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Tips for Implementing Standards Based Grading in Science

Progress monitoring and student evaluation are important parts of any classroom instruction. When it comes to grading, there are several different systems and approaches. The traditional letter-grade system and Pass/Fail grading are two well-known examples. Generally speaking, schools will adopt building or district-wide grading systems and policies in order to maintain consistency. In recent years, many districts have made the move towards standards based grading. If your school or district uses SBG, here are some tips for implementing standards based grading in science.

What is Standards Based Grading?

Like any grading system, standards based grading is a method for tracking student progress. Rather than assigning percentage based letter grades, standards based reporting focuses on student mastery of particular skills and lesson concepts. Rubrics are aligned with a set of academic standards (for example, the Next Generation Science Standards) and students are measured on their understanding and mastery of specific learning targets.

As the year progresses, students should be gradually moving through the rubric categories. At the beginning of the year, most students will not have achieved mastery level yet, because the content and the skills are new. That’s normal! Over time, however, we hope to see students moving towards proficient or even exemplary mastery of each grade level standard.

This approach is helpful for both teachers AND students, as it allows both parties to clearly see whether or not the desired growth and progress are being achieved, and where additional intervention might be necessary.

Rubrics

As I mentioned above, rubrics are used to assess student understanding and proficiency according to a set of learning standards. For each standard, students will be given a score that reflects their current level of understanding of a particular science concept or skill. The mastery levels are the same for each rubric and standard. This continuity makes it easier for students to interpret their own scores. In other words, once they’ve familiarized themselves with one rubric, they understand them all.

Here’s an example:

  • Exemplary (above grade level) 
  • Proficient (on grade level) 
  • Progressing (approaching grade level)
  • Beginning (below grade level) 
  • Yet to Meet (reserved essentially for students who do nothing at all)

In my class syllabus, I include a general rubric for each of our skills. I go over this rubric with students during the first week of school, as well as send a copy home for parents to review. This allows both parents and students to know right from the start of the year exactly how students will be evaluated in my classroom. You can choose to view the whole syllabus or get a snapshot of the included rubric by taking a look at the images below:

Important Note:

Parents really struggle with the fact that their kids really shouldn’t be getting proficient scores at the beginning of the year, and that exemplary is not really attainable for the average student. Parents see it as proficient is a B and exemplary is an A and my kid should be getting As. In all the years my school has been using standards based grading in science, it’s been really difficult to get parents to buy in and to get them to adopt the growth mindset that standards based grading is all about. 

Giving Feedback

In standards based grading, offering feedback to students can be a little tricky (not to mention time consuming). Why? Well, because with standards based grading nothing is ever just “right” or “wrong”. It’s all about growth, progress, and depth of understanding. This can be a huge mindset shift for students (and parents for that matter) who are used to traditional letter based grading systems.

After I began using standards based grading in science class, I started adding bullet point feedback when I reviewed student assignments. This feedback is intended to help answer the “why” behind the scores they receive on the standards based rubrics.

Here is an example of the way I give feedback. This particular assignment was designed to evaluate the standards-based skill of “constructing explanations.” I would then share this document with all the students and go over it in class. This allows me to address common struggles or gaps in understanding, and gives students the chance to ask questions.

Other resources: 

Looking for more?

I’ve put together several resources to help you teach the SBG skills. Each of these instructional resources are NGSS standards aligned and make a great addition to a standard-based, middle school science curriculum. You can see the full library of my SGB resources by heading to my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

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