07 April 2016

I Don't Do Standards-Based Grading, BUT...

I think Standards-Based Grading is the way to go. As a parent, I want to know how well my kiddo is keeping up with expectations in, well, everything he's expected to do. If I can get some kind of indication of
  1. what IS expected and
  2. how close he is to meeting those expectations,
I can sort of figure out what I have to do to make sure he gets what he needs.


The district where I teach mandates the breakdowns for grades: at least 2 tests or projects, 4 quizzes, and 6 daily work grades--every six weeks. And those test/project grades? They make up 60% of the grade each six-week grading period.

Assessments Based on Standards

Because the "tests" are basically what make or break kids with our system, I focus most of my Standards-Based efforts there, on Integrated Performance Assessments. I suppose I could align each assignment in each category with some Can-Do or Power Standard, but honestly...who has the time?

Also, though it's not strictly Standards-Based, I do think it's worthwhile to be able to give SOME kind of credit for informal practice, even if it's only a "daily work" grade that amounts to maybe 3% of 1/5 of the overall grade. It acknowledges that they are completing the assigned steps designed to help them advance. If they're not completing them, though, I can usually use assignments like this to point out opportunities they missed to improve, and there's a record for them, for me, and for Mom/Dad/Grandma/Aunt Harriet.

Those 6 + "daily grades" I explained before make up 20% of each 6-week grade. And the quizzes? They are actually portfolios, which actually are based on standards in a way--specifically, ACTFL Can-Do statements. The way I explain it to my students is the IPAs measure how far up the proficiency cone they can go, and the portfolios measure how far out--as in how many contexts they can maintain that level.

And since we're on a 10-point scale all over NC now, the letter grade still usually reflects the general proficiency level anyway.

Graduated Scale

I use the rubrics ACTFL uses for the AAPPL test and assign point values to each level when I am scoring IPAs. Each of the 3 sections--interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational--is a test grade (going above and beyond those county expectations!)

This allows me to track progress in each separate mode in my gradebook, even if it all goes into the same "test" pile that makes up 60% of their grade, according to my district.

Here's the scale I started off with:

I was pretty happy with it because it did three things:
  1. Reward students for making the effort to use the language, meaning they would be passing as long as they attempted to use the language, at least for the first few months.
  2. Acknowledge accelerated development. North Carolina says my students should be Novice Mid by the end of Spanish I, so that got them a C--what was expected.
You will notice that the point values I assign change every six-week grading period. This is quite simply because my expectations also change. I expect my Spanish I kids to at least be trying to use the language to start with. If they make the effort to pick out a few target language words, I'm happy. Not ecstatic happy, but content happy.  "C" stands for "Content," right?

But the effort will only "content" me for a few weeks.

So the efforts that were C-worthy the first six weeks are only D-worthy the second six-weeks. And then they're, well, not worthy by the end of the semester. BUT they are still efforts, so they get some points--just not passing points.

Also what impresses me at the beginning of the semester is what's expected by the end. So you'd better be ready to go above and beyond. So if you're forming whole sentences after a few weeks? 100%! But you had better be ready to string those puppies together by the end of Spanish I if you want to keep that 100.

I was pretty satisfied with the results using this graduated scale my first semester of IPAs, and they were even more encouraging on the final Spanish I IPAs. Combined with the NC switch away from seven-point systems, this made me think I was not asking nearly enough of my baby parrots. On a ten-point scale, Novice Low still would have been a passing grade at the end of Spanish I with the previous AAPPL alignments--no bueno.

Since all of the kiddos who did not have IPAs in Spanish I--and whose grades were even less Standards-Based---will have cycled through next year, here's the scale I'm switching to:

The Important Questions

So when a student gets a grade in my Spanish class, here's what I want to know.

In all honesty, I cannot answer all of these unequivocal "YES" just yet. But what I do know is that my kids are growing, and they are using the feedback they receive--numerical and otherwise--to grow in my class.

My students right now are not all sitting on A's because they are not all exceeding what I generally expect from a Spanish II class.

But they are moving up that proficiency scale, and improving in their interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational skills. I can see--and they can see--how their abilities AND expectations continue to grow in reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

Are their grades technically Standards-Based?

No, but their Standards for themselves are still creeping ever upward.


  1. Love this, especially the part about "far up" and "far out". Question: how many contexts do you think show sufficient evidence of a proficiency level?

    1. Good question! It depends on 1) the level they're demonstrating and 2)the depth of the evidence students offer. Lower levels naturally require a lot less contextual variation for one. For two, sometimes my students get ambitious and demonstrate multiple skills multiple times in a single assignment.

  2. Another great, candid, vulnerable post. I wish more teachers and professional learning teams allowed for this openness and true transparency. We would all be better off. I've been guilty of holding back too since there really is no support or infrastructure for innovation in general but I'm going to make up for it soon. I'm working on a piece where I hope to share warts and all...

  3. The piece I struggle with - and the reason why I haven't yet incorporated this in my classroom, is how to INTRODUCE these standards to the kids. I want to do this in such a way that when I put N2 - 40% on an assignment for a spanish 2 class, they understand the meaning behind it and thus can seek to improve. THAT'S the part I can't wrap my mind around. Any help?

    1. Providing simplified versions of the AAPPL rubrics http://www.pblinthetl.com/p/aappl-rubric.html on assessments seems to help. We also regularly do spot checks on practice work they give me (especially on Nearpod) and where those responses would fall on those rubrics.

    2. And your "years" only last 18 weeks?

    3. Yep, we're on semester long blocks.

    4. Yep, we're on semester long blocks.

  4. Laura, you are truly remarkable! Thank you for sharing your hard work and reflections on your students' progress!