The role of summative assessments & formative feedback events

The role of summative assessments & formative feedback events

Summative assessments evaluate how much a student knows about a topic and/or the skills a student possesses within the context of the academic standard.  It is rare that projects, group work, or presentation events meet the high standard of a summative assessment; instead, these opportunities are best suited to learn and practice the material. As the summary of learning, the “grade” should be 100% based on summative assessments.

Formative feedback events (I don’t like using the word, “assessment” when I’m thinking about formative tasks) practice the material and the performance tasks required to be successful on a carefully crafted summative assessment. Formative feedback events provide the opportunity to practice the material and give the teacher the chance to give quality feedback.  As the “practice” of the material, under most circumstances, these should not be figured into the final grade.

Summative vs Formative Feedback (1).png

Self-Audit of Rules & Policies

Self-Audit of Rules & Policies

Too often we hold policies and enforce rules because they solve an immediate need; but sometimes they simultaneously create new obstacles for the very students that need the clearest path to success or are in direct conflict with our stated beliefs.  Take this self-audit on the alignment of your beliefs and policies.

The following questions are related to a recent post, 17 Policies that Inadvertently Disrespect Students.

  • Do you believe that students learn at different paces?
    • Do your late work policies respect this?
    • Does your deadline policy line up?
    • Does your re-take policy take this into account?
    • Is your “opportunity cost” to re-take too high?
    • Does your timing of the assessment event agree with your belief?
    • Do you put a deadline on learning?
  • Do you believe that students learn in different ways?
    • What happens when a student “fails” a test?
    • Is there always an option for an alternative assessment?
    • Does your use of homework respect this?
    • Does your instruction respect this?
  • Do you believe teachers should also teach respect?
    • Are you actually teaching respect or punishing lack of respect?
    • Are you modeling respect?  Really?
    • Is your definition of “respect” just submissive obedience?
  • Do you believe that students make innocent mistakes?
    • What happens when a student forgot to silence their cell phone?
    • What happens if a student misplaces a piece of paper?
    • If a student is having a bad day, do they get punished for it?
    • If a student is acting out due to boredom, what’s your solution?
    • In your classroom, what is the culture of making mistakes?
    • Is an honest mistake treated the same as a purposeful transgression?
  • Do you believe that the grade should represent what a student knows and is able to do with your content?
    • How does turning in something on-time represent knowledge or ability in your content?
    • How does attendance demonstrate ability with the content?
    • How does a deadline educate you on their ability?
    • How does “neatness” or “creativity” on a project show a level of mastery?
    • How does the amount of homework show how much a student is able to do on an assessment?
    • How does classroom behavior demonstrate their abilities with the content?
  • Do you believe that anyone truly wants to not be successful?
    • When a student appears “apathetic,” what do you do?
    • How does the “we can’t do anything until they want to” philosophy measure up to this?
    • What other reasons might exist that a student might look like they don’t want to be successful?
  • Do you believe that students should be able to explore hobbies and interests?
    • Does your homework policy respect the time a student needs to do this?
    • What about the “hidden homework” of studying, reteaching, and reading that is required to be successful?
  • Do you believe that some students’ homes are not conducive to work?
  • Do you believe that not all students have equal access to technology?
    • Does a student without technology access at home have equal requirements of work?
    • Does a student without technology access at home have equal access to the material?



More than a Growth Mindset, teachers need to develop a #RespectMindset, a filter that every policy and decision runs through.  A Respect Mindset asks whether or not the choice/reaction will most meet a student where they are.  It verifies that we are respecting the humanity and diversity of the kids we teach.  It requires a compassion for unequal backgrounds and demands a patience for challenge.

We need to communicate to our students that they don’t need to earn our respect and they can do nothing to lose our respect.  They deserve and need that safety.  The safety to know they can make mistakes without permanently damaging the relationship.  Students will inevitably disappoint us – it is what they do.  We can’t let them fall off the cliff because they were testing to see if the boundary was still there.  We need to teach why that boundary exists.

Expecting respect isn’t the same thing as teaching respect.  When a student is acting
custom_note_thumbtack_16093-5in a disrespectful way, punishment can’t be the only response.  Teachers need to model a dispassionate expression of feelings and engage in conversation, because what looks and feels like “disrespect” to a teacher might look and feel like something completely different to a student.  Take these examples of disrespect:

Insubordination.  Teacher view – refusing to comply with the clear and fair rules/policies of the space.  Potential student view – refusing to let a teacher on a power trip get their way.

