Monday, 2 April 2012

SBG vs. APP: The Battle of the Acronyms!

My guess is that a lot of the online community are already familiar with these concepts, but I recently decided to have a rethink about how I use them in my classes. I thought I'd share my process with you all in case anyone finds it useful. Also, if I've made any mistakes about APP or SBG or you have any suggestions about how I could improve my practice, please let me know.

What are SBG and APP?

SBG and APP are models for assessment. SBG, or Standards Based Grading, is used mostly by American teachers and has been widely endorsed in recent years by the edublogging community. APP, or Assessing Pupils' Progress, is a UK government initiative, which has found success in pilot schemes but is not in regular practice yet in UK secondary schools. Both of them are trying to address similar common problems with assessment in schools, though they do it in slightly different ways. These are the problems:
  • Over-reliance on summative forms of assessment (hindering pupils' growth mindset and focus on improvement) including end-of-term tests.
  • Forms of assessment (e.g. homework scores) which are only understandable by the setter of the assessment.
  • Low quality/Limited evidence for achievement and feedback for improvement.
Green text: 'Well done, Jenny!', 'Must try harder, Mike.'

Standards Based Grading

The main features of SBG are as follows:
  • Regular assessment of skills or standards that pupils can understand (e.g. 'able to factorize quadratics')
  • Lots of opportunity for reassessment so that:
    • If a pupil is found to be weak in an area they have the opportunity to revise and try again.
    • Pupils are expected to retain knowledge of previously covered topics.
  • Non-assessed homework. Homework is now used primarily as a method of feedback for improving knowledge of a subject (note: this is not the case for all teachers implementing SBG).
  • Assessment is shared with the pupils so that they are able to see their progress and set their own targets. As asessments are now linked to shared standards, they may also be shared with other teachers and parents.
For more information, there are some great links from some of the most influential bloggers about SBG on the 'Old Math Dog New Tricks' blog.
Two notable programs that have come out of this are ActiveGrade and BlueHarvest, which both aim to make feedback readily accessible by pupils. They are both definitely worth checking out.

Assessing Pupils' Progress

The main features of APP:
  • Assessments are all linked to national curriculum levels and expemplifications so (in theory) that assessment can be applied across the whole department and even between schools.
  • Assessment can (but doesn't have to) take into account any work pupils show, including understanding shown in discussion as well as any written work.
  • Work that pupils do is reviewed regularly (termly, half-termly, end of each unit, etc.) and their current levels on each topic are upgraded. Feedback is also given at this point on what pupils should do next.
  • This assessment should then be used to inform future planning of lessons/transitions to a new class/etc.
More info about APP can be found from this handy PDF published by the government (note: this one contains things specific to maths education).


I used SBG in my last full-time job and found it vastly more informative than assessment I had performed previously and made discussions with pupils and parents much more constructive. It took me a little while to make the system efficient enough that the workload for it was managable and I never completely convinced many of my pupils of its benefits from their point of view (though they did appreciate that the process was being shared with them). In my upcoming job, I hope to start out with it and really sell the idea to the pupils from the off. I will do this by:
  • Discussing the aims of SBG with them.
  • Making assessments regular.
  • Giving opportunities for revision and reassessment that do not pile on extra work for the pupils (e.g. homeworks on a standard of their choice).
  • Sharing these opportunities with a pupil's parents/carers.
  • (If the school accepts the idea) I will not grade homework, but use it as a tool for revision, feedback and improvement.
These are the parts of APP that I will try to incorporate in to the SBG I already do:
  • Link the standards to the national framework (I'm not entirely sure how this will work yet though I'm guessing my 'standards' will be connected to the units of study and within each of those I'll have the targets i'm looking for based on the national curriculum level descriptors). I'm not so excited about this one as it seems like more work and makes the system more complicated. Schools and parents like to hear about levels though, as they can compare these nationally.
  • Using their exercise books as evidence on the standards. Last time I used SBG I ended up having a lot of mini-tests. This became very tedious for the pupils and probably turned many off from SBG in general. This time I will get most of my evidence from work in class, which I will review at the end of each unit. Department-wide tests will also be included and will be touted as an opportunity to show improvement from the original level I gave.
  • My feedback will include a list of what they can do as well as what they need to improve on. This is just an attempt to make my feeedback more positive and, if I can get it into a web application, it shouldn't be any extra work on my part.