No Longer Setting the Bar Low

Sometime back in late 2011 or early 2012, I remember reading the Common Core state standards for the first time. At the time I was teaching Freshman Algebra and saw that high school students would be solving systems of equations containing a linear and quadratic equation in two variables. I laughed at the idea that, due to freshman solving those types of equations, systems of equations with two linear equations and two variables would be solved by eighth graders. Who would have thought that, by the end of the school year, my position would be cut, I would be transferred to eighth grade, and I would be teaching linear systems of equations to eighth graders the following year.

This past week the cold, yet again, took two teaching days from me, so we started graphing systems of equations on Wednesday. My plan was to graph for the three days I had left, teach substitution for about a week, elimination for a week, and then start doing all types of applications of systems. After Wednesday and Thursday, I knew it was time to move on to substitution. The students had mastered graphing and were becoming bored. I sold students on substitution by showing the limitations of graphing, as far as graph size, fractional and decimal intercepts and slopes, and decimal and fraction solutions. Many students have told me they don’t like graphing because “it takes too long.”

I put the first problem up and discussed students the procedure when I have a substitute teacher as far as me leaving and someone else replacing me, doing the same job I do. Once I showed students how this translated to the problem, many took off and found the first variable. For those that had it right away, I showed them how to find the second variable and let them go. With other students, I had to reteach the concepts of distributive property, combining like terms, and solving multi-step equations. I was shocked and excited by how many students understood the second problem immediately and just ran with it. It was one of those moments that teachers teach for. Most of the students who are still struggling with substitution are not struggling because of the concept of substitution, they are struggling with the concepts of multiplying with negatives, arithmetic, and inverse operations. I hope that after some more practice and using calculators, they will be able to have some success with substitution.

This week just reinforced something I noticed earlier this year. For most of my years teaching, I have been afraid to present too much of a challenge to students because they may fail. This year, I’ve learned that some students are going to struggle, no matter where I set the bar. I’ve really cheated the top students by not pushing them harder. I’m hoping to differentiate my lessons more this unit as to push the top students, but give the lower students an opportunity to still have success and maybe even enjoy the mathematics as well.

This next week brings us a snow storm Tuesday to Wednesday and a really cold day Thursday. I’m not sure how many days I’ll be at school this week, but, if I am there Wednesday, we have a half-day in service with the people from Pearson. Have a great week everyone!


Word of the Week – “Assessment”

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As a kid in the late 80’s, I spent most Saturday mornings watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and yelling each time someone said the secret word. If the secret word this week would have been “assessment,” we would all be hoarse from each time I had to “scream real loud!” This week was filled with lots of talk of assessment and formative assessment, its uses, and how we all felt we were doing with it. By the end of the week, all of this talk played a big part in the direction of my teaching.

After having a three-day weekend celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday, my students and I returned Tuesday, preparing for an interim assessment on Wednesday. My learning targets for the assessment were:

1.) I can graph a linear equation.

2.) I can find the slope of a line if I’m given two points.

3.) I can write a linear equation if I’m given two points.

My students were seated in their cooperative learning groups and class began by them discussing the different ways to graph a linear equation. Some students preferred to use a table because they were more comfortable with that from previous years and one student said, “All I do is type the numbers in my calculator.” However, most preferred using the slope and y-intercept because it was the fastest. When it came to finding slope, the discussions became more like debates. Students knew that slope was a ratio but were disagreeing on which number went on “top and bottom” and whether or not the answer was positive or negative. (I have been trying to push vocabulary this year and the use of “numerator” and “denominator,” but it hasn’t fully caught on yet). After a little clarification, students did well finding slope a few more times. When it came to writing equations, we again had disagreements as to what the slope was, which then affected the y-intercept. Again, after a little discussion, it seemed that students knew how to write a linear equation.

Wednesday brought us our interim assessment, including my first attempt at a performance task. First, students were asked to graph lines and I saw the same mistakes that everyone probably sees from students in their classes. By far, the most common mistake was students switching the slope and the y-intercept. When finding slope, there were two common mistakes:  (a) writing the ratio as x/y and (b) simplifying incorrectly. When I say simplifying incorrectly, I’m saying students were simplifying 10/5 to equal 5, or things similar to that. The frustrating thing about this is that, although students knew that slope was a ratio of the change in y compared to the change in x, their slope was incorrect due to a completely different skill. Adding to my frustration were the questions that asked students to write a linear equation. Again, some students made simplifying mistakes with the slope which then made their y-intercept incorrect. When grading these questions, I tried to award points based on each part, unique to each student’s answer. For example, if students had the wrong slope, but their y-intercept would have worked for the point they chose, they would get at least one point because they knew how to find a y-intercept.

Then came my performance task:

The Black Hills Whitewater Rafting Tour Company charges a guide’s fee plus a certain amount per person. When ten people go rafting, it costs $425. When fifteen people go rafting, the cost is $600.

What is the equation that fits this situation?

What is the fee per person?

What is the guide’s fee?

What would the total cost be if I could get a group of 25 people together?

If I had to take a guess, about a quarter of my students got all of the questions correct. Of the remaining students, some could get the fee per person or the total cost for 25 people. However, most students missed all of the questions. This was not what I was hoping for. I know the point of a performance task is to measure how well students can apply the knowledge they are obtaining in class and this showed that students could not apply much that they had learned in class. It just seemed as if students were not used to something like this and were unsure where to even start. I’ll come back to this assessment soon.

Wednesday’s early release brought us to the library in order to discuss the topic of “Formative Assessment.” My assistant principal and I had been discussing the idea on and off for two days, so when it came to discussing the different aspects in groups, I had given it a lot of thought. In my group, we kept returning to the idea of using the data from your assessment in order to change your teaching or the direction of your lessons. As we discussed these things in my group, I kept thinking about my data from earlier in the day showing me that students had not shown mastery of the learning targets. On my drive home, I had plenty of time to think about how I was going to change my teaching the next day.

However, due to yet another cold day, my district was out Thursday. I emailed students telling them that Friday we were going to do an assessment retake after going over all of the questions from the original. I also started changing my thinking my grading on my ride home. My assistant principal and I had discussed earlier in the week what the meaning of a grade was and that we should actually be measuring mastery of a standard over time. So, I decided I would try something different when grading student quizzes Friday.

We began class Friday with me discussing common mistakes on the assessment and heard a lot of disgusted moans as students learned how close they were to correct answers. The best example of this was when we looked at the performance assessment and I showed students that I would have thought of it as two ordered pairs, (10, 425) and (15, 600). All I had to do was write those two down and students soon realized is was nothing more than finding the slope and the y-intercept. I then informed students of my change in grading philosophy for the retake. I was not going to average the two scores like I had done in the past. I would take the higher of the two grades of the two assessments. This time, my performance task was:

A gym charges a membership fee plus a certain amount per class you take. When you take 5 classes, the total charge is $290.When you take 7 classes, the total charge is $300.

What is the equation that fits this situation?

What is the fee per class?

What is the membership fee?

What would the total cost be if I attended 20 classes?

After grading the retake, here is some of the data I recorded:

1.) About two-thirds of the students improved their scores, some by as much as 50%.

2.) Some students need a whole lot more than a discussion of mistakes in order for them to improve. Almost all of these students are in my Enrichment and Intervention class receiving tier 2 interventions. So, I guess I have the correct students placed in that class.

3.) Even though I gave students who earned an A on the original assessment the choice of not retaking it, many still did, trying to improve their score even a little.

4.) Once students were shown that the performance assessment was nothing more than two ordered pairs and they were to find the slope and y-intercept, they really did well knowing which value was the fee per class and which value was the membership fee.

