SBG: A Small Tweak and a Feedback Inequality

The grading system in Geometry this year was described to the students with the following description:

The final concept grade will be out of a grade of 8. The best you can do on the first quiz is a 4 out of 8 (50%). Every concept will quizzed at least twice. If the second grade is higher than the previous grade, then you double the new grade. Otherwise you add the two grades together. Here are some examples:

  • 3 on the first, 4 on the second, means a 8 / 8 grade
  • 2 on the first, 2 on the second, means a 4 / 8 grade
  • 4 on the first, 3 on the second, means a 7 / 8 grade
  • 2 on the first, 2 on the second, 4 on the optional (after school) quiz, means a 8 / 8 grade

That is how the grading system ran for three quarters. For the fourth quarter, I made one small change: The first assessment of a concept was not graded and just feedback was given. In reality this meant that their grade for an assessment was based solely on one assessment, and this was usually a week behind when we actually worked on that concept in class.
At first they didn’t like the change because I think they were relying on the grade to tell them all the information. But after a week they had gotten used to it and I heard no complains.

Pros To Feedback Only On The First Assessment

  • Students actually read the feedback and they asked more questions about stuff they didn’t get.
  • Students moved one step up a cognitive scale. They took the feedback and tried to put themselves in my shoes and give themselves a grade.
    “Oh, I’d only get a 3.5 because I screwed up solving the equation.”
    “This is only a 1 or 2 because I have no idea what I’m doing on this concept.”
  • Despite my initial fears, the students still worked on a concept quiz that they knew wasn’t going to be graded. I was worried that they’d leave it blank, or give it a cursory try, but there was no drop in effort on the first assessment.
  • My grade book became a lot easier to manage and explain. The grade on the second look was their grade and any reassessments after school simply replaced the old grade.

Cons To Feedback Only On The First Assessment

  • Many students still walked into the second reassessment over confident despite the feedback on their first assessment. They knew that they could retake if they needed and buy cialis online legally so not enough effort was being made to knock the assessment out of the park on the first pitch that counted.
  • Sometimes a kid’s grade on a concept may be a bit lower. If they would have gotten a 4 then a 3.5 on the second assessment then their old grade would be a 7.5/8 and their new grade would be a 7/8. Not a biggie, but it lead to some unnecessary reassessments for the few grade grubbers that I have.

Feedback Thoughts

Overall I’ve increased the length and breadth of my feedback to the students. After being goaded into writing more feedback, I’ve written more on students quizzes than ever before.

I started the year off by giving a grade and some feedback.
To me it looks like this:

But to most students it looks like this:

So I’ve come up with the following inequality (nerd!) to describe the situation:

Feedback > Feedback + Grade > Grade

Do you have any feedback? If you do give me feedback with a grade, be careful, I may not read the feedback carefully.


Update (6/17/2011): Just found this post from (6/6/2011) that talks about very similar things in a great way:

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10 Responses to SBG: A Small Tweak and a Feedback Inequality

  1. Chris says:

    Hi Dan,
    as someone who’s just learning about SBG, do you think you could post a few examples of your concept test questions?
    Many thanks,

  2. Chris says:

    Thanks a heap for that.

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  5. mike says:

    Great post! Just finished first year of SBG as well. I like comparing my skill list with yours as I am also teaching in New York……What software have you been using to make quizzes? I used the template from the math teacher blog “The exponential curve”. It has the skill on the side and it really helps the students ( and me ) stay organized.

    • Dan says:

      Hi Mike, I went cold turkey on google docs for all my quizzes this year (mostly successful). To organize the quizzes I separated the topics into different numbers. So a quiz would have questions 31a,b,c,d and 32a,b,c,d etc. Each number was a different concept. Do you have a handy way of sharing your list? It’d be interesting to see the commonalities/differences. Dan

  6. mike says:

    To be more specific, I went to and then went to “algebra 1” and then “skill tests” . I made a few modifications but liked typing the skill sideways and the actual questions next to it. I placed the grade write next to the skill. I had students use Dan Meyer’s concept list. I really like how you have the students keep an ongoing skill list in the room. I think I want to do that next year especially since you can rotate students who do that. I am in the process now of making a skill list/ skill work list to help students get organized in re-assessing. I like Sam Shah’s re-assessment application so I am trying to require this work be done before re-assessment. I currently do not check homework but I think this would be a good way of seeing that students are doing their part in the process. I just wish I would be better at predicting some of the pitfalls that happen during the year. Your blog has helped me work things out a little better.

  7. John says:

    RE: feedback inequality

    I honestly think that the “Grade” has more effect on student reflection on learning than “Feedback + Grade” especially if the student is marks-motivated, not learning-motivated. I certainly agree that “Feedback” (and only feedback) is the most effective for advancing student learning.

    Don’t bother with feedback unless you are ready to go all the way…

    • Dan says:

      Really? So you’d have the inequality set at feedback > grade > feedback + grade?
      I don’t know if I agree with you because the marks-motivated student will see the grade of feedback+grade and the learning-motivated student will see the feedback of feedback+grade. Seems like it’ll reach both students, where the grade only will only reach part of the group.
      We do agree that feedback is most important, and if school were structured differently, it’d be all a student gets.

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