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Making the Shift to Standards Based Grading: A Skeptic’s Perspective

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LotBy Sarah Guillen, Sixth Grade Social Studies

Making the Shift to Standards Based Grading: A Skeptic’s Perspective

I’m a “yes” person. I have always been and consistently find myself agreeing to new initiatives that I’ll admit, I know very little about. When we decided to make the change to transition to SBG, I “drank the kool-aid.” Once I started to take a deeper look last winter, the anxiety set in. How would I convert all of my current assessments to meet this new model? How would I keep records on their progress on the 60 or so new Social Studies standards, that are new to me also? Would I need to have a rubric for each and every standard? How would I motivate students by a simple number grade, when they are so naturally eager to get that A?

I started by choosing just a few ‘comfortable’ standards to play with. Citing text evidence, using context clues, and a history no-brainer: explaining multiple causes and effects. The first assignment I collected I began by grading in the “traditional way.” I marked what was right and what was wrong. Grading did not end there. I then began to take a close look at why the student had certain questions wrong. I began to focus on the skills! I took notes on who wasn’t citing text evidence, and I used this to guide me in the next day’s lesson. I worked with students one on one and in small groups, and I felt like I was really teaching them something!

In the “traditional” system, the points would have been given and that would have been it. I would have met with the student and explained why it was wrong. Social Studies is a “content heavy” subject, right? But what good is it if the students leave here without the how-to skills that are necessary to learning American History? Standards Based Grading validates what I have always believed about teaching Social Studies: It’s about teaching students the skills to think like a historian. I want my student to be able to take any topic in history and know how to analyze the resources. Think critically about what is said. Ask questions and wonder. Know how and where to look for answers.

As one of my kids said, “It’s like being a detective.”

Motivation? Today as I handed back their most recent set of classwork, I heard several excited students say “Yessss!!!”  because they got that 4 they’ve been striving towards. No longer are they eager to earn the points, but are motivated to exceed standards and my expectations as their teacher.



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