Friday Bulletin Board

kattie overhead

On Tuesday, February 11, Young Education Professionals will be hosting a Twitter chat on assessments being developed around the Common Core State Standards. A Twitter chat is an online discussion strung together with a particular hash tag, in this case #YEPchat. Join them to share your thoughts and ideas with the people who are developing assessments. For anyone who’s interested, this is your opportunity to hear from experts before the assessments are implemented in school districts across the country in the 2014–2015 school year.

Teachers speak out against standards-based grading
Some teachers in the Oseeo School District in Minnesota say that the standards-based approach is burning them out. Constantly assessing, they say, takes focus away from teaching. One first grade teacher says they haven’t had adequate training and not enough time to test students. In addition, teachers expressed grievances for having to accept late assignments because there was no longer a penalty for late work. Do any readers out there share these sentiments? How are you dealing with them? Is your school providing support?

States move to rebrand the Common Core 
In Florida, lawmakers would like to change the name of the Common Core to “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.” Florida’s move, along with states like Iowa and Arkansas, is a result of the growing opposition to the student guidelines. The idea is to keep the standards but change the name in hopes for a greater public appeal. While the backlash for a sweeping initiative is not surprising, it will be interesting to see if a superficial name change will do the trick for buy-in.

Teachers who blog on SBG
Earlier this week, we rounded up five teacher-run blogs focused on standards-based grading. The idea was “don’t just take our word for it, check out what these teachers have to say about standards-based grading.” The post is an aggregation of thought leaders with tips like how to keep it simple and a chart that converts an SBG 4-point scale to a 100-point scale. Once we put it out on social media, we got a head’s up that we missed one from Garnet Hillman. We hope it’s helpful in PLN building!

Photos from the Second Gradeable Social
Wednesday was the big night. We packed our office with Boston-area teachers who were eager to learn about standards-based grading. Check out our photos from our night of pizza, PLN, SBG, and wine. If you’re in the area and couldn’t make it, don’t worry! We’ll be having more!

Have a great weekend, folks!


Photos from the Second Gradeable Social

Welcome to the Second Gradeable Social

Welcome to the Second Gradeable Social

Parul "If Grading Papers is Your Problem, Drinking Wine is the Solution" Singh

Parul “If Grading Papers is Your Problem, Drinking Wine is the Solution” Singh

Can you tell Renee belongs on the Gradeable team?

Can you tell Renee belongs on the Gradeable team?

Teachers get their Learning Network on.

Teachers get their Personal Learning Network on.

Teacher Evangelist Kattie kicks off the demonstrations.

Teacher Evangelist Kattie kicks off the demonstrations.

Mikaila and Bon bring it in close

Mikaila and Bon bring it in close.

Sheri keeps the Apples in check.

Sheri keeps the Apples in check.

For all photos, visit us on Facebook.


ProTip Wednesday: 6 Steps to SBG with Gradeable

standards based learning strategies


    1. 6 steps to SBG with Gradeable
    2. Why I SBG-ed
    3. Gradeable vs. Excel
    4. Closer look into Excel Tracker

How to standards-based grade (SBG) with Gradeable

So the Excel-perts say they have a system – and yes, it’s a pretty jazzy system. But for those of us (ie. first year teacher me) who couldn’t trudge around nebulous formulas and cells and sorting, Gradeable helps those that still want to SBG.

1. Sort standards to assess. Choose your grade level and subject. All Common Core standards are pre-loaded and will always be available when creating a new worksheet or quiz.

2. Create quiz and tag. Create your quiz or worksheet and tag each question with the appropriate standard. (Super important!)

3. Hand out to students. Print, copy, and have students complete work.

4. Upload to Gradeable. Take the stack (no, you don’t even need to separate by class period!) and feed it into the scanner. Upload the PDF file and give the system 15 minutes. (You could…organize the library the kids left a mess in or sanitize desks against kid germs – flu season is harsh.)

