More on SBGs Four

My district’s committee is working hard to corral the wild mustangs of Performance Based Education and Standards Based Grading, or Reporting. I have a lot of questions, but this new perspective on the 4 helps a lot. This example comes straight from a workshop led by Tom Lafavore that makes extensive use of Marzano’s work as well as that of the Maine PBE cohort schools, I believe.

For me, this example of an assessment task helps to clarify a lot about what SBG is and isn’t, what those numbers (2, 3, 4) actually mean in terms of instructional goals, and what we are gauging when we assess. Here’s the example (I’m not sure whose work this is):


Grade 8


Measurement Topic: Literary Comparisons and Source Material

Learning Goal: Understands how to use details from grade level text to compare and contrast.

2 Task 

  • Describe the following terms: Use a Venn diagram to compare the similarities and differences between fictional and informational text.
    • Compare
    • Contrast
    • Differences
    • Categories
    • Characteristics
    • Synopsis

3 Task

  • Find two opposing views in the newspaper or through other media sources. Using the detailed graphic organizer, identify the similarities and differences between the two points of view. Write a brief synopsis of what you discovered.

4 Task

  • View selected scenes from The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz and use details from each to compare and contrast each director’s purpose.


Why I like this example:

  1. It connects Thinking Skills (Marzano and Kendall’s New Taxonomy) directly to learning targets and assessment tasks.
  2. It shows how a 4 Task can be specifically designed to address higher order cognitive functions, or “utilization of knowledge.” That means that teachers could create opportunities for students to earn a bona fide 4 rather than waiting for them to come up with an inspired act of inference all by themselves, as I somewhat oddly suggested earlier. (I have even heard the suggestion that successfully demonstrating at least one 4 Task performance could be a requirement for graduation. Interesting.)
  3. It reminds me that the way I tried to use SBG as an intern, which was how I saw my mentors using it, which was: carefully writing a very good rubric and then figuring out some distribution system, e.g. all correct or just 1 wrong = 4; most correct = 3; some correct = 2; few or none correct = 1, that this method, although it seemed like a good idea, isn’t really SBG at all. Using that method, I ignored the hierarchy of thinking skills and just smeared all of them, along with the standards, over one assessment “surface” and then resorted to the same, old, percentage-based scoring system to determine a grade, except that I had restricted the results to only 4, 3, 2, or 1.

Playing Pong ON Downtown Philly

Pong in the City

Pong in the City.

  1. Pong has been enlarged to be played on the side of the Cira Centre in Philadelphia. If the controller was enlarged as much as the video screen, how big would the controller be?
  2. Find a picture of something in the world that is as big as the controller would be and create a Photoshop file that shows it along with the Cira Centre building as if it was really there and you had taken that picture.

SBG: Less Than or Equal To Four

I’m trying to see what I know about SBG, a 3, and a 4.

Suppose I’m teaching the Pythagorean Theorem to eighth graders. [8.G.B.6.]

After unpacking the standard and identifying the learning targets and thinking skills, I design an assessment that can demonstrate to me, and to my students themselves, that this standard has been met. Let’s say I have decided to use a performance assessment.

Student P does very well. P has produced a play with hand puppets. Awesome job. Excellent understanding. Nailed the performance assessment rubric. Standard met. P scores a 3.

Student Q also does a great job, also has employed hand puppets. Q has used a 3D printer to produce the puppet costumes. Look closely and you can see that the costumes’ surface designs incorporate Fibonacci numbers. Q asks why his score is a 3 and not a 4. I explain that Q’s efforts have done nothing to explore in some deep, creative way, the concept of the Pythagorean Theorem. Q has spent a lot of time making wonderful icing. Q has met the standard, which is excellent and sufficient, but that’s all. Furthermore, I say that I have heard that Q’s Arab Spring project has been in need of substantial revision, and I ask Q if the decision to spend time making clever costumes that in no way addresses the learning target was, in hindsight, a good one (now working those metacognitive skills).

But wait. Students R and S (who both have scored a 3 for this standard) come to me and tell me that they want to write, or are writing, an entertaining stage play that will explain, or at  least show, the Pythagorean Theorem to the 6th graders in the building. By the time the curtain goes up during a special assembly, R and S have been advised by both the drama coach and me. Also, students T, U, and V have joined the project. They have written original music (flute, bass, and bongos might be nice) for the performance, which lasts 20 minutes. The sixth graders howl with delight, some of them are drafted into the play as performers, and they all leave the show with vivid notions about a powerful mathematical idea. Students R and S have each earned a 4 for this standard. The musicians might also have earned 3’s or 4’s for a music composition standard.

This is way more than icing. This is reaching deep into a concept, figuring out how it works, taking it apart, putting it back together for a specific audience, and then communicating with that audience. [I don’t see this as exceeding the standard so much as exploring the standard in greater depth.] Schools should acknowledge that this kind of creative energy is valued in the world, that societies depend for their vitality on there being people who want to make fires like this, that creativity brightens the world. A 4 is just one kind of acknowledgment, but it’s also the kind that colleges can see easily during a quick scan of a student’s record. When schools openly and physically celebrate this kind of creativity, that is, not merely as a number in a data field, other students may be inspired to reach high and go deep towards their own creative adventures. How great would it be if every graduating HS student had a 4 somewhere in their data field?