Standards Based Grading

Traffic Light Grading

I want you to think back for a moment.  If possible think back to a class where you received a test back that you failed.  How did you feel?  Hopeless?  Feel like giving up?  I hate that feeling, and I try at all costs to have my students spared from that feeling.  It is my hope that when a student doesn't do well on as assessment their feeling is how can I fix this? 

When I collect students' work it is graded green (you know what you're doing), yellow (you're close to being able to do the skills I require for this assignment), or red (you need work in many of the skills required).  This is how I handle ALL of my grading.  No numbers, no letters, only colors.  I'll write more about converting this to letter/number grades in another post. 



When I'm grading a classes' assignments, I look at the number of students who are yellow and red and decide if we need to spend more time practicing this skill.  This is a lot of work.  For the most part, I'm not sure what I be teaching tomorrow until I see what my students can do today.  But here is what I've noticed, students who get yellow or red no longer crumble up their paper and throw it away.  They turn to their neighbor to see if they're green and ask for help.  Score!!

The traffic light grading system gives students hope.  I don't tell students they "failed" an assignment.  I tell them they are "not yet proficient".  Not yet.  Give them hope. 

A plus for me is that I know my students much better.  I know that little Jimmy struggles with this and little Suzy is really good at that.  I had the opportunity to have this knowledge about my students in the past, but I would have to look closely at the grade book.  It just happens now because when grading I'm not looking for how many they got wrong/right, I'm looking for what skills they got wrong/right.  It sticks with me when little Jimmy gets yellow on an assignment and when I assess that skill again, he gets green it make my job worth while.





My Grade Book

I've had a few questions about my grade book.  So I thought it was time I showed it to you. 




Here is my outcome on Solving Absolute Value Equations.  Please ignore the third student, he dropped the class at this point.  This is only a partial copy of my class, there were 18 students total enrolled, but this sample is a good representation of the whole class.  (When I put the whole class on here the image was too small to see).

Here's what the letters stand for:

U: Unrated
G: Green
Y: Yellow
R: Red
B: Blue
N: Not Yet Proficient
P: Proficient
H: High Performance

I started this outcome by having the students complete a worksheet with a few problems.  About half the class seemed to know what they were doing, so the next day I focused my teaching on any misconceptions and had the class do a second worksheet also focusing on those misconceptions.  And you can see those two lines in my grade book. 
Line 1:  "WS 1"  3 greens, 3 yellows, and 1 student absent. 
Line 2:  "WS 2"  4 greens and 3 yellows. 

For some reason I felt the class was ready for a test and you can see that in line 3.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  Only 2 out of these 7 students earned green.  One student was absent and never took a re-assessment on a Flashback :(

At this point I grade the outcome.  You can see that at the top of my grade book with the Ns, Ps, and Hs.  My grading is heavily dependent on the test grade. 

*Note*  G, Y, R, and B are for individual assignments, N, P, and H are for outcomes. 
*Also Note* The colors on the N, P, and H are for my benefit only (not the students).  I like to see at a very quick glance how the class did as a whole in a particular outcome.  If I see a lot of red, I have work to do!!

You can see in line 4:  "Retest" that most of the students took the time to do better on this outcome and bring their grade up from N to P. 

Blue:  My tests are straight forward, no tricks or surprises for the students.  I save that for the high performance tests.  Proficient questions are based on the skills that I ask of the students.  High Performance questions are based on above and beyond skills.  Skills that I did not teach the students.  If a student can apply their knowledge, they are considered High Performance in that outcome. 

*Yet Another Note*  A student may not be marked High Performance until they have proved they are Proficient in an outcome.


Click here to see the prescribed set of practice problems.
Click here to see the retest.
Click here to see the High Performance test.


I will post later about how our department converts all the Ns, Ps, and Hs into a number grade.






Grade Conversions

Let's discuss how to convert all of those Ns, Ps, and Hs into a number grade.  Ideally, you don't want to do this, but I don't think students or parents are ready to not have number grades.

First let's talk about proficiency:
A student who is proficient is a student who learns what you teach and nothing more.  When our department had this discussion we decided that a student who is proficient in everything should receive a grade no higher than a C.  Remember, this student is not High Performance in anything. 
We then discussed what a failing student would look like.  We agreed that in order to move to the next course, a student must be Proficient in 70% of all the outcomes. 
Here's what we have so far in my district: 
70% Proficient (no High Performance) = 75% grade (Lowest C possible)
100% Proficient (no High Performance) = 84% grade (Highest C possible)

Keep this in mind:  I don't care how many outcomes a student is High Performance in, if he is not Proficient in at least 70% of the outcomes, then he does not pass the course.


Now let's talk High Performance:
First thing I want to mention is that it is impossible for a student to be High Performance without first being Proficient.  So when I say that a student is High Performance, I mean he is Proficient AND High Performance.
I'm sure we can all agree that a student who is High Performance in all outcomes has a number grade of 100%.  What happens in-between is really up to you and your school.  But I will share with you what our department came up with.


Our conversion system is an if-then statement.

Do this:  Determine the percentage of outcomes that the student is Proficient, and the percentage of outcome he is High Performance.

IF he is less than 70% Proficient, THEN that's his grade. 
For example, if a student is 65% Proficient and 40% High Performance, then his grade is 65%.  Back to the "Keep this in mind:" statement above.  I don't even look at the student's High Performance percentage if he is less than 70% Proficient.

If he is 70% or greater Proficient, then I have work to do:
First, add the two percentages together.
Next, use the following table to convert the grade. 
For example, If a student is 80% Proficient and 30% High Performance, the total is 110.
This converts to a grade of 86% in my district.




Let's take a look at one of my students:


Out of the 39 outcomes, this student is Proficient in 37 of them.  He is 95% Proficient.

Out of the 39 outcomes, he is High Performance in 15 of them.  He is 38% High Performance.

He has a total of 133 (95+38).  
His grade converts to 90% using the above table.

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