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23 thoughts on “SBG 2”

  1. The way you explain this, it is starting to make sense to me. I can see how it would work if the whole school used standards-based grading. However, as competitive as my students are over that + or – attached to their grades (and figuring class rank), I think that there would be a lot of flak.

    This concept does seem to fit well with mastery learning; of not progressing to the next level until one is mastered. I like that prospect very much.

    I look forward to see how others contribute to and perhaps tweak this idea to fit their own school situations. If your school does not use this grading method, can it still work?

    1. I’m a lone SBG wolf in my school. But the method doesn’t negatively effect the high achievers, so nobody complains. I have found, though, that it gives the “low achievers” more to work with and makes motivating them easier because their grades can always go up if they start trying. The game is never over.

      Like with TCI all it really takes is a commitment to the philosophy behind it and the wherewithal to explain and defend yourself. But really, I’ve never had to defend myself because the system is so dang fair and doesn’t normally hurt those who would complain anyways.

      Every school is different, though. I have a lot of leeway in my situation to try stuff like this. I still asked first, though, and got the go ahead from the higher-ups.

      1. James…rockin’ the system. Heck yeah!!! ! I so appreciate all the detailed explanation that you have done. This is all really bolstering the thoughts/ arguments / confidence I have in presenting this idea. Not that I am going to “present” but I hope to begin a dialogue with my dept. head. At some point. Not yet. She is not ready. But this will help because you have all the detailed rubrics so I may just try it next quarter. What the heck. I also have leeway (for now, but I can see that it is coming to an end so I wanna take advantage of it).

        Are you the Dept. Head? Just wondering.

        1. Nope, I’m not department head. But I do teach Latin, as the sole Latin teacher in my district, which means everyone is afraid to tell me how to do what I do. I think everyone has latent fears of Latin teachers from their school days.

  2. Jennifer in NJ

    James, how often do you assess? I’m such a visual learner, I’d love to see an example of your plans. For example, you’re going to go through a cycle of teaching 3 structures (say… afraid of, wants to go and yells). Starting with Day 1’s introduction, how often are you assessing.

    1. I just sent a longer post to Ben about this exact issue. I’ll go ahead and copy and paste it below, but he might be planning on putting it up as a stand alone post tomorrow or the next day.

      Ben, there’s one more thing to add, I think, about SBG: How it lines up with the weekly/bi-weekly schedule we all find so powerful. Here it goes. (And I promise this is it! Like with jGR I am trying to show here how SBG can fit well with what we already know works.)

      If you want to start using standards and 1-4 ranks in each standard to grade your students, you’ll find the process of assessment (i.e., collecting evidence of what your students know and are able to do against the standards) lines up well with the weekly/bi-weekly schedule that Ben has made so awesome.

      Let’s say you use something like the standards I’ve posted. So you have five of them in year 1: hearing, reading, writing, interpersonal, and vocabulary. Throughout the grading period all you have to do is collect evidence from your students about how well they can complete the various tasks from each standard. From that evidence you’ll be able to give each student a rank of 1, 2, 3, or 4. And from those ranks you will be able to arrive at their overall letter grade using whatever overall letter grade rubric you’ve created (remember for me, an A is “a 4 in one standard with nothing else lower than a 3,” etc.).

      The way I have found works best is to focus on only one standard for about a week or two before moving on to the next one for a week or two, and so on. All of the assessment during that time can be focused on that one particular standard (with the exception of jGR, see below*). So, for example, let’s look at the reading rubric:

      4-able to translate a new passage into English that contains familiar vocabulary
      3-able to answer English and L2 comprehension questions about passages we’ve read
      2-able to unscramble L2 passage we’ve read in the style of
      1-little or no evidence of ability

      For a one or two week period you can give little reading assessments at the beginning, middle, or end of a few classes. You’ll only need 3 assessments total, one for each level. The first one will be unscrambling a passage, the second one answering comprehension questions, and the last one a quick translation of a short passage. If you are thinking of a ten day, 2 week cycle (like in Ben’s new 2 week schedule), you’ll give an assessment perhaps on the third day, the fifth day, and the tenth day of the cycle–whatever works for you. Each assessment only takes a few minutes, which is one reason to be really careful when designing the specific tasks for each level!

      By the end of the 2 week period–or however long your cycles are–you have collected a nice body of evidence from each individual student showing you how well each can read. From that evidence you then adjust the overall reading rank for each student, which in turn makes the overall letter grade go up or down accordingly.

      The next two weeks might be spent assessing the hearing tasks in between all the awesome, daily CI you normally do. Or maybe it’s time to do writing. You can see how this helps variety in the classroom. The students will only do formal, written questions every 3-6 weeks. Dictations, freewrites, etc. will also be spaced out in the same way.

