Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Standard Based Grading : Show me the evidence!

One of my university tutors, Dr Nigel Goodwin, would regularly have us recite a catechism whenever we discussed ideas in education:
Show me the evidence!
And what is our currency for measuring the evidence? [yell it!]... 
Improved student outcomes! 
Forget the talk, the opinions, the fads: show me the evidence of improved student outcome. Careful though -  this does not mean just using standardised test scores based on the 3R's! We mean peer-reviewed evidence that we can have confidence in.

In looking for evidence relating to SBG as currently formulated and being trialled by science and maths teachers, part of the challenge is the newness of this formulation. So as a proxy for evidence about SBG, I'm looking at evidence of effective teaching practice and seeing if there are connections to SBG.  And when it comes to evidence, there is a special place in evidence heaven for John Hattie.

Hattie is famous for his meta-analyses - a technique that allowed him to review student outcome data for 80 million students, as reported in 50,000 peer reviewed studies. Using the concept of effect size, Hattie produced a list to answer the question ‘What has the greatest influence on student learning?'. Even more helpful than just presenting data, in his book Visible Learning (Hattie, 2009) synthesises these results into an explanatory theory.

John Hattie's Visible Learning in a nutshell:
Visible teaching and learning occurs when learning is the explicit goal, when it is appropriately challenging, when the teacher and student both seek to ascertain whether and to what degree the challenging goal is attained, when there is deliberate practice aimed at attaining mastery of the goal, when there is feedback given and sought, when there are active, passionate and engaging people (teacher, student, peers) participating in the act of learning. It is teachers seeing learning through the eyes of students, and students seeing teaching as the key to their ongoing learning. The remarkable feature of the evidence is that the biggest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students becomes their own teachers. When students become their own teachers they exhibit the self-regulatory attributes that seem most desirable for learning (self-monitoring, self-evaluation, self-assessment, self-teaching). (Hattie, 2009, p22)
How does this relate to SBG? And how might it suggest we extend our thinking about SBG? Some of the more obvious connections are worth stating:

Explicit goals: SBG is all about explicit goals.

Appropriately challenging goals: SBG allows teachers and students to decide - based on previous results and current  intentions, what an appropriate goal for each standard is. They aren't pie-in-the-sky goals, they don't relate to abstract numerical grades - they are focused "I would like to get Proficient in "Can factorise a quadratic"" - and they allow us to agree that perhaps this student should aim for Expert, not Proficient.

Deliberate practice ... : SBG allows us to make the link between focused effort and mastery. A caution we need to bear in mind with SBG is that by allowing students to sense "I'm done - I've mastered that skill" - we may undermine deliberate practice. Is this any riskier than traditional grading practices? Probably not - but it's something to consider. How can we use our new SBG tool to encourage ongoing, deliberate practice?

... focused on mastery learning :  Yep - that's SBG!

Feedback is given and sought : The major strength of SBG. As we implement SBG, it's important we encourage students to actively engage with the feedback provided by SBG. (Effect size: 0.73 - 1,287 studies).  And even more importantly, that we respond to the feedback. Hattie writes
 "it is only when I discovered that feedback was most powerful when it is from student to teacher that I started to understand it better. When teachers seek ... feedback from students as to what students know, what they understand, where they make errors ... then teaching and learning can be synchronised and powerful. Feedback to teachers makes learning visible" (p.173).
So the most powerful feature of SBG may well relate to Hattie's observation that the biggest effects on student learning occur "when teachers become learners of their own teaching" (p.22)  In other words - if we have the perspective that SBG is a tool that allows us to continuously evaluate to our teaching - we transform SBG from just being another grading system into a powerful tool for monitoring and adapting our teaching.

So rather than "Hmm.. Johnny still hasn't reach proficiency on 'solving right triangles for the hypotenuse - what can he do?" we say "Hmm.. I taught this concept to Johnny for three lessons - what can I change?". And that's where the money comes in!

With apologies to "Jerry Maguire"
Next in this series: looking at the work of Robert Marzano. The evidence considered in this post relates to student outcomes - for an SBG perspective on student motivation and engagement see the earlier post looking at the work of Andrew Martin.   SBG is also considered in relation to a developmental framework called The Circle of Courage.


  1. Couldn't agree with Nigel, John and you more!

  2. again, I sound like a broken record. This is a great post. Want to submit it to the sbg blog carnival?

  3. Terrific post examining the outcomes of SBG... great emphasis that SBG isn't a grading system, it's really a general methodology for teaching & learning!