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Chapter 19: Comparing Behavioral Assessment Systems and why Descending Levels Models (Checkmarks on the Board and Colored Cards) are not Effective

From Transformative Classroom Management. By John Shindler. ©2009

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In this Chapter

  • What is a Shame-Based Behavioral Assessment System?
  • Comparison of Shame-Based and Behavioral Quality Assessment Systems
  • Separating Intended from Actual Results of Shame-Based Behavioral Assessment Systems
  • Introduction to the Alternative: the Ascending Levels Behavioral Assessment Rubric
  • Behavioral Assessment Systems in the 1-Style Classroom


Ms. Ruiz is teaching the lesson and she looks over to see that DeShawn is talking to a neighbor for the second time in the last few minutes. She stops what she is doing and says to him loudly, “DeShawn, you know the rule about talking, I want you to go to the chart and move your card from green to yellow.” DeShawn with a look of shame, walks over to the chart and moves his card.


Mr. Paydar is lecturing in his class. He observes Raena talking to the student next to her. Mr. Paydar says to her, “Raena, I have warned you once not to talk while I am talking.” He walks over to the board and writes Raena’s name on it.


These scenarios depict two common methods of public shaming behavioral systems: names on the board and colored cards. The intention of shame-based behavior systems is to create a disincentive for the student and the rest of the class by making the offending behavior public. Figure 19-A depicts some common applications of shame-based or descending levels model behavioral assessment systems.


Figure 19.A  Common Examples of Shame-Based Behavioral Assessment System Formats

Type of System



Colored Cards

Names on Board

Less Acceptable  -  Acceptable

Green Card = Okay/Acceptable




Yellow Card = Minor problem/1st offense




Red Card = Major problem/or 2nd offense

No name on board = Okay/Acceptable


1st offense = Name on board


ü  2nd offense = Check mark by name


ü  More offenses = More checks


Chapter Reflection 19-a: After reading the scenarios at the start of the chapter, reflect on how you would feel if you were the student in each of these situations. How would you feel immediately after seeing your card moved or your name placed on the board? Thoughtful and reflective about your behavior? Accountable and responsible? Resentful and ready to get back at the teacher?




In these descending level model behavioral assessment systems, all students start with a clean slate (Canter, 1992; Wong, 1991). Symbolically this is represented by all of the students placed at the top or “acceptable” classification indicated by the green level, the smiley face level, or without their names appearing on the board (Figure 19.A). This top level represents behavior free of violations of rules and expectations. However, when a student’s behavior violates a rule, they drop down a level. This lowering can take the form of their name card being moved from the green to the yellow level, their names being placed on the board, or something similar, depending on the system’s specific features. If the behavior continues to be a problem, the prescription is to add more checks beside the name on the board or to drop the cards to lower levels (e.g., from yellow to red, or from the neutral face to the frowning face). While the appearance of the applications of these systems vary, they operate in much the same way: the public display of each student’s behavioral status represented on some level with the purpose of providing an incentive to show appropriate behavior and a deterrent to misbehave (Canter, 1992; Wong, 1991).


Public shame as a form of disincentive has been in existence in some form for centuries. Societies throughout the ages have used it in various fashions (Levine, 2005). One notable example would be the use of public stocks in the town squares of Colonial America. The offending party would be placed with head and hands locked into the wooden stocks, to be mocked by passers-by. The convict’s crime would be posted so that others would know what he or she had done and could therefore better express their shame and disappointment in the person’s behavior. While placing a student’s name on board is not quite as physically painful or dramatic as the use of stocks, the purpose and the effect are essentially the same.



Chapter Reflection 19-b Stocks of Colonial America are often depicted in the media. Typically the person in the stocks is depicted as a chronic law breaker or the “town fool.” Would you guess that this is an accurate representation of those who were put into these stocks? What does this imply about the use of shame-based systems in schools? Would you expect to see the same kind of perpetual offender when these systems are used in the classroom?