      Note that the tasks for each level of each standard have been carefully chosen not only in order to be quick to assess, but also in order to be easily graded. When a students hands you a corrected dictation, for example, just scan for how many and what types of errors and either give the 3 or give a 0. Everything is basically pass/fail and very easy and quick to grade. Just ask yourself: Does this work warrant me moving the student to the next level? After a while it goes super quick.


        *jGR is the only standard that is assessed daily via the all-powerful jGR rubric.

        (Note that in my 1-4 version of jGR I include the quick quizzes as part of jGR. In this way the quick quizzes can be a part of my SBG system without relying on x-points out of 10. Furthermore, you might have noticed that quick quizzes also fulfill the second level of the hearing rubric–because the questions are given out loud.)

        All of the assessments done for reading, writing, whatever are in addition to the daily CI and the corresponding, always-running interpersonal-jGR assessments. We know by now that these jGR “assessments” happen all the time as a natural part of CI.

  3. Jennifer in NJ

    So in setting up your Gradebook, your standards are your categories? Then, since you are the lone wolf of SBG in your school as I would be I’m sure you also have to assign a percentage to each category: what do you do there? Then, once you’ve assessed, say, reading and shown the student where they scored on a rubric of 1-4 you have to convert. In my school the grade scale is: 93-100 = A 86-92 = B 78-85 = C 70-77 = D Below 70 = F. So what would I do? How could I convert that assessment grade in the reading category? I guess my problems are more technical than philosophical. Oh well, it won’t be the last time I appear stupid on this PLC.

    1. Absolutely awesome questions, JenNJ! Actually I have sent Ben an answer to this “SBG Gradebook” type question already as well. lol! Like he said in the introduction to this post, he plans on posting it tomorrow as a stand-alone post. But I feel bad having the question right here and not answering it. So like we just did I’ll copy and paste it here for you to see now. (Sorry, Ben! I hope this doesn’t mess your plans up too much!) Basically, it’s all about how to make the standard electronic gradebook “do” standards-based grading. It works out that you have many different assignments listed, but only ONE of them, the “overall letter grade,” is “included in the final grade.” In this way you can implement the “overall letter grade rubric” without the computer automatically averaging everything. Strap yourself in and grab some coffee…

      A few people have expressed concerns about how to keep a standards-based gradebook, especially if there is a school-wide policy of so many entries per week. Here’s my take.

      I wrote a detailed post on the practicalities of my standards-based gradebook a little while ago: What follows is my attempt to explain it again for those interested, but I recommend looking there too.

      First, it is assumed that letter grades are calculated using the “conjunctive” system I described earlier ( In this system the overall letter grade is figured based on the combination of ranks which the individual students have earned. In Latin 1, for example, student work toward five ranks, one each in 1) Hearing, 2) Reading, 3) Writing, 4) Interpersonal, and 5) Vocabulary. The final letter grade is then determined with whatever “overall letter grade rubric” the teacher wants. I define an A in Latin 1, for example, as a 4 in any one standard and a 3 in the rest. A B in my Latin 1 classes is three ranks at level 3 and nothing else lower than a 2. A C is EITHER 1) nothing lower than a 2 OR 2) any one standard at a 1. And so on. (More on how this gives jGR even sharper teeth later.)

      So, your gradebook will have three sections.

      I) The first section is for all of the individual assessments. These are assignments, tests, whatever you give your kids that shows you what they know and are able to do against the standards. For us these need to be tasks that show us that our students have understood L2. jGR is a good example. For another example, level 2 of my Writing standard for Latin 1 is “able to complete a 40 word free write in five minutes,” and level 3 is “able to complete an essential sentences activity.” Assessments are added on a daily and weekly basis to this section. However, the teacher marks “not included in final grade” for each assignment, because although a 3/4 is 75% mathematically, in our system of conjunctive grading it means something totally different.

      II) The second section lists the different standards. For my Latin 1s there are five of them. The individual assessments in section 1 tell me what their overall ranks are for each standard. If a student consistently does well on the reading assessments, the reading rank will be high. If a student does consistently poorly on hearing assessments, the overall hearing rank would be low, based on what hearing tasks (the specific descriptors for levels 1-4) the student has been able to complete. Note that a student might start off badly but improve. In my classes a student might struggle with writing for the first part of a grading period. Perhaps he just can’t get to 40 words on his freewrites and so his writing rank stays at a 1 and his overall letter grade is a C (remember, a 1 in anything is a C). But let’s say that by the end of the grading period he does a glowing freewrite of 100 words. In that case his overall writing rank would go up to a 2 (or even a 3 if he has done the essential sentences satisfactorily) because he has shown me that now he has the ability to do a good freewrite. His earlier poor attempts do not weigh him down. I don’t average the 2 he finally got with all those crappy 1s from the beginning of the grading period. Why do those matter now? Now he is at a solid 2 (or 3, again, depending on how well he does on that level 3 task) and his overall letter grade can rise to a B (if he has earned a 3 in three other standards as per the overall letter grade rubric) with NO PENALTY for taking a little longer than other students to get to a good freewrite. THIS SECTION IS ALSO NOT INCLUDED IN THE FINAL GRADE.

