One of my major focuses for the new school year is conscious consideration and revision of how my grades are determined. This process, which has been on my mind for quite some time, is resulting in some pretty big shifts in how my grades are determined in each of my classes. Here’s a class-by-class delineation:
Easily the biggest shift that’s happening this year is the move to a Standards-Based (SB) grading approach in Honors Chemistry. I’ve been very interested in SB grading for a while now, and I had made it known to Boss (an awesome, forward-thinking boss if ever there was one) over the summer that I wanted to have this discussion in a serious fashion, with an eye toward implementation of an SB approach to at least a good portion of the grades in the 2012-2013 school year. As the summer drew to a close, and I continued to think about it, I became more and more convinced that we should really move to an SB model sooner rather than later, so I asked Boss if we might think about going over to SB this year. Boss agreed (Boss has never not agreed to a good idea), provided that all three Honors Chemistry teachers agreed to go along. Being that both of the other Honors Chemistry teachers are as willing to do good things as I am, this was not a difficult requirement to meet. So it was that the move was made, and we are in the middle of developing our SB approach for Honors Chemistry as this post is being written (an experience that I plan to detail in full over the next little while but which is well beyond the length and patience of Pod readership to delve in to right now).
While not as fully revolutionized as the SB approach that I am taking in Honors Chemistry, I have shifted several things around quite a bit in AP Bio, a program that I have built from the ground up in my district, and the course that is nearest to my heart. In the main, I have moved from a 40/30/30 grade percentage (for exams/labs/other) to a 40/40/20, upping the lab percentage and dropping the “other”. The reason for this move is a continuing expansion of laboratory activities in my curriculum, in preparation for the move to the “new” AP biology curriculum next year. Things pretty much count as labs when they are large-scale investments of student time and effort and result in the production of some form of formal lab reporting. Most times, labs span the course of at least several days (an artificial selection lab that I’m starting in a week will run for more than a month), and require students to actually act like scientists; conducting research and designing appropriate protocols to investigate a particular hypothesis. The other big shifts involve requiring more writing on the part of students via the creation of a course blog, and the total elimination of graded homework (a shift that I’ve extended to all of my classes and is borne out of my move to SB grading in Honors Chem).
The least grade-shifted course that I’m teaching this year, the biggest change is the fact that I’m actually teaching a section of Regents Chemistry this year, for the first time in three years. Of course, it didn’t take long for me to start kicking the tires. Apparently, two years ago, the chemistry teachers at the time decided that labs should be worth 5% of students grade (!). For me, this is akin to saying to students “hey folks, never mind actually doing science, just listen to the crap I tell you is true and learn how to solve for x, and you can consider yourself chemist-certified”. Needless to say, I think that’s all a load of horseshit, so I immediately lodged a complaint with Boss, who said that we could change the percentages any way we wanted so long as we all did it the same way. So we did, with labs up to 15%.
So, that’s where things broadly are in terms of rethinking grading. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a few years, but have been distracted by other things in the classroom and out. Now that it’s begun, I’ll be interested to see if my how well my thinking holds with reality…