Standards-Based Grading (Part 2)
In writing about standards-based grading, I’ve described how grades should reflect learning, and assessments should be connected to standards. Rick Wormeli, an expert on the subject, also reveals that in order to coach a student to achieve academic standards, we must use descriptive feedback.
Descriptive feedback tells students what they accomplished toward a particular standard, and what else they need to accomplish to meet the standard. This feedback should be given consistently to all students, and it holds the role of formative assessment (tasks completed on the path to mastery) in education.
Continuing my work with the Galileo Leadership Consortium, I met another expert on the subject. Dr. Ellen Vorenkamp, from Wayne County RESA, helps me use formative assessment in my classroom. Formative assessment, I’ve learned, should be aligned with data. And it should always be planned and used timely and purposefully.
Vorenkamp offers five pillars of formative assessment. These pillars help me to assess what methods I am already using, and what methods I need to add in my classroom. They are:
- Pillar I: Clear Learning Targets
- Pillar II: Effective Questioning
- Pillar III: Descriptive, Actionable Feedback
- Pillar IV: Students as Self-Assessors
- Pillar V: Students as Peer-Assessors
How This Looks in My Classroom
In my classroom we write claim (thesis) statements for argumentative and informative writing. I will focus here on argumentative writing.
For 8th grade, the academic standard is, “Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.”
Pillar I, the learning target, is: Students will write a claim statement that includes the main topic of the argument, a summary of evidence, and an opposing side.
Students are introduced to this task with a learning chart and examples from me and past students. They then write a claim statement and turn it in. This is a great spot for formative assessment. I read the students’ statements, and I offer them the stages of development toward this learning target, as well as student samples of each level. And from earlier work in establishing a growth mindset in my classroom, students understand that they can update their work to show more mastery of that standard.
The stages of development in my rubric, along with descriptive criteria, are:
- 1 (working to meet standard)
- unknown topic or argument
- written in question form
- includes extraneous or unrelated information
- argument is not logical
- 2 (mostly meeting standard)
- straightforward – includes topic and evidence but no opposing side OR
- represents both sides equally
- 3 (meeting standard)
- includes topic, evidence, opposing side – needs some word clarity
- includes more details than is necessary for a claim
- creative structure (evidence first)
- multiple pieces of evidence listed for supporting side
- 4 (exceeding standard)
- includes topic, evidence, opposing side – clear
- includes multiple pieces of evidence for both sides
- argument is clear
Here, I have taken my instruction and student practice through Pillar I: assigning a clear learning target, Pillar II: effective questioning by clarifying the difference between levels of achievement, and Pillar III: descriptive, actionable feedback by telling students what they have accomplished and what they still need to accomplish.
The Use of Exemplars
A shift I made is to make these levels clear to students with student examples of each level of achievement. With this shift, I can take on Pillar IV: students as assessors, as they assess their work compared to the achievement levels and exemplars I have shared.
With this learning target, I still need to add in a Pillar V: students as peer reviewers. So I now give students my own work. Here, students are asked to apply the rubric to my example, and to give me a step to improve my work. Students indicate my score by holding up their fingers. Quickly, then, students discuss with a partner their reason for this score, and a next step for my work.
By practicing the work of peer assessment in this way, students can gain comfort with the practice. Later, students can move comfortably into the roles of self- and peer-assessors, with clear targets for achievement, because they know that these formative assessments are not a judgement, but rather a process to guide their learning.
All of these steps are just a small shift in my classroom. Yet they allow better achievement of academic standards. What small shift will you make to address all five pillars of formative assessment?
Amy Gurney is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher for Bloomfield Hills School District. She was a facilitator for the release of the MAISA units of study. She has studied, researched, and practiced reading and writing workshop through Oakland Schools, The Teacher’s College, and action research projects. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education at Central Michigan University and a Master’s in Educational Administration at Michigan State University.