Examining the Effectiveness of Shame as a Behavioral Modifier

Public shaming – in fact, shaming of any kind -- would best be classified as a punishment rather than a consequence (Chapter 9). It is an extrinsic and pain-based strategy intended to give discomfort to the rule breaker. As with any punishment, shame can have the short-term effect of discouraging certain behaviors. It will, however, have only a weak long-term impact on reducing unwanted behavior and a negative long-term effect in terms of bringing about behavior change (Covington, 2000; George, White, & Schlaffer, 2006). Moreover, using shame to modify behavior will have a number of potential unwanted consequences (Levine, 2005).


Alternatives to Descending Levels Models

Many teachers are drawn to behavioral assessment systems or encouraged to use them by others in their school (Stoughton, 2007). This is understandable; there are many compelling reasons behavioral assessment systems are attractive, including the following:

Ø  They can help clarify expectations in a concrete manner.

Ø  They can provide immediate feedback to students on the relative level of the quality of their behavior.

Ø  They can provide a mechanism for whole class reflection related to the quality of behavior being demonstrated (e.g., “how would we assess ourselves right now?”).


The shame-based descending levels systems are only one of the possible types of behavioral assessment system (Hickey & Schafer, 2006). There are more effective alternatives. One such alternative will be explored briefly in this chapter, and later in more detail in Chapter 20. It uses an “ascending levels of quality” rubric to assess behavior. The behavioral focus of these systems can be defined generally or focused more specifically on a particular area (e.g., participation, process investment, cooperation, lab work, effort, etc.). These ascending levels system are different in that they are defined explicitly and posted publicly, but the assessment information related to the level of each student’s behavior is communicated privately. As we examine the sample rubric for individual cooperation during group work (Figure 19.B), one of the system’s defining characteristics should be apparent -- each of the levels within its rubric is clearly defined in specific behavioral language.


Figure 19.B: Sample Ascending Levels Assessment System Rubric for Cooperation as Part of an Overall Assessment of Participation During Group Work




Level 3

Cooperates consistently with the other group members. Shares ideas and materials. Takes her/his turn talking. Listens to others and expects to be listened to. Performs his/her role in the group.

Level 2

Cooperates with the other group members. Usually takes her/his turn talking. Usually performs his/her role in the group


Level 1


Cooperates with the other group members. Usually takes her/his turn talking.


Level 0

Did not make the effort to be cooperative this day.




When we compare typical public descending levels behavioral assessment systems to an ascending levels of quality behavioral assessment system we find a great number of areas in which they differ, including: a) structure, b) function, c) intention and d) the effects each will produce. The differences in the two kinds of systems will become more profound as we examine each of these areas independently.


Structural Difference

The structural designs of these two behavioral systems are 180 degrees from one another. They are both conceptually depicted as behavioral rubrics; however, where the ascending levels rubric progresses upward, the descending levels rubric progresses downward. The conceptual design of the rubric for each system is contrasted in Figure 19.C.



Figure 19.C: Descending Levels Model Rubric Structure -- Used in Public Shame-Based Behavioral Systems.

OK/Acceptable Behavior - Green
Warning/First Level Misbavior
Yellow,Problem/Second level
Red,Big Big Problems












Ascending Levels of Behavior Rubric – Used in Behavioral Quality Assessment Systems


OK behavior -- Level 1,Good Behavior -- Level 2,Excellent Behavior -- Level 3








Unacceptable Behavior --
Consequence Implied                                            




What difference does it make which direction the rubric faces? It makes a great deal of difference. One of the defining characteristics of a rubric is that it encourages behavior to develop toward its open end. Therefore, when we use an ascending levels of behavior rubric to assess student performance, we find that the quality of work improves over time as it increasingly moves to the most clearly defined end (Shindler, 2002). In the ascending levels rubric, the open and most clearly defined level is at the top, whereas the open and most clearly defined end of the descending levels concept used in public behavioral assessment systems is at the bottom. In each case, we find a great deal of practical and psychological incentive to exhibit behavior defined by the level at the open end of the rubric.