5.) It seemed that, giving the students the opportunity to receive the higher of the two grades they earned instead of the average of the two, most students tried harder than usual.

Overall, this week was filled with lots and lots of talk of assessment/formative assessment. I feel that my formative assessment Tuesday told me that students were prepared for my interim assessment Wednesday. This turned out to be false and I used my data to change the direction of my teaching for the week. I gave students another opportunity to show mastery of their learning targets and many improved. This coming week will see a very likely shortened week, due to the cold weather again. I am also in the process of rereading Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan William. I’m hoping to write a post later this week of some interesting things I find in the book.

If you read this far, thank you so much. Feel free to comment on what you agree/disagree with or what you use or are going to use for formative assessment in your classroom. Stay warm!

This Week in Class-January 13-17

After a two week Winter break and a cold-shortened first week back, this past week offered the first full, five-day week since December 16-20. The week started with us graphing using a table and finished with writing the equation of a line in slope-intercept form, given two points. In prior years of teaching, this would have taken weeks to get through. So, what is different this year?

First, we began the week by graphing a line using a table, something students should already know how to do. I put a problem up and allowed the students to work in their cooperative learning groups to see who remembered what to do. Some students knew what to do right away and, with a little refresher, most students caught on after showing how to find one or two points. My goal with this question was for students to not only remember how to do this, but to give myself the opportunity to sell the fact that you can graph a line much more efficiently using the slope and y-intercept. I used the same equation to show students the relationship between the slope, y-intercept, and graph. With the next question, students were asked to identify the slope and y-intercept and graph without writing the two down, if they were able. In just minutes, students were graphing lines within seconds using the slope and y-intercept. The only problem a few students were having was switching the slope and y-intercept, otherwise, things were going great.

Tuesday brought us a second day of graphing using slope and y-intercept along with students being introduced in the equations of horizontal and vertical lines. By Wednesday, students began writing the equation of a line, given a graph. Students did great with this, again with a few students in each class confusing which value was slope and y-intercept in the equation y=mx+b.

During the second half of Wednesday’s class, students began finding the slope of the line between two points. They started off graphing the points, then I forced them to find another way to find slope when we can’t fit the points on our graph. Once students were shown how to find slope, they preferred not graphing. I did not teach students the slope formula. Instead, we talked about rate of change/slope as the relationship of how the y-values are changing compared to how the x-values are changing. This seemed to work better and students didn’t get confused about what the first and second point are and what the subscripts mean in the formula. Yet again, the students did great.

The only lesson I didn’t really like this week was Thursday’s in which students were asked to compare slopes using graphs, tables and equations. Some classes did great with this, and some were completely lost. I think that next year I need to be more specific with my learning targets and more explicit with students as to what my expectations are for the lesson. However, there was one class that did great and really progressed through this lesson and topic. At the end of the lesson, I had students try to write the equation of a line, given two points, to see what information they could apply from this unit so far and what they retained from Unit 4. Some students came up with the equation, but some could only find the slope. I felt comfortable with where students were at the end of the day.

Friday brought one of those lessons that you want the principal to walk in during. If everyday were like my class was this past Friday, my classroom would be a pretty intense place. Our warm up had us finding slope and then progressing to using slope to find the y-intercept. Instead of having students input a point and the slope into the slope-intercept formula, I had students think about what the intercept would have to be to get the y-value in their point. For example, if students get a slope of 2 and their point is (2, 3), I have them multiply their slope times the x-value, 2, and see what they would have to do to get 3. In this case, students would have to subtract 1 from (2*2) which means their equation would be y=2x-1. Throughout this lesson, students were given the option of making a table and graphing in order to find the slope and y-intercept. Although many didn’t do it, I still liked the fact that students were given options and still found the answer, even if it were in a less efficient way.

