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159. Grading for Equity: Competency-Based Rubrics

by Lindsay Lyons
April 16th 2024
In today's solo episode as part of a new mini series focused on transforming the systems that uphold inequity in our s... More
Educational justice coach, Lindsay Lyons, and here on the time for teacher podcast, we learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling, and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings if you're a principal assistant superintendent, curriculum director, instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nering out about core curriculum of students. I made this show for you. Here we go. Hello, everyone and welcome to episode 159 of the time for teacher podcasts. Today, we're talking about grading for equity, specifically focused on competency based rubrics. And we're also kicking off a mini series of episodes that are going to be focused on transforming the systems that uphold inequity in our schools. So again, today, we're talking about competency based learning and rubric specifically as a tool for increasing equity and feedback and assessment in your school or district.

Let's get to it. All right. So we're talking about grading for equity and specifically competency based rubrics in this episode. So I first want to start as usual with the why typical grading policies lead to grades that are often inconsistent inequitable and don't actually relate to the students competency in a subject area which is bananas. They also incidentally cause many students very high levels of stress. I have heard this, I have seen this firsthand in my students. It is not a fun thing. Grading itself. I would love to throw out the window. But if we have to do grades, let's talk about how we do grades. Well. So Hay said and Marzano, two researchers in their study found teachers who measured skill growth over time using competency based rubrics noted a 34% gain in student achievement versus traditional classrooms that do not use competency based rubrics, 34% gain in student achievement. Yes, I will take that also in competency based classes, students showed increased student learning, less stress in the class along with better teacher, student relationships.

Always what we're going for. I have heard so many teachers and leaders say that their teachers really want better relationships with students and also a decreased grade achievement gap. So again, if we're focused on equity as the goal, there is a decreased grade achievement gap in the use of competency based rubrics and competency based learning and teaching. So super good and a couple more things just off the top of my head here. But if you're not grading for students competencies in subject specific skills. Like what are you actually grading for? Very likely it's a student's ability to memorize, fill out a worksheet or have their butt in a seat. It's a little tongue in cheek, but I have seen it happen and I've even done it shamefully as an early career teacher where I knew better so to speak. Right. Where I really saw it in action and saw the possibilities for how to do it. So that's my error. I have made the mistake, learn from me and learn from this episode and the blog post that's gonna come alongside it. And as we move into rubric specifically, I just want to say what's helpful to learning is actually feedback, not necessarily grades.

Again, we could do away with grades completely and I think we would be better off but feedback is critical. And what rubrics do is provide the language on the rubric itself that gives us the specificity of feedback where students can identify. Oh, this is why I'm not completely meeting the standard right now. This is the difference between my work and that exemplar our work, right? It also kind of intrinsically, but you could also make it extrinsic or um I guess, I mean, implicit and explicit, implicitly. Uh but you can make it explicit, it provides actionable next steps for how to improve. So how to make it explicit. I think I have done this in the past where I have taken a youtube tutorial on if, for example, the skill was something like grammar. Um I would use like a three minute youtube video that already exists or I could create one on my own and I would link it into uh the rubric to say like, hey, if you weren't quite there yet, um This is a common challenge that a lot of you face. Here's what I want you to do.

I want you to watch this three minute video. And if I find that I've been seeing the same challenge over and over again, just to embed it right into the rubric. Um is I think a lot, a lot more effective both for students to immediately get that feedback and to have a next step. But also for the teacher to be like, I don't have to share this with individual students. I can just say if you got this on the rubric, it's going to save me time from one on one telling each student like, oh, this is the issue and now you can go ahead and watch the video, right? It's just embedded in the ongoing rubric I use for every assessment. OK. So how do we do this step? One? I would ask teachers to reflect, this is so powerful because often we don't even have a moment to just pause and reflect on our grading practices. So here are some sample questions that I totally pulled from competency, collaborative and I love competency collaboratives work. I will link it to them and I, I do think that, you know, using their resources is awesome and a lot of the language that I use in this episode probably pulls from them because I just use their resources so often.

