Here’s the problem with Standards-Based Grading (SBG) and seniors: their first quarter grades matter.
In my usual approach to grading, the quarter grades are just snapshots. Since they weren’t (at my old school) and aren’t (at my current school) put on transcripts, I have felt free to use them as moments for students to check in with themselves, get themselves up to date (especially on core objectives), and keep themselves on track for the real (grade) goal (the exam at the end of the semester). For seniors, though, quarter grades will be sent to colleges, and the end-of-year grade isn’t of as much consequence. In fact, my new school only has exams at the end of the year, so there’s actually no exam in my senior course. My usual grading system will work for my three sections of sophomores, but I was going to need a new plan for Advanced Physics.
Luckily, I have been planning my fantasy Advanced Physics course for a few years now. The only wrinkle is that the plans I had been scheming for SBG with seniors were plans for students who had already taken a physics course using SBG (that is, for my own students, take 2). The good news is that I think the seniors I have this year, even though they’ve never had anything like SBG before, are going to be fine with this SBG 2.0 plan that I’ve made. I just think it’s going to take them a little longer to wrap their brains around it than it otherwise would have.
So. The Plan.
First up, here’s the description I gave to my students on our course website. (For this class, I didn’t make them binders. So I didn’t print out a course handout (aka syllabus), instead just putting that sort of information all online. I think it’s working well.)
Each major skill that we seek to develop this year will be associated with a major objective (see the list per topic (link to a future post with the list will eventually appear here)). On our weekly assessments, rather than giving you a numerical grade or a percentage, I will instead give you feedback on those skills and a temporary score of 0 (no mastery has been shown), 1 (developing mastery), or 2 (demonstrated mastery—use of the skill must be perfect).
Objectives will be tested more than once throughout the term, and scores can go up or down—only the most recent score counts. You will also have some opportunities to request that you be tested on a particular objective during a weekly assessment.
At the end of the term:
0 = 50 points
1 = 65 points
2 = 85 points
Through non-mandatory out-of-class work (one homework slot per 6-day cycle will be considered a protected time for this sort of work—nothing else will be assigned for that time), each objective can be enhanced by adding a piece of excellent, polished, relevant work to your physics portfolio. Some examples of portfolio work include screencasts of interesting problems; compelling video analyses; identification, explication, and correction of misconceptions and errors in found work; and other extensions that show depth, creativity, and mastery. I am eager to talk with you about your ideas for portfolio work and to advise and support what you do.
Adding an excellent piece of work to your portfolio will add a “+” designation to each relevant objective. Submitting a piece of work for your portfolio does not guarantee that it will achieve that “excellent” status. In that case, I will give you feedback and advice about how to bring that work to the next level, and you will of course be able to continue that work. There are no deadlines for portfolio work, but because I will need time to review it, work must be submitted at least one week before the end of a grading period to be considered for that term.
A “+” on any objective is worth 15 points at the end of the term, and you keep the “+” designation, even if your score goes down on a particular objective through in-class testing. That is, as you go through the normal process of making and correcting mistakes, you will not have to repeatedly add work for the same objectives to your portfolio. Each objective can only garner one “+”, even if you show many examples of excellent work for that skill.
Your numerical grade for the term = your total current (cumulative) score / (total # of objectives so far)
It will be possible, but not recommended, to calculate an interim grade during the term. As you learn new material, your scores will fluctuate as you gain mastery and consistency. Only where you are at the end of the term really matters, so try to allow yourself to make mistakes and to learn while you are “in the middle of things”. If you approach the task of learning physics with commitment and in earnest, your first attempts will not resemble your final, masterful work.
Notable differences between this plan for seniors and my approach with the sophomores: (1) There are no leveled objectives (that is, no A or B objectives); (2) 0s and 1s do count for something; (3) Mastering all of the objectives is an 85 rather than a 90; (4) Portfolio work (see below).
The one thing I don’t really like here is that there sort of are points and averages in this plan, though neither the points nor the averages are used in the traditional sense.
I’m really excited about the portfolio work that my students are going to build this year. I’m also a little nervous, since I don’t fully know what to expect, but I’m mostly excited. It will be great for them to walk away from the class at the end of the year with some solid, cool pieces of work that they’ve produced.
Portfolio work shouldn’t necessarily mean huge projects every time (again, a link to a post that hasn’t been finished yet should really be here—eventually I will update this with a link to that future post about Exhibitions). It should be more of a journal, really. Maybe it should be slightly more polished than a journal, but just slightly. I also wouldn’t necessarily expect students to do portfolio work for every objective (especially since this school uses letter grades, so cementing 100% for the class isn’t as significant as at my last school).
The students also seem both nervous and excited. Here’s a sample of what’s been suggested so far (for kinematics) by students:
- A vpython program that lets the user choose initial conditions for motion and produces graphs of the motion at the end (I think this one is even finished already, but it hasn’t been sent to me yet.)
- A study (probably including video analysis) of real airplane take-off motion compared to idealized motion based on data published about the planes
- Investigating the motion of a runner on the road as perceived by someone in an accelerating car
- I’ve also had a student take home a motion detector (I forgot to ask what he plans to do with it).
We’ve also talked about how what I’ve termed “excellent work” (that is, work that would earn a + for one or more objectives) should really be “brag-worthy work” (© Andy Rundquist). So, for a piece of work to earn a +, it has to be something I could brag about to other physics teachers. If I tell other physics teachers about it and they say, “meh”, then we (the student and I) need to talk about how to take what they’ve done to the next level.
Of course, nothing has been turned in yet (we’ve only had two weeks of school so far, and we’ve only practiced two objectives so far). I’m sure some of the brag-worthy work will make its way to this blog over the course of (or maybe at the end of) this year. I mean, I’m going to want to brag about it, you know?