Throughout this week, there were two things that came to my attention. The first is that, the more I use learning targets and write them on my board, the more comfortable with them I become. A colleague and I were discussing how much they helped us shape our lesson and formative assessment at the end of each class. By being forced to determine how I would assess whether or not a student knows a skill, I get a better idea of how I am going to get students to that point. If you are not familiar with learning targets, this website has some great information about them.

The second thing that is becoming apparent to me as this year goes on is the fact that most students will meet whatever expectations you set for them. I spent the first years of teaching feeling as if I was lowering my expectations to try to get all students to meet expectations. This year, the expectations are much higher and almost all are meeting them. If they aren’t, I am getting them into my Enrichment class to help them meet those expectations.

This coming week will be me giving an interim assessment with a performance task. I’ll report back next week with how that goes and what students thought of it. We’ll also continue to learn material that would have normally been taught in a freshman algebra class. I love the fact that Common Core has forced me to teach these things a year later, and forced me to rethink my teaching. So far, this has been the best year of teaching for me in my short, eight-year career. Have a great week!

This Week In Class – January 8-10

At Free Technology for Teachers, Richard Byrne recently shared a post about blogging more frequently. Over the Summer and at the beginning of the school year, I was blogging at least once a week and felt that I got a lot out of reflecting on what I had done that week, good and bad. When I read Richard’s post, I thought, “I really need to get back to blogging,” then waited a week to do it. I wasn’t really sure what to write about, but figured I could just share what I did this week in class and how it went.

On Monday, my district had an inservice that centered around writing culminating tasks for our Common Core units. This is still something that I often struggle with and did get some ideas of what to do differently when writing assessments. I learned that I often use too much scaffolding and take away the students’ ability to creatively solve mathematical questions. My presenter also shared a great website, the Mathematics Assessment Project, which has tasks, rubrics, and sample graded student work for “expert, apprentice, and novice” level tasks. I am starting a new unit Monday and my goal is to incorporate at least two tasks into the unit.

Due to the frigid temperatures and wind chills Tuesday, my district cancelled all classes, which meant the first day for students back to school was Wednesday. It was great to see the kids again and they seemed pretty happy to be back. We finished up our unit over functions using some examples from Visual Patterns again in order to talk about the ideas of function, linear versus nonlinear, rate of change, writing a function, graphing a function, and evaluating a function. The students did really well with this and it seems like students understood the connection between all of the ideas much better than the fragmented way I taught those concepts before.

Wednesday is also an early release every week in my building and this week we spent some time looking at the learning targets we write each day on our board. This is going to be a transition for many in my building because we are used to writing objectives that say “After completing this lesson, students will be able to:” using technical language when describing the objectives. With the new learning targets, we are now being asked to write “I can” statements for students using student-friendly language. After writing targets for one lesson and discussing targets with other students, I felt that we were getting a better idea of the essential skills students needed and how we were going to assess them. On Thursday, we looked at some distance/rate/time problems and how they related to the patterns we looked at on Wednesday, preparing us for a very important Friday.

Friday brought our Unit 4 summative assessment. After Wednesday and Thursday, I felt pretty confident on how students were going to do on this assessment and the students did not disappoint. I was very impressed with how much students wrote when they had to explain the difference between functions and non functions and also when they had to explain the difference between a linear and nonlinear function. It was nice to see so many students use the phrase “rate of change” instead of “goes up by,” although I did still some some of the latter. Overall, I felt like this was the best Common Core unit I have taught all year and the assessment showed that the students understood many of the concepts. The true test will be when my students take the ISAT as 20-25% of the test will be questions over functions, aligned to the Common Core.

Next week, we will begin our unit on linear relationships beginning with graphing and slope. According to the ISBE Scope and Sequence, this unit should take 9 weeks. I’m not sure how it is going to take that long, but I’ll definitely have plenty of time for reteaching and differentiation. I have started using Countdown for Teachers to help me plan my lessons. If you are having problems unpacking standards, this website does a great job of breaking each standard down to its “conceptual, procedural, and application” objective. Have a great week!

