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by Erica Fischer on Sep 16, 2013

Implementing Valid Standards-Based Grading

Testing a bridge in Hood River by OregonDOT, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  OregonDOT 

Could this be an effective standards-based assessment for the world language classroom?

One of the most difficult things to do as a language teacher is to maintain a reasonable standard for grading. Because each of us is so different, it is vital that we adhere to a set of general standards when it comes to evaluating student work. While the specific details of standards may vary from school to school, at #langchat, we tried to come up with some basic standards for grading student work that were the same across all participants.

What we found was that there may be a difference between standards-based grading and proficiency-based grading, and every teacher seems to meet this goals in a unique way.

What is Standards-Based Grading?

@MartinaBex said, “[Standards-based grading] means student’s grade is determined based on the degree to which they have proven their ability to do something as opposed to how well they have performed on assessment types, like tests, quizzes, homework, etc.” Basically, a standards-based curriculum focuses on the students’ abilities to demonstrate mastery of a skill, rather than scores on assessments. @emilybakerhanes further clarified standards-based grading for world language teachers. She said, “The standards are based on proficiency targets appropriate for their level.” As @natadel76 pointed out, the ACTFL national standards are the basic benchmarks that standards-based grading rely upon.

@CalicoTeach brought up an interesting distinction. She asked, “So would you say that standards-based grading is similar to proficiency-based grading, or are they the same thing?”

There were two schools of thought about this. Some teachers thought they were synonymous terms, while others felt that proficiency standards are more about structure than content.

Skills vs. Modes

Some teachers base their proficiencies on the skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking, while others are using the ACTFL modes of learning: interpersonal, presentational, and interpretive. @cadamsf1 clarified how these overlap, “The skills really are included within the modes. Interpersonal would include speaking and writing, interpretive might include listening and reading.” @emilybakerhanes said, “In my opinion, the modes are just the ways of using the communication I think. Good curriculum naturally includes the modes!”

Implementing Valid Standards-Based Grading

A number of the #langchat participants had some excellent advice about implementing standards-based grading in their classrooms.

1. Don’t be too specific. Adhering too closely to standard specifics can bog your teaching down and burn you out. @emilybakerhanes said, “I’ve found too much specificity is a problem…makes grading too time consuming!”

2. Base grades on national proficiency levels. A few teachers explained that they use this model when creating proficiency-based assessments. @MartinaBex said, “I decide what national proficiency level they should be able to achieve and base grade on that.”

3. Be careful when including non-proficiency items in grading. Although some teachers felt that it was necessary to include grades on items like responsibility or homework, many others felt that grades should only be attached to proficiency goals. @SraHass had a good compromise: “I have an accountability category, but it’s just info, not a grade. Grade=Spanish proficiency, not “organized” or “responsible.”“

4. Use clear proficiency-based rubrics. Using clear rubrics allows students to know exactly how they are meeting national benchmarks item for item. @Marishawkins said, “I used JCPS rubrics and felt like mostly gave full credit. It was easier to say a small point is wrong (vocab) vs sentence structure.”

5. Create a system that works for you. It was clear from our participants that there are as many good ways to create a standards-based system as there are world language teachers.

Keep the Focus on Proficiency

The discussion turned to the general grading procedures that the #langchat participants supported or didn’t feel were helpful for students. @garnet_hillman gave a partial list: “Behavioral grading, averages, extra credit, zeros…all grading malpractice.”

Why are these procedures so detrimental to world language students? A few world language teachers weighed in on why they didn’t do (or did do) some of these key teaching fall-back procedures.

Have Respect for Daily Work – Extra credit enforces the idea that the regular credit is not necessary and can be replaced with alternate work at the student’s leisure. @KrisClimer said, “Heard someone say once, “Kids who do Extra credit, don’t need it. It should be called Instead OF credit.”

Create a Mastery Classroom – Students who have a chance to improve their scores in a challenging environment build their confidence and learn determination in the face of failure. @SECottrell said, “Demanding redos creates a class where success is not only possible but probable.” @cadamsf1 brought up the key problem with this system, though: time. She said, “It is still difficult for me to manage the redo retake, makeup and move on, but I must admit it does give powerful incentives and students will try.” @emilybakerhanes suggested a regularly scheduled day of the week dedicated only to makeups, possibly after school or during lunch.

Assess When Ready – Giving arbitrary assessments can defeat your students and disconnect them from the learning process. @MartinaBex said, “The best way to handle it is to not give assessments until students are ready! Then fewer retakes are needed.”

Keep Formative Assessments Formative – @placido said, “We have to give 20% of grade as “formative assessment” which kind of negates the idea of formative, no?” @garnet_hillman responded, “Formative = for learning, shouldn’t be graded.” When students realize their learning process and mistakes are being graded, formative assessment becomes much less valid and authentic. @Ensenenme said, “90% of my homework is formative, no grade. But at some point, you have to ask them to demonstrate learning from feedback provided from the homework.”

Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, @Placido, @CalicoTeach and @SECottrell for guiding our interesting discussion on standards-based grading. As always, you had so many great comments that we couldn’t include them all. For a full transcript of this #langchat, check out our online archive.

What do you want to talk about on #langchat? Share your ideas with us!

Additional Resources

Creating Effective Rubrics for Various World Language Tasks
Writing Rubric
Proficiency Targets
Accurate Assessments
Using rubrics to move towards standards mastery
Share your policies/rubrics please
Making Standards Based Grading Work in the World Language Classroom
Grading for Proficiency
Proficiency Targets

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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