Category Archives: standards-based grading

Standards for AP Physics 2

I floated this idea on Twitter a couple of weeks ago and have decided to give it a try. Historically, I’ve grouped my assessment standards into unit-centric categories. In an attempt to emphasize the big ideas and science practices more strongly, I’m going to group standards by the Big Ideas defined by the College Board for AP Physics 2. My assessment standards are the Enduring Understanding defined for each Big Idea. The Essential Knowledge items and Learning Objectives are too fine grained for my style of standards-based assessment and reporting, especially for an AP class where I want students to focus on the combination of multiple concepts.

There will be multiple assessments (labs and exam questions) for each standard. A given assessment will focus on a subset of learning objectives for that standard. As a result, there will be multiple scores for each standard in the grade book. I hope this will give students more insight into their strengths and areas for improvement as they progress throughout the course. I’ll still have reassessments.

The weights for each Big Idea category will not be the same, but I’m going to do more planning before assigning them. I also need to see how these standards are split between the fall and spring semesters.

If you think I’m courting disaster with this plan, please let me know. If you adopt a similar approach for your AP Physics class, please remember I’ve never tried this before!

  • 1: Objects and systems have properties such as mass and charge. Systems may have internal structure.
    • 1.A: The internal structure of a system determines many properties of the system.
    • 1.B: Electric charge is a property of an object or system that affects its interactions with other objects or systems containing charge.
    • 1.C: Objects and systems have properties of inertial mass and gravitational mass that are experimentally verified to be the same and that satisfy conservation principles.
    • 1.D: Classical mechanics cannot describe all properties of objects.
    • 1.E: Materials have many macroscopic properties that result from the arrangement and interactions of the atoms and molecules that make up the material.
  • 2: Fields existing in space can be used to explain interactions.
    • 2.A: A field associates a value of some physical quantity with every point in space. Field models are useful for describing interactions that occur at a distance (long-range forces) as well as a variety of other physical phenomena.
    • 2.C: An electric field is caused by an object with electric charge.
    • 2.D: A magnetic field is caused by a magnet or a moving electrically charged object. Magnetic fields observed in nature always seem to be produced either by moving charged objects or by magnetic dipoles or combinations of dipoles and never by single poles.
    • 2.E: Physicists often construct a map of isolines connecting points of equal value for some quantity related to a field and use these maps to help visualize the field.
  • 3: The interactions of an object with other objects can be described by forces.
    • 3.A: All forces share certain common characteristics when considered by observers in inertial reference frames.
    • 3.B: Classically, the acceleration of an object interacting with other objects can be predicted by using Newton’s Second Law.
    • 3.C: At the macroscopic level, forces can be categorized as either long-range (action-at-a-distance) forces or contact forces.
    • 3.G: Certain types of forces are considered fundamental.
  • 4: Interactions between systems can result in changes in those systems.
    • 4.C: Interactions with other objects or systems can change the total energy of a system.
    • 4.E: The electric and magnetic properties of a system can change in response to the presence of, or changes in, other objects or systems.
  • 5: Changes that occur as a result of interactions are constrained by conservation laws.
    • 5.B: The energy of a system is conserved.
    • 5.C: The electric charge of a system is conserved.
    • 5.D: The linear momentum of a system is conserved.
    • 5.F: Classically, the mass of a system is conserved.
  • 6: Waves can transfer energy and momentum from one location to another without the permanent transfer of mass and serve as a mathematical model for the description of other phenomena.
    • 6.A: A wave is a traveling disturbance that transfers energy and momentum.
    • 6.B: A periodic wave is one that repeats as a function of both time and position and can be described by its amplitude, frequency, wavelength, speed, and energy.
    • 6.C: Only waves exhibit interference and diffraction.
    • 6.E: The direction of propagation of a wave such as light may be changed when the wave encounters an interface between two media.
    • 6.F: Electromagnetic radiation can be modeled as waves or as fundamental particles.
    • 6.G: All matter can be modeled as waves or as particles.
  • 7: The mathematics of probability can be used to describe the behavior of complex systems and to interpret the behavior of quantum mechanical systems.
    • 7.A: The properties of an ideal gas can be explained in terms of a small number of macroscopic variables including temperature and pressure.
    • 7.B: The tendency of isolated systems to move toward states with higher disorder is described by probability.
    • 7.C: At the quantum scale, matter is described by a wave function, which leads to a probabilistic description of the microscopic world.

AP Physics 1 Unofficial Pilot

This past school year, my colleagues and I restructured our Honors Physics course to unofficially pilot the AP Physics 1 course. This was motivated by several factors. We wanted to get a jump on the new AP Physics 1 course so that this summer we would only have to revise the course since we also have to create the new AP Physics 2 course. We wanted to create a pipeline of students prepared for the AP Physics 2 course. We also were dissatisfied with the current structure and emphasis of our existing Honors Physics course.

We’ve structured our course around Standards-Based Assessment and Reporting (a.k.a. Standards Based Grading) for many years, and we continued to do so this year. We did make some changes to the specifics. We transitioned from a binary mastery / developing mastery system to a 1-5 scoring system. All of the details are captured in my syllabus.

A vast majority of the units follow Modeling Instruction and leverage a combination of the official Modeling Instruction materials and derived versions. A notable exception is the electric circuits unit for which we leveraged a combination of Physics by Inquiry materials and the Modeling Instruction CASTLE materials. The current model is based on the Physics by Inquiry investigations and the electric pressure (voltage) model is based on the Modeling Instruction CASTLE materials.

Below are our AP Physics 1 standards for the 2013-2014 school year. Standards that we felt were more significant were weighted twice as much and are designated by the “B” suffix as opposed to the “A” suffix. We will certainly revise these somewhat for next year after reviewing the College Board materials, attending AP workshops, and integrating our new textbook.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with how the AP Physics 1 pilot class was and what our students learned. The incorporation of Modeling Instruction; focus on in-depth, guided inquiry-based experiments; peer instruction-style discussion and debate of conceptual questions; and a great team of teachers with which to collaborate were the keys for the successful year.

Greatest Benefit of Canvas

Last spring, I was part of our district’s pilot for an LMS. I became a fan of Canvas and was very pleased when we selected it as our district’s LMS.

I absolutely love Canvas’ ease of use. I use all the typical features like announcements, discussions, and file storage. More unique features like modules help my students find everything they need for each unit and pages allow me to easily share enrichment materials.

However, looking back at this first full semester with Canvas, I was surprised which feature had the greatest impact on student learning. It wasn’t any of the above. It was SpeedGrader. Specifically, the ease with which SpeedGrader enables me to provide rich feedback to students on their assignments. Sure, I provided feedback before Canvas by writing comments on lab reports, but it was time consuming (I write much slower than I type) and not always legible (my handwriting is poor). I always had more feedback to provide than what I took the time to write. SpeedGrader has changed all of this.

Here’s my workflow for AP Physics B. Students create an ePortfolio in Canvas that contains all of the labs for which they perform analysis and are assessed. I create an assignment in Canvas for each lab and they submit a link to their ePortfolio. (The ePortfolio part isn’t critical, you could create assignments and have students submit their work in any number of ways.) In SpeedGrader, I can view their ePortfolio in one pane while typing feedback in another. This feedback is what has had the greatest impact on student learning.

SpeedGrader

I don’t score labs by subtracting a bunch of points, I read them. For my AP class, they earn a score of 1-5 which is reported in the online grade book, but doesn’t show up anywhere in Canvas. In Canvas, I just mark the assignment as complete or incomplete. In Canvas, the focus is on learning; not grades. What students do get is my feedback which often starts a discussion about their lab. My feedback is usually questions of the type I would ask of them in person. Questions that help them make connections between different ideas, clarify a misunderstanding, or illustrate an inconsistency in their analysis. In addition, I can easily point out sections that are incomplete. Many students have their notifications configured so that they receive an email when I submit feedback and some respond back almost immediately.

The integrated discussions in SpeedGrader is a perfect example of the role that technology should play in education. Enhancing a sound educational practice (rich feedback and discussion) by making it more efficient and easier for all involved.

Four of my five classes submit all of their assignments in Canvas. Guess what that fifth class will start doing this semester?

SBAR and Mastery Student Survey

I previously wrote about my challenges with my Honors Physics class this year. I received several comments from other teachers which influenced the survey I administered to students this past Friday. While my colleague and I still need to analyze all the data, reflect on the semester, and decide what changes we will make for next year; I thought I’d share some of the more interesting feedback that we received.

Homework

The biggest change that we made this spring semester is that we no longer provided credit for homework. This was motivated by our experience that students weren’t developing good problem solving techniques and that he homework was really just for practice. This change was the most frequently commented on by students. On the survey, only a third of students agreed with the statement that they complete their homework before the unit exam, but 90% said that they would if it directly affected their grade. In addition, half of students agree with the statement that they complete the homework only because it is required before doing 2nd tries (our reassessment opportunity offered before and after school once a week for two weeks following the summative exam). However, 77% of students agree with the statement that they write out the complete solutions as opposed to just answers. So, while students are developing better problem solving techniques, they aren’t doing their homework.