Rudeness.  Teacher view – not interacting in a civil way.  Potential student view  – this is how my friends/family interacts, it is fine.

Demanding.  Teacher view – asking is different from demanding, it is time you learned that.  Potential student view – because I didn’t more carefully choose my words, I’m not going to get what I need.

Lateness.  Teacher view – arriving on time is a choice, a choice everyone else has made.  Student view – why even come at all if I am going to be verbally attacked as soon as I walk through the door?

If the only response is punishment, the only communication a student will receive is punishment – I have to believe that isn’t the goal of anyone.  Punishment with a lecture “explaining why” isn’t much better.  Teachers have to be more purposeful about when the conversation takes place about which behaviors make us feel disrespected.

Teachers need to communicate respect through more than what we say.  We need to consider  what we ask students to do with their time, our rules, and our policies.

We also need to do regular classroom culture checks.  When was the last time you lost your patience?  When was the last time you verbalized pride?  When was the last time
you shouted?  When was the last time you had a one-on-one conversation that made a student feel noticed?  When was the last time you . . .?

Respect Mindset = patience and compassion


17 Rules & Policies that Inadvertently Disrespect Students

17 Rules & Policies that Inadvertently Disrespect Students

Teaching is ALL about the relationship.  Students will do anything  and endure frustration when they feel their teachers treat them with dignity and care about them.  Classroom rules, policies, and reactions need to be run through the “respect filter.”

desert_road_sign_186481) Homework – Homework magnifies the effects of disparate home lives.  The stress on families caused by poverty, abuse, neglect, and addictions already puts students at a disadvantage.  When academic success hinges upon the completion of work at home,
students whose lives include high amounts of chaos face a significant and unjustifiable hurdle to their academic achievement.

2) Punishing Boredom – Considering the amount of time high school students are asked to sit compliantly and silently in a chair throughout the day, is it any wonder that students look for an “escape” through their technology, friendships, outbursts, or sleep?  The typical classroom doesn’t respect that the minds of our students are inside of bodies that crave movement and expression.  When these behaviors appear, it should serve as an opportunity to re-evaluate the delivery and practice happening in the classroom.

3) Grading Events & Not Learning – Tests, projects, and homework all take place at a specific time.  Beyond not respecting the reality that students learn differently and at different paces, when products demonstrating learning are time-bound, external factors (stress, illness, tragedy, learning differences, family obligations, time management skills, etc.) distort the story of the level of knowledge and skill acquisition.

4) Punishing the Accidental Cell Phone Ring – The message sent by the teacher and received by the class is that in this classroom, there is no room for error or mistakes.  If a no_cell_phones_pc_400_clr_3744student already is embarrassed by interrupting with their “Boom Boom Pow” ringtone and will never do it again, what benefit is there to further punishment?  Instead, model patience and understanding.  This goes for all accidental digression from the rules and policies.

5) Extra Credit – Extra credit makes learning optional.  If a student is struggling with a concept and their grade is suffering, extra credit might seem like a viable solution.  However, when a student completes extra credit in place of doing something else, that “something else” doesn’t get learned, but the final grade makes it look like it was.  Alternatively, consider allowing student to do a targeted, rigorous and valid alternative assessment to replace a poor performance on an assessment.  It is important to ensure the alternative assessment is reporting the same amount and level of learning as the original expectation.

6) Completion Points – The common argument for grading on completion is that on “formative” assignments, the practice is more important than the correct answer.  First, if you believe (as I do) that the final grade should represent what a student knows and is able to do, where does “practice” fall into that summative reporting?  Second, if you do decide that “practice” belongs in the final grade, this policy gives credit to students who are willing to cheat and punishes those who aren’t.  How many students “share” their assignments in the class before it is due?  How many students are feverishly copying down the answers their friends copied off someone else just before the bell rings?  Completion points also feed into the notion that learning is about “just doing” and not about “accomplishing.”  Consider no points for homework.  Consider no homework at all!