Halfway There, How Am I Doing?

Yesterday was my last day of my first semester teaching to the Common Core State Standards. I started off blogging often about my experience and then I had a tough time finding time to blog about my experiences because I always felt like I was behind. Now that I have some time, here are my experiences thus far:

1.) Very few people really know what they are doing. 

We are all trying to learn as we go, sharing our successes and failures, but in the end, it feels like no one is an expert at teaching to CCSS. There are plenty of companies that are trying to tell us that they are experts, but I haven’t found anything or anyone who I feel has an overwhelming wealth of knowledge on the subject. If you are looking for assessments or lesson ideas, the best I have seen so far is EngageNY.

2.) There is still no assessment or credible source as to what the assessment is going to be.

Living in Illinois, I know that my students will be given the PARCC assessment at some time in the future. What is that? How many questions? How much time will students have to complete it? What types of questions will they have to answer? Illinois recently released a test map for the 2014 ISAT test. Although we are told a breakdown for each of the standards, we are still not told how many or what type of questions will be assessing each standard. In due time, I’m sure we will all get a better idea of what the test will look like which will help all of use write our current assessments.

3.) Teaching to the Common Core State Standards might actually be working.

In my district, we test all students using NWEA’s Common-Core-aligned assessment, call the MAP test each fall. After students take the test, we receive a progress report that determines a growth projection for each student. This is the median growth for an entire school year for students at that grade level receiving that score. At this point in the year, I only test my Enrichment class. These are the students who scored low at the beginning of the year who need extra help in math. For everyone in my Enrichment class, their growth projection is 4 points. That means that half of the students at that grade level receiving their scores should grow 4 points from August to May. Here are the scores for the students in my enrichment class that completed their test:

Enrichment MAPI currently have 5 students scoring beyond their growth target for May and 2 that look to be on pace to meet their growth target. I know this is a small sample size, so it will be interesting to see how all of my students perform at the end of the year. Although I know that only 50% of my students should score 4 or more points better than they did in August, I would be disappointed if less than 80% of my students met their growth target.

It may be the Common Core Standards or it could just be me rethinking my teaching and assessment, but I feel that what I am doing this year is more productive than what I have done in years past. I am rarely planning beyond a day or two because I never know how students are going to perform from day to day. I feel that this change alone has made a significant difference. Using formative assessment in order to direct my instruction is new for me and I have never looked at so much data and item analysis as I have this year. I think all of this together is creating a better product in terms of the results I am getting.

What Teachers CAN Learn From Professional Development

Today, my district did a half-day release and then had an inservice in the afternoon. As is the case with most professional development, many of my colleagues were not looking forward to it. The district brought in a company to continue our development with Common Core, so I saw more value in it than many other sessions I’ve sat through. But, I figured some of the things that would be presented were things that I already knew, making me somewhat apprehensive of the afternoon.

In my years of teaching, I’ve sat through “Schemes, Scams, and Flim-Flams” in which we were told how to protect our identities. There was the two-hour presentation about how valuable visual aids are that NEVER USED A VISUAL AID! There are many others, but I can see why my colleagues, and me somewhat, were not looking forward to the inservice. Some teachers were also put into groups that are not directly related to their curricular area. For example, I had more than just math teachers in my session. I can see how these people had problems finding value in the session.

As I sat there though, I thought that all of us should probably bottle up any feelings and  frustrations we felt so we never forget it. Whether it was lack of relevance, seeing something you already knew, or other things we were thinking, now we know how students often feel. We are mature, professional adults who probably did well in school, and yet we still struggle to sit through some of these inservices. Imagine how a thirteen-year-old student feels.

I think of my class where we sometimes have to go over things time and time again when some students learn it right away. I always try my best to differentiate, but I am by no means where I should be with the practice. Then there are the non-math people in the math session thinking to themselves, “When am I ever going to use this?” Sound familiar? Another thing I’ve thought during meetings is, “Could this have been given to me through an email instead of sitting here?” This is what motivated me to start flipping my class, especially with basic concepts that don’t require an entire lesson.

