Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The New Buzz Word for Software and Online Tools

The New Buzz Word for Software and Online Tools

I have recently seen quite a few websites, and software, and even my district purchased  LMS that I use with my students, advertise and promote their standards based grading features. I get excited and eager to investigate - I am always looking for ways to improve the efficiency of  workflow, feedback on learning, communication about progress towards student proficiency and more time to allow me to address the needs of my struggling students and advance my stronger students. Unfortunately, what I find most often are that the claims of a site or service to have “standards based grading features” turn out to simple be the ability to tag tasks to a standard or to enter scores as a number rather than a traditional letter grade.  

I started calling these Standards Reporting Tools. Many of these tools do not have the ability to personalize feedback and assign a proficiency rating to a student’s work. Some tools claiming to have standards based grading features use point accumulation and percentages as a scoring method. This is completely against the philosophies of SBG. I have found due dates and timed tests - also not in the SBG spirit. Quite a few of the sites and software I have investigated claiming to be great for teachers implementing SBG have failed many of these tests:

  1. Point accumulation is used to determine proficiency level
  2. Mostly multiple choice questions are used as an assessment - making learning a binary concept
  3. Not allowing for gradience in the level of understanding
  4. Averaging scores from multiple tasks aligned to a standard over time
  5. Not allowing customization of standards
  6. Providing class averages to teachers
  7. Making feedback the job of a computer rather than the instructor

As stated earlier, I want to provide more and better feedback to my students. I want to improve my instruction to reach more students at a deeper level. When a computer is doing the majority of scoring tasks, where is the room for me to internalize my students’ specific needs? How can I give meaningful feedback to each student? For me, this happens when I am marking a task. And the next steps for my instruction are based directly on the results of the understanding of my students needs on a particular standard.

Another thing to consider is the type of questions that can be asked when using a self-grading system. Multiple choice, true-false, matching, and ordering are all typically low-order thinking skills and provide students opportunity to guess - leaving the teacher no information about actual learning gains. My LMS and other math tools that my colleagues use have self-graded “fill-in-the-blank” style formatting, and I have used these for skill questioning. But there is no possibility of asking for student creativity or questions that ask students to exercise their ability to think critically if the computer software is doing the grading for you.  

The one thing I do find valuable is that these tools are now emphasising the importance of aligning each task with standards. That serves as a good reminder of my preservice lesson plan writing days when I was required to identify the objectives and state standards at the start of each lesson. This holds both the teacher and the student responsible for knowing which standard the task is addressing.

Many teachers may wish grading could be done faster but like many others, I got into teaching to see students learn, not to avoid hard working. Perhaps looking to speed up the part of the process that informs us the most about student learning is not the answer. There is a place for quickly graded formative work. Like taking the temperature of the class’s knowledge on a particular topic, you want an immediate result. It some cases, it can be extremely helpful for a teacher to know how the students are doing immediately. However, this is not a standards based grading feature if you slap a rubric or points on it. This is not quality information about where error was made within the questions and will only lead to a binary conclusion about the students’ understanding: they know it or they don’t.

Have you seen websites software or other assessment tools that advertise to be standards based but might not live up to their claim? I advise you and your schools to be aware of the tools you use and purchase that claim to be Standards Based Grading Resources. Please share you thoughts and comments here or with us at