Foundations: Midterms + SBG

It can be difficult to make cumulative, summative assessments like midterms and finals feel like they fit in with the standards-based grading (SBG) philosophy.  These assessments run a bit counter to the core message of honoring growth and approaching learning as a continuous process.  When I first began using SBG, I still gave a traditional midterm.  Fitting into the system of my school was a significant factor in that decision.  Most of the time, these larger assessments are determined to be worth a certain percentage of the semester grade.  As a result, I used SBG for 80% - 85% of my semester grades and the remaining 20% - 15% was composed of the larger cumulative assessment.  However, this always felt wrong.  While the problems on the assessment (their wording and punny nature) matched what the students saw during the rest of our time together, I didn't like that I was treating their performance on this particular assessment differently.  Finally, with some encouragement from my fellow SBG-ers, I changed my midterm to look like a larger SBG assessment.  Here is what the cover page looks like for my AP® Physics C midterm:

AP Physics C Midterm Cover Page
As expected, a cumulative assessment is going to cover nearly all the skills from the semester.  Clearly, this list of skills is much longer than what would appear on a typical in-class assessment.  To make the students' lives easier and list less overwhelming, I highlighted the core skills (those in bold in the image above) to be assessed.  This focused their study time by allowing prioritization.  The secondary skills are present and still assessed, but mainly serve as a means of supporting the core skills.  Further, I gave them a basic overview of the problems and their focus as shown below.
Google classroom midterm overview AP Physics C DiSanto
I realize three questions may seem quite short.  The students have about an hour and a half to complete the exam.  These problems are deep, multi-step problems.  Further, I want to see what they can do when time isn't a driving factor.  While the College Board does prioritize analysis under a time crunch, I do not.  (Side note: I'm not throwing any kind of shade at College Board.  I am sure they have their reasons.)  As a teacher and former engineer, I am solely interested in assessing the students' true skill proficiency.  The stress of the exam itself is already muddying the water.  I don't need time pressure to muddy the results further.  Essentially, I want to see what they can do given challenging problems and time.

I also love that now my students can use their reassessment option just before or even after (our grades don't close right away after midterms) the cumulative assessment.  Some students opt to reassess just before the midterm to capitalize on all the awesome studying they've been doing.  Some do so as a recovery mechanism.  Based on my reassessment policy, students can only reassess up to three skills per reassessment so they can't simply have a redo on the entire exam.  However, if they struggle on a certain section, they still have an opportunity to demonstrate growth.  This allows the summative assessment to still have a partially formative feel, modeling that growth is always valued and there really is no ending to the learning process.

My midterm format is very similar for my regular physics students.  The skills list is slightly smaller, and I provide a more detailed outline ahead of time, including a list of my favorite packet problems from the semester to get their studying started!

The last element that was important to me in my specific situation was alignment with my school, which is not currently an SBG school.  I wanted to make sure the approximate percentage weight (the 20% - 15% I mentioned at the start) for my exam matched my department policy.  Based on the number of scores students earn throughout the semester, the weighting is approximately the same.  Phew! Consistency all around!

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