Category Archives: Assessment

Grading a Project on the Learning, Not Compliance: Desmos Art Project

Two years ago I had both my Honors Algebra 2 and my Honors PreCalc classes complete a Desmos Art Project.  The students used the various functions, inequalities, and equations they learned to recreate a picture.  They had to use transformations and domain and range.  I was excited to have students do this project because they could combine math with art & tech, plus each project would be unique.  My biggest struggle was creating a rubric to grade the projects.  I looked at several online, but never found anything I really liked.  In desperation, because I needed SOMETHING, I created an absolutely horrible one that was based on the number of functions/equations they submitted; basically it was about compliance & behavior, not about learning. I knew the rubric was bad, but it was one of the moments where something is better than nothing.  Here are the directions I gave the students.  Here is the rubric. It’s awful, right?  Here’s pics in case you didn’t want to look.  You might wanna shield your eyes, it’s really bad.

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 11.19.21 AMScreen Shot 2018-09-11 at 11.19.29 AM

I’ve long used Standards Based Grading and worked towards grades focusing on what students know, not behavior.  But that project grade was definitely more about behavior.  Ugh.  This year, when I repeated the project, I was determined to have a better rubric.  With the craziness of being a teacher and my perfectionism that results in procrastination, I almost ended up with the same one!



Originally, I did this project at the end of the year.  The main feedback I received from students was it was the best way for them to learn domain and range.  Based on that, this year I am doing the project early in Algebra 2.  Therefore, my Algebra 2 students have recently started the project. I found Nat Banting‘s directions that he gave his students for a Desmos Art Project and lifted some of his language to add to my directions.   You can find my updated directions here.

The biggest change is in my rubric.  I moved to what is called a single-point rubric.  The idea is basically you have a middle column that is the criteria for your students. The left side is blank for areas of improvement and the right side is blank for where the student excelled.  This was my first attempt at this type of rubric and I’m liking it so far.  I’m sure it could be better and would love feedback for how to make it better.  I have 2 more Algebra 2 courses this year that haven’t started yet, so I can actually adjust this year for future classes!

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I debated a lot about the Project Management row.  It is still behavior oriented.  Yet, when we look at the skills and dispositions our students need outside of school, project management is a skill that they need.  I decided to make it a part of the grade, but a minor part.  I may regret it later.  From there, I focused on the key knowledge and understandings that I wanted students to gain from this project.  (Note: our school has heterogeneous classes where students can opt in for Honors distinction, that’s why you see one line about Honors.)  Instead of requiring a certain number of each type of function, I tried to focus on students showing their learning of each function, transformations, and domain and range.

I moved most of the behavior related part of the grade to Project Requirements.  I decided that these aren’t being graded themselves.  Either their project meets the basic requirements or it doesn’t.  If it doesn’t, I’m not grading it; I will put a zero in the grade book as a placeholder and the student needs to get the project up to meeting the basic requirements.  As I explained to my students, if my boss gives me a project, it’s not acceptable for me to do it half way.  I either meet the basics of the project or I don’t.  If I don’t, that can impact my employment. Once the student has the requirements met, I will grade their project.  The consequence for not completing an assignment, or for it being incomplete, is to complete the assignment so the student can learn.

Lastly, I require my students to self-assess on all work like this.  I had a grad school prof require this, which annoyed me at first.  However, I saw how helpful it was to my learning.  Students will submit the link to their Desmos project on a copy of the rubric where they have self-assessed.  They are to “think like a lawyer” and prove their case as to why they should be assessed on the rubric the way they are describing.  One of our art teachers will be helping the students with printing and mounting their art work.  It will be displayed for an Exhibition Night at our school!

If you have other ideas for a project like this or how to make my rubric better, please let me know! Have you used a single-point rubric before?


Earning Badges

Our Head of Middle School, Chip Houston, issued a blogging challenge to the whole school faculty.  We were to blog 10 times in 12 days.  I’ve made it and earned a blogger badge! I didn’t think I’d really care about the badge, but I realized I do care.  It’s like the badges on my Fitbit.  At first I thought they were silly.  Then, I wanted more and more badges.  One time, after a big hike at Lake Tahoe and getting 125 flights of stairs, I was determined to get the next badge for stairs.  I hiked up out of the parking lot to the road so I’d get more flights of stairs.  My hubby drove the car alongside me in case I decided I was done.  The park ranger stopped to make sure I was ok and that my hubby wasn’t a creeper! ha! Then, when we got back to the hotel, I had surpassed the 150 flights and was so close to the next one, that I walked the stairs up to my room.  All to get to the next badge level.

I’m now wondering how badging impacts students.  Do they care? Do they want badges like I want badges? Do you have to be a competitive person to want a badge? Because, I’m a pretty competitive person.

Thanks, Chip, for inspiring me & challenging me to blog!  I’ve learned a lot about myself and now have archived some important learning for my teaching.

Assessment, Grading, & Reporting Thoughts for 2016-2017

One of my favorite educational topics is assessment.  It astounds me how little time is given to assessment, grading, and reporting in Teacher Ed programs when it is something that is of major importance in our job.  I have been a user of SBG for many years and have posted on it previously here, here, here, and here.  Below is my initial brainstorming for next year.  I welcome & encourage feedback! How do you grade and report? Does your department or school have requirements you must follow?

Mathews 2016-2017 Assessment Thoughts

IB 7 point scale – think I will need to convert to 100 pt scale due to Power School and parent/student understanding since I’d be the only one doing this.

One idea (Sources at bottom of this post give excellent IB descriptors): Note: I was reading that in the UK they start with 40 and move up instead of like the US starting with 100 and moving down. This makes me think of my “write your name for 50 points” as a way to circumvent the US 100 point scale which means less than 1/3 of available points are actually passing grades.

IB 100 point
7 100
6 90
5 85
4 75
3 68
2 60
1 40


  • Trend in grades vs. average in grades?
  • Tests, projects, and homework quizzes are only grades in powerschool
  • Tests have an overall rubric grade, not that each question is worth a certain number of points.
    • This is part of what will require a conversion to a 100 point scale
    • Could I use Haiku for the 1-7 scale & feedback, and then put in powerschool the 100 point conversion?
    • Students may request to retake a test.  This will be true of all tests, except the final exam.  There will be substantial work required to prove a student is ready to sit for the test again. Re-test will be on a specific date/time only, and will be outside of class.
  • Homework quizzes will also have an overall rubric grade
    • Due to low % of students completing homework, I will institute HW quizzes. HW quizzes will be short (2-3 questions) after something has been in the HW more than once to make sure students are understanding the practice work.  Questions will be taken from or very similar to the HW.  This will be a low % in the gradebook, more of an accountability piece for students (which I hate, loathe, detest).  Pop quiz or not pop quiz? Maybe both?
  • My typical SBG quizzes will be formative and without grades – potentially do the heat sheet or rubric grades in Haiku
  • Tests must be cumulative.
  • How would this fit with current math team grading guidelines?  My test grades would be higher than the % range, though would fall within the combined test/quiz % range.  Would it be acceptable if I’m prototyping, so mine is slightly different than others?  I will be teaching two stand alone classes, does that help?  Need to talk to math team about this and get their feedback.
  • How do I want to include the descriptors for behavioral items?  Would that be a standard way I would write mid-term comments; comments address the work habits rubric (1-4 scale – see the Leading school through Transformation Change link)?  Could I somehow meld the work habits and MVPS mindsets or the 4C’s work done by iD?  The source below about MYP grading has some good details about work habits descriptors and rubrics.
  • How much of this do I want hammered out before school starts and how much am I willing to allow student choice/voice/agency?  Does a syllabus have to be finalized on the first day of class?  Or can a teacher and students have a framework and figure out the details together?  Is it more appropriate to have Hon PreCalc have more voice & choice than Hon Alg 2 due to age & maturity of students? Scaffolding to learn how to make those types of decisions?  1st project of the year – create an ideal grading schematic? Would too many go traditional because it is what they “know”?
  • What if I use a 0-4 scale instead of 1-7?  Students and parents are more familiar with those scales.  I’m thinking 0, 1, 2, 3, 3.5, 4.  I have descriptors from my SBG rubric but I could do a combo of those descriptors and the IB descriptors.
0-4 Scale 100 point scale
4 100
3.5 92
3 85
2 70 or 75 (Would this be different for Hon vs. CP?)
1 50 or 60 (I like 50 better than 60)
0 0


What’s Homework (Individual Practice) Got To Do With It?

For the last 4 years I’ve taught primarily 9th and 10th grade students at an Independent School in Atlanta.  Before that, I was at a parochial school in Northern California.  Both situations have allowed me some latitude in trying new things, including grading and assessment.  I’ve been doing SBG for about 5 years now.  That has also meant moving to not grading homework, even for completion as is common for math teachers.  This past year, I did grade homework (only 5%) for my Algebra 2 CP class as another teacher also taught Algebra 2 CP and we wanted our grading to be similar.

A problem of practice that we both encountered was a small percentage of students actually even attempting their homework.  While there are always a few students with this struggle, I have never seen it so large, including with my Honors classes.  It was common for both of us to arrive at class and no more than 1/3 of the students had attempted their homework, both in the CP classes and Honors classes.

When I would ask students about this, the common response was that they had homework that counted for more of a grade in their other classes, so that was their priority.  Even though they would acknowledge that doing their individual practice work would greatly help them in understanding the material and on assessments, behavior didn’t change.  They would rather not do the homework, see how they did on a quiz, and then retake the quiz over and over if necessary.  As expected, this created a horrible cycle for them and me.  I didn’t assign a lot of homework, I mostly stuck to Steve Leinwand‘s 2-4-2 recommendation for a total of 8 problems.

I made modifications throughout the year to try and change this negative cycle.  Change #1 was to require students to fill out a form for a retake and do 3 separate learnings to be eligible for a  retake.  This didn’t make many changes to the cycle and students, quite frankly, lied and made up the separate learnings.  Next, I changed it so that if they wanted to take a retake, all the homework for that unit needed to be turned in.  So, they just stopped doing retakes altogether.  Again, this isn’t the result I was going for.  I tried having students coming in to make up homework during Enrichment/tutorial, but not all would show up.  Additionally, I don’t think I should need to force my students into doing their homework and take away my time from the students who really want my help.

