Variable Credit and Standards Based Grading

I’ve been soaking up a lot of information about standards-based grading (SBG), and today came across this in my twitter feed:

I am already very focused on encouraging growth mindsets, so the idea of assessing it was very much something I wanted to know more about. With some follow-up tweets, I got a link to the presentation, which included a SBG rubric template that I’m excited to look at more closely.

The school where I teach, Mid-Peninsula High School, has a lot of things that make it different from other schools where I’ve taught, observed, or attended. One thing stands out that may be unique to Mid-Pen, though. We have a variable credit system, rather than a standard all or nothing system. The VCS (because we need another acronym in education lingo) was the most confusing system that I encountered, although in retrospect it is because it was such a foreign concept.  Each semester class is typically worth 5.0 credits, but students receive 0.5 increment credits throughout the semester based on the amount of satisfactory work that they turn in. This allows for differentiation between two students that may look the same on paper in a traditional system.

Suppose you have two students, Alicia and Benjamin. Alicia finds Geometry class very easy, and halfway through the semester has an A in the class without too much effort on her part. She then decides to blow off the rest of the semester because she has x, y, and z priorities that are more important to her. She doesn’t turn in homework, doesn’t study, fails most of her quizzes and tests, and bombs the final. When all the grades are averaged out, in a traditional grading and credit system, she has a C and 5.0 credits.

Benjamin has always had a tough time in his math classes, but works persistently and diligently, and always completes his work on time, even if he usually gets mediocre grades. Throughout the semester, he maintains a consistent C average in the class, and at the end of the semester, in a traditional grading and credit system, he also has a C and 5.0 credits.

On their transcripts, these two students look identical, but there are very different stories behind those grades. In our VCS, Alicia may end the semester with an A, but only 2.5 credits. Benjamin would still have a C and 5.0 credits. This means that there are two meaningful measurements on the transcript. The credits reflect the amount of work that has been satisfactorily completed, and the grades reflect the quality of that work.

So, what does this have to do with standards-based grading (SBG)? For several years before I arrived at Mid-Pen, I was interested in implementing some sort of SBG but wasn’t sure how to do it. Halfway through my first semester teaching at Mid-Pen, I realized that basically what I was doing was SBG. I determined, in 0.5 credit increments, what amount and type of work qualified for those credits. Inevitably, each unit was either 0.5 credits or 1.0 credit, but it was mostly based on what had been covered by the end of each grading period. We have grading periods after 1.5, 2.5, 4.0, and 5.0 credits. Students are able to make up missing credit at the discretion of each teacher, but generally it’s encouraged, and even expected, for students to make up missing credit during the semester. Otherwise, it gets pushed to an independent study or summer school, both of which can be a huge pain for both students and teachers.

During that first semester, I took a few weeks off for paternity leave, so I was a bit preoccupied and didn’t put in the necessary time to formalize each half credit. I’ve had three more semesters at this point, but no other excuses, so my big summer project (besides deciding on an Algebra 1 text) is formalizing SBG for our VCS. More on my progress (and credit given to whomever I steal from) later in the summer.



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