Standards-based grading is becoming standard practice in many schools. But when I started teaching 7 years ago, I chose to embrace the grading practice as my own. I can honestly say, however, that I haven't kept my system the same in any of that time. I feel like professional learning is truly a practice of failing forward and my assessment journey has been just that. When I started teaching, my summative assessments generally looked the same. Difficult, conceptual questions asked in essay form that required students to apply understanding and explain thinking in depth. These essays definitely showed understanding, but they were also a beast to grade and often did little to connect learning to the real world. Seriously, though, 125 students writing 3-4 essays all at the same time meant my social life pulled a disappearing act whenever it came time to measure learning. I remember thinking that there had to be a better way. I came into teaching knowing that it was far more than a 9-5, but I owed my family a little more than a few glancing moments on the weekend. In pursuit of a more efficient process, my feedback journey continued from using google forms to generate feedback documents to using Schoology as a LMS. But it also changed as I stepped away from essays and into more projects. I liked projects because they facilitated learning as much as they measured it. I also appreciated how easily I could attach my projects to the real world.
Which brings me to where I am now... a class where projects with detailed, standards-based rubrics are the norm and essay questions are the exception.
At the end of the school year last year, I noticed something interesting happened to my assessment practices. I was no longer taking weekends to offer meaningful feedback to students. I may have actually panicked thinking that in the throes of my instructional guide work I had not givens students meaningful feedback on their understanding. But I distinctly remember cracking open my Canvas course and feeling relieved. Not only were my students given meaningful feedback, but their assessments showed that nearly all students had attained a baseline understanding or more. So what was I doing differently? How was I giving feedback without getting sucked into the black hole that is grading?!
Well, I noticed the answer during fourth quarter. Students were finishing up a project where they had to draw analogies to the center of the Earth. As with all of my projects, students were provided with clear expectations and a rubric that outlined what each level of understanding looked like. When students declared their work complete they would show it to me and wait for feedback. In the past, I would accept the project, grade it, give detailed feedback, and require reassessment. But my pattern has changed. The interactions started to look a little something like this:
- Student: Mrs B, I am done.
- Me: Sweet. Let me see it. (Skim the project) Ok. Did you look at the rubric?
- Student: Yeah.
- Me: Ok. So here's the thing. Right now your analogies are pretty simple. Remember how I said to add details about your understanding through comparing similarities and differences?
- Student: Yea. I did some of that.
- Me: Absolutely! I see that. But I think you can add more. Right now, I am thinking you are showing a baseline level of understanding. But I know you can do more. What might you add to show that you understand this even better?
- [Student leaves and continues working on project using my feedback and the rubric to drive their changes]
Now I am not saying that essay tests or other summative assessment practices aren't needed. Remember, I mentioned that other types exist within my space. But I have learned that a rubric is a powerful tool to guide metacognition in students! Also choosing not to accept an assignment until it is up to the standards of my class matters. It saves time and energy, but more importantly...it gives students real, in the moment, feedback that they can use to deepen their learning.