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My Standard Based Grading

SBG One Semester In-Chem

I have been using SBG for one semester here at ICS and it is now time to write something.


My chemistry situation here at school is different to physics. In Physics I am the whole physics department teaching both general physics and AP. In chemistry the bulk of the chemistry courses are taught by another teacher.

In Chemistry I am using a set of pre-AP standards put out by College Board; “Chemistry Standard for College Success”. These standards are organized around three core “big ideas”. I like to make a distinction between a big picture and a broad picture. I broad picture touches on lots of topics which inevitably produced shallow, isolated understanding. A big picture seeks to produce conceptual links to hold a subject together. I was telling my AP students today that conceptual understanding is like Velcro of the mind. It is this understanding that provides the hooks that the facts hang from and from there we can remember them and recall them at the appropriate time. I like what this College Board curriculum is aiming to do. I am convinced that that such a curriculum will lead to better results than just working though the textbook. It provides a challenge to coordinate the curriculum with the text book and my fellow teacher but it is a challenge I will accept.

Developing standards has been difficult especially to know the relative weighting to give various standards. I have found it necessary to rearrange the order of standards on occasion and make changes in which standards needed to be assessed. I think that if I was doing a traditional grading method where feedback was via averages this could lead to injustice as the scores are shuffled round. However in SBG where I can say “These are the standards you are being assessed on and this is how your grade has been constructed” there is much less chance for injustice.

When they were asked to reflect on their new experience of SBG the response from the Chemistry was far more mixed than for physics. The positive/ negative feedback was much more evenly balanced. In both physics and chemistry we had students who said they didn’t understand the system. In physics almost all students seemed to kick on from that and learn to appreciate SBG but in chemistry more students stayed in the ‘I don’t understand’ mode. Another factor they mentioned was a fear that differences between my class and my colleague’s would have them missing out.

I am puzzled why this is so. Is it because there are more 10th graders in the chemistry class and the average age is younger or because there is another teacher with a traditional grading system in the same subject to compare with? I have talked about the high level of cooperation there is between my colleague and myself but I still wonder how much fear there is about. I will have to look for more feedback and next time I will ask student to put their grade level.

I am still convinced that SBG is the way to go especially in a course that has high conceptual demands on the student. Some students have admitted abusing the possibility for retests, but I am convinced that SBG is a route to richer understanding.



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