A central tenet of standards-based grading is that specificity is a good quality of feedback. For example, “Timmy has an 50% in spelling and 100% in grammar” is better than “Timmy has a 75% in English” because the latter is less specific. The relationship can’t hold forever, though. Do we want this as part of our grade report?
Hey, you know, maybe we do want this. I can come up with some rationalizations. But what about this?
I’m going to take a stand here: this is too much information. It’s overwhelming for the student – there’s so much to work on! If I did this level of granularity on my class I’d have 400 standards for the first semester alone. In a more subtle way, this is also a problem because we need our standards to be a little bit vague. We actually cannot distill every piece of content in our class down to a standard and test it. Maybe the one standard “spelling” is good enough.
Finally, a big part of SBG is letting go of the idea that you’re going to test everything anyway. Or that a student will be able to do every single thing you taught her to do. This has been a big part of me growing into a leadership role at school and at camp, too, actually. Communication isn’t perfect, and people aren’t perfect, and they don’t need to be. So, when you’re handing back Suzie’s essay, which had 45 spelling errors on it, maybe you mark eight of the spelling errors and don’t mention that she’s missing a comma on page five.
Which leaves us with a pretty big set of decisions: what will our standards be? I’ve written a guide about how I decided in my classes, but of course there will be many situations in which it won’t help.
An idea cooking in my brain: what role can students play in deciding what the standards will be? Maybe they can’t really know what’s important, and that’s our job as teachers to decide. Maybe we could give them the list of 400 things we wish we could give them, and they choose 30 for the semester. Maybe we just work up some directed inquiry activities and then talk with the kids about what the standards should be after the fact? Or maybe we have a base 15 required standards, and challenge kids to make their own after that. Hmmmm.