The reasons for this are captured best by the feedback provided by a couple of students:

I liked the way the system worked first semester much better. Even though webassign was normally a stressful night before rush, I always felt significantly moer prepared after completing it and knowing that it was going to influence my grade if I didn’t do it was just enough motivation to complete it each time. This semester, now that there is no required prep before the exam, I find myself preparing less, which I know is ultimately my own responsibility. I know many students are probably in the same situation though, being motivated by hw completion grades. I think requiring prep before first assessments would also help to lower the percent of people who need second tries since they are more prepared for the first try.

I personally think that you should require the graded webassign before the tests, much like first semester. For me, I typically read the book and do a few practice problems before the exam, but I often don’t have enough time to study adequately (my biggest problem this year). I just don’t have enough time to do everything (school work in general) so I prioritize, and graded assignments take priority. Spending time working on assignments is less time for sleeping at night, so very often the most studing I do is a reading of the entire section during lunch. If webassign was graded, I would do it.”

These comments illustrate that students are aware that they need the practice, but feel unable to do so with out the threat of losing points. These comments are indicative of a much broader issue. Is the problem that we don’t motivate students to do homework by awarding credit or that other classes do? If no one awarded points for homework, then students could decide what to do based on what would help them most.

Preparing for Initial Assessment

The results of the survey and the comments shared by students demonstrate that the homework change is one of the factors contributing to the lack of preparation for the initial assessment. In addition, a couple of other questions on the survey reinforced my concern.

Only about half of students expect to master the standards on the unit exam and half feel lucky when they do master a standard. 88% of students, compared to 63% of students, say they prepare sufficiently for the second assessment compared to the original assessment.

Todd Zimmerman and Kelly O’Shea both suggested that additional formative assessments were needed. I added questions to the survey to solicit feedback on this idea. While only 43% of students want more homework before the initial summative assessment, 68% of students want quizzes with feedback before the unit exam. I think the survey results support Josh Gates’ idea of providing initial formative assessments for feedback not grades. While there is little to no difference between these assessments and homework, simply presenting it in a different way results in very different reactions in students. So, Todd, Josh, and Kelly’s ideas definitely resonated with students. The challenge will be for my colleague and I to find time to create, administer, and provide feedback on these formative assessments.

Standards Based Assessment and Reporting and Mastery Learning

My colleague and I started applying SBAR and mastery learning three years ago for a variety of reasons. The primary one was to help students focus on learning rather than grades and, as a result, better retain the concepts and have less stress.

75% of students agreed with the statement that having the standards enumerated help them prepare for the exam and 62% of students agree with the statement that the mastery system helps them focus more on learning and understanding and less on points and grades. That said, 53% of students say they still focus on their grade in honors physics as much as they do in traditional classes. In addition, while 75% of students said they take 2nd tries to improve understanding, 94% of students said they take them to improve their grade. In general, Honors Physics students are extremely grade conscious. However, in terms of stress, 91% of students find exams less stressful knowing 2nd tries are available.

Another concern that I had was that students weren’t doing their best work but, instead, were putting forth the effort to just barely master the standard. Students disagreed with this assertion. 82% of students said they do the best they can when completing an assignment and only 15% say they do the minimum to achieve mastery. Perhaps this concern of mine was due more to end-of-year malaise than reality.

Most students appreciate the benefits of standards-based assessment and reporting and mastery learning. To provide some context, the initial summative assessment usually consists of a multiple choice portion for some standards and a problem-solving portion for others. On the multiple-choice portion, students can usually miss one or two questions and still demonstrate mastery. On the free response portion, students can make non-critical errors and still demonstrate mastery. Here are some of their comments:

I like the Honors Physics standards system, but sometimes the standards do hurt my grade (if I miss two questions out of 7, it is a 0% instead of a 72%). I really appreciate the second tries for standards because of this. I also feel that the standards system forces students to retain what they learn and helps them be more prepared for the final.

The second tries are extremely beneficial to students because it allows students to relearn a target, which I believe reinforces and strengthens the learning from a topic. I remember second try targets much better than other targets.

I feel as if the class is well oriented in that it helps people to focus more on the concepts rather than having to worry about their grade. It really helps a lot more in the long run.

I honestly loved physics both semesters, second especially, and i actually found that i it was required for me to understand the material by doing the work, and i enjoy that. Not all classes need you to understand, a lot just ask for you to memorize stuff. Also, i heard that this is the type of learning you need for college so this will probably help.

