Standards Based Grading… with Voice (#AAPTsm11)

by Stephanie Chasteen on August 11, 2011

We had a fantastic banquet speaker at the Physics Education Research Conference (PERC) last week, Andy Rundquist of Hamline college (@arundquist).  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my laptop with me, so didn’t take the kind of notes that helps me to report most accurately on a talk.  So here’s a test of sciencegeekgirl’s poor memory.

When Dr. Rundquist first saw conversation about standards-based grading (SBR), he ignored it – as have I.  Sounds boring.   Dry.  Something that relates to someone else.

But then he found out just what it was.  Monday and Tuesday he read the book.  Wednesday the semester started, and he completely restructured his classroom.

Here’s the idea.

Which of the following students would you like to pack your parachute?

Student A is all over the map.   Student C is getting worse over time.  But Student B seems to have really mastered the skill.  All three students get the same course average, however!  Andy thought this was a problem.

The idea with standards based grading is that you set the standards, or learning objectives, for your students at the beginning of the semester.  And when they show that they have mastered that standard, then you give them a grade on it.  All that matters is that they have shown evidence  of mastery on the most recent assessment – regardless of how they   performed on other assessments. Many people have written on the topic — here is a nice compendium of blog posts on standards based grading.

Andy already uses a flipped classroom, where the content is delivered via video and text at home, and the class time is spent on understanding and practicing that content.  So, with the standards based grading, class time was spent working to achieve mastery of those standards.  Here is a list of Andy’s standards for that class. That means NO homework.  NO exams.  “How am I supposed to learn to write a mathematica model of a simple system?” might ask a student.  The answer?  “There are a bunch of good problems at the back of the book,   Look them over.”

Students could try to demonstrate mastery of a standard at any time after it had been covered in class, and could attempt it many times until they were satisfied with their grade on the standard – which was graded on a 4-point scale:  1 (does not meet expectations), 2 (begins to meet expectations), 3(meets expectations) and 4 (exceeds expectations).  Note that that means that “meets expectations” is equivalent to just a 75% — a C.  A “4”, he operationalized as “I will brag about you.”  Students got that, and worked hard to try to get a “4” – and it seemed that there was some real intrinsic motivation to do well on the standard.

He called this “standards based grading with voice” because all of his assessment of their mastery was done via oral exams (in class), screencasts (using easily downloaded  software), and pencasts (using LiveScribe pens).  He could watch a student do the problem and, more importantly, articulate why they were doing a particular step or what decisions they were making. [geekgirl note: Even without standards based grading, what a great idea for alternative and authentic assessment!]  That was what mattered most to him and represented true understanding, rather than just writing down a bunch of steps that were correct.  Now, he only had 11 students in this small upper-division course, but he conjectures that in a larger course one could use peer-assessment of many of the standards.  I know that there has been some research into peer-led grading using rubrics, which might be able to be applied.

I think this is an excellent idea on how to further restructure the classroom, especially at the upper-division.  We found in our junior E&M course that our PER-led transformations resulted in improved student learning – but not to the level that we had hoped.  We hypothesize that we needed more student-led classroom structures, where students are generating the questions and knowledge, rather than us prviding such guided tutorials and clicker questions and lecture  One model we have for further changing up the classroom structure is the Oregon State Paradigms project.  Andy’s model is another possible model.

I really hope the PER community considers this as a possible area of research.  Andy’s  ideas are good ideas, but it could use some rigorous assessment.  He has good qualitative data through his observations and video of student work.  Student responses were that they remembered these core ideas much better because they had to put it together themselves. But these data are casual and not systemic; it would be great to do some additional research.

I was also really pleased to see a talk by a practitioner in the PERC – sure, what he was doing wasn’t evidence-based, and he wasn’t presenting research results, but we need more dialogue with practitioners so that we can help push our own research agendas forward to answer the questions that are coming up in the field.  We don’t publish in the practitioner literature, and we don’t read it either.  We need to stop talking to just each other, but have broader discussions.

{ 1 comment }

Andy Rundquist August 11, 2011 at 12:41 am

Thanks for the great round up of my presentation, Stephanie, what a great memory! For those interested in more details, I’ve got a lot on my blog about that course and my plans for the future. The most recent entry is
Thanks again!
-Andy (@arundquist)

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