SBG in a Traditional Grading System – Considerations

Much of the information out there about SBG is written form the standpoint of teaching revolution at the school level and worthy idealism. But, much of it is not really practical for traditional grading school teachers who want a philosophical change in grading and believe that SBG is best for their students. Saying things like HW should not count, zeros should not be given, or a 4 point scale should be used may all be true but not realistic, especially when your whole school is not converting to SBG.

There are a lot of great teachers using traditional teaching, who are more effective than SBG teachers doing it in a sub-par way. Something to think about. Whatever you choose, you should still strive to be the best, effective teacher possible, to provide the most learning opportunities for your students.

My reality is this: I work in a Charter school system (Fulton County) that is 70 miles long and we have around 7,500 teachers that serve around 96,000 students. My school (Centennial High School) is a wonderful place that teaches around 2,000 students each year. We are proudly heterogeneous in our population. I started teaching there 18 years ago and began using SBG 2 years ago (this will be my 3rd year). As far as I know, I am the only one teaching SBG in the county (I may not be aware if this is different). I teach AP and honors biology and teach 5 classes using 52 minute periods. I have a planning period and an hour for lunch each day. Overall I teach around 130 kids. My school is very willing to allow teachers to have flexibility in how they teach as long as it is based on sound pedagogy. I am greatly constrained by the Fulton County grade book, standardized testing, and the traditional school setting found county-wide.

I will not be telling you here how to do SBG or how to develop it for your teaching. I am going to give you some things to consider that are based on my SBG experience teaching in a traditional learning setting.

  1.  Do not get fired. You need a job and people depend on you. Don’t be a martyr for SBG. The last thing you need is to think something is cool and then launch into it thinking it’ll all work out. Don’t do it because 9 other people on Twitter say it’s awesome or you read a book and feel bad about yourself. You are probably already a very effective teacher.
  2. Understand why you are doing this. Do your research into the pedagogy justifying SBG as a worthy way to teach. Be prepared to explain to others (perhaps your boss, kids and parents) why this is at least an equal method as the one already in place. Be prepared for not everyone thinking it is such a great idea. People like status quo.
  3. Standards. Do you understand them? Can you unpack them? Are you restricted by what you have to teach and when? Do you have autonomy to break them down into manageable learning objectives? Do you know how to write assessments and properly score them in the style of your chosen SBG method?
  4. Know what you can’t do. Along with #1, know the limitations you are faced with. Make a list of your ideas and see if you have to cross any of them out because of your system’s/school’s constraints. There is no “one size fits all” SBG.
  5. Three major questions: 1. What do you want your SBG classroom to look like?, 2. What do you value in assessing learning using SBG?, 3. How will you track it and explain it to your stakeholders?
  6. Stop! if you don’t know the answers to #5, and re-read numbers 1-4. Figure those out first.
  7. Formative. Much of SBG by nature is formative assessment. Can you do this most of the time without converting to a number? How will you formatively assess? How will you communicate the assessment results to kids and parents? Will you have to attach a grade to this? How will that work?
  8. Summative. Do you give high stakes tests, unit exams, a final? How do these fit into your system? How will you deal with things if the formative SBG does not match with the summative results. How will you explain to your stakeholders?
  9. Grade book.  How will you implement SBG tracking or grade reporting into your system issued grade book? This is often the hardest part of doing SBG in a traditional setting. Your school system most uses percentages on a 0-100 scale in the grade book. Something like a grade must be in that grade book as communication between you/parents/system. Do you have the choice to use a different system like a 4 point scale? There are SBG grade books out there which are really nice like Active Grade and JumpRope or even spreadsheet tracking. Can you use these without losing your job? Will you have to pay out of pocket? Does your administration/ parents/kids understand how you are using it and why?
  10. Pacing.  How will you deal with the learning pace as it slows down? No one really mentions this when implementing SBG. If you are going for mastery/proficiency, how will you pace your class if kids are not understanding? Do you have autonomy to go at your own pace? How are kids who do not master learning objectives or standards remediated?
  11. Work and Time.  SBG takes a lot of time and it is a lot of work if you are in a traditional setting. For example: developing everything from scratch, writing tons of feedback, working to get everyone to understand what you are doing and buying in, reassessments/retakes/redos, entering in SBG type proficiency scores and converting them to a numerical average in the traditional grade book. I’ll be honest and say my work load went up tremendously. Hours upon hours of more work.
  12. Too Much Too Soon. Don’t implement SBG the year you are implementing a bunch of other things like apps, programs, software, portfolios, turning your class into a game, etc. Doing too much at once is detrimental. My first year of SBG i also introduced, Active Grade, a Google drive management system, new proficiency levels, Class Dojo and Remind. Not good. Be patient and do a little at a time.
  13. Start Slowly. I would advocate that you implement SBG (if you are on your own) over 3 years. I would be traditional mostly the first year and begin reading, asking questions, getting permissions and developing your method that first year. You can still start doing things like more formative assessment, feedback and focusing on standards no matter what grading style you use. In year two I would begin the transformation by teaching more in the spirit of SBG and tracking your kids on your own to see if this is even more effective than what you are already doing. In year 3, I would go full Monty.

I did not solve your problems here. I am not negative about SBG. I am trying to be realistic. My advice is meant to be practical. Maybe if I write more I will share resources and ideas but you will not get very far by just using someone else’s methods. With something as serious as assessment and student learning you have to develop a skill set that you can defend if needed. I believe about half of what people tell me about their classes on social media (unless I know them well), and it sometimes helps me with SBG related chats where the conversations tend to be idealistic.

In the meantime, you have some summer time to ponder and consider. Perhaps some of this was helpful in some way. Thanks for reading.

Drop me a line for feedback @apbioroswell

More lengthly discussion ucapugulator [at] gmail [dot] com

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