And they are who trained me and helped train me in a competency based education and rubric practices. So here are some sample questions that you can use with your staff. One, how do you know whether and how much each student is learning based on what evidence? Two, how clear are your students about the criteria for success? Three, how do learners get actionable feedback in your class or school? Four? How do grades connect you and support learning at your school? Five? What are grades based on in your class or school in an ideal world? What would grades be based on? Now? I also love inviting students and families to think about these questions. And so you might need to slightly adapt the literal text of each question. But I think you could have a really generative conversation and really identify similarities, differences, uh directions for moving forward based on how everybody's answering the same types of questions. Now, step two, after you've had everyone reflect now, we're ready to kind of move into what do we do next with these reflections? Because likely there will be kind of many, I think aha moments of, oh, this feels wrong, but I'm just not sure what to do with this.

And I've literally heard teacher say this to me, remember reflecting in grading policies, like I don't love this, but I also just don't have a better way. So what do you want me to do? Right. And and there, right. Like, so let's talk about what is step two, step two would be to share the above research, right? All the stuff that you just talked about and I say above because literally on the blog post, it's going to say above and then scroll up and you will see all of the research of the links and all the things and the hallmarks of competency based learning. So you wanna give them all the info, the research that's like, yep, this is a good idea. We also to tell them like what is competency based learning, what is this direction we might be moving in? So three key points I think really define it. And again, these are pulled from competency collaborative. They have a lot more. I I like these um just because I think they really illuminate the the stark differences and the things that people uh struggle the most with and also benefit the most from when they switch over. So first teachers have transparent learning outcomes, right? They inform their lessons and assessments these outcomes do and the outcomes become built out into a rubric inclusive of the criteria and expectations for how to meet them and those rubrics, that language, the criteria expectations, all the things that's shared with students, right?

This not only helps students to know what's coming, reduce anxiety, have clear expectations, all the things, but it also helps teachers, right? It helps teachers to plan more efficiently and effectively everything is backwards planned from those outcomes and the rubric itself. Now, secondly, when giving feedback around a specific competency under competency based learning and teaching, the teacher is giving also a specific next step for how to improve. So this feedback is supposed to be useful and timely, this is really helpful for me as a teacher in in my teacher hat, right? Like I'm thinking, OK. So this means I don't have to give all the feedback at once. So if there's like four things happening right now that I want to tell you to do this different, do this different, this that's gonna be overwhelming to the student. And it's also gonna take me a ton of time to communicate, to teach, to find a resource for if I'm not actively teaching that student one on one, but need them to watch a youtube video or something. Instead I can focus on the first next step. And again, this is also super helpful for your students to just focus on one thing at a time. It's going to move them along the learning progression faster to focus on one thing at a time.

Now, the third key hallmark I would say is that assessments are opportunities to demonstrate competency over time. This is a huge mindset shift. So we have to think of assessment as an ongoing dialogue and this is language again from competency, collaborative, ongoing dialogue and not a one and done act. So this is gonna shift how we plan how we assess students, how we think about assessing students if students will be revising their first try on an assessment or doing a lot of similar assessments. This is also super helpful for educators, right? Not only does it help the students, it helps the teachers because now they have to create fewer assessments, right? And they have to create fewer rubrics because we're just working on the same ones. And if we're not working on the exact same ones, they're still very similar in their construction in what they're assessing in the kind of um fabric of the assessment itself, right? And we're just pulling in different content, but the fabric, the skill, the types of questions, the rubric itself, they all say the same, so much less work.

All right. So in these steps, we have reflected, we've asked teachers to reflect stakeholders to reflect. We've shared the research, we've talked about what competency based learning is. I think you're gonna start to generate a lot of excitement about this. And the next thing that you wanna do, step three is to consider what categories of competency you want to have in your rubrics, in your language, in how you grade, if you're shifting the actual grading structure as well as a school or a department or even if you're an individual teacher, right? Or you're a leader who's kind of helping an individual teacher or a set of small set of teachers to pilot something like you still want to think about these and have kind of a shared discussion about them. I don't think there is a right answer to this. Like how many categories of competency? I have seen four as the most typical, I have seen five, I have seen three. I think those are probably the range of 3 to 5 is probably what you want to go for. But one example, competency collaborative has shared can be remembered with the acronym name N AM E and that is all around this idea of competencies, right?