5. Analyze results and reteach. Behold – mastery breakdown by standard. No double-entering, no Excel-finagling.

What you want to see: Which kid didn’t understand? Which standard are classes not getting? Should I move on tomorrow?

What you do see:

  • Assessment-specific standards breakdown: as a whole, which standards were difficult? Should you re-test?
  • Class-specific standards breakdown: over a period of time, see which standards students are mastering – or not – and know before the chapter test.
  • Frequency tagged: you know they aren’t understanding inequalities so it’s been showing up every day for the past five days – but you see that despite a high frequency tagged, they’re still in the red. Time to buckle down on the reteaching.

6. Enter grades. Entering grades – is easy. Export to a .csv and copy and paste scores into your gradebook.

Standards-based grading helps answer the nightmare-inducing question of: Why didn’t they get it? To teach is to analyze the hard facts, in addition to your gut feeling. Nobody knows your students better than you – so have the facts to back it all up. Approach teaching by putting numbers behind your teaching – all you’ll become is a better, stronger teacher. Gradeable makes it easy by taking care of the analyzing part.

Why I SBG-ed

As a Teach for America Corps Member (TFA CM), we were taught to measure student achievement by mastery. Suddenly, I met my new best friend, The Tracker. The Tracker was an Excel spreadsheet, created by TFA to help CMs measure progress by standards mastery. Once I got over first year teacher jitters, I understood the power of measuring by standards mastery — I knew exactly which learning objectives students didn’t understand and was able to reteach immediately. SBG? I was all on board!

I love color-coded spreadsheets.

But the time – oh, the time. Some of you might relate: I had a school-mandated gradebook that didn’t allow me to do the snazzy stuff Excel allowed me to do (mastery goals, individual class averages, all class averages, etc) so essentially, I was double-entering my grades. Sundays. Nights. Weekends. During Grey’s Anatomy. During PD. (#sorrynotsorry)

In the end, The Tracker gave way to just the gradebook – because you know that’s all you can take after a day of teaching, morning duty, and after school tutoring (and maybe the gym). Would I have killed to have Gradeable in my classroom to give me the insight that I needed? I would’ve given up my prep period for it.

Let’s stack up The Tracker (on Excel) and Gradeable’s SBG features:

Gradeable vs. Excel Tracker

The Tracker


Add specific standards

Color- coded

Tagged Standards Frequency

Average mastery (assessment-specific)

Average mastery, all standards (class-specific)

Total Points (assessment-specific)

Pre-loaded standards

Overall mastery


Visual graph

Conclusion: It’s a tight race between an Excel spreadsheet and Gradeable – but Gradeable wins because of time and ease of use. You’re not a data monkey.

A closer look into The Tracker

The beauty of Excel is that through a series of formulas, you can make the data work for you in a very customizable way. The difficulty is that you need to be an Excel-pert to wrangle the formulas if you’re starting from scratch. Let’s breakdown each part of the spreadsheet:

I can set a mastery goal and have an overview of how my classes are doing—as a whole and individually—on their progress towards mastery.

I would type in each standard tested and analyze the breakdown in mastery (80%+ is considered proficient) to dictate next steps.

The Tracker is malleable and easy — in fact, I’ve attached it as a downloadable resource in this post. However, here’s how technology (ie. Gradeable) makes your job easier and faster.


Teachers who SBG—Join Them!

standards based learning blogs

Standards-based grading (SBG) is the new approach to grading that focuses on learning goals rather than overall average grade. Are you a teacher on the fence about standards-based grading? I’ve rounded up a few blog posts from teachers practicing SBG in hopes you’ll join us on the standards-based side of things. They discuss what’s working, the atmosphere, and things to keep in mind when transitioning.

Like anything that’s worth the time, it requires some effort in a beginning until things become systematic. Take a look at these teachers of SBG classrooms to learn how you could start standards-based grading in your classroom.

