What is it about that picture that freaks me out the most? Is it the 300 foot 1 drop that this psychopath is going into? Is it that he’s clearly falling into not-that-deep water, nestled between jagged rocks that could smash his body into a bag of human confetti? Is it that he’s flippity-flopping all over the place, punishing his equilibrium for some heinous crime it must have committed against him recently?
Nah, man. What freaks me out the most is that he’s standing at the top of that diving board, aiming towards jagged rocks, throwing himself into a which-way-is-up tizzy… while his back is to the water 2. What is that?! How can he do what he’s about to do without really knowing where he is going? What does it take to take aim, turn around, and drop throw yourself into the abyss all of of information that isn’t the most up-to-date? Who is this crazy man that looks, then leaps, then deals with the (hopefully not-dire) consequences afterwards?
I ask because I’m on the cusp of my own big jump. This summer, I’ve been doing a lot of work on brushing up on Common Core standards—knowing them backwards and forwards, unpacking and repacking—in an effort to be a better teacher next year than I was last year, my first at my new school in California. All this studying has led to a re-realization 3 that grades are junk, and that I truly should be joining a brave group of colleagues utilizing standards-based grading (SBG) in at least my English classroom 4.
Here’s my big issue, though—where does it end? I understand the theory, I know how to set up my gradebook, I get aligning assessments to standards, all of that. But… What does it look like at the end? In January (or June), what’s my gradebook going to look like? Will I have over-assessed Reading Standard #1:
at the expense of Reading Standard #9?
What happens if I have students who start out weak, get stronger, then inexplicitly get weaker as the year goes along? How do I deal with translating each standard’s “grade” 5 into a letter grade for the registrar? 6 Isn’t it kinda unfair to develop a brand-new system, introduce and sell it to students/parents, and then, at the end of the semester, to pull a “Wellll… it turns out…”?
So this is my issue. It’s the big thing I’ve been battling over the summer, especially in the last few days. As I see it, then, I only have a few courses of action:
And that’s the big battle.
- Approximate. ↩
- Before moving to Cali, my colleagues and I in our school in Taiwan studied the heck out of standards-based grading, especially in a PLC group where we read Rick Wormeli’s “Fair Isn’t Always Equal“. By the time I was done with that (and my own side-research), I declared myself an “on-paper SBG expert”—all I had left to do was to put it into practice. *GULP* ↩
- I’m still relatively early on in being a history teacher, and technology standards for my Computer Applications classes seem iffy-at-best, but I do have a few years of teaching ELA, so no excuse there, right? ↩
- In many SBG systems, grades are done on a 0-to-3 or 1-to-4 scale of mastery as opposed to a 100-point-scale of vagueness. ↩
- Suspiciously little (of value) is written about this one. “GRADES SHOULDN’T BE A THING!” they yell. “WE SHOULD JUST BE PREPARING THEM FOR SKILLS THEY’LL NEED IN COLLEGE.” Ok, well don’t I need to tell the college how well they do those skills? Huh? Is this thing on?