I feel like, while the mastery system is sometimes problematic, it really helps to ease the stress that I have while taking each exam. Knowing that by making one silly mistake, I can still get 100% in a category allows me to stop stressing about every single little thing during tests, which also helps me to focus. It is inconvenient when I don’t master a standard, but I feel like the 0% that results from it furthers my determination to clarify that standard and thus improve my grade during the 2nd tries.

I think that however much you put into the class is what you get. Like all other classes, the advantage is in taking the intiative, regardless of the grading system. I feel the standards system is a keeper though, because as you said it eliminates the hesitance for each individual point and allows the student to focus on the big picture. VURY NICE.

With grades being administered on a pretty consistant schedule, I find that I care less about my grade for this class. The use of standards makes me feel accountable for mastering a topic. That is to say, I don’t feel good if I master a target out of luck on an exam. I think other courses’ grading systems could take the honors physics model! Physics was a pleasure!

However, some students definitely do not like the mastery learning system. While they don’t object to the principles of SBAR, the binary nature of the mastery learning system drives them crazy.

The Mastery system is extremely stressful, because it is possible to miss 4 questions across two standards and fail an exam, while it is also possible to miss 4 question across 4 standards and receive a 100%. This system would be great if it was not tied to the letter grade system, but because it is, it’s extremely detrimental to report cards. (Which do matter, regardless of understanding or not.)

I may use this quote in my introduction of mastery learning next year. I don’t expect every student to agree with my philosophy that the grade for the course should reflect true understanding of a concept regardless of the effort exerted to almost understand it. However, I want every student to understand my perspective.

Additional Challenges

Unfortunately, cheating is always a concern of my colleague and I. We asked several questions on the survey about cheating and, unfortunately, I was surprised when 59% of students agreed with the statement that other students cheat on 2nd tries and only half of students disagreed with the statement that they feel pressure from their peers to tell them what is on the exam or 2nd tries.

As in the case with the additional formative assessments, the challenge will be for my colleague and I to find the time to address this issue. However, we have to ask ourselves how to spend our very limited time. Do we spend it to thwart those students who are trying to cheat or do we spent it to help those students who are trying to learn?

What’s Next?

I had discussions with several students who suggested that completing homework should not be graded but should be required before the initial summative assessment in order to earn the opportunity for a second summative assessment. This is the policy of another science class and students like that it motivates them to complete the homework before the initial assessment. Personally, this doesn’t ring true for my philosophy.

My colleague has what may be a great solution. He wants to focus on lab notebooks next year. He is proposing that students are permitted to use their lab notebooks, which may contain observations from lab activities and homework problems, on the initial summative assessment and perhaps not on the secondary summative assessments. This may provide sufficient motivation for students to complete the practice that they need before the initial assessment without requiring all students to complete the same amount of practice or penalizing those who don’t complete the practice.

I hope to meet with my Assistant Principal and hear the motivation behind the policy to not allow reassessments unless a student earns less than an 80% on an exam and to cap that reassessment at 80%. I hope to side step this policy entirely, but I am curious as to the motivation behind it. I also want to share these results and our ideas for next year.

We will have a new LMS next year and perhaps that will provide a mechanism to offer more formative assessments and feedback before the summative assessment.

This summer, my colleague and I will sit on one of our decks and figure out what to change for next year. I’m now more confident that we can continue to pursue our goals without taking steps backward.

Help! SBAR Challenges!

My colleague and I have been using standards-based assessment and reporting (SBAR) (a.k.a. standards based grading (SBG)) and a mastery learning methodology for the past three years. We have been very pleased with the results and have continued to evaluate and improve our methodology each year. However, this semester, it appears that the students aren’t drinking the kool-aid. I need some advice.

We are planning on administering an anonymous survey as well as having a class discussion on the topic of SBAR, learning, and assessment. I also plan to talk privately with various students. However, I wanted to solicit the advice from the larger SBAR community first since I expect that will shape the survey and direction of the conversation.

The problems this semester are that students are doing worse on initial assessments and the quality of work has deteriorated. To be fair, this doesn’t apply to every single student, but it does appear to be an overall trend. While I’m not sure of the reasons behind this change and I hope that the survey, class discussion, and individual discussions provide some clarity, I have a hypothesis. I believe that there has been a change in attitude this semester compared to the previous five.

In past semesters, many students would have the following attitude towards class: learn the material as well as possible throughout the unit, do some of the homework, and try to master every standard on the initial exam. If they didn’t master a few standards, they would complete extra practice and take advantage of a reassessment outside of class. These reassessments were best to be avoided, however, since they required extra work and time outside of class.