7) Bathroom “Privilege”  – There is nothing more frustrating than the student who comes racing right after lunch saying, “Can I go to the bathroom?” Any answer other than, “yes” is wrong.  In fact, at anytime any answer other than, “yes” is wrong.  Students deserve to feel comfortable – and will learn better if they are.  This isn’t to say we don’t hold students accountable for addressing their physical needs at more appropriate times.  Consider responding to the student who runs to you right after lunch with,  “Yes, but next time it’ll be considered a tardy.” How come a tardy?  Because being present means both “there” and “ready to learn.” (Additionally, requiring students to “buy” their way to the bathroom with academic points or “earned coupons” disrespects physical needs and distorts academic grades.)

8) Group Grades – Group work rarely results in equal work.  A group grade makes the hardest workers feel slighted while the “coasters” get a distorted report of their learning.  Use group work to teach collaboration and encourage cooperation.  Assess individual learning after the co-learning event has taken place.

9) Rubrics that Give Weight to Neatness – Assessment of projects and papers should be based solely on the content.  Students have a lot of time requirements – spending time coloring or beautifying a product isn’t a fair request to make.  This isn’t to say that a project not done with care needs to be accepted.  If it doesn’t meet quality standards, don’t accept the project until it meets the standard – but then only report the learning demonstrated, not the aesthetics.

10) Getting on the Emotional Roller Coaster – When we are stressed or angry, our IQ drops.  Teenagers are developmentally experiencing stress – let alone a student who has a difficult home life or is dealing with mental illness.  A student who lashes out in a flash of anger is likely not operating with their highest amount logical brain power.  Adults need to model calm and rational problem solving.  We need to understand that in the midst of a stressful situation (like a teenager melt-down) we also aren’t operating at our highest potential and may need to engage in delaying a reaction.  Diffusing situations isn’t the same as ignoring them.  Saying to a student, “I understand you’re upset and I want to talk this whole situation through because this isn’t the way I expect my classroom to run – but now is not the time.”  Buys you the opportunity to rationally react while maintaining high expectations for behavior with the rest of the students.  It also isn’t immediately assigning blame exclusively on the student.

11) Whole Class Punishment – 3 or 4 students can derail a class of 30 in a heartbeat. When a teacher punishes an entire class, the students who were on the verge of joining in get the message that it doesn’t matter whether they behave or not because they are going to endure the punishment regardless.  Employing positive peer pressure and making a connection with the ring leaders goes a long way to improving the culture of a class.  Employ the same “wait and respond” with an entire class as you do with individuals.

12) Surprise Assessments – Pop quizzes unnecessarily cause anxiety for students.  Reasons given for utilizing surprise assessments include wanting to ensure students are consistently prepared and to prevent the cramming phenomenon before tests.  The first reason disrespects the complexity of students’ lives.  The second is only required if the assessment isn’t valid or reliable.  Quality assessments measure abilities to apply, evaluate, and synthesize – these skills can’t be crammed for.

13) Gate keeping Assessments – Policies that prevent students from being eligible to take an assessment before completing a review packet or having all homework done are policies that don’t respect that students learn differently.  If it is agreed that not all students learn the same, how is it argued that all students must do the same thing?  If there are a few students struggling and this process seems like the best for that individual, consider using it as a intervention strategy that is “scaffolded” away over time.

14) Using the word, “apathetic” – Students don’t come to school to fail.  No student wants failure.  It is the teacher’s job to not label a student but figure out what the root cause of their behavior is and work to make it better.  Consider these words by Dr. Ross Greene in his article, Kids Do Well If They Can

“Kids with behavioral challenges are not attention-seeking, manipulative, limit-testing, coercive, or unmotivated. But they do lack the skills to behave appropriately. Adults can help by recognizing what causes their difficult behaviors and teaching kids the skills they need.”

15) Late Work Grade PenaltiesLow grades don’t motivate students.  They do the opposite – choosing this policy runs the risk of further demoralizing an already struggling student.  Meeting deadlines is a behavior that must be taught to students; however, tying it to their academic grade makes a student think on future assignments, “Why should I work so hard to get a D or C?”  Late work penalties legitimize lateness.  Addressing the behavior with logical interventions is the only way to expect punctuality.

16) Hidden Homework – Any work a student is required to do outside of the classroom toshould-high-school-teachers-stop-assigning-homework be successful inside the classroom is by definition, “homework.”  Beyond the worksheets, papers, and projects, any time required to study, relearn, or be tutored is a tax on students’ time.  If there isn’t enough time during the class period to properly introduce, practice, and assess the content – there is too much content and/or inefficient delivery. Hidden homework should be exception used as an intervention, not the rule used for preparing most students.