      III) The last section will be the “overall letter grade.” This is where you enter a score out of 100 based on what overall letter grade the combination of ranks justifies. This is the only entry in the entire gradebook that is “included in the overall grade.” If I enter an 85 here, the student’s report card says B. If I change it to a 92, the student’s letter grade changes immediately to an A-. This gives you absolute control over what the letter says. No more worrying about percentages and averages. Just look at what evidence the student has given you over the course of the grading period and give a single number based on the overall letter grade rubric. If a student complains about his grade, just say, “I can literally change it with the click of a button if you are able to show me that you can complete these tasks satisfactorily.” And just like that the ball is in his court and he must act.

      1. This, and your explanation of how you adapt PowerSchool to SBG is great (I too use PowerSchool). I’m also on spring break and am gonna keep working on all of this. So exciting. I also ordered Marzano’s book on the subject, so I’m looking forward to getting that! Haha, again, great discussion everyone :).

      2. Jennifer in NJ

        I don’t recall ever seeing an option to not include a task towards final grade. I have to look around a bit in there and see what I can see.

        1. It’ll depend on your specific gradebook. I have PowerSchool. Maybe you can make a special kind of task that isn’t included, like a narrative feedback task, or something. What is your gradebook system?

  4. James,

    This is really awesome. I totally understand what you are saying and I also understand how to manipulate the gradebook to work for us. In the end, we look at the evidence and give the percentage based upon the student’s performance.

    While I am feeling more confident and I am totally in support of this, I still have some things to get my brain around. I’ll need to re-read all these posts again and your original on the blog.

    This work is going to be Earth-shattering like jGR. I dig it and I hope to be able to contribute as my Spring Break begins today in 20 minutes.

  5. …we look at the evidence and give the percentage based upon the student’s performance….

    So this needs to be expanded upon. I like the way James is throwing all the stuff up on the wall and we’ll see what sticks. I agree it will be nice. I’m glad you did that reading Jeff. I haven’t really done it (all of James’ posts in enough detail plus those links). The NCAA basketball tournament is getting in the way. Go Eagles of Fla. Gulf Coast. Welcome to the dance!

  6. Full-on SBG is some majorly hippie stuff that requires lots of teacher buy-in. It also requires a lot of explaining to kids, parents, and admins. But as TCI teachers we are all hippies to some extent already. And SBG always had that same slightly-quirky-in-a-good-way feel as TCI. We are all actors in a big comedy, right? What else do we have to do? 🙂

    1. Jeffery Brickler


      I think being language teachers and Latin teachers at that makes us a bit on the alternative/hippie side. Heck, even my students take it because it’s different. Why not be hippie? It bets the hell out of being an asshole who doesn’t care.

  7. Just wanna say I effin love this discussion! A bit frustrated that I have not been able to read everything carefully & respond and get in on the juice, but yeah. Keep it coming! Thank you! Maybe over the weekend I can go more deeply. This has been a crazy week.

    I am having a one-on-one “tutorial” with my dept. head on Monday for our staff development day. Meaning I am “presenting” or addressing whatever questions she has. I offered this in lieu of visiting Skip bc it is almost 3 hrs and she didn’t want to drive that far. Am I crazy? I don’t know anyone closer who is doing TCI and I didn’t want to visit a local school to watch someone give worksheets.

    Anyway, how this is related to this thread…while I am meeting with her one on one, we can discuss some of this stuff. I hope.

  8. “…we look at the evidence and give the percentage based upon the student’s performance….”

    I really like the idea of NOT having the overall grade determined automatically by the evidence, the program, or a mathematical concept like a percentage. So much of our lives is increasingly spent trying to manipulate machines so that they accurately reflect human realities (I’m thinking of everything from programming a remote control to TurboTax, to explaining to a credit card company that you did not make that purchase in Russia for $1000, which their computer says you did.

    During my credential training, I had some great assessment teachers, at least when it came to rubrics. One day I asked how to determine a student’s the overall grade for an assignment once I have determined their performance sub-categories. She looked at me and said: “Well, you kind of have to do a Zen thing,” which I understood as: respect the numbers, but go with your gut. You know how this kid is doing, and don’t let a pile of numbers override your common sense when it comes to a fair assessment. Now Jim’s system provides a more “objective” (= defensible if pressed by an admin) version of this process, and that will really help us if/when we decide to go this direction with our grades. Great stuff.

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