Saturday, July 17, 2010

SBG: Wading Into the Water

Dipping My Toe In
I teach at a community college in California. We're being pressured to develop student learning outcomes (SLO's) for each course. It's a top-down development, and there's lots of faculty resistance. We don't see a clear benefit from this process.

But I could see we'd be stuck with it, and I wanted to put in my own twist. About two years ago, I figured it was a good time to introduce Mastery Tests to my Beginning Algebra course. I continued to have my regular tests that covered two chapters of material. But I also decided on what I thought were the most important things I wanted students to learn, and made short mastery tests on those that could be re-taken. Students had to earn at least 85% on each one of those 5 mastery tests to pass the course.

I'd never heard of Standards Based Grading (SBG) at that point. I had worked at a college that taught Beginning and Intermediate Algebra (pretty much equivalent to high school Algebra I and II) as independent study, though, and they used something like what I was developing.

Re-testing until you achieve mastery is a core part of SBG, but my mastery tests only counted for a quarter of the grade. I liked how they worked. The first semester I tried using them, no one failed just because of not passing those, and many people improved their understanding of algebra substantially because of them. So now it's time to wade further in. I'm still not ready to change over completely, but I'm going in much deeper now.

Wading Further In
I've been working on a Mastery Tests tracking sheet for the students (current draft below). I still have numbers on the tests, but have given each one a short name, too, so we can refer to them by name instead of number. I'm still grading on a percentage scale (rather than 4 or 5 points), because I'm used to it, and I don't think using points is vital to the spirit of SBG. I've also grouped more together than I think the SBG folks do. It's what feels right to me. I'll re-consider this point over time.

I think I'm willing to stop grading homework. It was working well to give credit for completed homework, but the post on teacher happiness compared to homework grading policy swayed me. (Who posted that? I can't find it now.) My biggest concern is that students have limited time, and giving them credit for regularly doing their homework helps them develop that good habit. I'm not sure yet on this...

I'm still giving a comprehensive final exam, and credit in the final grade for various ungraded assignments (internet research, writing, attending hours by arrangement, ...). Right now I'm thinking 45% for the mastery tests, 25% for the final, and 30% for the rest. I've thrown out chapter-based tests.

Ok, all you SBG advocates and gurus, what haven't I thought about yet, what do you think I should change, what sage advice can you give me?

Mastery Tests (tentative)

______ Mini-Test 1:                    Multiplication Facts
______ Mini-Test 2:                    FIDO (the Fractions, Integers (negative numbers), Distributive Property, and Order of Operations will faithfully help you with future math work)

______ Mini-Test 3:                    Solving Equations
·       Solve equations
·       Solve for a particular variable
·       Use algebra to solve real problems (#1)
______ Test 4:                            Graphing Basics
·       Graph a line given equation (slope-intercept form)
·       Graph a line given equation (standard form) 
·       Find slope given two points
·       Find equation of a line given two points
·       Find slope given equation (any form)
·       Find slope given graph
·       Find y-intercept given two points
·       Find y-intercept given equation
·       Find equation of line perpendicular to given line
·       Explain meaning of slope and y-intercept in real problems
______ Mini-Test 5:                    Graphing Applications
·       Explain meaning of slope in a real problem
·       Explain meaning of y-intercept in a real problem
·       Create an equation based on a real problem
·       Make a graph for a real problem
______ Mini-Test 6:                    Systems of Equations
·       Solve a system of two equations in two variables
·       Use algebra to solve real problems (#2)
______ Mini-Test 7:                    Use scientific notation

______ Mini-Test 8:                    Factoring
·       Multiply polynomials
·       Pull out a common factor
·       Factor a polynomial
·       Solve equations using factoring
______ Mini-Test 9:                    Solving Quadratics
·       Simplify square roots
·       Complete the square
·       Use quadratic formula
·       Graph parabolas

Epilogue                                   Graph y=1/x and y= absolute value of x;  Simplify rational expressions;  Solve and graph inequalities

                                                [Final Exam covers all course material.]

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, and I'm certainly glad to here someone in the Ivory Tower is going to give SBG a shot! First thing to remember, it's not about getting some sill acronymed methodology perfectly implemented; it's about making sure your students see where they are, where they're headed, and how remediation can actually help them.

    A few notes:

    You said, "My biggest concern is that students have limited time, and giving them credit for regularly doing their homework helps them develop that good habit. I'm not sure yet on this..."

    A better habit is the habit of doing things because they must be done, like a certain amount of homework. Not grading HW but speaking to the connection between practice and ability level works wonders. This will also help your students identify how they best study, and how much math practice they really need. These are quality skills that I think we want our college students to have (yes?)

    Second, just give your kids that list you just posted and tell them that everything they do will reflect some skill on that list. One question may reflect their abilities with fractions and solving quadratics, and their scores should be separated so the kid knows where to spend their time.

    Good luck! Keep the conversation going as you start this fall. This will not be easy, at first, and your kids may not initially like it, but don't quit!


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