Think Thank Thunk by Shawn Cornally

Shawn Cornally is the headmaster and STEM teacher at a competency-based high school in Iowa. In his post on January 14, he discusses points of contention among parents for standards-based grading. The truth is, there are plenty of people who oppose standards-based grading and Mr. Cornally shares a heads-up roadmap from his experiences; a what to expect when SBG, if you will:

Let’s agree that we’re not all experts in everything. I don’t have any delusions of being able to set a broken arm or of being able to parse a land title, so please allow educators the latitude that there may be some unintuitive methods to their craft. Also, let’s put the work-school analogies to bed. If schools were operated like businesses, we’d fire all of the needy students.

Science Education on the Edge by Chris Ludwig

This blog is about “experimenting with a student-centered science education, by a science teacher at La Junta High School and Otero Junior College in Colorado. Chris Ludwig includes a how-to guide on how to get started as well as how he uses blogs and portfolios to assess students. He’s got a great voice too:

If you’ve drunk even a little bit of the SBG kool-aid you’ll know that the lofty goals of grading and assessment reform can be stated something like this:

  • have students show what they really know and can do
  • make learning rather than grades the focus
  • if you have to produce a “grade,” reform your grade book to reflect learning, not compliance/completion
  • ditch points-based, averaging nonsense and banish “zeros” since neither concept helps describe what a student knows and can do
  • since grades reflect learning, allow reassessments to show new understanding of concepts

If these sound like ideas you can get behind, read on. If you like your current, points-based system, read on too, because you’ll feel justified in a little bit.

Some Become Pearls by Andrea Burton

Another personality filled blog by an enthusiastic teacher. Ms. Burton has an entire tab devoted to standards-based grading with her approach to logistics, the grade books, and concepts & alignment. And fun fact, she’s got a thing for Dan Meyer:

Then I started stalking found Dan Meyer and developed a huge crush Are you single? and all of a sudden I knew what I wanted my classroom to look like.

Action-Reaction by Frank Noschese

Mr. Noschese is a physics teacher at John Jay high school in New York. He’s another one of those star bloggers who also has a tab devoted to standards-based grading. In his blog about keeping it simple, he addresses the “retaking” issue by suggesting no student-initiated reassessments:

No student-initiated reassessments. WHY: This actually wasn’t my rule, but I was lucky if these students showed up to class in the first place. No one came to extra help or during a free period to reassess. So I just put the most missed standards on subsequent quizzes. It worked out fine and I didn’t have kids hounding me for reassessments when the term ended. Keep it simple.

Yearning 2 Learn by Rik Rowe

Last but not least is the blog by our friend Rik Rowe. We met Rik at our first Gradeable Social and were blown away by his enthusiasm for engaging, standards-based learning. He co-moderates #SBLchat on Wednesday nights and teaches math at a high school in Massachusetts. He is very active on Twitter and always sharing his trials, tribulations, and insights on the standards-based approach. Most recently, he shared his memorable moments from a teach camp he attended in Madison Wisconsin. Here’s a snippet:

Let’s always record a student’s most recent evidence of proficiency and stop averaging prior to proficient practice with recent learning. We want all students to find their highest level of proficiency.

Looking for more standards-based learning support? Check us out at www.gradeable.com or say hello at hello@gradeable.com! 


Friday Bulletin Board


Three principals fired in cheating probe
Crazy story from Philly about the pressures of standardized testing. Three Philadelphia principals were fired this week in connection to a cheating scandal involving about 140 other teachers and administrators. This is the result of an investigation of standardized math and english tests taken between 2009 and 2011. Pennsylvania school officials identified more than 33 schools where educators violated “test protocols, either by providing students with answers, erasing wrong answers or supervising those who did without reporting improprieties,” the district said.

“Some educators have felt such pressure because of the high-stakes testing,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “That has unfortunately caused some people to make the very mistaken conclusion to not report accurately student test scores.”