This semester, I believe many students have the following attitude towards class: try to learn the material only based on in-class activities, do nothing outside of class, and attempt the initial exam. They expect to have to reassess every standard; so, any that they happen to master on the initial exam is considered a fortunate bonus. They then prepare the required extra practice and take advantage of the reassessment outside of class. In addition, since they only have to master a standard, do the bare minimum amount of work or quality of work to meet that expectation.

I still believe our methodology is philosophically sound. However, I fear that this deferred effort approach will result in less understanding and less retention. In addition, this bare minimum approach leads to sloppy and careless work and poor habits. This is not okay regardless of how sound the philosophy is.

I’m considering a couple of changes. One, abandon the mastery system for a 1-5 scale like what I use with my AP-level class. While this allows for more differentiation in terms of quality of student work and depth of understanding, it feels like such a huge step backward in terms of trying to de-emphasize grades. Two, adopt a cap for reassessments. My school is pushing an 80% cap for reassessments. Only students who score less than 80% are eligible to reassess. In addition, the maximum score on a reassessment will be an 80%. While this may motivate students to develop their understanding and practice before the initial assessment, it seems to contradict the very foundation of SBAR.

Perhaps even more importantly that understanding the change in attitude, I’m not sure what has precipitated this change. What is different this semester compared to the previous five? How am I, my student, or my school different?

It is all somewhat depressing since I felt that we really had created something special that was meeting the goals I set for my students. Instead, this semester, I feel that our fragile ecosystem has been shattered and I’m not sure we can recover.

No More Credit for Homework

As a previously shared, I am not making many changes in Honors Physics this semester. However, we are making two significant changes related to homework. Despite my strong belief in standards-based assessment and reporting philosophy, I have always provided some credit for completing homework. I’ve previously shared my attempt to justify this policy.

To minimize the overhead of checking homework and discourage blatant copying, we use WebAssign for homework. It worked well and certainly didn’t require much effort once I had created the problem sets. However, at the end of this semester a huge problem hit my colleague and I like a brick wall:

You get what you reward.

We rewarded a student submitting the correct answer for 80% of the homework problems in WebAssign and that is exactly what we got.

The behavior that we were unintentionally rewarding began to become clear when I would help students outside of class. The dialog would go like this:

S: “Mr. Schmit, I have a question about a homework problem. Can you help me?”

Me: “Of course! Let me see your notebook and what you have so far.”

S: “It is problem number 38. I’ll show you in the text.”

Me: “Okay, but let me see what you have written down so far.”

S: blank look

Me: “Let me see your sketch, diagram, list of givens, equation with variables, substitution of values with units, …”

S: blank look

S: I just solve the problem on WebAssign.

Me: blank look

S: I just type the numbers into my calculator and enter the final answer in WebAssign.

While I don’t have this conversation with every student, it is not at all uncommon. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, the students are exhibiting the exact behavior that I’m rewarding.

So, this semester, no credit for homework. None. I will still create homework assignments on WebAssign since students do like to check their answers or to ask for another version of the same problem for practice. This change will at least stop rewarding the behaviors we don’t want.

While hopefully students’ experiences during the fall semester will be sufficient to encourage them to adopt robust and organized problem solving methods, I realize it won’t for everyone. So, the second change that we are making is that before reassessment a student must show me clear, detailed, and robust solutions to the homework problems related to that standard.

Yes, I realize that many of you have been doing exactly this from day one. I’m a bit slow to catch on as it took me two and a half years. Better late than never.

As a humorous endnote, one student solved a circular-motion, car-on-banked-curve problem on the semester final exam without showing any work at all. He wrote a note about how he did the whole thing on his calculator and didn’t expect any credit. He also noted how it would be quite ironic if he got the answer wrong. He didn’t.

ISEC 2011: Standards-Based Grading for High School Physics

This post is to capture the resources discussed in the Standards-Based Grading for High School Physics presentation (P154) at the Illinois Science Education Conference. Mark Rowzee and I presented our experience in adapting standards-based assessment and reporting to two different physics courses over the past three years. Our abstract is:

We will share our experience in implementing standards-based grading (a.k.a. standards based assessment and reporting) in our regular and honors physics classes over the past two years. This methodology has helped students focus on learning and understanding and not collecting points for a grade. It has helped us focus on defining meaningful standards and providing helpful feedback.

ISEC 2011 Standards-Based Grading for High School Physics

Links to Resources: