August 3, 2010


Filed under: Standard Based Grading — Adam Glesser @ 2:21 pm

Pardon the interruption. It appears that teaching two summer classes, homeschooling my 5-year old, witnessing the birth of my third son, and trying to beat the New Super Mario Bros. Wii game was just too much for me to write the blog the last month. But, I’m not giving up on this thing. I probably would have if not for a rather nice comment a while back from Kate Nowak. No, I am finding that I need to vent a little and get some advice; this place is ideal.

The precalculus course is going quite well. There are only six students, four of whom attend every day, and while comprehension is not at the level I want, I at least feel good about the philosophical direction of the course. My students know a lot of calculus. I don’t mean things like using the product rule or chain rule, though. I mean that they can look at a curve and estimate the derivative. They understand why the derivative will be useful in finding places where a graph will turn around. I could put them in a university physics course (calculus based) and they would not struggle with the math. That is the good news. The bad news is that all of you who said I needed to cut hyperbolic functions were right. There just isn’t the time. Every topic I cover, I have to cover twice and that really eats up real estate on the class calendar. I also will need to drop sequences and series as well as Riemann sums and complex numbers.  This was all gravy material, but it is so fun I really wanted to get to it. Perhaps, next time!

My other class is a high school level course that has been somewhat disastrous. This was expected. The level of the students is incredibly diverse (some are going into calculus and others struggle to subtract whole numbers). Somehow, I’m supposed to teach material they all can learn. This wouldn’t be a problem, except it is also supposed to essentially be precalculus related material. This is the second year I’ve done this course and I still don’t know what the right material is. I do know that I’ve lost the least advanced students and I’m staying after class to teach the most advanced students calculus. Long story short: All you high school teachers out there are simply amazing.

Is there a good side? Well, I have implemented SBG in both courses and I’m thrilled with that. It is liberating to tell a student, “You don’t need to give me an excuse for missing the quiz.” My current policy is to test every standard at least twice. I haven’t implemented the approach where I make the first iteration out of 4 and second (more difficult problem) out of 5. Instead, they are all out of 5. If a student scores lower the second time around I lower it according to the following rule: Let s_i denote the score on the i^{th} assessment and let s_c denote the composite score on assessments s_1, \ldots ,s_{i-1}. The new score for the students is s_i if this is greater or equal to s_c. If s_i is less than s_c, then I will drop their score (by 1) only if s_i is at least two less than s_c. There is one exception to this rule, namely if s_c = 5, then any lower score will drop s_c by 1. I’ll explain my rationale for these if anyone asks, and I’ll consider other options if anyone cares to suggest any.

Okay, this is a good place to stop. I am now the proud owner of a netbook computer, so I might be able to write these while on the train. Hopefully, we’re back in business now. Next time, I’ll tell you about some recent resistance to my homework optional policy.

All the best.



  1. Congratulations on the new arrival!

    The nice thing about a blogging hobby is you can leave it alone for weeks at a time and go back to it when you feel like it with minimal ramp-up.

    Comment by Kate Nowak — August 3, 2010 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

  2. Are there pre-requisites for this “other” course? Placement tests to determine which course a student takes? It sounds like you’ve got quite the range of skill levels in there. Trying to teach everyone well when they’re at such different levels is … hard. Really hard. How are the “lower” level students reacting to sbg?

    Congrats on your latest addition to the family!

    (and to once again echo Kate, not only is that the nice thing about blogging, it is the nice thing about RSS feeds… when you do write, your words appear!)

    Comment by Jackie Ballarini — August 3, 2010 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Jackie!

      I’m not sure about the formal prerequisites. There is a placement exam (which I wrote) and it covers things as remedial as fractions and order of operations as well as things as advanced as beginning trigonometry. (I just noticed I used ‘as’ four times in the previous sentence!) However, there is only one math course to take (the program is limited to twenty students) and I don’t have a clue about what role the test plays in the admission process. I made a spreadsheet ( that broke down the class performance on the test by standard. I then used those results to help determine on which topics I would spend the most time. As you said, trying to keep everyone engaged is hard. As far as SGB goes, I think most of the students still don’t get it. This is mostly my fault, I suppose, as I explained it thoroughly once and then moved on with life. The lower level students still have a chance to improve, but I’m not sure if they realize it. This isn’t the sort of system to which they’ve grown accustomed. If I was seeing this students every day, I think it would make a big difference (as far as my ability to reinforce the nature of the system), but I only see them twice a week.

      And yes…bless you, RSS!!!

      Comment by Adam Glesser — August 3, 2010 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

      • Looking at your spreadsheet, I find it interesting how struggling students falter with mostly the same skills everywhere.

        I had a student say, during the month of May mind you, “You mean I can retake assessments? Why didn’t anyone tell me?” The whole class just groaned and shook their heads.

        Comment by Jackie Ballarini — August 3, 2010 @ 8:57 pm

  3. Hooray Kate for keeping up your spirits on blogging! I for one would be so sad if you didn’t! I always am happy when I see there’s a new post from you.

    Again, congrats on your 3rd little one!

    Comment by samjshah — August 11, 2010 @ 10:57 pm | Reply

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