I am now four weeks into my adventure in standards based calculus for this semester’s “Calculus II” class. Over the last week, I’ve given the semester’s first round of exams, both in Calculus I (using a traditional grading method) and in Calculus II (using standards-based grading). All of my students have received back their exams with my feedback. In this post, I’m hoping to reflect on my experience with both sets of exams, and give an update on how things are going.
About the Exam Grading Experience
Something I’ve struggled with using a Traditional Grading [TG] system is how grading exams makes me feel. Sure, no one enjoys grading exams, but I’ve found it can be a really miserable experience. For instance, when I see a solution that has a bunch of algebraic errors, instead of noting, “This student needs more practice with algebra” I have thought, “I didn’t explain the algebra very well” or I wonder, “Should we have gone over more algebra review? Should I have assigned more homework problems on this topic?” etc.
A second thing that has bothered me is that while I can easily grade an “A” paper, and I can easily grade an “F” paper, it is somewhat time-consuming to assign grades to the in between cases. For example, on a problem graded out of 14 points, I have to make lots of decisions of the form “Is this solution worth 3/14, 4/14, or 5/14?” — and this feels really subjective. I also believe it sends the student the message “try to get as many points as you can” rather than “try to master this topic perfectly”
The last big thing that is bothersome about the TG system has to do with what happens after I hand back an exam. In the instance of a student who has done poorly, I have seen them stuff their graded exam into their bag, and it is never to be seen again. When students ask me questions about their exam, the questions are always of the form: “Can I have another point on this question?” or “Can I still make a B+ in the course?” This is unfortunate since I think better questions would be, “What idea am I missing that caused this error?” or “I missed a step in this line of reasoning, can you help me find where I went wrong?” or “How come 1/0 is undefined but 0/1 isn’t?”
Happily, my first round of SBG exams resolved both these issues. First, grading the exams was a lot easier on me, since I knew each student would have as many opportunities to re-demonstrate what they missed. Second, instead of figuring out if they “learned” 20% of the idea or 22% of the idea or 24% of the idea, I could simply suggest they practice more and try again later, so the exam grading process went much faster. Lastly, since I handed back the tests, the questions students have asked have been all about mathematical ideas, and not about trying to find the optimal point-getting strategy.
I’ve also gotten a lot of positive feedback from my SBG students. Several of them have mentioned that they appreciate having less pressure on exam and quiz days, since they know (a) their scores will be replaced later on and (b) they can bring up their scores at any time by doing a re-assessment. Also, I’m getting many more students during my office hours and I have a much better sense on where each student is with our material. This is great because I can offer better advice on how they can improve. I know that this student needs more practice on integration by parts, and another student is having troubles remembering all our trigonometric identities.
- My SBG assessment is going faster than my TG assessment, (even though the number of problems I’m assessing per student has gone up substantially). The grading is much faster. Students want to learn how to do the problems after I hand them back, rather than just toss them out.
- My SBG students seem happy with the way the course is going; many of them come to my office hours regularly and want to do more problems. They are asking better questions and no one has argued for more points or a better grade on anything.
- I hope I am sending the important message that to be successful in mathematics, you have to get used to self-correcting. In other words, you don’t have to get a problem right the very first time; instead, the better skill is to have the patience and confidence to re-attack what you don’t know — even if learning it takes multiple attempts.
- And now I really wish I had set up my Calculus I course with an SBG system, too.