Standards-based grading: Frequently asked questions about reassessment

The email questions continue to roll in this school year.  A math teacher from California gave me permission to share some of our recent communication:

If there is unlimited number of reassessment, how do you manage students who want to re-assess till they attain “got it” and eventually the school year is ending?

Our teachers usually have a “final reassessment deadline.”  For example, if the semester ends on December 20 and grades are due on December 23, a teacher might communicate a final reassessment deadline of December 18.  In the ideal world, students would be allowed to re-assess forever (think: 31 year old re-assessing his high school government coursework!), however the realities of our current educational paradigm (180 days, bells, student schedules, etc.) force us to create arbitrary deadlines, even in a standards-based grading system. It would be very challenging for a teacher to allow reassessments to be turned in up until the last minute grades are due to the school, therefore some type of buffer should be established to allow for the teacher to score and enter the final batch of reassessments.  In general, as long as the final reassessment deadline is communicated early and often, students and parents understand the need for the teacher to grade the reassessments and get them entered into the grade book before the school-imposed grade deadline.
If the student can choose to reassess just one standard, doesn’t it tell the student what concept or skill is required to solve the problem given and makes learning segmented? For the reassessment problem, should it be similar to the previous assessment/practice or should a novel problem be given? 
You’ve identified one of the biggest critiques I have read/heard of standards-based grading — narrowing down learning into finite concepts rather than seeing math as a larger body of ideas in which life rarely tells us which formula to use.  With this in mind, any assessment in a standards-based grading or traditional grading classroom is only as good as its author.  In other words, any test could be written with a very low cognitive complexity or a very high level or rigor.  I have seen standards-based grading tests that break down the concepts into fine-grained concepts and I have seen others that expect students to climb Bloom’s taxonomy.  I believe a starting point is thinking about re-assessments at a similar level of cognitive complexity as the original assessment.  Sometimes the expected level of rigor is described in the standards themselves.  For example:

Identify the shapes of two-dimensional cross-sections of three-dimensional objects, and identify three-dimensional objects generated by rotations of two-dimensional objects.

“Identify” may give the assessment author a glimpse into the expected level of Bloom’s intended by the writer of the standards, in this case the Common Core State Standards. 
Does any of this make sense?

2 thoughts on “Standards-based grading: Frequently asked questions about reassessment

  1. Does 521 reassessments in a semester sound about par … that is for five sections of students in one content area? I felt as if I had a never ending pile of work to score … and that is with deadlines.

    • Hello! Your question about the number of reassessments is hard to answer without knowing more context. For example, were these 100 unique students reassessing about five times each? The nature of the reassessments plays a role as well. As a general rule of thumb, I aimed for less than 25% of the students to be reassessing an any given standard/target. If it exceeded this number than I looked at my instruction and checks for understanding…what was it about my teaching that lead to more than 25% (again, just a rough number) of my students not understanding? Did my checks for understanding suggest more or less than 25% of the students were struggling? I found that sometimes I did not do a good job checking for understanding, so it was sort of a crap shoot on the unit/standard/target assessment, knowing where each student might land. Other times, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of where the class would land on the assessment, but a group of them surprised me. What has been your experience with any correlation between your checks for understanding and how students perform on the formal assessment?

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