First Semester Course Evaluations

Here are the responses to one of the questions on my course evaluation. This is the first semester I’ve ever used standards-based grading, and it is a huge paradigm shift for these kids. Almost everyone likes the system (or says that they do). Some posed good critique and questions about it. Some had misunderstandings about how the final semester grade would work, so I know I need to be even more clear about that in the spring. (For example: there is no extra credit in this class, so I don’t know the student means when they mention having done all of the extra credit available.)

I used a question that I stole from Frank:

Consider the grading system for the class: scores based on the learning objectives, tracking progress over time, ability to retest on objectives, etc. What do you like/dislike about the grading system? Do you think it has had an impact on your learning and understanding of physics? Give an example.

Responses from my Honors Physics students: (emphasis added is my own)

I like this grading system because it is manageable but still makes you work.

I like the grading system.  It has made it so that I am not afraid to make mistakes, and that has helped me learn.  For example there was one CVPM objective I couldn’t get I retested on it many times and finally discovered I hadn’t learned it properly in the first place, I was then able to relearn it and fix my mistakes.

It’s great that you guys are trying to alleviate stress but it just doesn’t really work – there is still a heck of a lot of stress involved with the course.

The grading system for this class is fair, yet the grades do not fully display one’s effort. Since it depends on understanding of physics, it is frustrating to see my grade although I have tried hard.

There is nothing that I dislike about this new way of grading, in fact I wish that all my classes were graded like this. This grading system is made fr you to gain full comprehension of the materials you are learning without being stressed out about grades. I love that If you get an objective wrong on a test you can also retest; retesting objectives allows me to better learn my material.

I like the grading system because it allows a person to continually use the skills they have learned in the past. Reassessments give me another chance to shows my understanding of the material and allows me to learn from my mistakes. For example, I thought I had a full understanding of the energy unit. But I had to reassess several times. Through the reassessments, I learned more.

I think the grading system for the class is fine. I like that we can reassess on some of the objectives because doing reassessments helps with learning our mistakes and how to approach certain problems. For instances, I did two reassessments on one type of problem that now I feel that I can solve any type of that problem. I also like that we get no grades for homework.

I mean although it is a good attempt, it really doesn’t work does it? I mean the reassessments are good but you have to still give a numerical grade. And at the end of the day that numerical grade is what essentially makes an impact on your life. And the objectives system cannot be sucessfully translated into numbers. Also, mastery is something but you cannot a human being never to make a mistake. It is also funky that if we are going to work on objectives and all, it should be with all assignments and all questions that we should be able to work on it.

I like it.
physics is an accumulative subject; its not like english or history where you learn one thing then the next thing(i guess you do make connections), but it is a subject where you need to know the basics and build on to the basics. The grading makes it fair because you get points for what you understand and you lose points for what you don’t in the end.

ability to retest on objectives is great, but the system of getting 1 on objectives one had previously got 2 on is not very helpful. If one gains 2 on an objective, it should not go down. (I heard this is the method they are using in AS Physics).

It’s awesome.  So much better than other classes.

I like the retest system and the tracking progress over time part. This system makes us not focus on grades but physics itself

I like the fact that you can show mastery at any point but the part I do not like is the tediousness of having to reassess. When you fail one B objective, it might show that you do not understand like 10 A objectives and then all of a sudden you have a big load of corrections. However, I must admit that the reassessments have truly helped me to understand physics.

I think it has ultimately helped me understand the material better. When I do something wrong, the system of learning objectives shows exactly what it is that I did wrong.

What I really like about this course is you get what you give.  If you work your absolute hardest, it is entirely apparent.  And there’s always a very precise measure of how hard you are working, and specific ways you can improve this.  The expectations are explicitly clear, which motivates me to really aim for the full understanding, because that really is the number grade.  Its a very personal system in that ability to improve and reach your fullest potential is in your hands, which in some ways is more pressure and means more effort, but I like this responsibility.

I like the ability to retest on objectives outside of class because I can show how I understand the concepts better now. I believe that the grading system in physics is fair.

I like this system a lot compared to the grading system in my old school because it allows us more than one chance to display what we know. I especially like the reassessment and correction system because it makes taking a test less stressful.

