December 4, 2010

Evil SBG

Filed under: High Effort/Low Payoff Ideas,Standard Based Grading — Adam Glesser @ 5:40 pm

It’s been a while and I really ought to do some reflection on my first true semester of SBG. But, alas, the train ride is short and I wanted to throw something out there. I just finished proctoring the Putnam exam and had a wonderful idea for how to make SBG more evil.

You see, there are times when I really want to add weights to my topics. For instance, there is no way that finding the slope, y-intercept, etc. of a line should be worth as much in a precalculus class as graphing rational functions or using the law of cosines. It isn’t that I don’t think it is as important—it is probably more important in many cases—it is just that knowledge of lines (at that level) is considered remedial material, though for some it isn’t.

So how should I weight things? Should I do it by order of (my) perceived importance? How about by difficulty level—again from my point of view? I realized that while I may think I know the correct weightings, it is unlikely that I actually do. Consequently, I came up with this evil scheme. It isn’t really something serious, but I’m not completely joking either.

At the beginning of the semester, inform the students that each topic (or standard if you prefer) will be weighted by an amount inversely proportional—you’ll have to explain what that means—to the final average class score for that topic (or standard). The topic with the lowest class average score would then be weighted the highest. Those topics which everyone figures out would be weighted the least. This would give students (especially your top tier students) an incentive to attack those topics the whole class is failing. Potentially, students could try to game the system by learning the really hard stuff so well that it doesn’t count for so much. Hah! Now wouldn’t that be something?



  1. I like it in principal, but there are issues.

    You’ll inevitably find different students who have strengths in different areas. How will you account for this?

    eg Abby is strong in X but weak in Y. Bruce is weak in X but strong in Y. Now Abby does well at the test on X and poorly on Y. She complains because X is not weighted highly and Y is, so Bruce gets an unfair advantage over her. You may well brush it off as “All the class did well on Test X, that’s why its weighted less” but it won’t stop Abby feel like she’s been ripped off a bit, whereas Bruce (who finds Y easier) has just coasted through with a higher weighted mark.

    Comment by Joe — December 5, 2010 @ 11:37 pm | Reply

  2. A fair point, Joe. I suppose I would explain to Abby that these perceived (dis)advantages are likely to balance out throughout the term—the next quiz might have an opposite dynamic with Bruce feeling ripped off—and also that the solution is quite simple: recognize which material is giving you the most trouble and shift your focus toward it. One of the really awesome things this semester has been when my students complain about the system only to stop half way through their complaint because they realize how it is what they are doing—or not doing—that is causing the problem; the fix is usually not far behind.

    By the way, my major disagreement with you is your comment about liking it in principle. I don’t like it in principle. It is gimmicky and turns the attention away from the students and to the system, away from the content and back to the points. Having said that, in practice, I love systems that pit students against each other in indirect ways and which answer the student’s attempts to game the system by turning the system into a game.

    Comment by Adam Glesser — December 6, 2010 @ 8:47 pm | Reply

  3. I think this is a great idea but I’m happy to have someone else try it before I do. Have you implemented this for this semester? I’m trying sbg for the first time this semester in an advanced Theoretical Mechanics course. My initial thoughts can be found here:

    -Andy (@arundquist)

    Comment by Andy Rundquist — February 28, 2011 @ 8:32 pm | Reply

    • Hi Andy,

      Thanks for the link. You’ve got some absolutely great stuff up there and I think I’ll learn a lot watching your videos. I don’t plan on implementing the Evil SBG approach (yet) as my students are still struggling to comprehend the vanilla approach I use now.

      By the way, love the oral assessment videos you put up. Great stuff!

      Comment by Adam Glesser — March 14, 2011 @ 8:28 am | Reply

  4. Any more thoughts on this? I’d be interested in some solution to weighting standards based on class skill levels… especially one that didn’t lend itself so easily to adjectives like “evil.” 😉

    Comment by Riley — September 21, 2011 @ 12:36 pm | Reply

    • Hi Riley,

      I haven’t given too much more thought to it with one exception. I discussed this with one of my classes last semester and they said that knowing they would get many chances to reassess took away from their motivation to learn it sooner than later. I asked if it would help if I gave a higher weight to standards where the class did poorly on the first assessment. They said it probably would, but that it would also give an unfair advantage to those students who had already seen the materialroughly half of the students in my calculus classes took calculus in high school. This isn’t typically a problem in high school and I doubt it would be a problem for me as the students who have taken calculus do not tend to perform better than those who haven’t. Nonetheless, the perception that it creates a disadvantage is already too much.

      Perhaps a better system would be to, assuming your curriculum is fairly stable, monitor standard scores over two or three years and use this to create a weighting.

      Comment by Adam Glesser — September 24, 2011 @ 11:41 am | Reply

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