Disclaimer: I am not an expert in standards-based grading or traditional grading for that matter. While I hope my reflections on grading practices will help you reflect on your own, my venture into SBG is still hypothetical at this point. Hopefully I will have a strong enough grasp on this all before the school year begins.
Now, back to the action:
4. “Sucks for you!” zeroes
In a points system, a zero can mean that a student has absolutely no understanding of the material, failed to submit work for any number of reasons, or a penalty for some sort of academic dishonesty. Regardless of the cause, zeroes, even on small assignments, can have detrimental effects on a student’s grade, in many cases causing irreparable damage.
- Why I did it: No idea. Frustration? Everyone else is doing it? Punishment? Perhaps a little of each. But it has never been because the student demonstrates no understanding of the material.
Why I’m dumping it: I’m not sure what a solution would be in a traditional points system, but in SBG, a zero has a very specific meaning. In the grading scale I will likely adopt, a 0.0 means that even with guidance from a teacher, the student cannot demonstrate the most basic concepts for a given standard.
- There are dozens of reasons why a student may fail to turn in an assignment. They may feel that the assignment is not a good use of their time. They may have health issues or pressure in other classes. They may have forgotten about it. It may be an act of teenage rebellion against parents. They may have no clue how to do it. The distinction between knowing how to demonstrate mastery and not being able to demonstrate mastery is the key distinction I am concerned with.
- As for plagiarism, one “sketchy” lab report could very well drop your grade by a full letter (in the points-based system). There is certainly a better way to help our students maintain academic integrity than punishing them with zeroes.*
5. Late Penalty (known alias: “Preparing kids for the ‘real world'”)
No late penalty (or accepting late work) is the most common objection to standards-based grading. At my previous school, a late penalty was needed just to get any work, and for some students, a bad grade wasn’t enough motivation to get the work done. I’ve used up to 10% penalty. Most recently, I’ve eliminated the “day” penalties, but I still draw a line in the sand for when I accept a particular assignment late.
- Why I did it: ANARCHY! Imagine the chaos if deadlines were fluid. How can consistent grading be ensured if reports are graded weeks apart? And how can I be sure that little Jimmy didn’t just copy Sammy Q’s lab from Mr. Z’s class lab two months later? Just the thought of having to grade lab reports 1-5 simultaneously makes my head explode. And imagine the stacks of ungraded work on my desk at the end of the term. Surely, that must be a fire hazard.
- Why I’m dumping it**: Umm… IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH LEARNING. As for my above concerns, I trust my students. Lack of a late penalty doesn’t mean an abolishment of deadlines. If I’m doing my job, there will be numerous evidences for students’ mastery of any given standard. Hopefully, my students will recognize that timely submission of work will lead to timely feedback necessary for future work. With SBG, the late penalty could be a different task, or a different method of demonstrating mastery of the skills required for that assignment.
* Our school mission asks us to lead our students to “distinguish right from wrong.” Crystal clear expectations from day one is a good start.
**There is nothing in our mission about preparing students to be good employees. Heck, the word “college” doesn’t even appear. So I think I’m safe.