Our team of four physics teachers recently convened to reflect on the first semester of standards-based assessment and reporting in Regular Physics. While two of us have been implementing SBAR in Honors Physics, this Fall Semester was the first for Regular Physics. There are many, many aspects of how we integrated our SBAR philosophy that we found beneficial. However, the primary focus of our meeting was to address those aspects that we felt could be improved.
Assessing every standard for three consecutive weeks is not an effective use of time for most students.
Every standard would be assessed on three consecutive quizzes which would take three weeks. The first quiz would assess the standard in a more conceptual and basic manner and the second in a more advanced and comprehensive fashion. In combination, they provided a good measure of a student’s understanding. The third quiz wasn’t necessary for most students since they had already demonstrated that they understood the standard. That precious class time could be used more productively.
We decided that we would eliminate the third in-class quiz and make it an optional outside-of-class quiz. Those students who needed an additional opportunity to demonstrate their understanding may take this third quiz. The third quiz will be advanced and comprehensive since a student’s score on it replaces their score on the first two quizzes. Based on prior experience, we picked a single day every week when these third quizzes will be offered before and after school. At a bare minimum, students are required to submit corrections to the first two quizzes before they earn the opportunity to take the third quiz. Students are encouraged to pursue much more substantial learning activities before taking the third quiz.
The mapping of 1-4 to traditional percentages was problematic and inflated.
Our mapping of the 1, 2, 3, 4 indicators, which are used on almost all assessments, to traditional percentages as required by our school’s gradebook had a few issues. Students and parents were concerned that a “4” didn’t map to a 100%. It is really hard to not focus on traditional grades when our grade book only presents traditional grades. At the other end, the traditional percentages assigned to 1s and 2s didn’t reflect that lack of understanding that they should. Personally, I found that some students who were really struggling to understand physics didn’t appreciate this fact because their grade was inflated due to the mapping (“I’m doing fine; I have a C”).
For the Spring Semester, we will map our 1, 2, 3, and 4 indicators to traditional percentages as follows: A 4 corresponds to a 100%; a 3, 85%; a 2, 65%; a 1, 50%.
Too many standards.
Despite warnings from the two of us with previous SBAR experience, we still defined too many standards for each unit. Several times, this resulted in too much class time spent assessing multiple targets that could have been effectively assessed in combination.
As we define the standards for our Spring Semester units we are trying to combine standards when possible. However, if standards are too broad, it is hard for students to clearly understand what they are expected to learn. Which leads us to the next aspect in need of improvement.
Use consistent terminology to more clearly communicate with students, parents, other teachers, and administrators.
Our school is in the process of creating a glossary of terms with common definitions to address this aspect that is in need of improvement. One especially egregious example concerns the use of the word “target.” Our school has a history of defining “target” as a student-understandable and demonstrable goal for a daily lesson. We have been using “target” as a synonym for standard which is much broader.
In the Spring Semester, we will call our standards “standards” and our daily goals “targets.” This will help, but not address the problem that a high-level standard may be too vague for students to clearly understand what they are expected to know. Next school year, I hope to associated several targets or objectives with each standard to provide a connection between specific learning goals and higher-level standards.
Most of us can’t imagine going back to teaching Regular Physics like we did last year. That alone is a great sign that we heading in the right direction. Thankfully, we were given time to reflect and adjust for the Spring Semester which now looks even more promising.
Update: Fri Dec 17 00:28:05 CST 2010:
I’ve scanned the above referenced glossary of terms, which is still a draft document.