Chapter Reflection 19-c: If the examination of rubric structures seems somewhat abstract or academic, it may be useful to do a simple exercise. Look closely at each of the two rubric designs in Figure 19.C for 15 to 20 seconds. Where do you find your eyes going when you look at each rubric? In what direction do you read each one? What does this imply about what is emphasized in each type of behavioral assessment system?



Functional Difference

When we compare each rubric structure we can see that “adequate level” behavior is located in distinctly different places. In the descending levels systems, it is at the pinnacle, whereas in the ascending levels assessment system it is near the bottom. Therefore the conceptual as well as practical the upper levels of the rubric are defined by purposeful and intentional behavior, not by simply avoiding being a problem. The implication of this feature is that “doing okay” is not the goal. It is the minimum. On principle, the ascending levels system assumes that any behavioral assessment system should contribute to progressively better behavior over time, rather than symbolically represent levels of behavior (Hickey & Schafer, 2006).


Another significant difference between the two types of systems is how they function to correct misbehavior. In the shame-based descending levels system, the public act of being shamed and the symbolic act of having to move one’s card acts as the primary punishment for the misbehavior. Actual meaningful consequences for misbehavior may or may not be involved. Contrastingly, in the ascending levels system, consequences are separate from the assessment of behavior. Often the student who performs at the “0 level” will earn a consequence, but the assessment and the delivery of the consequence are separate. Misbehavior is not given a public (symbolic) punishment, but is given a meaningful, logical and related consequence in private.


Differences in Intention: Examining the Use of the Public and the Private

Another significant difference between these systems is how they incorporate public or private displays of information. The intention of the public shame-based behavioral system is to create a public disincentive to misbehave. Therefore it requires all assessment of behavior to be made publicly. In the ascending levels of quality behavioral system, all assessment is done privately. However, in the ascending level of quality systems, information that leads to higher quality behavior is made public (the rubric is posted, discussed, and reviewed regularly). One of the important differences between these systems is the clarity of defining what “quality behavior” looks like. In the descending levels systems, the definition of quality behavior is usually vague, invisible and known only to the teacher. In many cases, the offending student can be absolutely certain that they did something wrong (they see their card being moved to a lower level) but they may not be entirely sure why, or what the more desirable behavior would have been and therefore cannot know how to improve.


Figure 19.D: Comparison of Public Shame-based Deficit Model Behavioral Assessment Systems to Ascending Quality Behavioral Assessment Rubric Systems


Public Shame/Deficit Models Systems

Behavioral Assessment/Ascending Quality Model Systems

Public Aspect

Public display of behavioral level as a means to publicly shame the offending student and deter other students from misbehavior.

Rubric depicting levels of quality behavior or participation as a means of providing information and concreteness to the concept “quality” participation, behavior, process, etc.

Private Aspect

Reinforcement of the problem. Teacher explains that the student has done something to warrant the symbolic change in their status within the system. Teacher may or may not take action or attempt to get to the root of the problem.


Teacher provides the students regular and unrestricted access to their participation grades, and follows up with students to explain why specific marks were given, both high and low.


A symbolic action intended to be a punishment; therefore no real meaningful or logical consequence is given. However, may be given corresponding to the symbolic act.

Student’s grade is affected by the quality of their participation. If there is behavior that violates the social contract a logical and related consequence is given.



Motivates students to avoid the teacher, avoid being seen, to find ways to get back at the teacher, and/or to save face.


Motivates students to attempt ever-higher levels of quality behavior/participation.

Basic Ingredients

Places focus on the students as persons rather than on a student’s behavior/misbehavior.

Pain-based logic (assumes if we give the student enough pain in the form of shame and guilt, it will change behavior).

Public embarrassment (assumes humiliation will lead to behavior change).

Assumes the student has the basic desire to be seen as “good.”


Places focus on the behaviors that will lead to higher levels of function rather than the student as a person.

