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Teaching in LA

15 Jul

How I do SBG — With POINTS

Posted in Uncategorized on 15.07.12 by Frank

Many people seem to do SBG just slightly differently from each other, so I figure I’d throw my flavor into the mix.

(This post is primarily for those familiar with SBG, Standards-Based Grading. If you’d like to learn more, I suggest these fantastic resources.)

Instead of telling you the whole system, I’ll go over just one piece that as far as I know, I do differently from most others – How the grade for each unit is calculated.

The old system

Last last year and the beginning of last year, I determined a student’s grade on a unit based on a tiered A/B/C system that I believe many other SBGers use, or something similar. Here’s how it worked (see grade tracking sheet below for reference): To get a C on the unit, get a 4 on all “C” objectives. To get a B on the unit, get a 4 on all “B” and “C” objectives. To get an A? Yep, 4s on “A”, “B”, and “C” objectives. What if you did that, except got a 3 on one “C” objective? Then you didn’t even get a C. D for you. The idea behind that was if you’re in that situation, a “C” objective should be pretty easy for you, and since it has such a huge impact on your grade, you should be very motivated to get that one objective done, which would then skyrocket your grade.

Below is the grade tracking sheet for last last year’s unit on waves and sound.

Several things weren’t working for me…


  • It’s possible that I just suck at explaining how this works since no other teacher seems to report major problems of their students not understanding their system, but this confuses the $#!+ out of my students. “C” objectives are the more “major”, fundamental stuff, and “A” objectives are the “minor” stuff. What? Seems backward. Not only is this a problem because they don’t know how to figure out their grade, but it’s difficult for me to explain how to improve their grade and why.
    T: Okay, right now you have all the ‘B’ objectives but not all the ‘C’ objectives. You need to focus on the ‘C’ objectives first so you can at least get a ‘C’.
    S: But aren’t the ‘B’ objectives worth more?
    T: … mm, that’s not how it works. Right now you’re missing a ‘C’ objective so you’re actually at a D. The first thing you should do is make sure you have at least a ‘C’, which means you need to get 4s on all the ‘C’ objectives.
    S: … I have a D???
    T: …
    S: …
  • Part of this system is used as motivation. That, later realized, is actually bad. But it’s worse that the students don’t even get the motivational aspect because they don’t get the whole system.
  • Many units are emphasized differently, but are weighed the same (since they’re all A/B/C with no quantitative values). I don’t want the mechanical energy unit to count the same as the circular motion unit.

I had to remind myself that the purpose of a grade is to measure, not motivate. I was using the wrong tool for the wrong job.

So… to make my students hate me even more, I switched up the already-confusing grading system on them mid-semester! :oD Oh, the things you can get away with in this district. Sorry, teachers-who-aren’t-even-allowed-to-implement-SBG-at-their-schools :o(.

The new, current system

Instead of putting each objective at a different A/B/C level, I assign that objective a number of points. Yeah, I said it. There are points, which is like the dirty word in SBG, but I believe this still follows the spirit of SBG. “Big” objectives are worth 10 points. “Small” objectives are worth 5 points.

Below is the grade tracking sheet for this past year’s unit on waves and sound.

Short version, if the student gets a 4 on that objective, they get those points. Their percentage grade on that unit is simply the number of points earned, over the number of points possible. (More details in the embedded document at the end of this post.)

So, what about the idea that you must get all the “important” stuff first to get a decent grade? Still works with this system. From the teacher standpoint, a student who gets all the “big” objectives and some “small” objectives does represent more mastery than a student who somehow gets most “small” objectives and few or no “big” objectives. From a student standpoint, the points tell them to go for the “big” objectives first. To get a high grade, the student still has to knock out the “big” objectives and most or all of the “small” objectives, just like before.


  • It’s easier to calculate their grade on the unit. They still don’t get it, but at least I don’t have such a hard time myself trying to explain it. “These are how many points you have. This is how many is possible. Take what you have, divide it by points possible.”
  • It’s so much easier to explain what to focus on to get their grade up and why.
    “There are several objectives you didn’t get. Of all of them, focus first on L2. It’s worth more points than the others. If you get L2, it will bring your grade up twice as much as if you got any other objective.”
  • This system IMO is now better geared at measuring and has lost the attempted motivational aspect. If the student shows mastery on a “small” but supposedly more difficult objective, then that’s what it is.
  • The weight of each unit depends on how many objectives are in that unit and whether they’re big or small objectives. A unit with many “big” objectives might be worth 65 points and is naturally worth more than a minor unit with few objectives, possibly worth 25 points.

Ever since switching to points, I haven’t missed the old system. The new system is still about evaluating students based on their mastery of content and skills.

Of course, this is not to say any system is better than the other, but like almost everything in teaching, what works in one class may not work as well in another. I’ve found my system so far works better for my students.

I’ll probably switch things up again this upcoming year, haha.

Below are other details of my grading system that may compliment what I’ve explained above, or just provide unnecessary or confusing detail:

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