I’ve always had my students do test corrections. When I used to award points, I would give some out (or “back”) for doing good corrections. I asked my students to complete them without consulting peers (though they could use their notes and could talk to me). They also had to make a statement for each problem about what went wrong and why they made the mistake (and anything along the lines of “it was a dumb mistake” was not acceptable).
Since the homework assignment could raise their test grade, and since they could get as much help as they wanted from me, it would seem like a “no-brainer” one to do and do well, right? Here’s what I saw from my students: those few “best” students would take full advantage of the correction process, just as one would expect. On the other hand, many would copy correct answers from other students (claiming they didn’t know they had to do it on their own when I noticed), and the depth of thinking about what went wrong was almost universally absent. I would get many submissions with identical wrong work to what they did on the test (did they not read my note? Did they just do the problem again without looking at what they did? Are they really that oblivious?). And the worst: the students with the poorest grades on the test often didn’t turn the corrections in at all.
Fast forward to Standards-Based Grading
Last year, with SBG, I required students to complete test corrections (and additional practice beyond those corrections) before getting a new opportunity to assess outside of class. There were no points to give back for those corrections, and I didn’t restrict my students from looking at peers’ tests. There was also no timeline or deadline for completing this work.
What happened was totally different from the way things were before.
Students might have looked at friends’ tests, but they never would have been satisfied stopping there. They were relentless in trying to understand both their mistakes and the correct solutions to problems. They showed me their work, asked me questions, and persisted with the assignment. They wanted to know that their work was correct, not just that they had checked their answer.
Suddenly, all of my students were eagerly following the process that had always helped the best students succeed. And they were doing it even though good corrections were rewarded with another test, not automatic points. Actually, they were doing it because of that.
Standards-based grading demystifies and motivates good habits of learning for students.
What about college? aka “They won’t be graded this way in college.”
I hear that objection occasionally, and it even came up again at our science department meeting this week. Honestly, it is a bit of a nonsense statement/question.
Moving beyond the idea that it does not make sense to do each year what people will eventually do one day in the future (should 8th grade look like college? How about 4rd grade? 1st?) and that the more important questions are about how a choice in teaching will benefit them this year, we can ask instead, “What are students taking with them from having this experience?”
So, in addition to learning physics better, increasing their confidence as a student, seeing themselves improve with a challenging skill over time, they are also rather specifically learning how to milk the benefits from making mistakes, what to do when they aren’t immediately successful, and how the best students have been succeeding in school all this time.