Standards Based Grading 2.0: Using Rubrics Based on The AP Science Practices
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
In this post I outline my new assessment strategy which uses rubrics tailored to the AP Physics 1 & 2 Science Practices within a standards based grading system.
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What I Learned from Two Years of Standards Based Grading (SBG)
When I switched to SBG, I designed an approach outlined in this blog post. To summarize: each unit was broken up into 4-6 different "standards." The standards were constructed to be student-friendly. Some standards were very content-specific and others were a bit more skill-based. All standards were assessed through unit tests. Labs made up a separate portion of student grades. Here are my key takeaways from time spent using this strategy.
1) It's good for reassessment. This one is obvious. Needing to reassess on a whole unit test is pretty cumbersome. However, if a student only needs to reassess on only one standard (so maybe 1/6 of a unit test) that's something that can happen during a 20 minute advisory or over lunch.
2) We should stop using points. When I started reflecting on this, I wrote so much that it grew into a blog post of its own. Check it out here.
3) Don't worry about student pushback. Before I rolled out SBG to students, I was really worried about student pushback. I teach at a school where students (and parents) can be extremely concerned about grades and any perceived unfairness. I thought students would view the system as too subjective. I addressed this from the very begging of the year. I reminded students that their tests were never graded in a vacuum and that I would always ensure that they were being assessed alongside one another so that their scores would always be calibrated.
4) Parsing content from skills is hard when it comes to assessment. This was, without question, the greatest challenge of implementing SBG. How do you decide how to break up the standards? In AP Physics 1 and 2 the actual standards are the learning objectives. Each learning objective exists as an intersection point where a science practice meets a component of the course's essential knowledge. Learning objectives are phrased as performance expectations--things that students should be able to do. Ideally, these would be the assessable chunks that you would present to students as the "the standards." However in my opinion, there are far too many learning objectives to assess individually (in AP Physics 1 there are over a hundred just counting units 1-7). Furthermore, many are written in language that is not very student-friendly. There are also instances where they are overly-specific and others where they are overly-vague. They are also not well-balanced in quantity across different units.
So how do we determine exactly how to chunk our assessments? What do we present to students as "The Standards?" Should we combine learning objectives together into broader, more easily assessable pieces? Is it better to create our chunks along the dimension of practices or the dimension of content knowledge? These questions are what I think present the greatest challenges to SBG in AP Physics.
AP Science Practices as a Framework for SBG
With my new approach, rather than trying to separate out my assessments based on content, I will focus my assessments around the science practices. I will still give tests that focus on the content from a single unit, but each part of the assessment will be designed to specifically target a specific practice within the context of that unit. This means that on each unit test, students will receive a handful of scores, each associated with a different science practice. The AP Physics 1 & 2 Science Practices are shown below.
AP Physics 1 & 2 Science Practices from The 2020 AP Physics 1 Course and Exam Description
Assessments will be content-specific (by unit), but students will be scored on each science practice. I believe that this will result in more positive outcomes for my students. It will force me to teach the science practices more explicitly and will highlight their importance to students and parents. Remember, the science practices are the transferrable skills we are trying to teach! These are what we want all of our students to have a strong grasp of when they leave the course, whether they plan on going into STEM or not. They are arguably the most important things we teach. I will be using a slightly modified version of these science practices. They will be used as my gradebook categories.
My Gradebook Categories (Modified Science Practices):
There are some key differences between my list of gradebook categories and the actual AP science practices. Here are the changes and why I made them:
I have eliminated Scientific Questioning, which I think is easily justified. Collegeboard specifically states that this practice is not assessed on the AP exam. It is, of course, an important practice and should be used alongside other practices (like experimental methods), but it is not central enough to warrant an entire gradebook category. It’s also challenging to assess in a meaningful way.
I have also eliminated Making Connections. This practice, it seems, is almost exclusively used in conjunction with other practices and is very difficult to make sense of on its own. I don't find it feasible to develop assessment tasks that explicitly target this practice so I am not going to assess it. I do think that activities like my Physics Photo Project or my End-of-Year Enrichment Project hit this practice explicitly, but I don't do things like this regularly enough to warrant including a whole gradebook category for it (at least not yet).
I changed Experimental Methods to Experimental Design. This might seem a bit nit-picky, but this is because I am not planning on explicitly assessing a student’s skills when it comes to actually implementing their data collection strategy.
The % breakdown is based on how much I think each practice will be assessed through labs and tests over the course of a semester. I am not going to justify this breakdown here. I came to those numbers as a result of a lot of whiteboarding (counting up hypothetical labs and tests, projecting how often I would assess each practice, considering ways in which they would be assessed, etc...). I don’t think it’s worth explaining that here and if you want to mimic my approach you can figure out weightings that make sense for you.
*Note: If you read my previous post on SBG, I used the term "broad learning categories." In the current post I use"gradebook categories." These terms are essentially interchangeable.
With my new assessment strategy I will be grading exclusively through the use of rubrics. I will still track student formative work elsewhere, but this will not be done in the official gradebook. Only tests and labs will be count towards a student’s final grade. All test grades will be weighed x2 in comparison with lab grades.
