualized learning experience for each student within the context of a communal class. Even though all the students are doing the same assessments, you can break them out into specific standards and get a laser-focus on what each student needs to do to improve.

The Bad

  • Grade-grubbers still grub. I had kids coming up to me a week before the end of the term and saying, “Can I get reassessed on every standard where I have less than a 9?” (To which my answer was usually, “No, unless we sit down and talk about them.”) For some kids, this didn’t engage them in any sort of metacognitive way — it was just another set of numbers.
  • Flimsy standard mapping. One of the problems I encountered was that when I would plan out each unit, I would list the 3-4 standards that each assessment would cover. Often when it came time to actually create the assessment, I would have trouble figuring out how to actually include all those standards. I think next year I need to list the new standards in advance and then add the older ones I revisit at the time then I create the assessment.
  • High grades. Grades were still high, and I’m not quite sure how to tame that beast. It may be an inevitable part of my personality. I used a 1-10 scale because I thought students would be able to easily map it to the 1-100 scale that is familiar to them. That may have been a tactical error. Maybe next year I should switch to something like Marzano’s 1-4 scale that is less easy for them to misinterpret.

Moving Forward

I’m definitely going to use SBG next year — it’s become what I believe, philosophically, grading should be. But I need to tweak the way that I design the grading scheme so that it is accurate but not discouraging, and connects more coherently with the material. Stay tuned!

Categories: colleagues, sbar, teaching