Whatever it may be, try to make your class something you would like to sit through. I’ve seen colleagues do great things by being funny, singing, or whatever makes their class their own, in order to motivate students, and it works. But, if you sit in your next inservice or meeting wishing you could leave, find what makes you feel that way and be sure you don’t do it in your class.

Mission Two: Twitter Me This

For the “Explore the MTBoS” mission this week, we were urged to use Twitter either for the first time, or in a new way that we haven’t tried before. There was a list of things to try, many of which I did. However, the one thing I really wanted to try was participating in a chat.

I took part in the #iledchat that occurs every Monday night from 9-10 PM CST. The topic this week was “Connected Education.” Most of the questions centered around the use of Twitter in the classroom and professionally. I answered some of the questions, but some of them I really had no good answer.

During the chat, I did follow a few new people and gained a few followers. I already use Twitter often and follow many different math people. I’ve never used Twitter in my classroom and the chat did make me at least consider it. I also interacted with a few people on Twitter who I normally just follow and read their posts, so I guess the mission was a success!


Mission 1: Just One Thing That Makes Me Unique

About a month ago, a Dan Meyer post rolled across Feedly that intrigued me greatly.  The post was entitled “Explore the Math/Twitter Blogosphere.” I had been reading things about the MTBoS lately, good and bad, but didn’t know enough to have any opinion. So, what better thing to do than to explore the MTBoS through “eight weeks of fun missions and prompts.”

My first prompt is:

  • What is one thing that happens in your classroom that makes it distinctly yours? It can be something you do that is unique in your school… It can be something more amorphous… However you want to interpret the question! Whatever!

There are some different things I am trying this year in my classroom. For example, the idea of “flipping,” cooperative learning, inquiry-based learning, and Common Core just to name a few. But the one unique thing about me that I am most proud of is doing this right here. I love writing about teaching. I look forward to any chance I get to reflect and discuss with other teachers from all over. As far as I know, I am the only teacher in my building, and possibly my district, that frequently writes blog posts. Sometimes I write about what is going on in my class, something new I’ve learned through Common Core, or something I’m just having an opinion on at the time. I enjoy participating in Twitter chats and discussing posts on Google+. While every other person I know is watching “Breaking Bad” or the newest movie or TV show, I’m reading about teaching or participating in a teaching chat or reading a book about teaching. If I were to be completely honest with you, I can’t get enough of it.

So, for my first  “Exploring the MTBoS” mission about what makes me unique, I’m doing the very thing that makes me unique. I’m taking part in a huge online group, discussing what I do and what others do, hoping to be a better teacher when I’m finished.

My (Possible) Solution to Falling Behind

Finally, I completed my first Common Core unit this week. According to the ISBE Scope and Sequence, this unit should have taken me 5 weeks. Instead, it has taken closer to 7 weeks. However, my scores have shown that it was worth it to take more time than rushing to get to a specific point at the end of the year as I had more than 80% of my students showing proficiency.  But, that means I’m now short on time to cover every standard. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but GAFE and some motivated co-workers may have found me a solution.

I’ve read a lot in the past year about flipping my class and even bought a book this summer written by two of the first guys to ever flip their class. I just haven’t been sure how I was going to be able to do it. I’ve made videos of lessons and posted them on Youtube for students to review before a test or a quiz, but never made it my assignment. That was until I heard Dan and Matt, two science teachers I work with, talking about using GAFE in their classrooms. My district has a GAFE account for all students 6-12 and all teachers in my district, and Matt and Dan were using Google Docs with students to discuss material outside of class. Another one of my co-workers who teaches social studies, Kim, said that she had students turn in an essay using GAFE and had a much higher completion rate than ever. During classes, my students were talking about how cool it was to do their work online and how they wished more teachers would do it. I figured I better listen.

