Being an SBG teacher in a non-SBG world

I’ve posted about my adventures in Standards Based Grading… more so when I first started doing it, less so this year.

I overall have been happy with it, but three weeks ago I had a moment of frustration when I almost decided to abandon SBG completely in the fourth quarter (which will be upon us soon). The impetus: in my two SBG classes (non-AP Calculus), over half the students did not do the nightly work.

For some context, I require nightly work, but it is not graded. (This is not everyone’s philosophy, but I believe in nightly work.) I used to go around and check to see that it was done, but it never factored into their grades. For the most part, kids did it, so I stopped walking around. Things were going well.

For some more context: All the students in the class are seniors. I teach at a really awesome independent school in Brooklyn, and in general, kids are motivated. The kids in my class mostly don’t hate math (there are some exceptions), but they mostly don’t loooove math either (there, again, are some exceptions). It’s a really good group, and I felt things were going solidly for the first two quarters.

Then came the fateful day when I came to class and I saw the apathy and excuses for not doing the nightly work. It was horrible. In one class, I kinda lost it, and in the other, I tried to reign myself a bit. I mean, I didn’t start throwing chairs and stuff, but I definitely raised my voice, expressed my serious dissatisfaction, and (I admit it) I threatened to start grading nightly work. It wasn’t a moment I was proud of, because usually I’m less impulsive and don’t let things get to me. But I was M-A-D.

I talked it over with the other calculus teacher, who shared that he had been noticing a serious apathy and lack of work ethic.

One student emailed me apologizing for his lack of work, and I don’t know why, but that really meant a lot for me. It helped me table my frustration.

I needed spring break to cool down and see if I really needed to revisit SBG or not. That one incident really floored me. There are a few things I needed to think about:

1) There is a good possibility that this happens every year around this time. It’s 3rd quarter, a couple weeks before spring break. I have such a terrible memory and block out all the bad things… so this may be an annual occurrence. The inauguration of senioritis.

2) Although I talked about SBG a lot at the beginning of the year, I did not revisit it/talk about it as regularly as I have in the past. So I don’t know how much my kids have really understood about what we’re doing. I mean, they understood at the beginning. But I think it has morphed into something else in their minds.

The thing is, though, I started to worry that SBG wasn’t serving the purposes I adopted it for:

1) Independence and Responsibility

2) Students learning about their learning process

3) Clarity about what students know and what they don’t know

4) Making mistakes, but learning from them

I was having, and still sort of am, having a true crisis of faith. Because if SBG didn’t address these things, what’s the point? And clearly much of this is on me. Because careful implementation is crucial and that is my responsibility. I’ve seen it be wildly successful with students since starting, students who wouldn’t have a chance in hell in a traditional class to learn and be awesome at calculus. And for those kids, the kids SBG really works for, it’s enough to keep me invested and wanting to continue. 

But the force I’ve been working against since I started doing it is:

I’m SBG in a sea of non-SBG.

In a school where kids are focused on traditional grades. And so when push comes to shove, even kids who understand and are on board with my nuanced understanding on SBG have to make decisions: it’s 1am and I am exhausted and have Spanish homework and calculus to do.

Calculus goes.

It just does. And yeah, once in a blue moon, I’m okay with that. It’s life. They’re learning to make choices. But it doesn’t happen once in a blue moon, because I’m fighting a system I have no chance of winning in. Because what I’ve found is that kids who make this choice don’t learn from this choice. And so some kids (not all, mind you) aren’t really putting in the effort.

So kids come to class without having done the work. Class goes slower because we aren’t all on the same page. Students take assessments and don’t do awesomely the first time. That’s okay, occasionally, because that’s the point… But ideally, reassessments should be more like a safety net, not crutches. That’s what we’re supposed to get them to learn, that’s what we want them to see. They can do it, if they figure out their learning process. And so by the third quarter (where I’m at), this should be where we’re at.

And here’s the thing: for the kids who have it as a crutch, I am not that successful at getting them to change their habits so reassessments become less frequent, and more like a safety net. They aren’t learning about their learning, and making changes. It’s just ignore, reassess, ignore, reassess, reassess, ignore… And I know some of that is on me. But I can’t get over how hard it is for me to do SBG effectively when calculus will always come last, when push comes to shove. And I hate that.

I’m not really asking for commiseration. I just wanted to post my thoughts here, because that’s why I have a blog. Duh.

