My First Roadblock

Just as I was getting ready to head up to my room to see if I could get to Dan Meyer’s webinar this afternoon, my department head called me into her room.  I had shared my excitement about SBG with one of my co workers, who had shared it with the department head.  To make a long story short, I was told that under no circumstances could I used standard based grading in my Algebra II classes.  It would be okay for my Business Math classes but not my Algebra II classes.

After telling my co worker that we couldn’t proceed with our plans, I came home quite discouraged.  I teach in a fairly large school in a fairly large school district, and the department head seemed to be more concerned with uniformity between teachers than with what would help the students the most.  It took some of the excitement I was feeling for the start of the school year and trashed it.

So I went to the gym and worked out.  Some times that works.  This was one of those times.  My department head’s concerns were twofold: 1.  The students won’t do the homework unless it is graded. 2.  The students will abuse the formative nature of SBG.  I was told that every chapter had to have a summative exam.

I came up with a plan tonight that I think will allow me to move toward SBG and keep her happy.  I will continue with my instruction as though I am doing SBG: identifying the skills to be taught in each unit  and doing WCYDWT activities as much as possible.  The exams will test only the skills listed at the beginning of each unit and will be reported in grade book as individual standards, not just Chapter 2 test.

I will make sure this is acceptable to her before proceeding.  In this current educational environment, maintaining a teaching position is more important than winning a battle this year.  But I will keep on trying to get the full impact of SBG implemented in my classroom.


About peacemaker70

I teach Algebra II and Business Math at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Az.
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4 Responses to My First Roadblock

  1. Jackie says:

    I too have to give common assessments (Chapter tests and final exams). What my division head and I came up with was that I could also give sbg-like assessments and record those in a different category (basically count them as “quizzes”). I will not count homework for “points”.

    I think that there is more to SBG than just changing the way we grade. Having your students focused on what they know well and on what they need to improve can only benefit them. Hopefully others in your department will become interested in what you’re doing and this will spark both curiosity and change.

    I look forward to reading how this evolves for you over the year.

  2. I’d also be very worried about summative tests that test only the most recent material. That reifies the cram-and-forget model, making it all about the points. Summative tests should revisit old material the students are still expected to know. One of the advantages of SBG is that you can keep track of what students know without having to put all the questions at one time.

    Jackie’s approach seems like a more principled compromise. Use SBG for keeping track of what students do and don’t know, both for yourself and for the students. Toss in the required number of summative exams for the department head, but in your records, also disaggregate the test questions into the separate standards.

  3. If you’d like some support for the idea of not grading homework, look at “Inside the Black Box” by Black and Wiliam (Kappan Magazine, 1998). The article is a recap of a meta-study that pulls together data from 500+ other studies, and the main point is that formative classroom assessment (especially student-involved classroom assessment) is a teacher’s most powerful tool. Rick Stiggins (Pearson/Assessment Training Institute) calls this “assessment for learning” as differentiated from “assessment of learning” (summative).

    Here’s a link to the article:

    Ken O’Connor is also the best synthesist of current thinking on “grading for learning.”

    BTW, since when do department heads tell other professionals how to grade their students? Board policy usually trumps all, and I’m not familiar with policies that authorize department heads to dictate that way, especially recommending a double standard for different classes. I don’t know what the political climate is at your school, but you might ask some respectful questions of your principal.

  4. Happy New Year! 🙂


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