Note that in my previous SBG strategy I used rubrics but they were far more vague and were not targeted towards specific science practices. My new approach is much more in line with the actual curriculum.
With my old approach, tests consisted of a mixtures of MCQs and FRQs. When I assessed performance on a given standard, I would typically come to their score through a combination of their performance on some MCQs as well as on some FRQs.
I have chosen to eliminate MCQs on my tests. Yes, students need to be able to do MCQs for the AP Exam. Yes, MCQs have value. However, I find it very difficult to assess MCQs and to provide feedback on them in a meaningful way. I still plan on using MCQs for practice work and quizzes, but this work will all be formative.
Tests will consist of several FRQs. Each part of each question will be designed to target one of my gradebook categories (modified science practices). When I am grading a student's test I will look holistically at all of their work on the questions targeted towards a specific science practice. Then I will use a rubric focused on that practice to give them their score. On a typical unit test, students will receive four scores on four separate rubrics. (four, not five, because I am only using Data Analysis to assess lab work).
As an example, here is my rubric for Mathematical Routines:
In order to assess students using this rubric, I will read over their entire test and use all of the pertinent evidence presented through their work (really anything using or justifying calculations) to come to a final score based on this rubric. I use the following to map proficiencies to letter grades. Note that, if a student hits criteria that span multiple proficiencies, they can earn scores between letter grades (like a B+):
Exemplary ➝ A
Proficient ➝ B
Approaching ➝ C
Emerging ➝ D
No Evidence of Learning ➝ F
These are the test rubrics. Note that I did not come up with these from scratch! This work is based on the science practices rubrics given in the AP Physics 1 and 2 Inquiry Based Lab Investigations Teacher's Manual (see Appendix B, pages 321-332).
For lab work, I will follow a similar method of assessment using these lab rubrics. Note that some of these are also based on the rubrics in the AP lab manual.
For a single lab, I will not use all of these rubrics. For example, if a lab does not actually require students to design an experiment, I will not use the experimental design rubric. If I don't ask them to write an error analysis, then I won't use that one. The only rubric that I will use on every single lab is the data analysis one.
If you look through the rubrics, you may notice that there are actually two argumentation (ARG) rubrics: Justify Claims With Evidence And Construct Explanations Based on Evidence Produced Through Data Collection and Error Analysis. The first one will be used in situations where students need to use data as evidence or the foundation of a written argument. One example might be in a situation where they have conducted a couple different controlled experiments and are combining the results to build an equation in an inquiry format.
If the lab is more application-based (like calculating a constant variable from a graphical analysis) I will only assess them on the Data Analysis rubric and will not use the argumentation rubric at all.
I will also make small additions or modifications to these lab rubrics for each lab. I may add statements to help contextualize the criteria or provide insight into which criteria are most important in each lab. Note that I have been grading labs in a similar manner for a long time!
One thing worth noting is that all low-level lab practices (labeling graphs, using correct units, etc.) are absent from my lab rubrics. I want to focus my lab assessment on higher-level skills so I adjusted my rubrics to reflect this philosophy. I am lucky that my students have a strong foundation in these skills from their previous science teachers. Still, at the beginning of the year I will provide my students with this document (Lab Etiquette) as a way to communicate these expectations.
Keep in mind that at the time of writing, I have not yet my implemented this approach. I have been using a very similar form of assessment on labs for quite some time, but I have never applied rubrics quite like this to tests.
One challenge that I anticipate is ensuring that students have sufficient content knowledge prior to their assessments. It is true that the actual learning objectives are based on content knowledge and science practices. Therefore it makes sense that summative assessments should be based on this combination. But before students can combine these, they need to have understanding of the essential knowledge. I plan on doing my best to ensure that students learn and retain content knowledge throughout each unit by giving formative assessments prior to each test. However, this approach isn't particularly well-formulated. Ideally, a teacher could implement a system where students needed to pass a lower-level, knowledge-based quiz before they moved on to the summative assessment which focuses on the science practices within the context of that knowledge. With my current teaching load, I don't think this would be particularly feasible as it would lead to a more go-at-your-own pace sort of class.
On a similar note, this assessment strategy does not work well if it is a concept and not a practice that a student struggles with. Maybe a student has a really strong grasp of conservation of energy and can apply it reliably in conjunction with all of the science practices. But if this same student does not understand the concept of work, the student is likely to struggle across the board on all of the science practices every time they intersect with the concept of work. Their test scores will not parse out which particular concepts a student struggled with.
I also worry about remediation. Let's say a student takes a test and scores well on everything except the argumentation component. I typically allow students to reassess up to proficient (B) on any test grade. So, let's say this student wants to reassess. What materials do I give them? They didn't struggle with particular content, so I can't point to a section in the textbook and suggest they read it and do those questions. It almost seems as though I need to curate remediation material specifically geared towards each science practice in the context of each unit to support these students. Yes, I can sit down with this student and coach them through ways they could improve their written argumentation, but it is very time consuming to develop supplementary tasks for them to actually practice this skill (maybe scouring AP classroom for additional questions could work, but even these questions typically hit multiple practices).
As we all know, there is no perfect grading system! Still, I have been making gradual improvements throughout my career so far and this step is unlikely to be an exception. If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.