Standards-based grading: Big shift #3: Repurposing homework and checks for understanding as ungraded practice

In standards-based grading, teachers repurpose homework and checks for understanding as ungraded practice. In other words, students should be provided opportunities to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and the information resulting from these assessments should be used by teachers to inform their instruction.

When I was in middle school, I distinctly remember my math teachers explaining how many points each daily homework assignment was worth and the inherent value of completing each on in a timely manner. It didn’t take too long to figure out that points were the currency of the classroom, and if it meant finding a partner on the bus ride to school for a little extra “assistance” (a.k.a. “copying”), that time often paid off. At the same time, the daily classroom grind often involved learning a new concept such as ratios, attempting problems 1-5 in class with the expectation of completing 6-20 on my own time before the next day. Assuming the purpose of these daily assignments was to practice, expecting perfection on these 14 problems prior to receiving feedback just didn’t seem right. Yet, each day the number of problems I answered correctly was recorded by the teacher in the grade book, which ultimately influenced my end-of-quarter grade.

In standards-based grading, the BIG shift is repurposing homework, mid-unit quizzes, rough drafts of essays, and other assignments designed to check for understanding (rather than summarize learning at the end of the instructional process) as ungraded practice.

One change for teachers using standards-based grading is to move away from reporting points on every single assignment (regardless of its purpose) towards more utilizing narrative feedback during the instructional process. In the example below, students are asked to indicate their perceived level of understanding in pencil for each standard assessed immediately following the completion of a mid-unit math quiz (note the question numbers intended to align with each standard, i.e. 1 & 3 for 5.MD.5) and my feedback to the learner in red which they receive the next day.

This post is the third and final in a series highlighting three big shifts in implementing standards-based grading. See below for the previous two.

  1. Standards-based grading big shift #1: Reporting learning rather than tasks
  2. Standards-based grading big shift #2: A mastery mindset

To learn more about all three of these big shifts, including detailed implementation criteria, pitfalls to avoid, and self-assessment continuums for teachers and collaborative teams, see the book Making Grades Matter: Standards-based Grading in a Secondary PLC at Work, available from Solution Tree Press.

Standards-based Grading: BIG Shift #2 – A Mastery Mindset

In standards-based grading, teachers have a mastery mindset. In other words, classroom structures and routines are setup to maximize student learning, regardless of when they learn it.

In my experience as a K-12 student, and perhaps yours as well, each unit of study took several weeks or more and ended with some type of culminating assessment (test, project, essay, speech, etc.). The level of understanding I demonstrated at the end of the unit was written in ink. There was nothing I could do to change this static mark regardless of my future level of learning. Once the doors had been shut on the unit, few, if any, opportunities existed to remediate and/or show I had a deeper understanding.

Every educator I have worked with agrees that students learn at different rates and different paces. As such, in standards-based grading, the BIG shift is thinking about learning as dynamic rather than static within a reporting period. When students have demonstrated a higher level of understanding following some type of new learning activities, marks in the grade book or report card are revised according. Because our mindset is focused on mastery, we think of learning as documented in pencil during any given quarter, trimester or semester.

In an upcoming post, I will share the next BIG shift of standards-based grading: repurposing homework and checks for understanding as ungraded practice.

Standards-Based Grading: BIG Shift #1 – Reporting Learning Rather than Tasks

In standards-based grading, teachers communicate goals of learning rather than tasks. In other words, learning is communicated in relation to the course outcomes rather than the activities (homework, quiz, project, essay, etc.) demonstrating the learning outcomes.

For many years in education, this has been the default means of communication to students and parents:

However, 14 out of 16 points does not tell John or his parents the areas in which he has successfully learned the course outcomes and the areas in which John still needs to improve.

In standards-based grading, the BIG shift is seeing learning outcomes (often called “standards” in K-12 schools) reported in grade books and/or report cards.

In an upcoming post, I will share the next BIG shift of standards-based grading: a mastery learning mindset.