Internet rumblings of charter school magnate tied to Turkish corruption probe
Keeping with the eye-widening stories of the internet is the one about Fethullah Gulen, a charter school magnate who has accused the prime minister of Turkey, his home country, of “abandoning the path to reform.” According the the Associated Press, Turkish commentators believe the corruption probe of the prime minister is fallout from an increasingly public feud and power struggle between Erdogan’s government and Gulen.  Gulen is linked to more than 2000 education institutions all over the world, including 135 public charters in the US.

SLA ditching MacBooks
Back to edtech, Science Learning Academy is ditching the MacBook for the Dell’s new Chromebook. For the past seven years, SLA has bought a new MacBook for each of the incoming freshmen. Supporting the one-to-one environment isn’t cheap: buying and maintaining the laptops costs over $180 each year. “It’s like really enjoying eating at a really nice restaurant, and you don’t have money to eat there any more…There is no question that a Chromebook is not a Mac, but our Macs became financially untenable,” says former SLA teacher and grant writer Diana Laufenberg. It’s a big switch from local software to web-based programs so it remains to be seen how students and teachers of the school will handle the overnight switch. Has anybody gone through this switch? How did it go?

When schools stay open on MLK day
In honor of Dr. King, I’m throwing this one out there. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed as a federal holiday in the US, meaning schools are closed on the third Monday of every February. However, districts in some states have opted to stay open to make up for lost time due to the recent winter storms, and weather anomalies like the polar vortex. It’s disappointing that schools are forgoing the day that reinforces the importance of the Civil Rights Movement. However, MLK day is similar to federal holidays like Columbus Day and Veterans Day, which many simply mark as a long weekend. Sure, the polar vortex has thrown a wrench in many plans, but what message does it send to our youth when we don’t honor Dr. King’s accomplishments on equality?

Student rap winners 
In December, the New York Times called for submissions for raps about the news from students. “What they occasionally lacked in punctuation, the raps more than made up for in clever rhyme,” said the New York Times, “breadth of subject matter and, occasionally, sophisticated vocabulary: as you’ll see, riling, mitigated, qualms, flippant and guile all make appearances on our winners list.” The contest was judged by Flocabulary, which uses hip-hop for education. Love it!

One of the winners:

Last year Trayvon Martin was shot and killed.

Some bullets were fired and blood got spilled.

Then this year, George Zimmerman got set free.

Now the whole country wonders “How could this be?!”

During the Boston Marathon bombs were set off.

Two-hundred sixty four injuries, three lives lost.

During a culprit shootout, one was killed.

While trying to fight the law, he now lay still.

A childhood star, her name is Miley Cyrus

Her MTV MA video spread like a virus

Maybe we should just go and leave her be

Just let her do her thing, study and see

Natural disaster tore Moore, Oklahoma apart.

The country gave to show the kindness in her hearts.

16 innocent left in the cyclone’s wake.

2013 has been violent for heaven’s sake.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


Re: Common Core Standards Could Knock Letter Grades Off Report Cards

standards based grading and common core

In December, NPR put on a podcast talking about Common Core and the shift toward standards-based grading in the US. For states and districts who have adopted the Common Core, standards-based grading is another way to streamline their efforts. This podcast puts the Common Core into context by introducing it as a set of guidelines that educators can use to frame their lessons and feedback. NPR succinctly sums up the national movement and talks about how schools are dealing with aspects of traditional grades—like study skills and homework—forfeited by the standards-based method.

1-4s instead of A-Fs

As we’ve been discussing most of the month, advocates of standards-based grading have moved away from letter grades and the corresponding 100-point scale because it hides where students are strong or weak by averaging their grades. If a third grader gets a C in math, “does that mean that she knows how to add?” asks Jess Potter, a New Hampshire elementary school. “I don’t know that.”

At Ms. Potter’s school, teachers send students home with a series of grades that articulate the students skill set called  “I-Can” statements. For example: “I can use words and phrases that I have learned through listening and reading.” Again, standards-based grading is more precise than a numerical grade because each teacher might have different expectations of what a 95 qualifies as. With SBG, students forfeit their average, but can pinpoint skills they know and the ones they don’t.