17) Rules are Rules – No matter how positive a classroom environment or the quality of relationships with students, rules will be broken and policies won’t be followed.  Teachers need to be dispassionate in their response while simultaneously compassionate in their punishment.  It is accepted that students are not complete in their knowledge base and teachers need to teach knowledge.  The same is true about responsibility:  students are not complete in their responsibility base and teachers need to teach responsibility.  Keep in mind that teaching is not the same as expecting.

Consider taking the “self-audit” to see how your beliefs line up with your policies.


Are you a content hoarder? How to de-clutter your curriculum in 3 steps.

Are you a content hoarder? How to de-clutter your curriculum in 3 steps.

From 2003 to 2005 there was a TV series from TLC called, “Clean Sweep.”  On this show the host would go into peoples’ homes who had rooms that were filled with junk and help de-clutter them.  They would take everything out of the room and put it all in 3 separate piles:  keep, sell, or toss.  Once the room was cleared, a design team would come in and re-imagine the space so it met the homeowners’ needs.  On occasion, we need to do the same thing with our content.  We need to stop and consider whether what we are teaching and asking students to do is really adding value.  It is also important to consider if there is too much content in a course.  If student learning hinges on significant amounts of homework either there is too much content or we need a new way of delivering the material.

How to de-clutter your curriculum:

  1. Empty it out.  Make a list of everything.  What is it that you teach?  What are the tasks, projects, and tests that you give?
  2. Put it all in 3 separate piles:  keep, toss, or modify.  Keep what is still worth teaching and toss what isn’t.  Toss anything that is outdated.  Keep only the tasks that are really helping students learn.  Modify the assessments so they truly represent student proficiency.
  3. Re-design and re-imagine.  Once you’ve purged yourself of the weight of all the “junk” in your curriculum you’ll have room to put it together again in a fresh new way.  Focus on efficiency.  The right thing to do is let go of some “good stuff” in order to focus on the “best stuff.

Resource Pages – using Google Docs to share curated information with students

Resource Pages – using Google Docs to share curated information with students

“Mr. K, can I come in for some extra help?  I don’t get it.”

“Of course!  What don’t you get?”

“It.  All of it.  Like for the last two weeks.  I don’t get anything.  Can I come in after school?”

I think most teachers have had this at least once.  (I think I used to get it once a week.) Please don’t get me wrong, I LOVE it when students care enough to ask for extra help – and I’ll do just about anything to see that (albeit cliche) “spark” of finally understanding.

Buuuuuuut. . .  if I’m being honest, the first thought that comes to mind is, “Seriously?!? ALL of it?!?!  You want me to reteach EVERYTHING from the last 2 WEEKS tonight after school?!?”  

It is for these students and times (and maybe more importantly for the students who aren’t brave enough to come to their sometimes too facetious teacher for help) that I created Resource Pages.  Resource Pages are Google Docs, shared with students, with information and practice to help master the prioritized standards.

I curate reteaching videos, notes, worksheets, and interactive practice for my students to work independently on individually challenging material in a way that respects their time.

Key factors for making your Resource Pages useful while also respecting your time:

  • Create and follow a template so students can easily find the information and practice they are looking for.
  • Consider your delivery/access method for students.
    My Resource Page Template
    • Google Classroom?
    • Class Website?
    • E-mail?
    • Edmodo?
  • Include other important links/information
    • Reassessment information
    • Contact information
    • Links to other review sites (like Quizlet)
  • Curate material.  Don’t create everything!
    • Use Google Image search to locate “notes”
    • Before making a “flipped classroom” video, check to see if someone has already done it!
    • Traditional printable worksheets are easier to find if you specifically search with the formats they are usually saved in (PDF or .doc)
      • Use Advanced Google Search (under settings)
      • or use filetype:pdf before your search for PDF documents
      • or use filetype:doc before your search for  Microsoft Word documents
  • Create enough to make it specific enough to your class
    • Vocabulary lists
    • Links to your lecture notes
    • Customized EDpuzzle videos

I’ve found success using Resource Pages. . .

  • for students who are gone the day of instruction
  • for students who need a re-teaching
  • for students who need/want more practice
  • as an opening or closing POD activity
  • to communicate with parents the content of the course.

6 Ways to Better Respect our Students’ Time

6 Ways to Better Respect our Students’ Time

What’s more important than a good night’s rest?

couch_relax_19121Apparently homework.

