Standards Based Grading: Planning Assessments

When I first started reading about Standards Based Grading and considered trying it myself, I realized that the biggest obstacle to implementing it would be my time constraints.  We work on 10-week trimesters here at Union College, and my total class time with students is 50 hours including labs.  SBG typically requires lots and lots of assessments, which are usually done during class time.  We would be covering about 5-7 objectives per week, which means that each assessment would need roughly that many questions.  Given the difficulty of some of the objectives, this would just take too much time out of class.  The other option, then, is to have out-of-class assessments.  The problem with this, of course, is that students could seek outside help. Thus I would not have an accurate picture of what they really understand.  I was seriously beginning to doubt that I could pull this off.

Not long ago, I had a conversation over email with Kelly O’Shea, and she pointed out something that hadn’t occurred to me at all.  In SBG, you typically only count the student’s most recent mark on a particular objective.  If the student knows that they are going to be assessed on a particular objective again at some point in the future, then the student has a rather strong incentive not to cheat.  Contrast this to a typical points-based system of grading where grades get “locked in”.  A student who is having difficulty or is short on time may rationalize cheating on that assignment because they will make up for it later when they study for the exam.  We all know how that usually goes.

So here is the plan that I am going with: at the end of each chapter, I will give the students a take-home test with at least one question from each of the new objectives as well as some questions covering old objectives.  I have a little speech planned for the first time so that students understand this new way of doing things.

“This is your first take-home assessment, and I would like you to finish it by our next class.  The purpose of this assessment is so that you can receive feedback about your current level of understanding of the material, and for this reason you should not use any outside resources.  Let’s suppose, though, that you are extremely busy tonight and don’t have time to complete this, so you find a friend, copy his or her answers, and receive high marks on all of the objectives.  Remember, though, that I only count your latest score on any objective.  Given that you will be tested again, there is absolutely no reason for you to cheat now.  In fact, doing so will only rob you of valuable feedback from me.  So if you find yourself in the situation that I described above, take an extra day.  It’s fine.”

I also plan to have in-class assessments on weeks 4 and 8 as well as a final exam.  This is partly because that is the standard practice in our department.  In addition, I am hoping that this will get the students to take the out-of-class assessments more seriously.

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