Power Law Possibilities: My SBG Journey

As I dive more and more into Standards Based Grading I am intrigued by a number of things. The first is that SBG and Game Inspired Designs do not have to be mutually exclusive. I have always felt that games are such great teachers because they need to quickly engage a player with skills and content knowledge that are assessed within rapid feedback loops. Games build toward mastery through formative assessment processes with the ultimate goal of players demonstrating their skill mastery in boss fights. School can be designed with similar mechanics to increase engagement as well as mastery. Standards Based Grading has the same mission which is to help students reach mastery of content through rapid feedback and reassessment!

This is all well and good as an ideological target but schools demand a grade. In my district and state there are several requirements that need to be accounted for including mandatory weighted categories (50% major, 30% midlevel, 20% practice), an 80/20 class v final exam split, and a ten point gradimg scale. In pure SBG systems (in my novice understanding) there is no grade but a series of feedback stories within various predetermined standards. This is intriguing but pragmatism must prevail since 1) I like having a job and 2) students have real consequences based in their grades. In SC the major state scholarship, the Palmetto LIFE scholarship, is based on meeting 2 of 3 entitlement standards:

2 of the 3 are based on grades and the third is based in test taking ability. So in a practical sense I want a grading system that fairly measures my students mastery of the standards. As I mentioned in my Why I’m Moving on from XP Grading post, many of my students have been “grinding”, or completing a large number of low level tasks, in order to jump levels but I don’t think it is accurately describing their mastery of content or skills.

This is why I am teally intriuged about a gradebook trick called the Power Law function.

I am still working out how to actually do this so if we have any spreadsheet experts out there please DM me. The basic concept is that more recent grades have more weight than older grades. When we think of the purpose of school this shpd make sense. When students start a class or unit they have little skill or knowledge so their initial scores will likely be low. As they recieve feedback the student should grow and demonstrate more proficiency until mastery is reached. If it is true mastery and not just a lucky coincidence the skill should be repeatable too. Ideally a student that started off with little proficiency but is showing growth will have a better score than a student that showed a modicum of talent but never free to proficiency much less mastery. In a traditional gradebook that averages out scores the students may look the same even though the stories are veey different. Marzano explains it better and even has a chart.

The grade stops beimg a mathematical function and becomes a narrative of student growth (or lack thereof). This also removes a formative assessment penalty from the students grade.

In mathematical terms the power law formula is… well… complicated…

How on earth do I get that into a spreadsheet?!

Over the next few weeks this is my target. I have thought about just taking the last grade but that seems far to simplistic and doesnt account for students that cannot repeat the skill. I have also seen a decaying effect or withering style gradebook. In this case older grades “wither” by 2/3rds value for every new grade entered. This seems to be attempting to mimic the Power Law in a simplified way. This might be a fall back.

I am so intrigued by the Power Law and SBG because it will allow me to keep most of the Game Inspired Mechanics that I have found so useful while also inproving student mastery. Next up I intend to share the new 2020 US History standards and how I can build SBG into my class!

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