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Target-Based Grading in Collaborative Teams

Target-Based Grading

Schools and districts looking to make their grading and reporting practices more meaningful and appropriate are challenged to ensure that any change positively impacts student learning. This struggle to transform to a more effective strategy has led many educators to move from their traditional standards-based approach to grading to a target-based approach.

In a target-based system, the most important tier of instruction (often referred to as Tier 1 or core instruction) is designed to reflect both the standards and specific academic and behavioral targets that clearly identify what all students must know and be able to do. Guides like our Target-Based Grading in Collaborative Teams: 13 Steps to Moving Beyond Standards are helpful for implementing target-based grading and reporting and help districts align their efforts from grades K-12 to ensure consistency and accuracy for students and parents.

What’s Target-Based Grading and Reporting?

Unlike traditional standards-based models, target-based grading and reporting requires teachers to grade and report against specific learning targets—not the standard as a whole. This model allows parents and students to clearly understand what children are expected to learn in class and also provides them with feedback on progress.

13 Steps of Target-Based Grading and Reporting: (to be completed in collaborative teams)

  1. Review the standards in collaborative teams
  2. Rate the standards as priority or supporting
  3. Meet vertically with other teams and make appropriate adjustments
  4. Analyze whether or not teams can adequately teach and assess the priority standards
  5. Complete final review in grade-level and/or content-level teams
  6. Write learning targets specifically aligned to the priority standards
  7. Create proficiency scales or proficiency targets
  8. Build assessments aligned to proficiency scales/proficiency targets
  9. Design and deliver units of instruction that specifically address learning targets
  10. Administer common formative and summative assessments
  11. Analyze the results of the assessments and provide feedback
  12. Allow students to be reassessed on targets with which they struggled
  13. Report proficiency levels against learning targets at different points in the school year using a summative scoring rubric

Now, let’s clarify the differences between focusing on academic standards and focusing on learning targets and why we feel the need to move beyond standards.

Academic standards are broad statements of what students should know and what they should be able to do in each content area at every grade level. Although standards tend to have a relatively high level of complexity, they are often too broad to truly emphasize the skills, knowledge, and reasoning necessary for today’s learners.

Academic standards should serve as the starting point for a conversation on what schools and districts should expect of their students. Learning targets are specific and clearly stated objectives for what students should know and be able to do within a broader academic standard. Some standards may encompass several targets, while others may encompass very few. These targets can be organized from the least complex to the most complex within a given unit of study and should drive instruction and assessment. These two components of effective instruction are interdependent and become increasingly more so when assessment is used as evidence gathering.

Assessment as Evidence Gathering

The Winneconne Community School District has been working on becoming a target-based grading and reporting district for the past 4 years with a goal of making the final leap in the Fall of 2017.   Throughout the past four years, the staff have engaged in the several aspects of what now appears in the Larson and Hierck guide.  Some of the key steps they’ve taken include organizing learning targets via Google to clearly understand what is expected of students in each grade level or course, writing assessments that are target specific for teachers to determine if our students are proficient (3), approaching proficient (2) or needs support (1), and determining levels of proficiency for each learning target to assist in determining a student’s summative grade.

The table below is an example of a product they created.

Target-Based Grading

As they embarked on this journey, the most common questions that arose were:

  • How do I write my assessments to make sure I’m measuring the target?
  • How many questions do I need for each target?
  • Can questions be multiple choice, true/false, or matching?
  • Do they all need to be short answer or essay questions?
  • How many targets should I address on one assessment?

The answer to these questions is pretty simple: “It depends.”

Traditionally, assessment was used just to determine a grade and then educators moved on to the next topic/unit for that class, but assessment needs to be thought of as a method for evidence gathering. In a target-based system, teachers are trying to determine how proficient a student is against the identified learning targets that have been established for that grade level of course. So the answer could be yes to some of the above stated questions and answer could also be no. It all depends on how confident the creator of the assessment is that the evidence the question is providing gives makes them confident in their ability to make a determination of how proficient the student is.

As an educator, look at ways to make your grading and reporting practices more meaningful and appropriate.  It’s critical to ensure that the changes positively impacts student learning.

As with any change in education, the initial steps will be messy and may require letting go of past practices, but, as with the most effective changes educators have embarked on, this shift will be well worth the gains made.

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Written by

Tom Hierck’s experiences as a teacher, administrator, district leader, department of education project leader, and executive director have provided a unique context for his education philosophy. Hierck is a compelling presenter, infusing his message of hope with strategies culled from the real world. His dynamic presentations explore the importance of positive learning environments and the role of assessment to improve student learning. He is the co-author of RTI Is a VerbSchedule an on-site or virtual consultation, seminar, or workshop with Hierck today!

Garth Larson is the K-12 Director of Learning for the Winneconne Community School District in Northeast Wisconsin and also serves as President of FIRST Educational Resources based out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Currently working on his Doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, he sits on the Board of Directors for ASCD Wisconsin, he serves on the K-12 Advisory Council for Education for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and also serves as an adjunct faculty member for educational courses offered through Dominican University of California as well as the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.  

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Latest comments

  • I am wondering how priority and supporting standards are defined. With Common Core ELA, I have been told they are all priority standards. Any light you could shed on this would be helpful.

    • I’m sure someone can answer your question better than I can, but I wanted to share this with you: our curriculum coordinator broke the test items down for us and showed us not only which standards are tested but also which standards were assessed with a greater number of questions. That helped us know which topics to focus on and make priority.

      • Hi Ann. Thanks for taking the time to post a comment and shed some light on Sheryl’s question. I’ve provided a more detailed response to her question and welcome your feedback as well.

    • Thanks Sheryl. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.
      In the resource we created we share Ainsworth’s criteria for identifying priority standards. He speaks about Endurance (skills valued over time), Leverage (across multiple disciplines), Readiness (next unit or grade), and External Exams (national or state). It’s clear there is simply not enough time in a school year to cover all the standards as Priority and any attempt to do so simply means each educator gives it their best effort and we see a wide variety. Standards identified as supporting are not eliminated. They just don’t get the same level of teaching and assessing and their content is covered by intentional instruction on the Priority pieces. As Ainsworth alludes to, “if students could get this standard or target, they would understand that standard or target”. Please feel free to probe further if more questions arise!

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