Operationalizes the concepts related to quality behavior, process investment and participation.

Uses numbers and grading to give student a quantifiable understanding of how they are doing.


Long-term Effects

Undermines the cause-and-effect relationship between student’s actions and consequences by placing a practically and emotionally confusing symbolic representation between the student’s choice and any meaningful consequence.

Clarifies the conceptual terms that are commonly used to define quality behavior/participation. Helps students see areas where they could improve.

Locus of Control

Like any punishment, the locus of control in these systems is largely with the teacher (i.e., external). The teacher makes the decision when the card needs to change or the name needs to go on the board.

Given the clarity of the definition for “quality behavior” and the fact that all behavior within the rubric is possible and can be performed by any student, the locus of control is largely with the student (i.e., internal).


Much of the attraction of the shame-based behavioral systems is that on some level they should “work.” Shame should be a deterrent and students should not want to have their cards placed at the lower levels or have their names on the board (Canter, 1992). As a result, many teachers are attracted to these kinds of systems (Stoughton, 2007).The systems work to some degree. Some readers may think, “But these (systems) do work! I have seen them work.” These readers may have observed a teacher use such a system or have used one themselves and concluded that what they observed was an effective system. What may appear on the surface as effectiveness is usually a misperception or a misattribution of what is working, and very often masks a deeper set of undesirable consequences (Gettinger & Kohler, 2006; Levine, 2006; Maines & Robinson, 1995).


Take the Challenge: Do your Own Action Research

If you are considering the incorporation of a shame-based system, you might consider doing some personal action research and challenging yourself to take a deeper examination of the long-term effects of these systems. Observe a class over a long period of time in which the teacher uses a deficit system, and keep track of what you observe as the year progresses. Afterward, answer the following questions based on your information:

  1. Did you observe the overall motivation to behave well get better or worse over time (as a result of the system)?
  2. Did you find that the system motivated students who were already inclined to behave well?
  3. Did you observe the behavior of the students who had to move their card (or had their name put on the board) improve fundamentally, or did you see the same names on the board or cards on the yellow level throughout the year?
  4. Did you find that it brought more positive or negative energy into the class?


As you reflect on these questions you will better recognize the potential limitations and drawbacks of public shame-based behavioral assessment systems. When using these systems we might believe in some initial improvement. We may feel the system is effective as we watch the students go to the wall and change their card from green to yellow, see the repentant looks on their faces and feel that it sends a cautionary message to other students. We might think that we are doing something active to repair the behavioral problems in our class. Moreover, commitment to a system brings a tendency to want it to work and to want to interpret any shift as improvement. Very often teachers who have committed to the use of shame-based public behavioral assessment systems lose sight of the long-term trends occurring in their classes. Like any short-term fix, these strategies may appear effective in the moment, but most often the problems just come back later (Gettinger & Kohler, 2006; Levine, 2006; Maines, Robinson, 1995). When we use these systems, we are slowly getting less healthy and functional as a class and their use actually is systematically promoting the unwanted behavior in a way that will inevitably see it increase (Bergin & Bergin, 1999; Levin, 2006)



Chapter Reflection 19-d: To better understand how something that seems to work in the short-term can be counterproductive in the long-term, it might help to use the analogy from another domain -- physiology. Like other pain-based strategies, the shame-based behavioral systems work like quick-acting drugs such as painkillers. If one has a headache, taking a painkiller will usually relieve the pain; however, if nothing is done to remedy the underlying cause of the pain it will come back -- usually to a worse degree. If one continues to take pain killers in response to a headache, more and more pain killers will be needed.

Like using pain killers to fix a fundamental physical or psychological problem, using shame-based deficit models creates an addiction to the short-term remedy. Once a teacher has become dependent on such a system, they continue to use it out of habit and dependency; because it has an effect in the short-term, they believe they need to continue its use. They think that the remedy will eventually solve the problem.