Behavior and study skills

Though parents get a better picture of exactly what a student knows, they don’t get an idea of how their child is behaving or if she/he is doing their homework. Standards-based grades only reflect how well a student can perform the skill in question.

To accommodate for this, some schools devote sections to the report card that focus on study skills and in-class behavior. So though their core academic grades won’t be lowered, students will still be held accountable for their participation, attendance, homework, etc.

Common Core and the national trend

According to a Washington-DC-based education reform group Achieve, districts around the country are making the move to a standards-based approach—mostly in Massachusetts, some in New York, California, Hawaii and Tennessee. By adopting a standards-based approach, schools can work with a grading system that’s aligned to the national standards.

Switching to standards-based grading for the sake of a national standard is comparable to teaching to the test. Educators are molding their grading practices to fall in line with national expectations. However, the Common Core is better than just a test. It’s a roadmap meant to guide teachers and students to real world success. Teaching and grading to these standards is what the Common Core was designed for.

How do you incorporate Common Core standards to your approach? Looking for digital solutions to your standards-based workflow? Learn more about how we can help at www.gradeable.com. 


Standards-Based Grading: Beyond the Common Core

sbg beyond the core

For most of the month, we’ve been talking about standards-based grading in terms of the Common Core’s set of standards. But the Common Core State Standards are only one set of standards to be graded to. To illustrate another take on standards-based grading, I talked to our customer success manager Sheri. Sheri taught science at a Boston-area charter school and used both Massachusetts standards and school-specific standards.

Below is what Sheri calls a curriculum alignment template (CAT). This is a chart she developed as a roadmap in August before the school year started. Since Sheri’s school used both Massachusetts and school-specific standards, her plan used state standards to orient the lesson and school-specific standards to fine tune her approach. So if the Massachusetts standard was “grocery shopping,” Sheri’s standards would be like buying “milk, eggs, bread” that define grocery shopping.

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 10.37.23 AM

If you turn your attention to the CAT, you can see that Sheri took one standard (1.3) and broke it down into digestible pieces (1.3.1, 1.3.2, 1.3.3) that were easier to observe and measure. The student activities and assessment columns were an idea of what lessons and assessments could be used. Since she outlined her lessons in the summer, Sheri explained, “It was often easier to plan lessons after knowing my students better, rather than before I met them in August.”

The right-most column aligned Sheri’s standards and practices to the Massachusetts standards. This helped her ensure alignment (compliance) to Massachusetts requirements.

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 10.38.31 AM

Now, not only is this breakdown wildly interesting, but it’s something that most teachers already do. Standards-based anything is basically basing your plan off a set of predetermined expectations. The gnarly part comes when it’s time to hand out grades. Standards-based grading is breaking down the overall average into categories so the student know exactly where his/her weaknesses and strengths lie. And it’s not exactly a walk in the park.

Sheri created unit tests with questions that would assess her students’ understanding of the material, and by extension, their mastery of the predetermined standards. Once she had questions that covered all the bases, Sheri had to manually input the results—question by question!—so she knew how each student did on each standard.

Though tedious and time consuming, breaking tests down by question gives teachers insight to exactly where a student needs to focus his/her attention. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of work for teachers, especially those who aren’t fluent in Excel spreadsheet manipulation.

And again, this is where Gradeable comes to the rescue. By creating standards-based assessments and quizzes with Gradeable, a student’s standards-based progress is at your fingertips. After each quiz is automatically graded, teachers can see how the class is doing, by student, by question, or by standard. Even more, Gradeable accumulates all these stats as you go, so come report card / parent-teacher conference / principal meeting time, a student’s progress is in black and white, (and red, yellow, and green) ready to be exported for all to see.

So if you’re over inputting data in Excel, Gradeable may be your solution. If not, what features would help your grading workflow? What are your pain points? We’re here to help your provide better feedback and make sense of all that data so you can get back to what you do best: teaching. Try Gradeable free for a month, and if you have any questions, email bon@gradeable.com.