Sunday, February 13, 2011

Questions to Anticipate in SBAR for Waukee

Waukee did a brave thing when they announced their standards-based grading system to the press.  To hear the resulting hulabaloo, they did something that never had been considered before in Iowa.

Except that simply is not the case.   A large number of schools use standards-based rankings.  Price Lab is one of many that have been experimenting with this in grade books, following the leads of elementary schools. Districts such as Wahlert, and Iowa City have had extended discussions on eliminating class rank, defeating the formula of the public Iowa RAI score for the state universities.  Teachers who have been trained in the CLI model, including West Delaware and Independence and some of the schools in Southwest Iowa know that standards grading is a refinement of the first OBE, or outcomes-based education model that were proposed fifteen years ago and subsequently adopted by the Archdiocese of Dubuque.  Reteaching is a critical part of Tier I and II IDM /RTI intervention, and I am sure that the time and resources are in Waukee's plan, also.

SBAR can be a rich and rewarding way to look at student knowledge, and IMO, certainly more valid than an A to F alphabet grading system.  So as we have the conversations with others about SBAR, what roadblocks do we need to plan for?  When we do this, we have a better opportunity to sidestep them with an alternative route for the teacher and students.

Perhaps the most important conversation is what to do in your district when your students aren't meeting the standards you establish.  Obviously, you reteach them, but what will that do to your classes and your final grades when you run out of time...on that very last day of school, when a standard hasn't been met?  Will there be summer schools?   A hold-back?   An INC applied?  This will eventually happen, and if the matter hasn't been thought through and accommodated with time and/or financial resources, it will become a public relations' issue.

How will credit be assigned to students in high schools that have an SBAR system in place?  This is a question my own district had to grapple with as they considered the problem.  For years, we agreed that we would reteach; students who did not pass a standard would not pass the class.   But how do you explain to a parent that a child has 80+% and is going to fail a class because of a summative assessment?  Design issues become critical.

Does the standard of proficiency represent a minimum critical amount of knowledge or a maximum point of acceptance?   If you choose a minimum standard, you must differentiate for the student who accomplishes that proficiency in advance of others.  And the state must grapple with the issue of seat time Carnegie Units vs. mastery competencies.

Finally, how will districts using SBAR anticipate the students who are early adopters of the get-rich-quick philosophy?  In such a philosophy, savvy(?!) students take the summative assessment the first time without preparation, learn what is really on the assessment, and then retake it for mastery.   It's a great way to avoid the need for study, at least from the perspective of a student who is not intrinsically motivated by grades.  Even better, at least from the perspective of the reluctant student, it drives teachers nuts!

The way of SBAR embodies the ideas of radical constructivism.   But constructivism needs many, many, repeated opportunities for entry into the learning.  And that repetition means that district who do not anticipate the rich continuum of concerns may be blindsided, rather than seeing SBAR as the ultimate student-centered learning, where kids can advance at their own place. After more than a dozen years dabbling in such systems myself, I would hate to see such an ideal short-circuited by not anticipating the perils.

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