MTBOS week 1: My class is different due to no F’s!

I’m a week behind, but this is my first post for the Exploring the MathTwitterBlogosphere challenge.  We were given two options and I chose to blog on the following:

  • What is one thing that happens in your classroom that makes it distinctly yours? It can be something you do that is unique in your school… It can be something more amorphous… However you want to interpret the question! Whatever!

My classroom is distinctly different this year than my previous years of teaching.  The difference?  No one is currently failing in any of my classes and no one has earned an F on a test!  I know?! Shut up & get out (picture Elaine from Seinfeld)!!

For most math teachers, this is quite a unique experience, and it is for me. I didn’t all of a sudden become some amazing teacher in which every single thing I do works and students totally “get it”.  I don’t have students that are heads and shoulders above students in past years.  I will say 4 of my classes are honors sections, but I’ve had students fail honors tests and classes, so that doesn’t tell the whole story.  Besides, I also teach the lowest math class in our high school.

I believe the reason for this no F’s is mainly from a new policy I’ve enacted around my Standards Based Grading Quizzes.  This year, students can only take their unit test once they have passed all skills for the unit.  In the past, students were encouraged and given the option to retake quizzes to have their grades reflect an increase in learning.  They could do this anytime in the semester.  Typically it happened in the last couple of weeks of the semester as they realized there was no extra credit and they were scrambling to raise their grades.  This was helpful for their final exam, but didn’t help them on the unit tests along the way.

Here is my semester grade breakdown:

40% SBG quizzes (unlimited retakes – must have all passing grades before taking the unit test)
30% Unit Tests (these are summative & can’t be retaken)
15% Semester Exam
10% Assignments (I don’t collect or check daily work – this is unit binders, occasional special assignments, end of unit journals, etc.)
5% WriteNOW! (school wide writing initiative)

Now that students must get passing grades on all quiz skills before the test, they do better on the test.  I’m not sure why I didn’t figure this out before – ha!

Another thing I’m doing this year, which I also believe accounts for no F’s, is tests start at a 50.  That is still 20 points away from passing.  Then I break the other 50 points down very specifically, based on Blooms.  For my honors classes, 25 points are Knowledge & Understanding, 10-15 points are Application & Analyzing, and 10-15 points are Synthesizing & Evaluating. For my on-level classes, 30 points are Knowledge & Understanding, 10 points are Application & Analyzing, and 10 points are Synthesizing & Evaluating.  They must know everything at a basic level to earn a C, at an intermediate level to earn a B, and at an advanced level to earn an A.  This year, it’s easier to earn a C on my tests (due to starting at a 50), but more challenging to earn an A.

The final difference this year is my classes are somewhat self-paced.  I go at a “typical” pace.  Have assignments at a “typical” pace.  Have quizzes & tests at a “typical” pace.  However, if students don’t feel ready to take a quiz, they can delay.  If they don’t feel ready to take the test, they can delay.  There is a time limit.  They have a one week extension.  This is why I say somewhat self-paced. As I teach 9th & 10th graders, I think they need those deadlines so they don’t save it all for the end of the semester. Plus, in work situations, we have deadlines, but are allowed to work at our own pace to get to that deadline.  So, they have some freedom & flexibility, but aren’t allowed to completely sabotage themselves.

Now, I know that even if I was doing this last year, I would have still had a couple of failures.  I had two students who did retake quizzes often and just kept failing over and over.  They needed a lower math class and were in the lowest we offered. However, if students are appropriately placed and spec. ed students getting the appropriate resources, I believe these policies will encourage learning at a higher level.  This will then result in grades that reflect that higher level learning.


9 thoughts on “MTBOS week 1: My class is different due to no F’s!

  1. barylwires

    Great stuff, Robin. For scoring the poorest quality student work, our district has moved the floor up from zero to 65. I suppose that negates the disproportionately nuke-like features that a zero can wreak on a grade average [1], though I wish we could dive into the deep end on the SBG reporting pool already. It IS about reporting, isn’t it? Scores are good tools for comparing Olympic gymnasts and neighborhood baseball teams; I think growth in learning is something we should gauge in a report rather than score on a board.
    Curious: After your students have demonstrated understanding of basic skills via the unit-skills “pre-qualifiers,” do they then face higher order tasks on their Unit Test? Do they meet novel types of problems there? Have they had any experiences with any kinds of novel problems prior to taking the summative assessment?
    Love the school-wide writing prompt and the rigor of the math prompt that you featured. I have signed up for Gallup news updates!
    [1] This helped me with the zero issue: “The use of the zero, however, requires us to defend the proposition that abysmal is six times as bad as wretched.” ~via Douglas Reeves


    1. romathio Post author

      Hi Erika,
      On Fridays, all students are given a prompt and have 40 minutes to write a response. We trade off which department writes & grades the prompt. Our rotation is English, History, Math, & Science. Prompts can be the same for all students or can be different based on which class the student is in. Here is our Math prompt from the beginning of September to give you an idea.


  2. Lea Ann Smith

    So glad to read about other people’s strategies for SBG! I’m trying it this year, I’m not giving chapter tests, it’s only the standards based tests and the usual assortment of classwork and things. I have students that are failing, but they are coming back to retake the standards and I think they are learning more than if I only gave them quizzes and tests like the old days.


    1. romathio Post author

      Hi Doreen! If they delay, they can take during class, study hall, or after school. They email me to set up if it’s outside of class. If during class, they are responsible for whatever they miss. I have them sit in the hallway if they do that.

      Retakes are different. I use for them to sign up for a retake. They are offered 3 days a week and students must sign up by 9pm the night before. Besides telling me what skill they are retaking, they must tell me what they did for additional learning and be prepared to show me some work if I ask for it.

      My SBG & retake policy is also blogged about here:



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