This past week, one of my students’ opening POD activities was to discuss the value of sleep, how much sleep they get, what gets in the way of sleep, and what is more important than sleep.

Most of their answers were predictable.  Most said they get between 5 and 6 hours of sleep.  They all said that sleep was important to their health.  The number one contributing factor to their lack of sleep was the amount of homework.  4 hours or more was the consensus.  They described an intense amount of reading, detail oriented projects, and extraordinary test prep.

What surprised me was the fervor with which students argued that homework is more important than sleep.

“I need to do homework to prepare for my future.”

“If I don’t do the homework, I’ll fail.”

“There’s not enough time for sleep.”

“It isn’t really the stuff I have to turn in that takes me so long, it is the work I need to do and the reading I need to get through in order to get an A on the test.”

“If I have to choose between homework and sleep – I choose success.”

“Social life, sports, good grades, sleep:  you can only have two of these.”

The majority of these students have listened to the advice of their teachers to get involved and take advantage of opportunities.  They participate in athletics, take challenging courses, perform with our choirs/bands/theatrical groups, and are loyal sports fans of their peers.  They are the students every teacher wants in their classes – driven, respectful, and participatory.  We’ve created a system that rewards these students with exhaustion.

As educators, we need to re-evaluate the amount of additional time students need to devote outside of class in order to be successful in our courses.  How can we better respect our students’ time?

  1. Consider the value of the products you ask students to create.  Does the product represent student learning or is it just re-presenting? (Just because a student is “creating” a product, doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing anything more than demonstrating their ability to “recall” information – which is at the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy.)
  2. Evaluate how much time is spent “sitting and getting” and how much time is practicing the material during class.  If the practice is so critically important to the success of your students, why is it not being done with you present?  Re-structure your daily lessons to incorporate more practice.
  3. Look at your assessment rubrics.  How much weight is given to the “look” of the product?  (Common justification here is that students also need to learn how to create a “professional” presentation.  How often do they need to demonstrate this?  In how many classes?  Is the time required to practice this skill really worth the payoff?)
  4.  Be mindful of the “hidden homework” you are inadvertently assigning.  Studying, self-reteaching, and reading.  What may take one student 20 minutes to read or review, may take another student an hour.
  5. Prioritize the critically important content and skills.  Teach as much as you can!  But, understand that there are limits to what we can realistically be assessed in a reliable way and how much a student can realistically learn in a meaningful way.
  6. Don’t be afraid to scrutinize the vertical alignment of your curricula. If there is too much information for students to learn in the time available during class, then we need to reconsider the scope/sequence of the classes that are meant to prepare students for the “capstones.”




If the homework task is so critical to the success of all students, why are they not doing it with you present?

If you believe that your time is better used not practicing.  And the work must be done at home.   Then, you are making the argument that time in your classroom is more important than a student’s time with their families.

Not an argument I am willing to stand behind.  This is why I don’t assign homework!


I’m a high school teacher and I no longer assign homework because. . .

I’m a high school teacher and I no longer assign homework because. . .

Just before the beginning of school this year, much well deserved buzz surrounded the note Brandy Young (@MrsYoung2nd), an elementary school teacher in Texas, sent to the families of her students explaining her no homework policy.  Since then, elementary school, after elementary school,  after elementary school have announced that they are banning homework as a building policy.

nohomework-trainYet, the movement hasn’t caught on at the secondary school level.  Many high school teachers are very reluctant to get aboard the #NoHomework train.  They cite studies by John Hattie and others that show a correlation between homework and academic achievement.  High school teachers argue that homework fosters organization, tenacity, and responsibility.  Teachers often contend, “if I don’t assign homework, my students won’t be prepared to succeed in college or won’t be able to handle the rigor of the real world.”

Before I explain why I no longer assign homework to my students, let’s take a look at a few hypothetical students’ schedules without homework factored in:

  • Ignacio is the quintessential “try-hard.”  He is a 3 sport athlete, is an active member in school sponsored clubs, takes challenging classes, and works as a stock boy at a local grocery store.
  • Jada isn’t a huge fan of school, but she shows up everyday and takes care of business.  While Jada doesn’t like to participate in school sports or clubs, she is an active member of her church and has a job as a waitress at a local diner so she can save for college.
  • Wyatt is an “at risk” student.  He struggles to get to school because his family doesn’t have a reliable vehicle.  Wyatt’s mother works 2 jobs to try and make ends meet which leaves him not only in charge of getting his 3 younger siblings ready for school each day but also needing to care for them in the evening.