If you do want to chime in, I’d love to hear:

1) What concrete things do you do to keep the philosophy, spirit, understanding of SBG alive… so that it doesn’t become a mechanized system by the third quarter?

2) If you are in a school that isn’t SBG, have you found any ways to combat the notion “SBG class can come last”?

3) If you are teaching SBG in any school, what mechanisms/procedures do you have to help kids individually understand how they learn, and how SBG can help them learn how to learn better? Do any of you have individual conferences with your kids or anything? Do you have them reflect about what they’re learning (or not) through SBG regularly, and do you respond to those reflections?

I realize that I have the systems of SBG smoothly set up, but I need to work on the other stuff… keep my eye on the reasons I’m doing it and making sure they come into sharp relief, instead of fading into the background as they tend to do as the keeping-afloat-teaching-day-to-day takes hold.

PS. I don’t want this to imply that kids don’t do their work with SBG, if you’re reading this out and thinking of starting it. It’s not like it’s a epidemic. But there are enough of them who are inconsistent enough with their work that it has become problematic. And then that day, that horrible day, has gotten me to think about some big issues. To be clear, I ended last year by making the statement: “My conclusion: although not perfect, this was a wildly successful year for Standards Based Grading in calculus” (read here for every student response to the survey I gave).



  1. Sam,

    I’m an early convert to SBG (about 6 years going, from Dan M.), and while I love it because of all the things you’ve said (promoting transparency of learning and responsibility), there are flaws as you’ve seen. I think the big problem you are seeing is that students who have been given responsibility are making choices that you don’t agree with. When I’ve been in this situation I’ve increased the cost of retaking tests (decrease number of times they can retake, require autopsies of prior tests, etc.), but at the end of the day, students should face the consequences of slacking off in their grades.

  2. My SBG implementation is young and anything but smooth, but one wrinkle I’m considering adding next year is no re-assessments for a given topic if the student has missing assignments from that topic. I’d be curious to know if you think that would address some of what you’re running in to.

    Also, to those who have tried this (or something similar), what problems am I not anticipating? Has it motivated students to complete their missing assignments (all of which, I hope, were valuable in helping students understand the material, and therefore an appropriate doorkeeper to retakes), or has it just shut some students down? I can imagine some students saying, or at least thinking, “Well, if I have to do all the assignments in order to retake an assessment, I guess I won’t be retaking any assessments.”


    1. Yes and yes. I have taught seniors in a similar class to Sam’s here and many of them just shut down, especially when it comes to math. It’s really hard to reach them with just about anything. So, if you require more effort on their part, they’ll just climb deeper into their shell. If you’re not putting rose petals along their path and bowing as they pass, they’re not interested.

      As an educational idea, though, I think this suggestions works. I hate when kids think they can shotgun the quizzes and reassessments and come in saying, “Well, it’s can’t hurt, right?” Or the ABSOLUTE WORST is in the middle of the quiz a kid raises his hand and then shouts out in front of anyone, “We can retake this right?” (I’m hulking out just remembering that happening multiple times.) So, having them actually do some work to show that they have put in some effort and have a good reason to believe their grade will improve is a good idea.

      Ultimately, the top kids will continue to “point grab” and retake everything they can because they don’t have their perfect score yet; the middle of the road kids will enjoy the opportunity to reassess and will try to use it sometimes; the lower end kids who don’t put in effort anyways will continue on this path. I have seen SBG help out kids who normally get by with working hard, but not learning anything to become kids who actually learn things, but I haven’t seen it transform many students’ motivation level.

      1. My favorite sentence from everything I’ve read this week: “I’m hulking out just remembering that happening multiple times.” So I’m not the only one. :)

    2. My department has a policy that a student make not take an assessment for the same topic/standard again until they have completed some sort of remediation work. That doesn’t have to be a worksheet or a packet, it can be attending a tutorial session or working with an interventionist. But there’s no retake until there’s some effort put in by the student.

      Several teachers would like to prevent retakes for students with missing assignments. If our assignments were truly granular by standard, I could get behind that. But sometimes assignments are a hodge-podge (yes, I realize we should change this, but baby steps), so the missing assignments may have nothing to do with the assessment. As long as your assignments are aligned with the assessment that the student wants to retake, doing those assignments could count as their work toward earning the right to retest.

  3. This is my first year with SBG with my 8th graders and the first T in my district. So totally new to the kids. One thing I do is continually ask for feedback from them on what they are liking about the process and class and what they dislike. Revisiting it as a class helps remind everyone the benefits of SBG is what I have seen.

