My SBG Start

After spending the end of last year and most of the summer reading about standards based grading, I decided to jump on the SBG express. Like a travelin’ hobo with my bindle full of dreams of meaningful grades, I found a traveling companion (the other physics teacher in my department) and together we set off for the grading frontier. Our admin team was very supportive and they gave us plenty of freedom to develop the assessments that we feel will benefit our students learning. During the summer, we met to share our standards for our first units and to discuss any anticipated problems we felt might crop up.

School started two weeks ago, and we’ve both given our first assessment under SBG. Things have gone well (though I have yet to hand back the quiz), but I want to share a couple of the pitfalls we have encountered and how we’re choosing to deal with them.

Multiple grades for a single standard on one assessment.

Often, a quiz will contain multiple questions that address a single standard. Should we grade them all as a single attempt, average the scores together, or use the score on the last (i.e. most recent) problem? Maybe I should just write smaller assessments, but physics is such a cumulative science that standards are going to pop up over and over. I’ve decided to use all of the attempts on a single assessment in determining the score I report to the students. I think that gives them a more representative view of their current knowledge and avoids awarding coincidental correct answers.

General problem solving (arithmetic, algebra, units, sig figs, etc.)

So, what do you do with all of the math background skills that a student is supposed to be proficient in when they enter your physics class? Previously, I’d penalize a student 1/2 point for every missing unit or a careless algebra mistake. With SBG, I can’t in good conscience lower a student’s score on “Propagates error in sums/differences” when they forget to divide by 2π. Instead, I created a separate standard called “Practices good problem solving” which is my catch all standard for those math/technical skills needed to succeed in physics that I expect students to have when they enter the class. Additionally, if a student receives a low score in this, they still know what area to focus their efforts on.

The above is certainly not exhaustive and I imagine I’ll have more to share in the future. We’re still working out the translation of standards scores to percent/letter grades and how semester exams affect grades, but thus far, I think we are both happy with where this is leading.



  1. good luck! I found SBG really changed how my students saw their own progress, and really made a number of “I can’t get physics” get the feedback and motivation they needed to succeed.

  2. I’ll certainly be following your progress as it seems that you’re a week or two ahead of me. Concerning your first question, my approach to content standards will be to ask questions at four levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy for each standard: remembering, explaining, using, and evaluating/synthesizing. These represent my four levels in my rubric. They won’t see more than one question at each level on any one assessment. Concerning the second, I would break your ‘math’ standard into many sub-standards, which could then be averaged come grade time.

    1. Thanks for the advice and tie to Bloom’s, Theron. I’ve already setup my rubric for this year, but I may look into incorporating this idea in the future. My AP students and I talked about the math standard today. The general consensus was that I would continue to assess it (as a whole standard) until I’d seen everyone in class had reached a certain level of proficiency. From then on, I would assess it on a case by case basis or if I felt they were neglecting those skills. I want to aovid breaking it up smaller, as there is really a course worth of skills that my physics students need to know how to use from day one.

      @John – Thanks for the encouragement. I gave back my first quiz today in AP and we talked a bit about grades. I think they are as optimistic about the process as I am.

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