SBG: One Quarter Down

This Friday marks the end of the 1st Quarter of the school year. At this point I'm totally a SBG n00b. For the standard, "I can successfully implement standard-based grading into the 9th grade Integrated Science classroom," I'd rate myself at the "basic" level. I've got the basic idea, I've got the basic setup, it's going basically well, but it's a long way from where I hope it will be by the end of the year.


Students don't get it

Students understand that their overall performance in class is based on their scores for the learning goals we've gone over in class. They understand that only their most recent score for each learning goal counts. Unfortunately they have at least 8 solid years of being conditioned point-grubbers. The whole concept seems totally foreign to their entire school experience. It saddens me that explaining to a student their grade is based on their actual understanding of the content draws a blank "I don't get it" look. I keep telling myself that by frequently explaining the basic tenets of SBG and sticking to my guns students will eventually reach the point where understanding smacks them upside the head and they spend the rest of the year walking around school demanding that all their teachers do it this way. However, I'd be willing to bet a big part of the problem is the fact that...

I don't get it

Well, I get it, but I'm not sure I get how to implement it. I'm not sure I get how to communicate it. I'm not sure what I'm doing day to day supports the "radical" mandate of SBG1. There have been several changes to my school life this year that have left me time-strapped and feeling I just don't have time to go through my curriculum with a fine-tooth comb and tweak it to fit the SBG mandate. Part of the issue is my understanding of...

Qualitative SBG

Many of the SBG Titans out there teach quantitative subjects such as Math or Physics. I'm teaching a much more qualitative 9th grade Integrated Science. Conceptually, I understand how SBG works within a qualitative course. On the implementation side I'm not as comfortable. Great inquiry-based activities focused on the life cycle of stars are a little trickier for me to design than those around the work-energy theorem. I'm not trying to cop out of providing a curiosity-rich learning environment here; some topics are just harder for me to design great stuff around. Which leads to the complication of the...

State curriculum

The Connecticut State Curriculum Standards for 9th grade Integrated Science aren't that bad. Sure, they're often poorly worded and overly expansive,2 but there are a lot of interesting and relevant topics in there. I'm not one to worry about skipping a standard or six, but there are people (generally the people that fill out my evaluations) who think it's best that I not miss any.

Yesterday I had a crazy daydream about a place where there weren't oh-so-specific standards for each class and I could really let students' questions and curiosity drive what we cover when. I get why we have state standards and think it's generally a positive thing, but I dislike their specificity. We keep forgetting to leave room for curiosity and the pursuit of interesting questions. I need to find a balance between keeping up with the other Integrated Science teachers and making sure I'm putting student learning at the forefront, which is much more difficult because I'm...

Going it alone

I'm the only teacher at my school using SBG. I've pitched it to my Integrated Science colleagues and explained its wonders to my principal, but they didn't seem too interested3. I'd like to work with them to puzzle through how we'll deal with the state standards while doing SBG, or share the effort of designing great activities and projects that keep curiosity and discovery at their center. Even trickier: we were given a mandate that our mid-term and final exams must be exactly the same. That wouldn't be a big deal if we were all on the SBG Express. Since I'm riding solo the common exams probably won't live up to my expectations of what an SBG exam should look like. It certainly won't be focused solely around the learning goals I've developed, which is a major bummer.

Some Questions

2nd Quarter

In the traditional points-driven system, the points simply reset to zero at the beginning of each quarter. Students start fresh. In my understanding, that doesn't really jive with the SBG system. At this point, I'm planning on bringing over all the learning goals and scores from the 1st Quarter into the 2nd and not reset student scores until the end of the semester. How do you SBG wizards out there handle this? I'm not sure if holding over grades from quarter to quarter is technically "allowed," which might make that decision for me.

Assessment routines

While there's no one right way to implement SBG, I'm always looking to make my implementation higher-impact while remaining easy to understand. Here's how things have gone down so far:

  • I give frequent small quizzes over a learning goal or two that we've been talking about in class.
    • If there is an obvious deficiency in student understanding, we take some time in class focused on the weaknesses and do an in-class reassessment later. If the vast majority of students understand the topic it becomes the responsibility of individual students to reassess before or after school.
  • I do frequent projects or activities that cover a couple to several learning goals. Usually there are at least a couple content-based learning goals and a few skill-based learning goals.
  • I've been pretty formal about letting students know when I'm assessing a learning goal. I'm not sure if this is the best method- especially for learning goals in the vein of, "I can effectively communicate and collaborate with others to complete a task." I'd like that to simply be an "always on" learning goal that can be assessed anytime they work in a group. However,  I'm not quite sure how to communicate that assessment in the midst of group work, or whether it'll cause a problem to not assess every student on that learning goal for each group activity. For example, it's easy to pick out students who aren't doing well on that learning goal while it often isn't as attention grabbing when they're doing well. As a result I worry about assessing the negative instances more than the positive, thus artificially driving that score down.

How do you handle "on the fly" assessment?


  1. "Learning is King"      (back)
  2. There are at least 5 standards I could envision being semester long courses by themselves. (back)
  3. On a positive note, my SBG implementation came up in a meeting where the Asst. Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction was present and she seemed interested in hearing more.     (back)