Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Standards Based Grading in a High School ELA class

I understand why Standards Based Grading (SBG) is important, but for several months now I have not been able to find anything about how to go about SBG in a high school English classroom.  Everything I have read has been math and/or elementary and middle school related.  High school grades are different because they have to translate into a letter grade that contributes to the student's GPA, which determines scholarships and college admission. (Suddenly SBG becomes quite a bit more important.)

As for math, let's face it: English isn't nearly as clear cut as math.  I think I'm beginning to see that we English teachers bring on quite a bit of that ourselves.  SBG requires us to be much more deliberate in teaching skills. The way I have been teaching has become as natural to me as breathing. Why? I wasn't evaluating individual progress on those standards until the unit test--when it was too late for the student who wasn't understanding.  So, what would I do?  I'd just teach the next unit and hope the ones who didn't understand that skill the first time would understand it the 2nd time. (Sometimes they did; sometimes they didn't.)

Standards Based Grading forces me to take one short poem that I teach and recognize that for summatives I will be testing figurative language skills, understanding theme and central idea development, and small group discussion skills. In the same unit I will be beginning the first formatives to check understanding of representation in two mediums and giving a presentation making strategic use of digital media.  Whew! (I've never been so concrete in my life!)

Thankfully, bright young math colleague, terrific biology colleague, and a smart young student teacher have all helped me through the process of trying to find something that might work.  (I'm pretty sure there are still things to change and tweaking to be done.)

We use Power School's PowerTeacher Gradebook at Tiny Town High.  I was having trouble figuring out how to make the electronic grade book work so that I didn't have to create a separate spreadsheet to keep track of student progress.  I think I have finally hit upon a solution.

These are some of the things that will be happening:

*Formatives won't contribute to the final grade.  They will be tracked in the grade book, but they won't help or hurt the grade.  Students and parents will be able to see what the student needs to work on: a checkmark (changed to an S) will indicate adequate progress, and a zero (changed to a U) will indicate the student needs more work on the skill; however, the zero doesn't affect their grade. (I know parents equate 0 with a grade, thus the change.) Formatives will be happening almost daily: quizzes, writing, exit cards, and teacher observation. On top of that, our school has several interventions built in for students who aren't making adequate progress. I can assign them to a tutoring room for help or contact their advisory teacher for help during advisory time. Reteaching can be as simple as one-on-one conferences or as involved as an organized lesson with several assignments to work through.

*Summatives will be 95% of the class grade. My hope would be that every student can demonstrate at least basic understanding of a skill, especially after reteaching or tutoring. The summative grade for a particular skill could change if the standard is visited again and the student does better or worse on a different summative later in the semester. This will help students see how important it is to retain the skills they have gained and not just to learn it for one particular summative and then forget all about it.

*Finally, 5% of their grade will be based on Career Skills.  Right now, there are two career skills: following directions and organization.  (I know that this is one area that could/should be dropped, but I am finding it difficult to cut right now.)

This screen shot shows the final grade set up in PowerGrade:

These are my three category explanations:

This will be what the assignments could look like in my grade book.
The grade book looks like this with student names on the left.

Finally, each summative will be worth 10 points. This is the rubric for those 10 points:

10= Advanced- superior mastery
  9= High Proficiency- progressing toward advanced mastery
  8= Proficient Grade Level- mastery meets standard level
  7= Basic or limited understanding
  6=  Improvement necessary
  5=  Insufficient effort
  0=  Absent for summative

Clear as mud?  That's how it started for me, too.
Does it work?  I'll get back to you on that!
Am I doing it all wrong?  I could be. (I'm sure I will hear about it.)
Questions or comments?  Feel free to leave them below.


  1. Thank you SOOOOOO much for this. This is probably the most practical help I've gotten after reading about this for months. I'm starting next week with this and I'm nervous but excited!

  2. This was awesome. It really helped me figure out how I could go about setting up my PowerSchool gradebook with standards-based in mind. Students are still coming to terms with the idea that only 2 of my 4 categories carry weight towards their grade.