Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Standards based grading - aligning with Building Thinking Classrooms

I have been using standards based grading (SBG) for a few years, but after reading Building Thinking Classrooms by Peter Liljedahl last year, want to share how I've revamped my gradebook, workflow, and how students will track their progress.

Side Note: if you're interested in starting the standards based grading journey, better bloggers than I have done the leg work, and I highly recommend reading through their posts first to get grounded in this shift in assessment.

My standards-based gradebook is a big Google spreadsheet with a tab for each unit of content and tabs for tracking IB criteria and my observations on students and their work, as I'm now teaching at an IB school and need to give an IB criteria grade as well as report out on "Approaches to Learning". There's also a student tracking sheet that I will print out for students to track their own progress (tracking sheet for IB Criteria/Approaches to Learning; exemplar tracking sheet for content - this one is for Geometry). I conference approximately once per month with each student to compare notes and talk about strengths and next steps. 

Here's how I use each part of my gradebook and how it aligns with (or deviates from) Thinking Classrooms.

Content Tabs

(click to enlarge)

For each unit in the year, I have created a list of prerequisite topics (these are either topics from last year or topics from earlier in the year once we're a few units in), "Need to Know" topics, and extension topics. For some units, I include prerequisite topics in the content grade whereas for others, they are already integrated as sub-components of the "Need to Know" topics so don't need to be scored separately. Extension topics are not included in the total score. As I create assessments, I indicate the problem numbers for each quiz, etc where that topic was assessed in column A. I also list resources for each topic, whether that's Khan Academy links, other online resources, or page numbers in students' reference book. I don't break up the topics into Basic, Intermediate, Advanced as the book suggests because I find it really hard to delineate the levels and don't find it necessary to do so. 

Now, on to the actual scoring - this is the part that I'm changing based on Building Thinking Classrooms. I am recording a mark for each student as I grade their quizzes or based on classroom observations or later reassessments. The cells are set up with conditional formatting so they turn red if there's an ✗ (haven't shown this yet), yellow if there's a P (precision error) or H (got it with some help or working in a group), and green if there's a ✓ (got it).  Students get a score of 0, 1, or 2 for each topic, depending on whether they were able to consistently show mastery (two ✓ in a row) over the course of the semester. Their score for the unit is just the total score out of (# of topics) • 2. This tab allows me to scan down and see what topics a particular student is struggling with as well as to scan across and see what topics the whole class might need to revisit. The color-coding is key here! My system is sort of a mix of the system in the book and event-based grading since I do actually want to see how students did on a particular assessment so am separating out some scores, although at the end of the day, it's all data points and they are mostly chronologically listed from left to right. The preview is given right before the unit starts, quizzes and observations happen during the unit, and reassessments happen in subsequent units. Most reassessments are fairly natural to work in as they are prerequisite topics for later units so will show up when needed again. I do need to go back and add that data and change the student's score in the original unit that topic showed up if they show mastery of it later in the year, but it's all good. 

Learning and IB

Feel free to ignore this tab if you don't want to record any data about non-content things. My school has teachers track several "Approaches to Learning" and also follows the IB criteria required for an IB-certified school, and I am required to report out a grade for these so I do track students' progress over time with respect to these criteria. 

Because these lie on more of a spectrum than content mastery, I use a different rubric:

✓+ = exceeded standard
✓ = met standard
✓– = almost met standard
✗ = did not meet

These are also assessed more often and happen mostly through observations so I don't delineate specific assessment events here and just record the data chronologically. A given student might have something like ✓ ✓– ✓ ✗ ✓ ✓ for a given criterion, which I will convert into a score and an IB grade at the end of the semester, but no one outside of the IB world understands their complex scoring rubrics so I'll just skip over that part. 

Assignments and Student Notes

While I don't give a grade for homework assignments and don't use them to assess students' content mastery like a good little SBG-rule-follower, I do like to record observations about them. Students generally have lots of choice about what to do for homework each week and then self-assess each week and set goals for next week. I look at their homework once a week, respond to their self-assessment slash goal, and record this in my gradebook. I guess I just really love recording things?? This is less time-consuming than you might think though since I'm not actually grading the homework or checking their answers or anything like that. Students have the answers to check against, have had time in class to go over questions, and homework is mainly for checking your understanding and reflection on next steps, as well as practice with writing out math steps and reasoning clearly. I write a comment or two in response to their reflection or to the easiness of following their process and reasoning and use voice to text to record this comment into my grading spreadsheet. Easy peasy. (Full caveat: I'm teaching at a tiny school next year and will have very small classes so this may not be manageable with large class loads)

I also like to record observations about how students are working in class or what I'm noticing or wondering about them and find these really helpful when conferencing with them, especially when discussing approaches to learning and ways to improve. Finally, there are usually one or two open investigations and a lab or project each unit that students write up and these I do give more feedback on, which is recorded in this tab or sometimes linked to a separate rubric for these bigger assignments. The one-point rubrics on the left are there to help remind me what I'm looking for on different types of assignments. This tab is also a convenient place to record whether students are doing homework assignments since this is information that is often useful to discuss when conferencing with students about their progress or when communicating with parents.

Student tracking sheet

Assignment Page, click to enlarge

This is something new I'm trying this year. In the past, I made and maintained a complex web of interlocking spreadsheets so that each student could see their progress on content standards and my notes on their assignments in real time and could also self-assess and reflect in their spreadsheet and have that information feed back to my master spreadsheet. Gahh. Maybe it's this past year of remote teaching and screen fatigue or maybe it's the nifty arrow rubrics that Peter Liljedahl showed off in his book, but I'm going to be doing things more old-school this year and printing off three pages for students to keep in their math binders. 

  • Assignment page: Each week, they will use the next blank row on the Assignment page to self-assess, reflect, and set goals using the little arrow rubric provided. They'll get a new page each unit.
  • Content page: When getting a quiz back, they will look at my feedback and record their progress relative to the content standards on the content page using the same key that I use (✓, H, P, or ✗). Students can also add to this page if they show me something during class. This page looks just like my content tab to make it easier to compare notes. Students will keep this page in their binder until they show mastery for all of the topics in that unit.
  • Learning and IB page: Before conferencing with me, they will self-assess on the Learning and IB page based on the work they have done in the last few weeks. They will keep using this page for the entire semester.

Welp, that's just what I've been working on the past few weeks. Feel free to use any part of my grading template spreadsheet or the student tracking sheet! As always, I welcome comments, feedback, and questions here or over on Twitter at @ablinstein.


  1. I love the prerequisite section!

  2. Can you add the student tracking sheet, it was deleted.

    1. So sorry, just saw this comment - the links should now be updated in the blogpost!