Streamline SBG Feedback with Gravic Remark OMR #sbar #edtech #physicsed

I’m going to try out Skills Based Grading (SBG) next year in my Regents Physics courses.  I’ve talked to lots of teachers using it, read Marzano’s “Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading: Classroom Strategies That Work,”image  many terrific blogs, tweets, etc., and I’m convinced that providing students quick and detailed feedback on exactly how they’re doing with respect to course standards will benefit us all.

But I’m also worried.  Worried about the hiccups, the unknowns, the corners I may drive myself into.  Worried about tracking, about keeping up, about consistency.  And I’m worried about my ability to provide and record all the detailed feedback necessary.

Without a doubt I’ve been one of the hardest-working teachers in the building… I’m usually in my room by 6:30 a.m., most afternoons I don’t leave until 4:30 or 5 p.m., one night a week I often spend working until 8 to 10 p.m., and I come in for half a day or so on weekends fairly regularly.

imageI enjoy what I do, and I don’t mind the time commitment.  But I don’t want it to increase, especially with a family at home that I adore (and my daughter now believes watching baseball with Daddy is more fun than Mickey Mouse Clubhouse!!!).   So I can’t allow SBG to take any more time from me during the school year.  But how do I provide 100+ students with detailed, by-skill feedback on the larger standardized-type assessments, with multiple reassessment opportunities?  (Yes, I know about the standardized assessments, but here in NY emphasis is being heightened on standardized testing, including up to 40% of a teacher’s performance evaluation).

I spent several months researching this problem, with potential solutions ranging from a multitude of “punch-out”-type answer keys for individual assessments, all the way to having students do multiple self-assessments and exam breakdowns.  Of course, the personalized assessments that pervade the SBG mentality still apply, but for larger standardized assessments, including mid-terms and end-of-year practice exams and final exams, spending day after day grading the same exam across multiple skills just doesn’t make sense.

Finally, with the help of some terrific support folks at Gravic, I decided to try out Gravic Remark OMR.image   Remark OMR is a software package that allows you to scan multiple choice bubble sheets in a standard sheet-fed scanner, and evaluate them against an answer key which can break down questions into individual skill scores.  Further, with multiple exams and versions of exams, you can bar code the exam answer sheets against the answer key to help prevent mis-scoring.

The software package comes with a built-in analysis package which makes breaking down scores by class, individual skills, demographics, or any other student input quick and easy.

Setup of answer keys is fairly straightforward — you can make your answer keys in Word or any PDF creation system, and print them out on a standard copier.


The downside – Remark OMR is expensive.  A single-use installation license runs $995, and support is free for only 30 days.  Getting up and running with the software takes a little bit of tinkering, but within a few days you can be creating exams, scoring keys, and grading 50+ MC question sets across 100 students in 10-15 minutes.

I wouldn’t recommend it for all courses, but in a course where standardized testing is emphasized, and you want to provide many students detailed score breakdowns on a repeated basis across many multi-skill assessments, Remark OMR has terrific potential.  I used it as part of our Regents Exam review process this year… we gave the students old Regents Exams, and scored them using Remark OMR, providing each student detailed feedback on areas of strength and weakness.  Then, students developed an individualized action plan to work on their greatest opportunities of improvement independently using each other, review books, course notes, and the APlusPhysics physics tutorials before sitting down for a reassessment.

This process was repeated several times, and student feedback has been tremendous – they love how their review work is tied directly to their performance, they appreciate being able to track their improvement as we get ready for their culminating exam, and they particularly love the immediate feedback facilitated by the quick scanning and scoring process.

A Better Feedback and Assessment System?

I’ve been reading Robert J. Marzano’s “Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading,” and though I’m nowhere near done with the book, it has sparked a bunch of ideas which I’m not done digesting. Chief among my concerns is making sure that I build a system that works for me in my classroom, meeting my goals and helping my students be successful, regardless of what name, if any, is applied to the system.  SBG, SBAR, formative assessment, skills-based grading – the name isn’t what matters, and perhaps what I end up with isn’t truly any of these, or maybe it’s part of all of these. What matters is that the system meets my goals.

So then, what are my goals?  That’s taken quite a bit of thought to understand what I truly want out of an assessment system.  Following several days of contemplation, here are my initial goals:

  1. A system that easily illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of each student.
  2. A system that allows me to differentiate instruction and activities across individual needs.
  3. A system that provides students a greater sense of ownership over their learning.
  4. A system that promotes responsible independence.
  5. A system that provides me with improved data for planning future instruction.

Sounds simple enough, but when considering all the implementation costs and struggles, I definitely have some concerns and worries.  In principle, a skills-based system where I assess students on individual skills developed from course, district, and state standards, broken down to a fine enough level that students can see exactly where they need to focus their efforts, could be assessment nirvana. Not only would such a system provide terrific insight into individual strengths and weaknesses, but this system would lay the foundation for a more freely structured classroom, with lessons, activities, challenges and further assessments pre-defined and available for students to work through at their own pace based on their own needs!  Think of it – in theory, every individual student in the classroom could be focusing their efforts on the activities that will make them most successful – personalized self instruction with ongoing support and direction from the instructor!

Could it actually work, though?  Are high school students mature enough to handle this responsibility?  I realize, of course, that a vast majority would require ongoing assistance and direction, but this recipe for my idealized classroom could be a recipe for disaster if not implemented very carefully with extremely well-defined boundaries and expectations. And is my idealized classroom truly what’s best for students, or just what I think would be best for students? Am I delusional in considering such a massive change in an already successful classroom?

On the other hand, if I don’t keep pushing forward, taking risks, and attempting change, in many ways I may be neglecting my job as an educator to do everything I can to help my students be successful. My administration has consistently allowed me to take educated risks, knowing I have weighed the costs, potential benefits, and done a reasonable risk assessment.  But this is a big one – high reward potential, absolutely!  Huge investment of time to prepare for such a paradigm shift… and risks which are substantial, and therefore must be carefully considered and mitigated to the best of my ability.

Even after thinking through the downside if my utopian vision of a physics classroom begins to resemble a thermodynamics experiment gone wrong, I think this is a move I have to make. I have colleagues in the teaching community who have implemented or are implementing similar changes… maybe not with quite the same vision, but certainly considerable potential synergies. I have supervisors and administrators in my school willing to support my risk-taking. And most importantly, I have the drive to become the best teacher I can be, to help my students become the best they can be. The moment I’m no longer true to that goal is the moment I should look for a career change.

So, I continue to explore, research, and develop guidelines for next year’s classroom. I have a long way to go toward alleviating my three main concerns at this point, and would appreciate any feedback or thoughts those of you who have already jumped into the SBG/SBAR pool could provide. The current top 3 concerns:

  1. How to efficiently implement varied assessments to streamline data collection across multiple skills with more than 100 students I see each day.
  2. Communicating the system and its advantages to students and parents clearly and precisely.
  3. Fitting my assessment system into the school’s automated grading portal system.

Like I said, a lot more work to be done, so I’d best put down the computer and do some more research.  Thanks for your comments and thoughts!