#sbar in Electives

So Monday afternoon (great timing having a half day for students on Valentines Day) we had a  professional development centered on Ken O’ Connor’s 15 Fixes. The book basically argues for standards based grading #sbar (disclaimer: we did not get through all of it yet). I agree with most of it in principal and it was very good to discuss grading policies with my colleagues (refreshing to have conversation focused PD!). Even though I profess to agree with many of the principals I was challenged that in practice I do some things that I say are wrong (for example I sometimes give zeros).

Ultimately I think grades suck and are just for comparing/ ranking students. If I have to give them then sbar is probably the best method in core classes. But there are a few points that I have issues with/ am still sorting out for elective classes. I teach Technology and consider myself part of the fine arts department of my school. I use project based learning with no summative assessments. I use my standards as topics to expose students to with alternative methods rather than formally assess. I also try to make my class a place to “play” where students can experiment and learn without fear of failure.

The big fixes that the fine arts have issues with are #6 ” Don’t include group scores in grades; use only  
individual achievement evidence” and #1 “Don’t include student behaviors (effort, participation,
adherence to class rules, etc) in grades; include only achievement.” In music/band/orchestra class the group is graded in performances together and how one acts on stage affects the group. I also do almost exclusively group projects. I do not always assign members the same score, but then I fall into the grading participation problem. For physical education participation/effort seems to be a very important part of the class and legitimate to grade. The goal is active fitness not just rewarding the best athlete. I can make a similar argument for art class.

So I/we are looking for some feedback. Next Friday we will meet with our principal to discuss our concerns. She is open to us using a credit/non-credit system and not using grades at all (which I think is ideal, but still requires some standard for earning credit).

Is anyone out there using sbar in elective type courses? I would love to hear from you if you are using it in art, music, PE, or technology. My principal is also looking for examples in language arts and social studies to mentor/share with other staff as this is a building wide initiative. If anyone would be willing to share with my fellow staff/ administrators please let me know. Perhaps we could skype some people in? You can contact me via twitter (mikekaechele) or email (concretekax at gmail).

6 thoughts on “#sbar in Electives

  1. Russ Goerend

    Hey Kax,

    The biggest thing to align your reporting practices with your standards. That’s the easiest way to get over the mental hurdle of #s 1 and 6. So, for example, if I have a standard of “Uses knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening” that’s all I’m reporting out. The students may be working in a group, but I’m assessing each of them individually on that standard.

    We also report out behaviors using Respect and Responsibility rubrics.

    The idea is that we want what we report to students and parents to be as informative as possible. If we mix in behavior or other students’ knowledge and skills, that muddies the water.

    If you can focus on the standards, that’s key.

  2. Matt Townsley

    I’ll echo Russ’ comments. Knowing the “big ideas” for the course is the first step in the standards-based grading process. These may or may not be closely tied with your state/local standards & benchmarks. I’ve found that some of the mandated standards need to be broken down into smaller assessable targets. Others are great as-is. I hope this helps.

  3. concretekax

    Not really clear for me I think because philosophically I start from a different place than you guys do. My standards are topics that I hit in my room, many that supplement other classes. I do not formally assess any of them.

    My class is more of an opportunity for students to “play” at learning skills/concepts in a project based setting with the freedom to discover or “fail” without penalty.

    I try to emphasize learning for learning’s sake not grades. Many people talk about over-emphasis on testing and assessment. I have the freedom to avoid that in my class and let students learn.

    Therefore my grades represent “effort” in the terms of completed in-class assignments. If students do the work they receive “good grades.” I am not entirely happy with this which I is why I am interested in the opportunity to make the class credit/no credit taking away almost all focus on exploring/ learning.

    Again I would really like to hear from elective teachers (where standards are less stressed) who use #SBAR.

  4. Stephwilson

    I also echo Russ’s statements. In elective classes there may be times where you would include what some would consider behavior in the score. If the standard states something (often in performance arts like you stated) that would include behavior then you would need to assess that like you would any other standard. Electives are the only place where this would be appropriate.

    As far as group grading, I don’t ever believe it is appropriate to assess students as a group. They should be assessed individually on the standards the group project addresses. They can then be assessed separately on their behavior within that group and participation if desired, but this should be separate of their score on the standard.

  5. Chad@classroots.org

    This is a great assessment prompt, Michael –

    I think SBAR is superior to traditional grading in providing information to students, parents, and teachers, but even its numbers don’t count for much with me. What matters most to me are the standards and mastered/not mastered descriptors, however phrased. If you can give feedback about student work that helps them learn and produce quality (in Glasser’s sense) or excellent (in Berger’s sense) work, then grades are superfluous, like standardized test scores. It increasingly distresses me that we continue to use grading methods that favor inference over student work – if good writing is specific, why not write specific feedback for students and reports for parents?

    I think of it like this: in a court case, a prosecutor wouldn’t give the percent chance of a break in at your house on a given date and use that to infer someone had broken in; the prosecutor would use evidence to prove a specific person broke in, right? Let’s talk about student work and not the “average” likelihood of it.

    SBAR is about helping students master the learning; let’s put all the numbers aside. Kids can be supported by feedback in getting metacognitive about how effectively their play helps them learn, but that feedback doesn’t need to over-generalize things with any number scale.


  6. mshertz

    How to assess students in my lab has been my small (ok, huge) obsession this year. I hate the new gradebook system I am forced to use that requires me to input a number (that includes participation?!) as a grade for EVERY time I see a class (which is usually once a week).

    My curriculum (which I wrote) is based around ISTE’s NETS, so all the skills I want my students to master fall under a particular standard. I try to focus on a particular skill or goal for each class, though the assessment piece is an ongoing, more observational–unquantifiable—measure. Rather than focusing on grades and numbers, I focus on skills I want students to master. Sometimes my focus for one class might be as simple as ‘putting one space between words’ (I teach the little guys, too). This would fall under the standard heading Technology Concepts and Operations.

    I wish I could report these skills as they are and not as number, but I’m hoping to get there next year by using http://activegrade.com.

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