Tiered Skills Kick Some Point-Chasing Butt

It’s the end of the semester.  My students are starting to think about their final grades.  Some decide it’s time to scramble and get those numbers up, for various reasons that I may or may not agree with.  In the past, scrambling to get the numbers up had the following top-two effects:

  • asking for “extra work” that would compensate for missed deadlines
  • giving up — they feel so far behind that there’s no point trying to do well on the rest of the semester either

The new grading scheme means that the top-two strategies are no longer even in the top ten.  The end-of semester scramble now results in students, get this, going back over their semester’s work with a fine-toothed comb to improve their grasp of underlying concepts.

That’s because underlying concepts are “Level 2” skills, and they can’t get credit for a unit’s higher level skills until lower levels are complete.

Consequence: struggling students are uncovering their misconceptions and misunderstandings and practising their basic skills.  They’re also injecting new insight into group discussions; students who “got” those underlying concepts way back in January may not have thought about them explicitly since then. Since the struggling students are talking about the basics that they’re working on, the rest of the class is seeing the basics again, through their new “Semester 2” eyes, and having important revelations.  (One of the top students in the class just realized today that everything is always in parallel with an open circuit).

I might stop hating the end of the semester.

But not until after I finish making up 20 reassessments for tomorrow.


  1. Standards Based Grading! I love it. Our department has started standards based grading this year and unfortunately, I am the only one in love with the idea.
    I no longer get the question, “What can I do to bring my grade up?” because they know. No more bonuses, no more points for good behavior, no more points for covering their books.
    I wish my department liked it enough to use in more than just Algebra 1.

  2. Hi Nora, I’ve had the same experience with the “missing questions”. Glad to hear it’s working well for you. I’m always interested in reasons that skills-based or standards-based grading systems don’t work out. Any idea what your colleagues find troublesome? How come it’s only being used in Algebra 1? Is it a pilot project? Anyway, welcome, and hope to see you around again.

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