    Another change I did this year was to not grade homework (or as I call it now – practice). But I had to change it a little bit because I was finding it was the kids that needed to be practicing were the ones who were coming without their practice done. So I created the “I need more time” list. When I give a homework assignment, if it is fairly early in the concept, I tell Ss this is a required practice. If they come with it not done the next day they make my list. They will still have to finish. If it is still not done the next day I will help them find time by making them coming to my room during lunch or staying after school. If I felt it was important enough to assign it, it is important enough for every kid to finish. (Sometimes there is optional practice though for those kids that need more practice but not everyone does) Just because the grade doesn’t go in the grade book doesn’t mean they don’t have to do it. This idea is kind of along the school wide philosophy of The Power of ICU. Google it if you’ve never heard of it.

    I too need to work on an idea to make kids more accountable in re-assessing.

    1. I did SBG in a school that adopted SBG school-wide the year after I left.
      Now I’m in a school that is way more grades focused than learning-focused. I like the idea of constantly seeking feedback on what is working for the students and what isn’t. Maybe a monthly survey, on the 1st class of every month? I’m now going to do one after spring break.

      However, what I’m seeing from my students isn’t about not doing homework (not many do the homework) but the fact that they want labs and homework to lift their grades, rather than improve their learning. I’m not sure if that will change before the end of the year.

  4. I’ve had SBG in my classroom for about 3 years now. I find that, to keep the philosophy of learning that’s behind SBG alive and well, I have to do things like have students “practice” failure by having them take a few practice assessments before the “real” one. It’s from those practice assessments that students reflect back on their learning and select the tools that will help them fix their learning. Students also score themselves during the first few practice ones along with my feedback. This takes place all year long, so I think it helps keep what you listed out as numbers 2-4 of your purposes behind SBG front and center the whole time. I am also the lone wolf in my building doing SBG, so I find that it helps students get out of the habit of point accumulation and thinking in percentages that, unfortunately, define who they are. As far as it becoming mechanized, I’m not seeing it; I’m seeing more of a habituation of thought because of the discussions that take place around those practice assessments (which are really reassessments given up front) in mind.

    I have the same frustrations as you with students not doing their work. I don’t give daily work, but the work that is assigned doesn’t get done. I teach freshmen and sophomores, and I have fought a constant battle this year over work completion. I don’t know if it’s because, as you said, they feel my class comes last, or if it’s because what I have them do (not traditional classroom work) is foreign to them or if they see it as too much work and therefore choose to do what’s easier. That’s something I hope someone else comments about, because I am interested in any help I can get with this.

  5. I feel your pain. I’m not teaching anymore…I’m trying to make a living as a “math consultant”…however I well remember this time of year with my seniors. From my experience, I would say they are done with high school at this point, no matter how much they love you and appreciate SBG. My suggestion is to not take it personally, but I know that is hard to do. Keep up the good work. It does pay off…until the end of their senior year. But then, you’ve gotten a lot of math into them by that time and some of them will eventually be grateful!

  6. I’ll be brief:
    – talk about those lofty ideals and your goals and learning and such… a lot. All year.
    – require all of those assignments to be done (and corrections to orig. assessment) as the ticket to reassessment. Kids that don’t need them don’t need to do them, but the others figure out that they’ll have to eventually do it anyway, and might as well do it sooner and not need the reassessment
    – be OK that you won’t convert every kid – most of these weren’t getting out of the nightly work what you wanted them to – they were getting the answer (by hook or by crook) just because they had to

  7. Forgot two:
    – Shock and Awe: make it clear pretty quickly that your class is so difficult that they can’t afford (for the most part) to skip it. Let them try that technique and then fail spectacularly. Make it clear that you’re there for as much help, reassessment, etc. as they need, but they’re going to have to actually learn the material.
    – Don’t waver for a second – that threat to reintroduce points is damaging.

  8. I’ve been having problems with work not being done or turned in recently, so we recently decided that, when something is due, they must turn it in, even if it is blank with their name on it. That way, they are acknowledging that they had this deadline and chose to ignore it. After that, they can still redo the assignment. But if they don’t turn it in then, they cannot. It’s only been 3 weeks so far with the policy, but it’s working so far.

    1. James – As usual, this is pure genius. Requiring them to turn in blank paper with their name and date on it is an inspired way of foregrounding the tradeoff that led to not doing the work. Now, this MIGHT have been the best possible call in an impossible situation, but at least it requires the student (and the parent) to look at it clear-eyed and agree that, yes, No work was performed here.

      – Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf)

  9. “For the most part, kids did it, so I stopped walking around.”

    You can’t control senioritis, but I’d be willing to bet that your kids would get a different message from you re: importance of homework (er, home enjoyment) if this shift didn’t happen next time. Keep checking on kids so they feel personally accountable even though they know it’s not graded.

    (I’m not doing math this year so can’t compare, but last year I had two math classes, one of which I really dropped the ball on checking HW for, and it showed. Although the class I did check HW on still had kids who were faking the HW with back-of-the-book answers for the sake of my check even though it wasn’t for marks, so who knows.)

  10. I’m finishing my first year of SBG in Calc AB, and am struggling with similar issues… except these kids stopped doing the homework in large part in 2nd quarter, then completely in 3rd quarter when I stopped checking it. My bigger issue is that they don’t know the Calculus, because they cram for the assessment that “counts” and then forget everything they learned! They skip the first two learning assessments we give (we assess three standards each day, with the third try for any standard being the one that gets recorded), cram for the third, and then let go of everything. Next year I’m trying to figure out how to do a weighted average of the three tries, while making reassessing more challenging, but how do you get around the short-term memory issue? (I won’t mention the rampant cheating …)

    1. I do “review quizzes” on the days I don’t have new material to assess (at least once a week, more frequent towards midterm/final season). I assess them on a topic randomly selected from what they’ve learned up until that point of the course. The first couple times I do this, they will bomb it because they’ve been working just the way you mentioned: cram and forget, but when midterms get closer, and I do a whole week of consecutive review quizzes on different topics from 2 months ago, they start to get the idea that they need to at least “look at” (that’s what they do: take out all the quizzes they’ve had and look at them) the previous material.

    2. I get what you’re saying about cramming for the assessment that “counts”, and forgetting what they learned.

      At the same time, going back to traditional grading doesn’t solve that problem either! Students have gotten by with “learning is temporarily cramming and then forgetting”, and it’s hard to dislodge the idea that it’s “points” that matter. That’s what they’ve been taught.

      When I did traditional grading, the incentive to cheat on HW was great –homework was “monetized”. What I ran into was students who got “100%” on homework checks, and then failed the test! Then the parent wants to know how their child gets perfect HW and bad tests, and it comes out the the student doesn’t do the work….so traditional grading didn’t work for that, and then it was up to me to dream up extra credit, and the student didn’t learn the material.

      No system is perfect –traditional points or SBG. But what I like about SBG is that it measures learning of content or skills, and nothing else (bonus points, trivia, did you bring me a box of tissues). Also, for students that need more time to understand a concept, SBG is better.

      As for re-assessments, a couple of years ago, I had some “entrance ticket” requirements and time limits in order to re-assess— so it’s not just another free roll of the dice. I also collect all of the unit HW on the day of the test, just to check it (or not), and see what they did.

      I think that for everyone, SBG is a work in progress, and will need adjustments and revisions over time. That’s a good thing, vs. traditional grading, where the same thing is done over decades with no change or thought!

      What I really like about SBG is that it changes the dynamics of grade responsibilities. When a parent asks about extra credit, I tell them (again..) that the student can re-assess on tests. The ball is in the student’s court. They want to improve their grade, THEY must do it.. It’s not up to me to dream up extra credit or fluff assignments. What amazes me is how many students DON”T bother to re-assess, and keep the grade they have! That is their choice.

      1. I just want to say I love what you said here, and agree wholeheartedly! Thank you for taking the time to write out your SBG thoughts for me and others!

  11. Like many others, I too have experienced some of the same pains mentioned by you and others.

    So the first question is, “Is it worth it?” I think the answer is definitely yes, but with careful controls. I’m sure you will agree how liberating it is for a student that struggles at some point but then later “gets it”, and they aren’t punished for previous mistakes. Not only that, but you don’t have to come up with some arbitrary “drop one quiz mark/retest one quiz/highest and lowest scores are dropped/etc etc” scheme. While all grading schemes are arbitrary, surely SBG has a clearer rationale as opposed to devising methods for kids to get higher marks?

