Trying to find math inside everything else

Last time, on The Roots of the Equation: You All Have “A”s.

To follow-up on my last post about grading, I wanted to talk about what I do in my class. What I do is applicable to all classrooms, whether they use SBG or not.

As I said last time, the promise of SBG is to promote a growth mindset with regards to grading: instead of being penalized by mistakes, you earn for proving you understand the standards and your grade rises. However, the responses I received belied that idea. When I asked what you would tell a student who asked their grade mid-marking period, most referred to something like a “snapshot” of their grade, simply averaging whatever they’ve done so far (whether it is standards in SBG, or test and projects and HW in more traditional grading).

If a student gets that snapshot every day, then it is quite clearly going to fluctuate and lead to some distress. Since my school uses on online gradebook, students can, in fact, check it. But I wanted my promise of rising grades to go through. So, I had to make it actually happen.

On the first day of class, I tell all my students they currently have a 0. Instead of 100 and dropping, every single thing they do in my class that is assessed will improve their grade. Even if they do terribly on an assignment say, getting a 50, that still improves their grade, because 50 is higher than 0.

That actual implementation of this, however, is hard. It means that, at the start of every marking period, I need to think ahead about what things I’m going to be assessing for the whole 6 weeks, and then enter those into the gradebook with a grade of 0. That way, everything will start at 0 and go up when actually completed. (Students can still see how they’ve done on things completed so far, and can determine their own “snapshot average” if they like, but this gives the view of the whole marking period.)

On the left, averages and assignments we have already completed. On the right, U grades mean “Unrated,” usually for assignments we have not done yet. The student who got an A- last marking period currently leads the pack with a 60.

But…thinking ahead 6 weeks about what I’m assessing…shouldn’t we be doing this anyway? Isn’t that just unit planning? My current Algebra course has 7 units, so it does work out to be almost one unit per marking period. And the process isn’t that inflexible: if I delete an assignment because I decided not to do it, or add something in, that’s a small fluctuation compared to the overall experience.

By the end of the marking period (as you see in my picture), everything will match up to the number it would have been had I gone top-down. But the way we get there is important. It is always better to grow.


After being questioned by Andrew Stadel and Chris Robinson on Twitter, I have some more explanations.

Andrew Stadel: I’d like to know more about this. Admin & parent understanding? Student response? Pros, cons, etc.

Me: Parents felt it was unclear at first, until I input marks that differentiated between “not done or graded yet” and “missing.” Then they were more on board. Students were confused by it at first, but liked it in the end. Admin supports it.

Pros include feeling like we are always improving and, a big one, it makes grading so much more enjoyable for me, because no one goes down.

Cons are that it’s hard to gauge sometimes (in terms of “snapshots”), especially when you get a big rush of grades at the end of the marking period.

Chris Robinson: James, can your “grades” go down per individual standard/learning target through the term?

Me: I’ve seen it go both ways in SBG. For me, they can’t go down in content standards, but can in practice ones. I do continuously assess but I feel like once someone has shown some understanding, they keep it, and they just need a refresher. (But I think I got that from Dan Meyer’s original “How Math Must Assess” post.)

Stadel: Thanks for explaining. What percent of students adjusted to & welcomed it? I like the premise of zero understanding and working towards mastery.

Me: Adjusted to, I would say over 95%. Welcomed, in the 80%. (Super rough estimates.)

Stadel: Do you have any materials/handouts explaining the philosophy to parents & students?

Me: I…really should.

Comments on: "You All Have “0”s" (6)

  1. Intriguing idea. Concrete and tangible “reward” for completion of work. Curious about response from your students. Any problems from parent/administrators?

    • The students like it. It does take them getting used to it at first, but they like not being penalized for not doing work. My administrators didn’t even notice because the end result is the same. I did get some push-back from parents who were confused by it, so I now include a “highest possible score” that students and parents can use as a benchmark.

  2. I REALLY like this idea. I struggle with getting some students to see that the gradebook is an indication of progress, not a final result. Especially when they hit a point where they struggle and should do some reassessments.

    I think parents would be the hardest win-over with this. There are already quite a few who get upset when their kid is “failing” in the first week of the term because they just didn’t do one of our two assessments yet. Although, if they all start at 0, maybe it wouldn’t be as big of a deal.

    The other challenge would be sports eligibility. At my school they have to have a C to play in sports and a D to practice with the team.

    • I feel like if I could get my whole team to adopt it across the grade, it would be even less of an issue for parents. Especially because then they can compare across classes.

      As for sports, when is that grade considered? The grade winds up the same by the end of the marking period. Would they need a grade before the end of the first one?

  3. […] Previously on The Roots of the Equation: You All Have “A”s, followed by You All Have “0″s. […]

  4. […] on The Roots of the Equation: You All Have “A”s, You All Have “0″s, and Grade Out of 10? This One Goes to […]

Leave a Reply to James Cleveland Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: