Fitting Self-Assessments into Competency Based Grading

fotolia-33988899-xs-photogalleryThis year my school shifted to competency based grading.  For those unfamiliar with this, grading is centered on students’ mastery of the Common Core competencies.  While I have found it differs from state to state, our school has integrated competency based grading by requiring all classes to follow a grading percentage of 80 percent summative assessments and 20 percent formative assessments.  In addition, students are allowed to retake summative assessments as many times as they would like assuming they initially approached the assessments having prepared with good effort.

For me, as an English teacher, this process of retakes and revisions isn’t new.  That being said, the idea of 80 percent of my students’ grades being summative assessments is most certainly a shift.  In the past, while their final product has always served as a large portion of their grade (over 50 percent), it hasn’t counted quite as much as it does now.

I value formative assessments; I cherish the time my students spend cracking apart texts, mimicking authors’ craft, and simply reading.  For many of us, high school was a formative experience.  The time we spent exploring who we were paid off long term, yet competency-based grading values the final product more than the process.

To a degree, I take fault with this.  I understand that once students enter the workplace they are assessed based on their final products.  In the same breath, I also believe that high school must provide a platform for students to explore their interests in a safe and supportive environment that values process.  My life has largely looked like the reverse of my gradebook—80 percent of my time is spent reading, writing, brainstorming, drafting, discussing, and working, while maybe 20 percent of it is actually publishing, sharing, or posting my work.  I learned this process in high school.

Because summative assessments count for so much this year, I hate (even more than usual) applying a specific number to my students’ work.  In turn, to compensate for this competency based grading, I ask my students to assess themselves.

Every time my students hand in a paper or summative assessment like a notebook check, they grade themselves, writing a brief “metacognition analysis” in which they explain their writing, thought process, and reasoning.  In turn, instead of being blind sided by my grades, they have a say in how and even whether or not they met the competencies of the assignment.  Typically, they’re spot on with their grading.

FullSizeRenderNicole wrote, “I think my essay deserves that grade because I worked really hard on it.  I ended up printing it 4 times because every time I printed it I would self edit and have someone else edit it so that it came out just how I wanted it.  Just like always, I put a lot of my personality and voice into this piece.  I wanted people to laugh when they read it.  I added lots of detail about tiny situations and background.”

Ryan, had a similar assessment, “I think I did well with my development of ideas/organization and cohesion, and my ending.  I was proud of all of my writing because I thought it was one of the best things I’ve written.”

Ultimately students are also willing to honestly discuss their shortcomings.  Maddie targeted areas she hoped to improve in future pieces: “I feel I did well but could’ve been better.  I struggled with creating sensory details, but I feel I wrote this piece pretty well.  I would like to try and make this story more vivid, putting the reader in my position.” 

While I’m still addressing these changes and gauging my own understanding of competency based grading, self-assessments are the single most important change I’ve made in my classroom this year.  After I’m done reading rubrics, circling boxes, and checking off competencies, their voice is the resounding voice I hear.

Do you have competency based grading in your school?  Have you shifted to the 80:20 grading system? What changes have you made to better meet the needs of your students?


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5 thoughts on “Fitting Self-Assessments into Competency Based Grading

  1. […]  My school has competency based grading, so I file reading initiative grades under “formative assessments.”  I look at reading time as […]


  2. Gary Anderson October 29, 2015 at 12:48 pm Reply

    When summative assessments are so heavily emphasized, the importance of formative assessments diminish in the minds of many students. So, what you’re doing here so brilliantly with these self-assessments is making assessment relevant to the students by honoring their perceptions along with any other external measures that might be imposed.

    I wonder how parents in your district like this reporting system. In my daughters’ school, only one class–Science–is on standards-based grading. Guess which grade report I don’t understand.


    • Colleen October 31, 2015 at 2:04 pm Reply

      I have found with parents and students (and even teachers) that the grade report of SBG can be confusing, because it is a lot of information, but also because it’s just different than what we are used to. I like it, because it shows the students exactly what skill they need to work on. At least, in the grade reporting system we use, it shows students what Learning Targets (skills) they have not met the standard on. Rather than students saying, “I need to rewrite my paper” they say, “I need help developing a clear thesis.” I really appreciate this, because students aren’t just saying, “I need a better grade” but instead are identifying what skills they need help with.

      In terms of formative assessments, I find it only takes one summative to go horribly wrong, for students to realize that the point of formatives is to PREPARE you for the summative! If you don’t do the formative work, you won’t have the practice that preps you for the summative.
      SBG has worked well for me, but I know there are many confusing aspects to it!


  3. cmadeleine0816 October 27, 2015 at 6:45 pm Reply

    We are also on standards based grading. I build in as much formative (practice time as I call it) work as possible so students have the opportunity to try things again and again without the worry of “oh no this is it.” I’m really clear ahead of time on the end goal so they know exactly what they are aiming for. I show them tons of examples along the way and give them a lot of written and verbal feedback. This year I also wrote “thank you” at the end of all their paragraphs and when I handed back paragraphs, there was this twitter among students as they all leaned over to one another and said, “hey she wrote that on mine too!” (I also put a smiley face by it). When I glanced around the room to monitor their emotion in response to my comments, they were all smiling and then we jumped in to revising and they did it with a smile on their face and they asked me lots of good questions. It’s good to see that other schools/teachers are experiencing similar growing pains over the new grading systems. 🙂


  4. Colleen October 27, 2015 at 1:42 pm Reply

    It’s interesting to see how other educators and schools are approaching Competency Based Grading (or Standards Based Grading, as we call it in my district). I agree that the most important part of the writing process is the exploring of mentor texts, messy first drafts, revisions, etc which is exactly why I think it’s so wonderful that (in your case) formative assessments only count for 20%. My understanding of this grading philosophy, is that students should not be graded on the “practice” time, or the times when they are playing with a skill. We call formatives “practice”. This allows me to tell my students to not stress about perfection, but to just enjoy the messy process of writing and learning. They know that they will not be assessed until the end, once they’ve had sufficient time to practice and hone their skills. This really frees them up to play and take risks in their learning.

    Thinking about formatives in that way, has allowed me to really value this type of grading and learning!


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