So not yet approaching meeting and exceeding the competency, right? So I have not yet got there. I am approaching. So I'm almost there and meeting it and I am above and beyond. I'm exceeding it. So that is something that you can use, you can switch it up in the language, you can, I mean, I've even, you know, like I said, I had people use just the first three because they feel uncomfortable saying that like the A if you're again, I think this is very still traditional minded. But like if you're thinking about the A as exceeding like, do you need to go above and beyond what I am asking of a grade level performance to get an a or should an a be just like, yeah, you met the standard, right? So there's a ton of discussion embedded in this and also a ton of traditional mindset that kind of comes through for better or for worse. Um And I, I think that that's like a really cool discussion that you can have and a really powerful one that kind of un a lot of the deep seated beliefs that are gonna inform what you're going to decide on. Now, another is that you can use a visual, non linguistic category name.

So I use bicycles and so I'll link to that in the blog post. The freebie for this episode is my skills based rubric templates. And if you've gotten this before, I've recently some recently updated this. So you can see the first page is actually a learning progression version where you're not actually saying this skill is uh you know, not yet approaching or meeting the standard, but it's actually like here is the stepping stone skill or the supporting skill that you need to learn before you get to the next one before you get finally to the skill itself. So for example, before I can analyze, I need to first decode the text. What is the text telling me? Then I need to be able to understand or comprehend the tax and make sense of it, then I can analyze and add my own spin and interpretation, right? So play with those, there's a bunch of different templates. That's why that's plural. Um But this is going to be located on the blog post version of this podcast episode, which will be located at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/blog/one 59. So in that, I I said that the bicycle, it's like the first category is like just a bicycle, that's it, standing still, took it out of the garage, so to speak.

The next one is looking like a kind of a a family member like a parent, maybe uh pushing a child on a bike, right? So you have kind of the quote unquote training wheels or I can do this with support category. And then the final one is like a bike going on like a mountain bike ride or something, right? So I can do this on my own. I'm doing tricks with it. This is great. So just an option. I've seen many and you can Google like Pinterest has a ton of cool visuals of people using like competency based uh scales that are actually like in visual metaphor format. Um So, OK, once you've decided the categories of competency step four is to use team time, super important that you have ongoing team, time, department wide or grade, team wide. However, you do teams to create subject specific rubrics. So I would ask each department or subject team to create. I think first you want to select like 4 to 8 is usually the range I suggest discipline specific or subject specific skills that are like we teach the these regardless of the unit we're in, regardless of the grade level, these transcend contexts and grades and once you choose them, have them select um uh the sorry.

So like the 4 to 8 and then have them define, excuse me, which category they're gonna start with? I like starting with the definition of like the highest. So whether that's exceeding or meeting standards, the bike on the mountain, whatever, this is what it looks like when it's great and then kind of work backwards from there and then define each category of competency. I would start because you're across grades here. I would start with the highest grade level. So if you're doing like K five, start with 1/5 grade and then work backwards to K. Um If you're, you know, K 12, same, same thing, I would start with 12, work backwards, but you might wanna band it as well. So you might say that actually, um K five, this is what competency looks like across like across levels. Um Maybe we're not getting super specific if you're doing K 12 and then within K five teams, you can get even more specific later. But to have a banded, here's elementary school, middle school, high school, what each of these looks like would also be a great resource to have and definitely a good place to start without getting too granular in the K 12 space step five is to have teachers use these shared rubrics for every single assignment.

