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SBG as Generative Practice

June 10, 2012

One thing I really like about standards-based assessment is that learning to do it is much like riding a bicycle:

#1 When you see someone else doing it, it looks like a lot of fun. But it also looks scary. Because you can see right away that so many things could go wrong. The combination of fun and scary makes it compelling.

#2 When you aren’t doing it yet, the only people you see doing it are mostly people you look up to–your big brother, your mom. The fact that these people are doing it makes it compelling.

#3 Getting started is the hardest thing, but then your off and learning; because once you are going, you learn by the mere act of doing. The bike keeps moving; the re-assessments keep coming.

It’s really this third item that I want to talk about. One of things that I really like about doing standards-based assessment is that amount of things I am learning through doing it. There are several reasons for this. First, I am looking at 32-50 individual pieces of assessment per day that I’m NOT grading. I’m looking at the student work and deciding “Yes ” or “No”. Looking at the student work through the lens of, “Have they demonstrated understanding here?” is way more generative of learning for me than, “How many points should I give (or take away) here?” Because of research, I am more practiced at looking at student work and asking questions like, “What is the student thinking here?”, “How did this make sense to them?”, “What about this context made this response so likely?” And while these questions are important, they are different than asking if the student work should count as evidence of understanding. With standards-based assessment, I get lots of practice at this new skill.

Second, I have to re-write assessments constantly that will hopefully assess one isolated skill again and again–a quiz that hopefully cannot be answered correctly by just memorizing something from past quiz. I end up having to write about 5-10 different assessments for each standard.  There are a lot of constraints in writing these assessments:  keeping it a valid measurement of skill under question; keeping it somewhat isolated to that skill; making it different enough from previous quizzes; making sure it can be done in a short time frame; etc, etc. I like the fact that I now feel comfortable writing quizzes off the top of my head. While I occasionally make less-than-superb decisions in writing assessments, I am much better now than I was 6 months ago. I rarely write an assessment that students will get right without understanding. I feel comfortable knowing how to make any assessment slightly easier or slightly harder. Sure, sometimes I goof up. But that’s sort of my point. I learn by making those goofs and thinking on what went wrong with that assessment. How were students able to answer correctly without really getting it? Why did no one answer that one correct? Sometimes it means that I wrote the quiz bad; other times it means there’s some new issue about student learning of that skill that I’d never really thought through before.

My advice to anyone thinking about doing standards-based assessment is to do it, even if a little bit. While I think there may be people who say you have to do JUMP full into SBG to make it work, I’m not sure that’s true. Last semester I dipped my toe into it, replacing reading quizzes with standards-focused quizzes. Students valued it, and I learned from doing. This summer I expanded it. My course is still not fully standards-based. Students get credit for doing pre-class reading questions (“graded” on effort). Individual students labs are graded on a rubric, but a part of their lab grade is now based on lab-skill standards. I’ve made my rubric aligned with the standards, but the lab write-up still gets a grade that can’t be changed; while the lab standard part of the grade can be learned at any time. I still have exams; they are just tightly aligned with standards.

There are lots of good reasons to do standards-based assessment, but one reason should be the opportunity it provides YOU as the teacher to learn to become a better teacher. The practice itself is generative of better practice.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2012 1:13 pm

    Thanks for this post. It is both helpful and encouraging. I’m considering SBG for my calc-based physics class in the fall but still have much to learn and think about for the syllabus and structure of the course.

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