I like this grading system because it leaves ample room for mistakes, and makes it clear what you need to work on and focus on in the course. However, because i am used to the normal grading system with percentages and letter grades, sometimes i find it hard to asses myself in the class in terms of how i am doing overall.

And from my Intro Physics students:

I LOOoooOOOOooove it.  It has enebaled me to not only master the objectives but also get a really good grade and feel confident

I like that it is simple to improve; however I don’t like that on tests we don’t get a normal grading system because during the quarter(s) I don’t really understand how well/bad I’m doing

I love how I can not study for a test, fail it, and yet 4 days later receive full credit on it and be qualified for a high grade overall. So, I love the grading system, but I hate how meticulous the process of signing off objectives is.

I really like this grading system because it essentially eliminates our silly-mistake making issues and makes us truly learn the ideas and concepts you teach us in physics.  I think this grading system has made me understand physics in a more complete and proficient way because the A and B objectives (especially A) make it so what I learn becomes cumulative and I will NEVER EVER FORGET IT.

I like just about everything, it allows me to really concentrate on the things that are causing me problems and not waste my time on things I have already mastered. I don’t like how ‘crunch time’ is so impossible to nail Ms. O’shea down.  It is almost like she is punishing us for leaving things until the last second.

I love this grading system and would really appreciate it if you spread to the rest of the school (preferably the mathematics department). I really appreciate the fact that the score you receive on your test is not the final score and the final measure of your understanding of the material. The re-testing helps me further understand the material and allows me to improve my grade at the same time. Because of the grading system, I’m also forced to go back and review material because we’re constantly re-testing on the material.

I really like the grading system. I know that I will work for the grade I want, and the grading system ensures that I will get it if I spend enough time understanding the objectives. The only bad thing is that our first quarter grades don’t factor into our semester grades at all, which is okay, but then there seems to be so much pressure with the exam. Not actually though, because I could only get so low, and I know the B objectives, it just seems as if I’m going to get the lowest grade of my range, and that wouldn’t really be okay. Also, if the grading system’s point is to show mastery, then there should be no time limit on the exam, because showing mastery takes time, and I was a little bit stressed out about the time limit, and I could have showed a lot more of what I knew!!!!!! BECAUSE I KNEW HOW TO DO IT.

I feel that the current grading system fits well in that I am able to learn without the pressure of grades.

I really like the objectives, again I think it gives everyone specific focus and helps people know what they don’t know yet. I think it is also fair because it is really who works the hardest gets the better grade, so it is no one’s fault but your own when you do badly.

I am a big fan of the grading system- I think it accomplishes all it is meant to accomplish. For example, when I get back a test with a lot of 0s and 1s my thoughts have more to do with how much I need to learn than how bad I did on the test.

The grading system is very confusing and is made harder to understand beyond the fact that no other department uses it so it is an entirely new concept that we as students are subject to experiment. Beyond that, I value a grading system based upon effort and depth of knowledge,  and I believe that effort should play a larger role in grading than it does in most schools. I commend the physics for attempting to grade based on effort and mastery, as it forces apathetic students to constantly evaluate their thinking. However, even students graded by this system who work incredibly hard are unable to achieve better grades. This goes back to the checkbox question, which asked about intelligence versus learning new concepts. Some people are more intelligent than others and grading naturally favors those students by assigning a number to their intelligence, where grades are based off of a student’s ability to sufficiently demonstrate, through his or her intelligence, what has been learned. In our case, the physics department has not even eliminated the numbers (though the scale has shrunk considerably from 0-100 to 0-2) and still forces students to focus on breadth of knowledge rather than depth by making the goal of getting a good grade, and thus demonstrating sufficient intelligence, to “get as many objectives as possible.”

I like the fact that you can retest and always get a higher grade, but i don’t like how your entire grade hinges on your midterm or final exam.  I think because I retested on everything before the semester was over I remembered much more than if the grading system had been different.

I like this system because it takes a lot of stress out of the course. Usually, classes are based on a grading system where there is only one chance: such a system assumes that everyone has to get it perfect the first time. I don’t like that…..

I think this system has had a positive impact on me.
For example, I had trouble drawing position vs time graphs for velocity vs time graphs(Quantitatively) and so I had to keep reassessing. With each reassessment, I developed more understanding on the topic; basically, I had more chances to do it.

