Sunday, February 20, 2011

Short Takes: Standards Based Assessment and Reporting

Hello All,
I have neglected this blog in recent weeks. Almost a month has passed since my last blog post. (Why do I suddenly feel like I am in a confessional?) February is a month that can get away from you in a hurry! Between snow days, ITED's, and the changing sports seasons; if you blink, you miss it!

I wanted to touch on a topic that has been in the news quite a bit recently - the idea of Standards Based Assessment and Reporting (SBAR), sometimes called Standards Based Grading (SBG).

SBAR represents a shift in the way students are assessed. Rather than resulting in a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F; SBAR refers all learning back to a predetermined group of standards that are developed for each course. These standards often correlate with state and national standards like the Iowa Core Curriculum. Parents and students are aware of the standards ahead of time and teachers use multiple points of evidence to determine how fully each student has progressed toward mastery of each standard. Progress toward mastery is usually reported as a number (from 1-4) or a descriptor (like Beginning, Developing, Secure, or Exceeds). In some ways it is similar to the use of a rubric in assessing a student project. The standards are laid out ahead of time as well as descriptive information that guides students in understanding what a 1, 2, 3, or 4 "looks like." In a true standards based environment, at the end of the reporting period (ex. quarter or semester) there is no letter grade issued - The report that parents receive contains a list of the standards as well as information as to which level of mastery the student has attained. In most SBAR systems, behavior and learning are assessed separately. The idea being that by the end of the course, we expect all students to be at a Secure level in these 10 (or whatever the number is) standards. Some may reach that level much sooner, some may take longer, but the amount of time they take to get there is secondary - the goal is to get all students there.

SBAR has been in the news in Iowa recently because of the Waukee School District's decision to move toward this type of assessment and reporting in both of their middle schools. The decision has not been readily supported by many. Many parents are concerned about what they see as a significant shift in the way their kids are assessed and in the way their progress is reported.

Common parent concerns have been that this represents a dumbing down or easing of academic rigor. There have also been concerns that the "real world" often uses letter grades to assess and schools should as well.

Let me be clear - I am certainly not an expert in Standards Based Grading. I have only begun to truly learn about the practice this year. However, the more I learn about it the more sense it seems to make.

Most of us have jobs in which we are evaluated. How many of those evaluations are boiled down to one simple letter? We have an evaluation process that we use in the Okoboji School District to evaluate teacher effectiveness. It is based on the Iowa Teaching Standards. You can find those eight standards and their benchmarks HERE. Every three years (for continuing teachers on a professional license) a teacher is observed several times, and their performance is compared with these Standards. The goal is for teachers to reach mastery level of all eight standards. A summative evaluation is written which describes their progress toward mastery of these eight standards. If a teacher is deficient in one or more of these areas, an assistance plan is developed that targets improvement in the identified areas of need. Progress is measured and noted and future decisions are based on the results of the plan. Most teachers interviewing for a job will reference the standards and during their first two years of teaching they are required to create a portfolio of evidence that they have met the standards.

Does this sound familiar to you? It seems to me we are already doing SBAR in the evaluation of teachers. I know if I tried to issue a single letter of A-F and call it my "summative evaluation" of a teacher, it would never be allowed. It would be decried as subjective, incomplete, and vague...and they would be absolutely right. If Standards Based Assessment and Reporting is good enough for a decision that affects the future of someones employment, their livelihood, and the security of their family...shouldn't it also be good enough for sophomore biology?

Just a thought...

(Bloggers note - SBAR is taking hold mainly at the middle school because of the absence of concern about the idea of "credits" and college admissions that is a very real issue at the high school level. There have been NO talks of moving to a SBAR system at Okoboji High School. The thoughts and ideas in this entry are just to stimulate thought and conversation and are NOT indicative of an imminent shift in assessment and reporting procedures at Okoboji High School....just some good things to think about.)

I leave you with this final note about standards based assessment: I once heard someone talk about how in most classrooms you could get a poor grade on the tests but do great on homework and still pass. The speaker related that they were glad flight school did not work that way. They said if someone could get an A on takeoff and flying but a D on landing, they should not get a C+ in flight school. I, like the speaker, am glad that flight school has always used Standards Based Assessment and Reporting. :-)

Have a GREAT week!


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