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.