    Another reason why SBG is good despite the misgivings is that it gives students who are working their butts off to learn, a chance to succeed. The opposite of a SBG scheme is pretty depressing:

    Another big part of SBG that doesn’t get talked about much, as it is hidden amongst the posts and musings on grade calculations and re-tests, is the fact that learning intentions are made explicitly clear. This is a huge part of learning! Of course learning intentions and objectives can be used without SBG, but I really like how it closely ties assessment with objectives. Note: I also think that other “ill defined” assessments should also take place in order to avoid reductionism and promote holistic learning and synthesis.

    However, as you’ve noted their is the bad stuff. A little while ago I had a conversation with Damian Cooper about assessment and SBG at our school. Damian has written a couple of books about assessment and is well versed in this area. He bluntly told me that “you’ve got no chance” at my school. I am alone in SBG and the kids and parents are in a hungry for point/marks culture. Full Stop.

    But, helping a few kids with SBG is enough motivation for me, in the end. Plus, I don’t have to mark quizzes and things and find/add/subtract marks/points in that silly point-race marking schemes. I can’t stand that stuff. I can grade according to beginning/developing/achieved and really push the kids for mastery. While most kids do it maybe for the wrong reasons, it’s still better than nothing.

    Finally, I’ve been working on some things around re-assessment that help mitigate some of the point collection attitudes. By spacing out requests for tests along with showing work done, I try to force the kids to space out their learning. The success rates with type of format has been quite good, and I hope it demonstrates good ways to learn.

  12. I had exactly the same conversations with my class and myself last week and I am conflicted over many of the same things. I decided that during the 4th quarter (which starts next week), I am going to require that students fully attempt each homework assignment on the night it was assigned and, if they fail to do so, they will not have the opportunity to retake the quiz on that topic. I’m not sure how it will work out, but I couldn’t deal with the “do nothing, assess and fail, then reassess” cycle any more. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  13. I wanted to echo what jg had to say.
    Some philosophical things I found helpful:

    – Part of my goal is for the students to improve their self-assessment and time management, as well as their physics. I *want* them to try to anticipate whether they need homework or not, and to experiment with intellectual autonomy (instead of compliance). If they are ever going to kick the habit of assuming they know something because they “feel” like they know it, it’s going to be because they gambled on not doing the practice problems and then realized they were mistaken about their level of confidence. If I never let them calibrate that themselves, they won’t learn how to make that judgement call accurately.

    – Another part of my goal is for students to break the habit of repeating things they’ve already mastered, at the expense of practicing things they’re intimidated by. If the message is “everyone must practice everything,” it undermines my goal. Nevermind that I know they need the practice; they don’t know they need the practice. Yet. As with math, I try to let the problem motivate the technique.

    – My students really, really, really want someone to hold them accountable. I would prefer the honour system, but they seem to desperately need the checking-up – interpreting any possibility of avoiding work as a signal that I secretly want them to. Maybe they value the checking-up only because it’s one of the few times an adult has been consistent with them — I don’t know. I’ve given in.

    A few logistical things that have helped:

    – Assessments are on Thursdays between 2:30 and 4:30. Only.
    – Any reassessment must be applied for by Tuesday at 4:30. Application must include feedback to themselves about the quiz, two practice problems (which they are responsible for finding — although assigned work they’ve chosen not to do should provide ample choices!), and they must calculate their current grade.
    – I explicitly teach them how to write an application for reassessment, how to find a problem in the text, and how to calculate their grade
    – Application for reassessment must be made within 3 weeks of the quiz, or reassessment closes.

    I’m teaching adult learners in a trade school, so I have options others may not. Some people may feel that having students calculate their grade focuses them inappropriately, but I’ve found it to be very helpful. They chart their current grade on a bar graph, knowing full well that it will continue to grow as long as they continue to reassess. It’s gratifying to see the steady upward progress. It also severely cuts down on the amount of denial students experience and helps them make action plans based on reality. I get a lot out of analyzing my own data; I want the students to have that tool available to them too.

  14. I too teach SBG in a non-SBG school, although my director is completely supportive. I am experiencing a lot of the same things as other people. I was wondering if anyone is going to be at NCTM in Denver next month? If you are, are you interested in an in-person discussion?

  15. Thank you all for your thoughts and feedback. I am going to be seriously thinking about some changes for next year, based on your thoughts and suggestions. I have come to the conclusion that this year, where we have one quarter left and it’s actually shorter for seniors, I am not going to make any real changes. I can’t cause a culture shift in such a short time. What I can do is talk explicitly about my concerns with them, remind them what SBG is about from my perspective, what my goals are for them (what I hope SBG can be for them, from their perspective), and let the good times roll.

    I really do think my thinking about calculus, my thinking about teaching, and my thinking about learning, have all been radically changed (in a super positive way) because of SBG. I just have a few things to continue to work out as I move forward with it next year — a few things that might bring me away from “the ideal” (in a perfect world, in a perfect situation) but still keep me in the nearby vicinity.

    Thank you all, again. So many good things to think about. It’s also really good for me to know I’m not alone.


  16. It took me years to realize that the disintegration in student effort at this time of year is not my fault. I used to think it was my failure, and only I had this problem. I now recognize it as part of the ebb and flow of the school year, though it is still hard to slog through on some of the bad days.

    For re-assessments — I changed my policy a couple of years ago— students must show all completed (and correct) homework in order to re-assess. Before that, students regarded re-assessing as a roll of the dice (die?) — maybe the third time would be a charm? No. I stopped that, because it was a waste of my time and theirs. If they didn’t do the HW, why would they do better on the re-assessment? and why should I continue to make new ones. I prefer having HW as an entrance ticket to re-assessment.

    My Honors course grades, I think, are true on the mark. Students who don’t do HW do not earn A’s because it’s really hard to learn Physics w/o doing HW. I think that SBG grades give a more true picture of a student’s level of learning.

    For HW, though, I’m stuck. I had some of my better students not do HW on the last unit because they spent their time on the *graded* HW for other classes. So, it has me wondering if I can invent a standard — “HW quality”—- that I assess through occasional HW quizzes, spot checks on problems, etc. But does that violate the spirit or the “rules” of SBG? Could I check that they show their process on 2 HW problems (even if they aren’t yet correct), or after 2-3 days, quiz them on a reasonable HW problem, and average the HW assessments to get an overall grade for that one standard? If they don’t do well on that, it won’t ruin their course grade, but it does show the student, the parent, and me, the level of HW being attempted/completed. Can “HW quality” be a standard of sorts, without the usual checking for completion, copying by students, etc.? It wouldn’t be re-assessed, once done, but I don’t re-assess labs, either.

    I’m just thinking on it right now, but I think that students need some small nudge somehow.

    1. You said it – if the HW _really_ helps, then that’s their incentive. If a kid doesn’t need to do it, don’t make them – you’ll go back to being every other teacher who tries to decide how much practice every other person needs. Keep the faith – not every kid will take advantage of their opportunities, but that’s part of the learning process. You also don’t want to start having your grades mean anything about their behavior – only about learning!

  17. If the students are becoming too reliant on the option to retake tests and assignments, then what if you started using the SBG that Shawn Cornally (@ThinkThankThunk) uses? See: As far as I understand it, SBG shouldn’t be about retests, but rather on assessing the same standards several times in several different assignments/tests over the term/semester.

  18. Hi, this semester is my 2nd time around implementing SBG in my Calculus 12 classes. (I’m totally new to blogging, so I haven’t gotten around to writing about it yet.) I’ve had some of the same problems as you. I hand out homework practices, but I never check them or even tell them to do it, so I didn’t have quite as much of a shock as you. But I’ve had days when I saw kids that, instead of asking their neighbour or me for help, were playing on their cell phones after a quiz they clearly didn’t know how to do. I don’t let it bother me for the most part because I see them the next evening half an hour before their scheduled reassessment with me, desperately asking anyone they can find to explain the question to them again. I thought to myself, as long as they get it done at some point. Sometimes I think they are funny creatures who would rather do more quiz question practice than homework. They’ll ask my students from last semester for all the quiz questions they’ve had and do them instead of homework. I don’t mind though; practice is practice.

    On the days when I feel that they think they don’t need homework at all (which is most of the time actually. Our kids tend to think highly of themselves because Math 10-12 were so easy for them since they did it all in Chinese Junior High public schools, btw, I teach in a BC international school in China), I purposely tell them only the big overall concepts and not the details and tricky bits they need to notice and let them find out either on the homework or on the next day’s quiz (usually the latter). Then I laugh at how hard they’re struggling with the quiz question and tell them it’s straight from their homework. I also tend to make reassessments harder than the initial quiz just to make sure they’re not just memorizing answers/solutions and skipping the understanding. Some of my students call me the hole digger because my reassessments have many holes they might fall into if they are not careful.

    Once in a while I have students coming in for reassessments when they don’t know what they’re doing at all. They just come to try their luck again. This is one of the things I like the most about SBG: I get that one-on-one time with them to give them an ear-full of how they are disrespecting my time and efforts and how their irresponsibility and neglect has caused more trouble and work for people around them, including their friends who now have to help them understand the concepts by explaining it to them again. They usually get it after being lectured by me a couple times.

  19. I do random homework checks by drawing popsicle sticks. If all three people I draw have the homework, their class gets a point for the competition I have running between the different classes. They all get upset with the person who doesn’t have it – peer pressure to do homework :)

    The point thing is new though. I didn’t used to give them a point for everyone having homework done, but noticed that half the class wasn’t doing it. I even let them pick how their homework looks. They get to pick what problems to practice, or I have a couple that like to write out notes instead of practicing more problems. Whatever works for them – they just need some evidence that they are practicing or studying at home.

  20. Sam,

    First, thank you so much for being so open and honest in your blog. It is so good to know that I am not alone in this struggle. I look at super-stars like you and other in the blogosphere and hope to one day be even just 1/8th as good as you are. :)

    So, this was my second year doing SBG. The other physics teacher and myself are the only teachers in my school who do SBG, and who don’t collect/grade HW on a daily basis. We CONSTANTLY run up against the same challenges, except that they begin in the first quarter and we struggle against them all year long.

    So to answer your questions:
    Hummm.. this is something that we are still working on, but I may have address this in my answer to #3.

    The one thing that we have found the most success in combating the homework issue in a non-SBG environment is on-line HW with nominal points. The learning goals comprise 75% of the grade, homework and labs and projects are rolled into 15% of the grade and the final exam is 10% (as mandated by the school.) So making each HW assignment 2 or even 5 points when they are in the same category as labs and projects, it is a VERY small percentage of the over-all grade. The online HW that we use is great. (Mastering Physics for honors and AP Physics, and Minds on Physics for our general physics.) There is no time limit on the HW, but there is a nominal date that I say they must have attempted the HW by so that we can discuss it. or use the skills gained through the HW practice in class. They have as many tries as they need to get the answer correct and thus earn full credit. I also only assign a couple of physics problems per night. Not too much, but enough to get some deep practice in. The kids get instant feedback from the online HW systems, so they come to class with more thoughtful questions and can more easily pinpoint where they are having troubles. It isn’t perfect, but for us, it is a step in the right direction. A drawback of the online HW is that students rarely write their work down, and if they do it usually is on scratch paper which is thrown out. I think that they are missing out on some critical component to their learning here. I’m thinking of incorporating your binder checks with this system next year. We will see….

    We are on a block schedule and our classes meet 3 times with in 7 school days. (Our classes are 95 min long), but it does suck how sporadically we meet. Three classes compose a cycle, and this cycle is repeated 11 times in a semester. So I only have 33 class meetings with my kids each semester. We have our kids journal on day one of each cycle. We write pointed questions and put then on a half sheet of paper and collect them. This is done at the start of class when I’m taking attendance and handling some business… We collect it and comment on the journals and pass them back the next class meeting. Each journal consists of 2 to 3 questions. Some questions that we have asked in these journals are:
    Now that we have finished the constant velocity particle model, what learning goal do you feel that you are strongest at?
    Which learning goal are you the weakest, and how would you strengthen your ability to perform this learning goal?
    How is physics going in general for you? Any questions or concerns for your teacher?
    Have you participated in any “intellectual piggybacking” this semester? In other words, have you relied on your partners to do the problems for you at all instead of trying each problem on your own? (try be real with yourself…your answer to this question does not affect your grade…it is for your reflection)
    Using some of the skills from the beginning of the semester in our Constant Acceleration Unit, have you remembered more or less of the Constant Velocity Unit than you thought you would?
    On a scale from 1-5 how stressed do you feel about school? (not just physics) explain if possible
    Since you answered the question about “intellectual piggybacking”, have you attempted to be more engaged with your learning (in physics)…remember this does not affect your grade?
    The students LOVED these. They said that they felt like they really had a voice and that they were able to be heard. The stress question went a long way with them, and we had a very good discussion about stress, and how to deal with it, and what is going on in their lives currently.
    There were times where it was the responses to the journal questions, not the assessments that alerted us that we had to revisit a particular topic. (It also made us realize that our assessments weren’t really doing their job, and we were able to adjust that as well.)
    We tried to place a lot of value on self reflection and metacognition this year. It worked okay… there is always a lot of room for improvement.

