Keeping SBG Authentic

I’ll be teaching both physics 11 and physics 12 again next year and I’m interested in doing more performance task assessments than I did this year. I had intended on using more goal-less problems in ph11 this year but I always felt like I was under the gun for time constraints. As for ph12 next year, my co-worker is interested in sharing some common assessment strategies between his classes and mine. I believe there is a concern around fairness for grades since these grades are used for university admissions. I personally don’t think this is a big issue because a) our grading is incredibly subjective b) kids that are prepared to go to a Canadian university will get into a Canadian university c) our grades, along with the old provincial exam results, probably don’t tightly correlate to success in university. In any event, I don’t mind re-visiting my classroom practices and improving on them. Earlier this year I attended a two day workshop on UbD with Jay McTighe and Jay highlighted how assessment should be based on performances with supplementary evidence. I’ve been keeping this in mind as I think about re-framing my grading.

Currently most of my students’ grades are based on quizzes within an SBG scheme. Re-tests are allowed with no time limits, newest score counts for final calculation. These SBG quizzes account for something like 75-80% of the students’ grades. A few assignments or project grades make up the difference. FWIW I think many other alternate forms of assessment aren’t all that great for grading. Some individual assignments and projects are ok, but many do a poor job of ensuring personal accountability. Kids working on an assignment in class are often sharing ideas, which is great learning but it may lead to inaccurate assessment for grading.  Anything that is done outside of the classroom should play a minor role in grading in most scenarios. The obvious exception to this rule is when you’re assessing projects where the project is the goal, and not necessarily a few skills that are contained within the creation of the project. For example, suppose a group of four students are making a trebuchet and you hope to grade their proficiency with projectiles with this project. You might have a hard time finding out who in the group were involved with the projectile calculations in the project. Maybe one member was only involved in buying materials. One thing I tried this year with some success is to follow up a project with a project quiz. The students were essentially asked questions that related to the project and in particular to specific learning objectives that were part of the project. I think this worked very well and I would encourage others to try this.

Working towards a new framework for myself, and refining some of the things I’ve tried in the past (transfer tasks, goal-less problems), my idea is to keep giving continuous quizzes on learning objectives using SBG. In addition to these, I want to have a series of performance tasks such as more goal-less problems and lab practicums in physics 11 and possibly term tests in physics 12. These assessments would become the performances whereas the quizzes continue to be the important formative feedback and supplementary evidence. The performance tasks in general would not be re-testable.

One thing I’m worried about is how the students would view SBG with the addition of performance tasks. When I do my year-end student surveys one common theme from students is how much they appreciate the SBG system: how it reduces stresses, allows them to focus on clear learning goals, and how they are given opportunities to improve without punishments. If the gradebook weighting was adjusted so that SBG was 50% and performance tasks were 30% (or something like that), how would this change their attitudes? Would this kind of change subvert the rationale behind SBG, which is to allow for improvement and learning through clear learning intentions and re-testable assessments?

I can think of two arguments that validate this framework. First, some leeway could be given such that performance tasks can be postponed until the student feels they are ready. In other words, there is no sense in doing a performance task if they are stuck with 1’s and 2’s (out of 3) for their learning objectives. This is a way to bring the power of the formative quizzes and SBG into the performance task. Second, I think a strong analogy can be made to athletics and the arts. In these disciplines students practice over and over for maximal improvement but there ultimately comes a day when they have to do a performance which cannot be re-done, such as a tournament basketball game, a band concert or a dance recital.

I don’t think there is a steadfast right or wrong on this question of mixing SBG and non-retestable performance tasks. How they are mixed and used in a classroom depends on priorities and philosophy of education. I would like to hear how other people view this topic though.

  • Does it make sense to mix SBG and performance tasks?
  • Is it best to simply stick with SBG and small quizzes?
  • Is there a compelling reason or evidence that shows that bigger, non-testable assessments are beneficial for students? If so, beneficial in what way?