If you run an SBG classroom your inbox likely looks a lot like mine, right now. Lots and lots of students are suddenly realizing that they want to reassess skills. And it's a pain. And it feels like a game. And occasionally it's great, and and sometimes there are great conversations that you just wouldn't have if you were unit testing without reassessment. Fine. But I'm interested in another aspect of SBG:
What sort of students will initiate a reassessment?In my classes, it's almost always the students who are going to be just fine. Honors students love reassessing. Students with 83 averages love reassessing ("I really need a 90.") Sophomores reassess more than freshmen.
For me, strong students are way more likely to initiate reassessment than weaker students.
Duh, right? Of course they do. But there's a strain of teachers who promote SBG with success stories about students who would have traditionally been given a 70, but because of reassessment they received a grade that more accurately reflected their mastery of the material. "Isn't a shame that students who should be failing, now are being duly rewarded for their learning?"
That's just not my experience with SBG. My experience is that the students who are in serious danger of failing remain in serious danger of failing until I drag them into my classroom for some tutoring and reassessment. My students who struggle are (usually) harder to motivate, and that lack of motivation is also reflected in how likely a kid is to reassess.
In short: SBG is not good at making sure that students who have bad grades end up learning the stuff and getting a better grade. Kids who are hard to motivate, are still hard to motivate in SBG. We need to be more careful when we talk about SBG to be clear about what sort of things SBG will help with, and which it won't.
So what is SBG good for? More and more, I think that the big benefit* of running an SBG classroom is that SBG is a coherent, logical system that makes an attempt at fairness, and students respect and appreciate a fair system that they understand. It's having a system, more than its implementation, that really makes a big difference.
My prediction: If you came up with another fair, logical and well-thought-out alternative to traditional grading, it would have the same impact as SBG even if it didn't allow for student-initiated assessment.**
* There are little things along the way that are nice about SBG, but there are little things that are annoying about it also. For example, it's nice to have a skills checklist at the beginning of the semester. It's nice to be able to give detailed feedback to parents when they ask what their kid should work on, or what their kid is struggling with. But SBG also takes time. SBG does exacerbate certain problems with point-grubbing. SBG is reductive.
** I'm actually a HUGE fan of teacher-initiated reassessment and of cycling through concepts constantly in my regular assessments. My weekly quizzes can include anything from any point of the year, and this has really tremendous payoffs in my classroom. But you don't need SBG to do that. You do need more regular assessments that cycle through old concepts, though.
[Related: This earlier post of mine.]