Perspective is lost. Ignoring evidence that behavior in the classroom not getting better (because the underlying causes of the problem behavior still exist), teachers continue to rely on futile shame-based systems to get results. Does this analogy (i.e., pain drugs as a parallel to colored card systems) seem valid to you? Can you think of other educational and non-educational examples that illustrate the same principle?




It is the case that sometimes teachers use shame-based behavioral assessment systems and fine a coincidental increase in the level of responsibility and the quality of behavior. The temptation is to relate the better behavior with the system (George, White & Schlaffer, 2006). If we take a closer look at these teachers’ classes we will see a whole series of other factors and concurrently applied effective strategies that actually are the contributors to the improvement. While a more responsible student body may be inaccurately attributed to the system, the phenomenon is in fact related to other variables (i.e., the effect of the teacher’s interest in the students’ behavior, the effect of the teacher’s attention, the students maturing and less needy for negative attention, etc.).




Comparing Intended Effects of Shame-Based Systems on Students to Actual Effects

To better understand the reasons that shame-based behavioral systems are less effective at achieving the intended effects and how they can actually be counterproductive in many ways, it may be useful to look at these operations when applied in the classroom. Outlined below is a series of actions common to shame-based systems, contrasting their intended effects to the predicted result.


Action: Card is moved from Green to Yellow (or Name goes on the Board):


Rationale/Intended Outcome

We assume that students want to be seen as well-behaved. When they misbehave, the sight of their name on the board (or their card moved) should be a concrete reminder of a poor behavioral choice. Consequently, they will avoid similar behavior because their desire would be to stay off the board (or stay at the green level). They could then be identified by other students, the teacher, and themselves as good students.


The Probable Actuality

Students have many basic human needs including control, love, and competence (Chapter 6). If a student misbehaves and has their name written on the board, they have just been separated and recognized. On one level this actually meets some fundamental needs. The overall experience may be confusing for first-time offenders. On the one hand, there is likely a sense of shame. The student senses simultaneously that they have received attention. Moreover, when they internalize the situation they realize they are largely in control of obtaining this type of attention because they have the power to act in ways that will get their name on the board (or card changed) any time they feel the need. This attention meets some of the need for love and belonging as well as competence because “being someone” and being recognized feels good. It could be said that there is neither good attention nor bad attention when processed by the unconscious mind. Most forms of attention feel better than no attention at all.


The repeat offender begins to recognize that when their name goes on the board, they merely tolerate a temporary sense of public embarrassment. They quickly realize a name on the board is not a meaningful consequence. It is purely symbolic. With each offense the student will become increasingly immune to the shame or the symbolic punishment, and may even find an increasing level of satisfaction with the attention. They eventually come to know the score -- they pay no meaningful price, and the need for power, love and a sense of competence will be met while temporary shame is endurable. As discussed in Chapter 14, if a student exhibits a negative identity pattern (especially if they are repeatedly acting out), then the shame actually works to reinforce the negative behavioral cycle and increases the likelihood of future misbehavior (Kauffman, 2005; Levine, 2005).



Chapter Reflection 19-e: In your experience have you known a student who seemed to enjoy being singled out for misbehavior? If you were that student, how would you view the threat of having your name written on the board or having your card lowered? Would you see it as a punishment or some kind of reward?



Action: Card is moved from Yellow to Red (or More Checks are placed next to the Student’s Name)


Rationale/Intended Outcome

As the student sees their card move from yellow to red, they know that they are in serious trouble. This might mean they are close to being sent to the principal’s office or staying after school. In addition, the level of public embarrassment increases. The student and the whole class can clearly see that he/she is at the significant “bad behavior” level.


