What’s this standards based reporting thing?

Over the past few months it seems every time I go to a conference, a meeting, or check in with my PLN, standards based reporting keeps coming up.  At first I didn’t pay much attention to it.  My focus recently hasn’t been on PK-12 student assessments as much as it has been on teacher evaluations and teacher effectiveness.  However, with the extra time in the summer to catch up and refocus, I thought I’d look into this standards based reporting thing a little more before I get back into the full swing of the school year.  So I sent a message to @mctownsley and @russgoerend to ask for some help starting off.  Russ sent me a link to what his district is doing with standards based reporting and I am surprised how much I learned.

Standards based reporting to me, based on my very limited research, but I’ll take Russ and the Waukee CSD as reliable sources, is about assessing students based on their progress towards grade level content standards.  The kicker is that the normal grading system isn’t used and in its place is a scheme that helps describe the level at which a student is performing on each standard.  What I quickly discovered that I liked about standards based grading was the fact that students aren’t being assessed on their behavior, but rather on what they know.  However, behavior is important, but instead of grouping it with the content standards, it has its own separate place, which seems to make sense.

So why does this all this matter?  Well first and foremost, teachers are better able to design and target their efforts for their students since each student more or less gets an individualized report of where they are in terms of acquiring a particular concept or skill.  This means less large group instruction where only a fraction of students will benefit, to more small group and individual style activities.  By grouping students or through individualized instruction, the type of “teaching” students receive can be more targeted to what they need, rather than trying to meet the needs of anywhere from 20 to 30 students.  Standards based reporting also matters because communication with parents can now be more clear and open.  Whether a student is struggling, succeeding, or has behavioral considerations, teachers, parents, and students have a much more concise method for looking at the evidence, allowing for better decision making.

However, I do have a couple questions.  My first question surrounds how college admissions would react to standards based reporting.  However, as I think about it a little more, if the transcripts reflect the progress students have made towards a standard, they’d still be able to determine their success on different subjects making them more than able to determine if the student would be a good candidate.  In fact, they would likely be better informed than with the traditional report card.  I’d wager the real problem would be with how a change at the LEA level would change the process at IHE level.  In the end, are colleges and universities not going to accept any students from a certain school because of the type of grading system used?  I highly doubt it.  It comes down to change, which is a long and difficult process for some.

My other burning question is: At what point is a student deemed ready to move on to the next level?  At what point do they pass the course?  Does it require a satisfactory completion of all standards, the majority, or some other indicator?  I wasn’t sure what to think about this question.  I’d imagine this would be unique for each school?

This may seem like an off topic for an edtech blog, but it really isn’t.  When it comes down to educational technology, the only thing that truly matters is the education part and how technology can support it.  This means we need to have a logical assessment system for students so we can better design instruction with appropriate technology.  As I think about all the 1:1 initiatives in the state, having a solid assessment system in place so stakeholders can determine if gains are being made in each content area is crucial.  Standardized tests are too unreliable in my opinion, while standards based reports show some promise.

Your thoughts?  Did I miss something or mis-represent a key component of standards based reporting?


15 thoughts on “What’s this standards based reporting thing?

  1. Hey Dan,
    It’s been fun connecting with you on a topic (standards-based grading) that really excites me.

    You asked about mis-representing SBG and I don’t think you’ve misrepresented anymore than anyone else in the blogosphere. Here’s why — it’s still fairly loosely define. For example, in Waukee, the 6th grade is moving to a true “standards-based” report card in which students will not receive letter grades. They’ll instead receive a report card listing the “big ideas” for each content area and some sort of description of how he/she is doing along a pre-defined scale for each standard (big idea). The standards-based grading movement, in my experience, is much broader than what Waukee’s 6th grade is planning to do this year. Waukee’s 6th grade is probably the purest I’ve seen aside from the Aurora public schools (http://aurorak12.org/parents/sbg/) in Colorado.

    When I taught high school math, I was not able, at that time, to eliminate letter grades. I still attempted to use a flavor of standards-based grading with my students. Here’s a glimpse at what the grade book looked like: http://mctownsley.blogspot.com/2009/04/standards-based-grading-and-student.html
    Jason Buell, a teacher from California, blogs regularly about his standards-based grading implementation. He, too, is not able to eliminate letter grades, so described how he uses this philosophy all the way up to eventually calculating a letter grade: http://alwaysformative.blogspot.com/2010/03/translating-to-letter-grade.html

    If you’re interested in my thoughts on the broader themes of the standards-based grading movement, check out this post from a year ago: http://mctownsley.blogspot.com/2010/07/tenets-of-assessmentgrading-reform.html

    Finally, you asked about the impact of standards-based grading on admissions to higher educational institutions. In the workshops and presentations I give on standards-based grading, I’ve been asked this question quite a few times. Here are a few responses.
    1) Eliminating letter grades in middle school (as in Waukee’s 6th grade example) have no impact at all on college admissions. College admission reps do not look at middle school grades.
    2) Eliminating letter grades in a high school does not have to be the result when embracing the standards-based grading philosophy. As I described above (and in Jason Buell’s example), a letter grade can still be derived when reporting student learning in a standards-based feedback-heavy classroom environment.
    3) If a high school was serious about eliminating letter grades, I don’t think it would, over time, negatively impact college admissions. Consider students who are home schooled – some of them do not receive letter grades, yet they are still admitted to 4-year institutions. Let’s assume Cedar Falls HS, Hudson HS and NU High all decided to eliminate letter grades. I am guessing that UNI would figure out a way to accept these students, because they would not want to miss out on their enrollment. If enough schools decided to make a change, higher education would be forced to change.

    It’s pretty neat seeing you investigate standards-based grading. If you’re interested in reading/learning more in the future, I’m happy to help in any way I can!

    • Wow! Talk about mind blowing. I took a look at your blog and Jason’s and it completely changed my perception of how grading should take place. I’m still a bit confused about whether or not letter grades for the end of course is really needed, but I am more curious about what the advantages/disadvantages are between doing pure SBG and assigning letter grades. Why choose one method over the other? Is there a fundamental reason for not using letter grades or is it simply to keep the focus on student progress towards a learning target?

      As I think about it, there is going to be a letter grade outcome regardless of what you do. It’s a matter of how the final “grade” is being calculated and how a teacher/school determines whether or not a student is ready to move on. How do we develop a consistent and unbiased way of promoting students to the next grade level without having “grades” of some kind? Ideally we wouldn’t promote them until they mastered all the concepts, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

      Right now I’m a big fan of Jason’s grading scale as that seems give a better picture of where a student is with their understanding of the concept. It seemed a little harsh at first, but as I think about it, there is no reason that a grade on another learning goal should be weighed any stronger than the students lowest score. I see this as a way to motivate students to work harder on areas they need improvement. If you want the A you have to really work for it, which in turn better prepares them for the next level.

      If I wanted to learn more about true SBG, who would I look up? I need to know more about the underlying concept before I can make a firm decision on where I stand. Thanks for the feedback. I’m sure I’ll be asking more questions 🙂

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