Wakes up and gets self ready
Wakes up and gets self ready
Wakes up and gets self ready
Gets siblings ready for and to school
7:00 Extra-curricular meeting
7:45-3:15 In School In School In School
Sports Practice
picks up siblings
4:30 Quick Dinner
Makes dinner and eats with siblings
Cleans up kitchen, picks up after kids, and entertains
6:00 Quick Dinner
Gets siblings washed up and ready for bed
8:30 Packs lunches for the next day
10:00 Goes to Bed Goes to Bed Goes to Bed

If you look at these schedules, you might notice all three of these students have between 1 and 1.5 hours of “free” time that they could use for homework.  Let’s assume that these students have 7 classes in a day and 1 study hall (45 minutes).  There is then 2 hours and 15 minutes of “work” time for these student to do homework in a given day. With 7 classes each, the teachers in those classes can lay claim to almost 20 minutes of the students’ time.

But what about these students’ mental health?  What about their need to relax?  When might they be able to explore other interests?  Where is there an opportunity for the family to do things together?  What happens when one of those 7 teachers lays claim on an hour?  Is it possible that what a teacher expects to take 20 minutes might take a student 15 minutes to relearn the material- and then actually 30 more complete?  When the workload exceeds the available time, what should a student do – not do homework for a different class, lose sleep, or not read thedesert_road_sign_18648 chapter due for tomorrow?

I no longer assign homework because I don’t believe I have the right to dictate what happens at home.

I no longer assign homework because because I understand the home lives of my students are not equal and homework exacerbates the effects of that inequality.

I no longer assign homework because I believe I can inspire a desire to learn more without needing to require.

I no longer assign homework because I believe that the almost 40 hours every week students are in school is enough

But, what if it isn’t enough time?  First, consider your lessons.  We all have room to be more efficient in our delivery.  Since fully implementing standards based grading (SBG), it has been much easier to prioritize my instruction.  SBG also has helped my students understand what their strengths are and where their weaknesses are.  Consider making more room for practice during your lessons.  Utilizing POD lesson planning has opened the door for more meaningful practice time during class – further reducing the need for homework.

All this isn’t to say that students shouldn’t do work at home.  Students learn at different paces and in different ways – some may find more success with at-home work while others find an intrinsic desire to advance as far as they can.  I provide resource pages filled with reteaching videos, interactive practice, notes presentations, and worksheets for students to select and choose what, if any, work is valuable to them to meet their goals.  The policy and class structure is meant to help as many students as possible find success – but progress monitoring may lead to conversations that a different policy best fits the needs of an individual.

How to Implement Standards Based Grading

How to Implement Standards Based Grading

Step 1: Get into the “Mindset”

Traditional grading practices that use percents and averages to determine a student’s final grade has sent the message to many kids that the point of school is to “game” enough points to get to the class rank they are comfortable with.  If a student isn’t interested in this game, all too often they stop playing.  We as teachers have the tendency to see this as “apathy.”  We then decide that we won’t have any meaningful impact until the student “chooses to be successful.” AKA: play the game.

Standards Based Grading (SBG) tells a different kind of story.  Under this grading paradigm, students are assessed on only what they can do and what they know – not on the mountain (or molehill) of work the student has been able to produce.  There is always another chance to reassess and demonstrate an increased level of mastery.

SBG doesn’t take behaviors and shoehorn them into a content grade.  Punctuality, responsibility, organization, kindness, respect, attention, and attendance are all important; however, they generally are not a key content or performance standard.  These characteristics and skills are critically important to instill and teach to students – but they aren’t part of the “academic base;” they are part of the “responsibility base.”

If we want students who have given up to come back and join us, we need to meet them where they are.  We need to accept that students have growth needs in theigradingfromtheinsideout-265_1r “responsibility base” in the same way as they have growth needs in their “academic base.”  Allowing lagging skills in responsibility to distort they way we communicate a student’s academic progress is what breeds “apathy.”  That’s on us as educators.

Do yourself a favor and get Tom Schimmer’s (@TomSchimmer) Book, Grading From the Inside Out: Bringing Accuracy to Student Assessment Through a Standards-Based Mindset.