How do others handle this? How do you motivate students to do homework? This cohort of students has similar struggles in other classes – how do we encourage change across the board for a cohort that has a lack of motivation?


My history and iterations of SBG, Standards (Skills) Based Grading

Back in early 2011, I was home sick from school one day.  What does a teacher home sick do? Well, they read education blogs of course! (at least that’s what I do).  I spent the day in bed reading Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer), Shawn Cornally (@ThinkThankThunk), and Frank Noschese (@fnoschese).  I went back to school energized to try SBG out.  My awesome administrator from  CCCS, Grant Padmos, helped me to re-word what I got from Frank Noschese’s site and I implemented it immediately.  I decided to call it “Skills” Based Grading instead of “Standards”.  I didn’t like that the word standards implies that they would be school or state standards.

Here are the various iterations of what I’ve done.

2010-2011: original version

2012-2013: I had 2 versions.  In both I’ve moved from the 0-4 scale to use a scale that matches grades, 0-100.  Version 1 said quizzes would be unannounced, which was inaccurate, because I announced all quizzes.  Also, version 1 had 95 as max score on 1st time and need to repeat perfection twice to get 100.  I changed that in version 2 so that students could get 100 the first time. The other big change in version 2 (for second semester) was a limit to 10 retakes total for the semester.  I wasn’t counting on the enormous amounts of students who got 80’s, 85’s, and 90’s, wanting to do retakes.  This was my first year at a new school and that was a different experience from my former school. It became a time issue for me and I couldn’t keep up, hence the limit to 10 per semester.

version 1:


2013-2014: still working on it

Grading, Assessments, and Bloom’s

I know I’m supposed to do the obligatory “this is my first post, yada, yada” but that stuff is in my About page if anyone is interested.

For the last couple of years, I’ve done both the flipped classroom and SBG quizzes (still have summative tests). I don’t flip every lesson, but I like the time it frees up in the classroom and students not having long homework problem sets.

Based on reading and conferences, I want to also do self-paced and mastery learning.  I like a lot of how Graham Johnson (@math_johnson) sets up his courses and this document definitely impacted me.

Here are my thoughts for 2013-2014:

1. No grades on assignments/practice.  I used to grade for completion. Kids would just make stuff up to have it “done”.

2. Students will have a complete by date for each unit.  We will go through as a class at a typical rate, but faster & slower students can have a different pace if needed.

3. For any skill on an SBG quiz under 70, a student must retake until they get at least a 70 on all skills for that unit before they can take the Unit Test.  This helps with the issue of “I allow students to do retakes, but the ones who need it most never do it.”   I’m thinking for my Honors classes, I may move that to 75 or 80.  If Honors student regularly get below 80, then I tend to think they are in the wrong class.

4. The tricky part and where I have the most questions.  I’ve been wanting to tie everything to Bloom’s (thinking of the original taxonomy).  Originally my thought was C = Knowledge & Comprehension, B = Apply & Analyze, A = Synthesize & Create.  For example, when we do practice out of the textbook, students would be told which are A, B, & C problems and to do enough of each to make sure they understand the material at the corresponding level. Then, on SBG quizzes and Unit tests, there would also be A, B, & C type problems.  (I already do 3 levels of problems on my SBG quizzes). So, if you can do basic recall and calculation, you earn a C.  If you can apply to more challenging situations & analyze, you earn a B. If you can synthesize and create, you earn an A. I think this also differentiates instruction and assessment for various learners, but maybe I’m wrong or missing something.

  • a. Tests for on-level classes would start at a 50 (no one can get below that) & there would be about 25 points of C problems, 10-15 points of B problems, 10-15 points of A problems.  (side note: Our school doesn’t have D’s, 70 and above is passing.)  Not sure if I would start honors classes at 50, or just make the C level problems worth massive points each so they have to earn every point.
  • b. When I read Bloom’s, it seems like much of what we do in our classes have the nouns & verbs of Apply & Analyze.  For math, I think that Comprehension could be the basic calculations with very few steps. So, C level would be recall of formulas, definitions, matching, and basic calculations.  However, I recognize I might be stretching it to try and make it fit what I want.
  • c.  Where does graphing fit? It seems like even basic graphing might be at the B level. Or, could plotting a graph with points be Comprehension (C level), then analysis of that graph would be B? Being given a graph and creating a story for it or analyzing what it could describe – A or B level?
  • d. Should I just stick with C = recall of formulas, definitions, matching, and basic calculations, B = calculations with more steps, simple application problems, A = advanced application problems?  Those were my initial thoughts, but wasn’t sure that lined up to Bloom’s properly.
  • e. Does anyone have a Bloom’s list of nouns/verbs that is math specific? I searched google and found little.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far! I really am looking for feedback and would appreciate the thoughts of others. 🙂