Sharing assessment & grading strategies that help students learn

As has been stated on this site before, traditional grading practices have led to a culture of "Quest for Numerator Points" in our schools and with our students. Students have been trained and conditioned to care more about grading than learning.

We educators wish this wasn't the case, yet to complain about it makes as much sense as Sea World trainers complaining that Shamu only does tricks when rewarded with fish (more on that concept here). In other words, while we don't like the fact that students routinely ask teachers for opportunities to earn more points, the reality is that they are doing what they've been conditioned by us to do.

When we measure student progress in terms of points earned over points possible it just makes sense that students want more points. The solution to this situation is to have a way to communicate how students are doing other than an average of all work completed. The solution is to communicate student progress toward the mastery of specific standards. The solution is Standards Based Learning.

Consider this. A student asks how she is doing in your class. You respond, "You're doing pretty well. You currently have a 92." What is the student supposed to do if she wants to improve? The only logical response is for her to consider how many points she needs to get on the next assignment to raise her average or to think of ways to earn additional or extra points. Either way, the focus is on earning points instead of on increasing learning.

However, if a student asks how she is doing in your class and you are able to respond by telling her how she is progressing toward specific standards, then you have the potential for students to ask more productive questions that focus on learning. Want to see what I mean? Here is a recent question a student at our school emailed to her teacher:

I am having trouble with the Multiplication and Division of the radicals, is there anyway I can receive more help on trying to understand them? It's my only struggle.

Wow! Isn't that exactly the sort of question we want students to ask? This student understands what she knows and doesn't know because of the specific standards-based feedback she has received from her teacher. This student has been trained to seek to master standards instead of just collect points. The student is seeking out her teacher in a positive, productive, and meaningful manner.

Let's face it: Students will always care about grades. We did when we were students, and it's completely understandable. But if we want them to value learning, we - the educators - need to provide them with a new paradigm. This is the beauty of Standards Based Learning.

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