Step 2: Select your Standards

Understand the role your course plays in the building/school curriculum.  Remember to keep in mind that all standards can’t be taught by one teacher in one course. Ask yourself, “What is the main purpose of my course?” and “What will a student newly know as a result of my course?”  Your course is one piece of the overall curriculum puzzle.

pen_notebook_19140-2Don’t do this step in a vacuum if you can help it!  Read through relevant curriculum documents (Common Core, Model Academic Standards, prior District work.) Collaborate with your colleagues.  You want to make sure your standards are exhaustive and defensible.

Finally, think about which skills and what content are critical. You are not deciding what is important (there is a good chance that most of your list is important); you are deciding what is most crucial. Decide which specific abilities and knowledge are absolutely necessary for successful completion of your course and preparation for the next step. These crucial learning objectives are your prioritized standards – these are what you are going to assess. You will still teach a large amount of the other “stuff” but your focus and assessment should be prioritized.

Step 3: Devise a Comprehensive Assessment Plan

Focus on your Standards and remember that SBG assesses learning and not events. Your assessment should have a laser focus on the standard(s) and not [directly or indirectly] include other behaviors or content.

Reassessment must be a part of your plan.  Students learn at different paces and in different ways. Any given formal assessment won’t meet the needs for all students in terms of time and design. Students need to have the opportunity to reassess for full out_of_the_mist_18676-2credit in an individually respectful way when they are prepared. Best practice would be to incorporate at least one reassessment opportunity during class time through spiraling past standards into later assessments.

Separate formative from formal and vary your assessments.   Practice should encourage mistakes and risk taking. So long as academic rigor, validity, and reliability are present, alternative assessments should be allowed and encouraged.

Step 3: Modify your Policies & Plans

Units and chapters may become incongruent with your new framework. Be open to rearrange your sequence. It is important to note that there is an expectation that much more than just the prioritized standards are being taught – but there is a priority placed upon the content/skills which are critical.

Policies and procedures should be there to teach students organization, responsibility, and accountability.  We also need to allow for flexibility so that we can meet students where they are and permit them to demonstrate mastery when they are fully prepared to do so.

Step 4: Define Proficiency Levels

I’d argue that 4 levels are ideal – all you really need to know and report is when a student “doesn’t get it,” “kinda gets it,” “gets it,” and “really gets it.” At each end of the proficiency scale, I also include a section for those students that don’t fit – I have a “hasn’t given me enough information to know if they get it” category and a “is so beyond the scope of what we are doing, the assessment isn’t really valid” category.picture_your_gallery_19125

Define each stage of skill/content acquisition.  Be pithy.  Be broad.  Accept that professional subjectivity will play a role in selecting the level.  This is not a rubric.  You might choose to use rubrics targeted for specific assessments to help you and students understand what specific components will be analyzed to assist in determining the proper level. Click here for my Proficiency Levels Document

Step 5:  Convert to Traditional Grade

Be Protective of your proficiency scale.  Your proficiency scale tells an important story. If you are going to make concessions or leave out part of a system, leave it out of the traditional, not your proficiency scale.

Define the traditional grading categories by asking yourself, “What should an A represent?” or, “What should a D actually mean?”  Define all the letters in order to educate your alignment.  Don’t be afraid to abandon percents and averages and include your professional judgement as a part of selecting the appropriate proficiency level and in selecting the traditional grade category.

This is the conversion chart I am using.


Student has demonstrated at least a level of “competency” in all course standards and has demonstrated a level of “mastery” in many course standards.


Student has demonstrated at least a level of “competency” in all course standards.


Student has demonstrated at least a level of “knowledgeable” in all course standards.and has demonstrated a level of “competency” (or higher) in many course standards.


Student has demonstrated at least a level of “knowledgeable” in all course standards or average of scores is at least 2.0

Student has only demonstrated at least a level of “building” in all course standards or average of scores is lower than 2.0


Student has not given a full and honest effort in at least 1 course standard.

Step 6: Be Tenacious and Resolute

There will be challenges along the way.  Your new “system” will encounter problems that you didn’t anticipate.  If you believe, as I do, that standards based grading is what is best for kids, it is worth the struggle.

Remember, the purpose of SBG is to better report what a student knows and is able to do.  Leave room for your professional judgement to come in and “fix” an unfair result of the system or do right by kids.

Click here for a printable/downloadable PDF version of the information on this post!

SBG Implementation Quick Start Guide