Leading by Example – Using a Standards-Based Grading Rubric in a Grades-Based World.

Are you often frustrated by students who are only concerned about the grade and not about the learning/growth that is happening?

In an attempt to get students, who live in a world where point gathering has become the norm, to see value in the growth and progress they are making as the year goes on, I began using a “Levels of Understanding” rubric for all assessments:

Considering this is the first time most of my students have ever experienced their math scores/grade being more than a collection of points, It was vital to give my students time to experience the rubric before they were actually assessed with it.

I began by verbally explaining the levels and what they mean to my students.  Then, I showed students the following examples:

I completed a sample of each level of the rubric.  This was tough being the only 6th grade math teacher, so I bothered one of the other teachers in the math department and we discussed the examples together.  

With students, I gave the example and explained why I would fit it into the specific level given.  There were some great discussions, specifically around the Level 2 and Level 3. Some students thought my Level 3 should be a Level 2.  It really made me think about why I chose to put specific responses at a certain level on the rubric. Also, I realized that each different student’s response would take some thinking to decide what level it should be given on the rubric.  As challenging as this can be, It feels great to know that my assessing practice is moving away from a collection of points to a more subjective understanding of where the students are. Relaying this to the students has been the tricky part! We have created a world where students know nothing other than collecting points, so convincing them to do things (like homework!) for the sake of learning and growing in a specific skill can be tough when they are 14 and 15 years old.

After I shared my examples with students, I gave them a practice test to complete, then had them do a peer review using the rubric Levels of Understanding.  Here is a sample of my practice assessment for my Math 6 students:

After completing the practice, students exchanged papers and used the rubric to give their peer a score and reason for their score.  I noticed several students were quick to give a 5 because the answer was almost correct, however we had some nice discussions on my expectations of showing their thinking through justification.  Sometimes students were harder on each other than I may have been. Some students volunteered to have their paper shown (I did this on purpose, as I wasn’t sure if everyone would be comfortable having their paper shown just yet).  I even had a few who were a 1 or 2 that shared and allowed a nice discussion with the class. Here are a few samples of peer grading by students:

Though the transition to a grading practice that values a specific level of understanding instead of a collection of points can sometimes feel like a never-ending battle with students, I found that beginning by setting the stage through practice and experience with the expectations can be helpful. This approach seemed to release some of the stress students felt about the new process. In the end, this initial practice proved to my students that I only have their best interest in mind as we venture together into a standards-based world.

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