I made a few short videos of solving equations using the iPad app Explain Everything. However, if you use a SMART board, you can record a lesson and upload it to Youtube as well. I also took advantage of Google Forms now allowing you to insert a video. So I now have a 2-3 minute video over the basics of the standard, a 3-5 question quiz, and a 1-5 rating of how much students like learning that way. As of this post, I have had about 30 responses, almost all of them with correct answers and students rating this way a 5 out of 5, that they would much rather do this than have a homework assignment. The student have until 7:00 tomorrow night to finish and then I am going to grade their quizzes with Flubaroo and then email them the responses. Students are also saying it isn’t taking long to finish the assignment, so this could work.

Overall, I’m pretty excited about trying this and I hope it stays exciting. I also hope I can keep students engaged this way and the newness doesn’t wear off. If those things happen, I may have found my solution to running out of time for standards.

Why I Think Grades Need to Go

During my first eight years of teaching, we have discussed what a grade means at least one time during an inservice.  We have discussed what a grade is, what it represents, how homework should affect a grade, what a grade predicts, and on and on. During each of those inservices, my feelings about grades has changed each time. Now with the use of formative assessment and reteaching until students learn material, I’m thinking more and more that grades are a meaningless representation of performance.

Two weeks ago, after my daughter’s volleyball game, we had to rush home and get to her open house. She is in eighth grade in a small junior high, so we already know her teachers. We already know where her locker is and where her classes are. In fact, she didn’t care if we even stopped in to all of her classes. The reason we had to get to open house was that two of her teachers were giving ten points extra credit for the students whose parents showed up. So, my daughter’s grade improved not because of anything she did or learned, but because I put off eating for another half hour to go in and sign a paper that says I was there. What about the students who’s parents work second shift? They now have ten fewer points. Does that mean they know less than my daughter? What about extra credit for bringing in Kleenexes or going to the play? There are many more ways students have earned extra credit over time. Often the tasks performed in order to receive it in no way affected their learning or performance.

Another problem I have seen with grades this year in my class is through assessments and some formative assessments. I have given a short quiz every 3-4 lessons in my class to determine if I can move on to the next 3-4 lessons. Some students don’t do well the first time, so I have them retake the quiz. In fact, I allow all students to retake the quiz. Some students improve from a 75% to a 90%. But some students get a 90% the first time and then an 80% the second time. I still give them the 90% they got the first time, but are they at the same level as the student who improved from 75% to 90%? I have no idea. I’m also assuming that a 90% in my class could mean something completely different than a 90% in another math class.The only way I know students have increased their learning is when we MAP test during the year and MAP testing isn’t even for a grade. I’m sure some would ask, “Why does it have to be for a grade?” I would answer that by having you imagine what parents and administration would say this week when I post midterm grades and there isn’t anything there.

There are also times during my retakes where students will ask, “Do I really have to do the retake? I got a 78%, I’m ok with that.” Students, and sometimes parents are ok with a 78%, but often a 78% is the result of not understanding a day or two of objectives, which could equate to not understanding one of our standards. If I am assessing understanding, and they don’t understand, of course they should retake it. But, if a student is ok with a 78% and plenty of research shows that students aren’t motivated by grades, then why would I assume that students would perform better on a retake, showing me their mastery of a standard?

So now what? Do I think we need to go to standards-based grading? I’m not sure. I would have to read a lot more about the practice before I could say that it was better than what we have now. However, I don’t think it would take much to outperform the current system. From what I have read, it would be more consistent from class to class. I think it would drive much more differentiation in the classroom, allowing proficient students to move along while non-proficient could receive the help that they need. However, if this were ever to happen, it would take an entire change of school culture from students, teachers, leadership, parents, and legislators. If there were ever a time to make the change, it may be right now, while every school is already making the transition to Common Core. In the mean time, I’ll try my best to make my grading meaningful, leaving students useful feedback on every question.