Wednesday, March 5, 2014

SBG and Exam Scores

There are a variety of ways to deal with big summative assessments (final exams, etc.) in SBG. Because the scores on standards are the result of several assessments on each standard, work, reassessment, etc., I generally don't want my final exams to upturn (for good or ill) a term's worth of work - one day does not a term make. I do like the summative nature in this context, though, and the huge opportunity for including lots of connections between standards. The question is then just how to include these assessments in the students' grades in a way that reflects all of these realities and tries to (as always) make the grade represent student understanding as closely as possible.

For a while now, I've been counting the total grade from the standards as 80% of the term grade and the exam as 20%. You could adjust the ratio in a variety of ways, trying to give the exam 'teeth' or to not over-weight a single snapshot on a single day, but that's not the interesting part.

Before I switched to standards-based grading, my students' exam scores were fairly consistently lower than their grades going into the exams (you could say the same thing about any bigger assessment during the term, too). This led me to have some 'insurance' in the grade - participation, HW, etc. One of the reasons that I switched to SBG was that I felt like these sorts of components in the grade, which do not reflect student understanding, were muddling the meaning of the grade and were inflating student scores in order to arrive at a typical grade distribution.

Since I've switched to SBG, my students' exam scores and their grades going into the exam have become more and more correlated.

This year, almost no students had more than a 6 point discrepancy between their averages and their exam scores, and the differences were evenly distributed between higher and lower. My grade distribution is the same as it was before, but those grades represent a higher level of understanding than they did before, and my grades more accurately represent my students' understanding.

As I handed exams back today, some students were clearly nervous, asking the usual questions: "how were they?", "were the exams good?", etc. I reflexively started with some sort of answer, but then I just said it: "they correlated very closely with your grades going into the exams. you know why?" First student answer: "because that's our level of understanding!"

That's all that I've ever wanted for a grading scheme. Well, that and giving actionable feedback, communicating learning as a priority, and motivating a drive for improvement.