So for summit of assessments, they're using the whole rubric, which is all of the skills 48, whatever they came up with. This also is going to help teachers once again to design assessments that align with the complete rubric, right? So if they're like, I designed this assessment, but actually, it doesn't have the ability to assess these three skills. Well, we're gonna redesign the assessment or we're gonna rethink like, is this actually a skill that gets assessed all the time? Does it need to be on the core rubric that's shared across the department? Now, for formative assessments, teachers can use one row of the shared rubric. So they're just taking the row of the rubric that has the specific skill the student is demonstrating competency in within that formative assignment. So again, you can use it for all assignments. You just not might might not be using all of the rubric for every assignment, you're taking a piece here and there. But summative again, I think I would do the full thing. OK, final tips before I leave you and really implications for teaching is what this section should be. So to ensure students have time to revise and improve their skills based on feedback that they got from the, their last assessment, I would make sure teachers embed regular sessions, they can call them workshop days.

I believe competency collaborative has somebody call them upgrade days um into the course. So I used to do workshop days every Friday. Um I've also called them what I need or win days. Like every Friday win day, you get to work on whatever you need to work on. Check your last assessment for, you know, whatever feedback that you got, where is a skill you didn't get meets standards or meets the competency on your rubric, work on it. Given the resource bank of things that I have either linked in your rubric or I have given you and revise that assessment or work on something else. This is great because students having the feedback and then determine which activities will be best for them based on the feedback. You don't have to go around and say, ok, you're here and you're here, right? They know or should be able to internalize that as you work through this, maybe not the first week, but by the 1st, 2nd month, right? End of the first month, end of the second month, they're gonna be cruising, right? Because they know this is how we do things. I'm used to this rubric. I've seen it many times. Another beautiful thing about this is that students can ask their friends, their peers for feedback because all the students are familiar with the rubric language they learn and get familiar with this as a class.

And what this does is it frees up the teachers to be a competency, collaborative folks have called a cognitive coach. So I as the teacher can meet, I can talk one on one in small conferences uh with groups of students, I can help coach, students versus teach or talk at students, right? Like OK, here's our struggle. You have the instructional video, you had the instruction from the lesson the day before I can coach you on any sort of confusion, same as I do with instructional coaching, right? Any time I have shared an idea or a practice or a resource and teachers have tried it out have come back to me said this didn't work. Ok, let's figure out why and where do we go to next? So we're truly in coach mode, which is far more effective. It's a far more valuable use of our time, especially when we have things like youtube videos and things that are already out there, especially when we have already delivered, so to speak the initial new content lesson in a lecture in a video.

However, we did it the first time students had that opportunity now they need something different, right? And that's what it frees us up to do in terms of pacing. Also a big shift for teachers is going to be moving from that coverage mindset of speed and breadth like more is better, right to prioritizing less is better. We're doing deep learning, we're doing a hard focus on skills that transfer across contexts and content areas. This is likely something both of these, the cognitive coach idea and the pacing for depth of overbreadth, likely something that you as a leader have wanted that maybe many of your teachers have wanted to shift to. But the development of the competency based rubrics is going to be the tool that really helps you get there. All right, try it out and I'll meet you back here next week. If you like this episode, I bet you'll be just as jazz as I am about my coaching program for increasing student led discussions in your school, Shane, Sapir and Jamila Dugan talk about a pedagogy of student voice in their book Street Data. They say students should be talking for 75% of class time. Do students in your school talk for 75% of each class period. I would love for you to walk into any classroom in your community and see this in action.

If you're smiling to yourself as you listen right now, grab 20 minutes on my calendar to brainstorm. How I can help you make this big dream a reality. I'll help you build a comprehensive plan from full day trainings and discussion protocols like circle and Socratic seminar to follow up classroom visits where I can plan witness and debrief discussion based lessons with your teachers sign up for a nerdy no strings attached to brainstorm. Call at Lindsay, Beth lions.com/contact. Until next time, leaders think big act brave and be your best self. This podcast is a proud member of the Teach Better Podcast network. Better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better.com/podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode.

159. Grading for Equity: Competency-Based Rubrics
159. Grading for Equity: Competency-Based Rubrics
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