    I don’t have formal individual conferences with my kids, class time is way too precious… we still struggle with keeping everyone on task when I’m not there interacting with them and floating around the room.
    – Chija (@bauerphysics)

    1. Chija, thank you for your thoughts. I’m now thinking more about next year, now that I’ve had some time to decompress this year, and this is so helpful. Sorry for the late reply! I am grateful you took all this time to spell things out so well for me.

  21. Sam,
    Love the post. The title really hit home for me. I have a question for you. I have been running SBG for 3 years now with some success. I started allowing unlimited reassessment and eventually changing to one per week. Inevitably, they ALWAYS come at the end of the quarter which is a bit of “grade grubbing” and procrastination. It becomes very stressful for me and difficult to manage ( 90 kids total in my 3 geometry classes alone). Also, it feels like I am enabling my students. This year, I am contemplating allowing only 2 assessments of each skill, which will both happen in class. Hopefully, this will encourage students to take that 2nd attempt more seriously. In the past, I feel that 2nd attempt is not taken as seriously as I would like because there is always that 3rd attempt waiting. In my remedial classes I intend to keep the format of unlimited assessments as I feel it is easier to manage and it is extremely difficult to get students to re-assess in the first place. Before I made a change would love your thoughts! I am feeling a little hesitant to make this change as I feel I am taking away from the “spirit” of SBG by taking away reassessments. Another part of my mind feels I am not taking away reassessments at all as the 2nd time should be considered a reassessment. I also feel that I am in a way not working as hard as I could as I am caving to the stress of the end of the quarter. I am successfully organized for their end of the quarter craziness but having 30-40 kids in a classroom after school is a little stressful in a shared classroom especially if I am partially feeling as if they are guilty of procrastination…..Sorry this ran on a little long. Thanks again for any insight.

    1. I totally understand what you’re saying, and I wish I could say I have an answer for you. But it really feels like this is based on you, your kids, and your school culture. I don’t think you should be wed to the idea that there is One Right Way to do SBG. I am going to be overhauling how I do it in Calculus next year, because SBG wasn’t doing all I wanted. I’m sacrificing some of the idealism for realism, and that’s okay with me! I think you need to do what you think is best for your own sanity and what is best for your kids. If you think that limiting the number of reassessment opportunities is best for them, why not? If you think giving them a 2 week window to reassess them after they get a particular skill assessment back, do it! That’s my feelings, anyway. Others might disagree. But I’m personally at a point where I’m going to mess around and see if I can’t get better results (both in terms of developing learners and in terms of content) by mixing things up…

      1. Sam,
        Thank you for getting back to me. That makes a lot of sense. I guess I find it hard to put my sanity first at times. I wish you the best this upcoming year.

  22. Hi Sam,

    I have a grand total of 1.75 years experience as a teacher, and .25 years experience with SBG. I switched to SBG because of all the pluses, and I’ll continue to refine my system and philosophies in the future. I just wanted to thank you for recording your experiences as a math teacher and for sharing so many great ideas!
    Are you still SBG-ing it up? Any tips for a newbie?



    1. Sadly I only did SBG in calculus (for very specific reasons) and I’m not teaching calculus anymore… so no more SBG.

      As for tips for a newbie, everything you have is all my thinking on the topic! Sorry I don’t have any more words of wisdom!

    2. Hi Holly – I am the only teacher at our school that uses SBG – I also teach math. I used this blog as a basis for my transition to SBG. Feel free to email me if you want to chat about this!

  23. Hi Sam,

    My name is Tina. I am currently a pre-service teacher and have been very interested in reading your blog as well as others comments and reflections on topics within the classroom. This post intrigued me as we have begun to learn about Standards Based Grading, and I like to hear from you all how it is implemented in classrooms and where the issues may arise.
    I think one issue you are facing is that your school system seems to not be on the same track as you in terms of SBG, which leads to students placing your class at the bottom of their priority list. This is extremely unfortunate, however you have to realize that some of that is not their own fault nor should you take it personally. Unfortunately, students are more focused on getting the grade and getting the points, especially when one class’s homework is required for a grade and one is not. I think this is a case where you have to let them learn their own lesson, meaning that this will only mean they will not do well on a test/quiz and in turn have to retake it. But just requiring them to retake it wont be enough to teach that lesson – I agree with many of the above that you should require additional work to be completed before that is even an option. Not only will this better their understanding before walking into a test, it will also serve as a good life lesson.

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