I LOVE the grading system, and I wish I had it in math. I really like that it tracks progress and makes it easier to understand the different concepts, seperately and all together. Because we can reasses as much as we need to, I practice the problems over and over again and it forces me to learn, whether I recognize it or not. The grading system lets me know exactly what I need to work on so that I can get the grades I want, and so I can understand.

I love the grading system as it is presently and have no dislikes what so ever about it. The system enables me to understand at my own pace without feeling stressed or feeling stupid. The UBFPM unit was one of the hardest sections for me during class but through the grading system I was able to come to understand the model without feeling as though I was failing as a physics student.

I absolutely LOVE the new grading system. It’s highly, highly conducive to learning. I am usually very number driven and end up putting a lot of pressure on myself to achieve a certain number; the grade is my priority. With this system, I am focused on the material – what really matters. I work harder in class because I want to understand everything fully instead of slacking off in certain places because I know that my number grade will survive it.

I feel that while I like getting a grade back on tests, this new grading system works very well.  It gives everyone the opportunity to reassess on the material they know. I think it has made me much for comfortable throughout the class because I know even if I do poorly on a test, i can always make it up come reassessment time.  I have had to gain numerous objectives throughout the year, so to pinpoint one is very difficult.  However, knowing that I have the ability to retest on each objective and even if I get it wrong, to retest again, makes the grading system worth it and pretty cool.

I think that as good as the grading system is, it is pretty tough on students to achieve mastery all the time.  For example, when a student studies a lot, works on an exam for four hours, and then receives zero points, I have to wonder if there is something amiss with the grading system.

I really like this system.  Since everything is accumulative, you must understand it before moving on.  The objectives help you be able to fully grasp the concept before being forced to continue.

I like the retesting because it gives me the opportunity to show what I have learned from the last quiz and it helps me gain practice in the areas where I need it the most. So I think that ultimately it has helped me. The only thing that I don’t like about it is that I feel like I always have too many objectives and never enough time to complete them and work on them. This system has given me more practice and therefore helped me udnerstand some concepts better in physics. Such as before the exam, I had a really tough time getting an objective. But eventually I got it and then I could show it really well on the exam!

i like that the grading system tries to give everyone the chance to do well but i also was very annoyed about the exam.  We were told that if you did everything you could before the exam (all the extra credit possible) then you could have a score between an 84 and a 100 for the term.  Most of us did all the possible work and then went into the exam under the notion (like told by the teacher) that we would all get atleast apx half credit on the exam and probably have no problems getting a 90.  For a ton of us, that wasnt the case and a lot of people ended up only one or two points higher than an 84. This grade is bringing my average down and i wish i had been told and warned a little more that even if you get a huge percent of the exam corect you grade will still be pretty low.

I like how even though I won’t do well on a test I can still go back and hone my skills on an aspect that is causing me trouble. However, I do not like how much weight is put on the exam in regard to your semester grade. If I’m working well and continually coming back for help, I feel like my work wasn’t worth much if these objectives are lost due to a bad experience with the exam.

I really like the reassessment system because it makes sure that I understand the basics of the course which is necessary to continue to improve.  However, I sometimes don’t understand my grades because I think my work and understanding of the material is not reflected in my numerical grade.  I also feel that I am not being graded objectively.  Sometimes Ms. O’Shea gives me work that we have not learned how to do in class and she expects me to know how to do them because of my high level math course.  I don’t think this is fair because I try to solve problems the way I am taught to in physics class, not in math class.

So far i like the grading system.

3 thoughts on “First Semester Course Evaluations

  1. I’ve been working on setting up SBG grading in my physics classes for next year, and the comments posted by your students have only reinforced the value of undertaking this conversion.

    I’m especially fond of the quote: “It is almost like she is punishing us for leaving things until the last second.” Not that anyone is trying to punish students for leaving things to the last second, but hopefully it begins to register with students that learning is a continuous process, not a last-minute effort, both for the instructor and the student. Terrific start! I look forward to reading more of your blog posts in the future.

  2. I would love to delve into this idea more. What do your assessments look like? Do you use modeling (I got your blog from a link in the modeling listserve so I assume you do)
    How does this all play out? I haven’t followed your blog so you may have some answers in there.

    1. I do use modeling (and love it… as do the kids, most of the time). I’ll definitely be writing a lot more about this year and ideas for next year once this school year is over (exam is a week from today!).

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