The Probable Actuality

If a student has become accustomed to having their name on the board or seeing their card lowered to yellow, the amount of shame that a student will feel moving down one more level is not going to be significant. It may look like a meaningful jump, but while the symbolic drop is one whole unit, the experience on the part of the student will not be proportionate. In fact, if the student has become comfortable with the attention and recognition that having a card at the yellow level offered, moving to the red level will likely provide more of the basic needs satisfaction (Kauffman, 2005). Viewed within the lens of the negative identity pattern it is very likely that if a student continues to have their name on the board or card at red, they are developing an identity around being the “troublemaker.” Many students reason that if they cannot be the “best,” it makes sense to be the “best worst.” In a structure of descending levels, only the worst behavior is rewarded by the prominent display of students’ names who accomplished it. Being placed at the red level provides free advertising and makes the student’s job easier if they are out to promote their reputation as the “best worst.”


Event: Students in the Class Observe another Student’s Cards Moved (or His/Her Name Put On the Board)

Rationale/Intended Outcome

Given the social/indirect learning mechanism, students can learn lessons without having to experience them directly (Chapter 3). Therefore, when students observe the events leading to a student’s name being put on the board (or card moved), they have a concrete reminder of behavior that is not acceptable in the class. In addition, they witness another case of a student who is being publicly shamed as a result of their actions. This creates a disincentive to follow in that student’s footsteps and an incentive to behave well.








The Probable Actuality

First, while some students may receive the cautionary message, they are likely the students who seldom consider misbehaving in the first place. Second, students learn lessons indirectly all the time without having to experience the same fate as the offender. And while lessons are certainly being learned indirectly, they may not be those that are intended. One powerful observation from students is they see that on a symbolic level the teacher’s actions are meant to dissuade bad behavior, but on a practical level they recognize that the teacher is giving public attention to the student who is misbehaving. It is also taking time away from the students who are on task. While few students consciously think, “I want attention, so I will therefore misbehave,” the unconscious message is reinforced: “In this class the attention and the public recognition are given to the students who misbehave.” One of the principles of behavior modification iterates that that which gets reinforced will be repeated (Landrum & Kauffman, 2006). One might question how getting one’s name on the board is reinforcing; however, let’s revisit the idea of basic needs. It is certainly not an either/or proposition in the minds of the students: “Do I try to get attention or do I avoid shame?” However, both goals will be considered in the students’ decision-making processes. When one considers the basic needs (e.g., power, fun, competence, freedom, love/belonging) that can potentially be met by the attention afforded by getting one’s name on the board versus the basic needs that are met by staying clear of trouble and off the board, the choice may not be as simple as the logic of the shame-based behavioral assessment system assumes (Kauffman, 2005).








What do Students Learn about the Teacher from this Event?

Within the shame-based model, the intended lesson that other students learn from the incidents in which the teacher has moved another student’s card is, “If you misbehave, the teacher will change your card because that is their job.” This lesson may be one of many learned, but there are liable to be many other lessons. First, the students learn that the teacher uses shame to modify behavior. This may seem obvious and implicit. However, when a student perceives a teacher as an instrument of shame or pain, they will tend to fear that person and even assign them hostile traits. If our goal is to create a sense of belonging and a safe emotional climate, being viewed as an instrument of shame and pain (even if it is sanctioned by our behavioral system) will work against this goal. Second, after observing the event and analyzing its essence, students conclude that what happens when someone misbehaves is a symbolic punishment is given (their card is moved, and they are publicly shamed), but no meaningful consequence occurs. Students will feel that we have been “passive aggressive” even if they do not articulate it. Moreover, these actions send the message that we are too lazy to provide a meaningfully related consequence or take action that will fundamentally solve the problem.



Chapter Reflection 19-f: If our goal is to build a relationship with our students that is defined by faith, loyalty and respect, what effect would an act of public shaming have on that relationship? Imagine that you are a student in the class. Maybe your sense of confidence is a bit fragile, so when you are involved in a task, you are often tempted to act out to avoid being conscious of feeling incompetent. Therefore you rely a great deal on the teacher to encourage you and make you feel like you can do it. Now imagine if the teacher had just publicly shamed you (or another student for that matter); do you have the same level of trust and sense of emotional safety? What did that event do to your relationship with the teacher?



Since we cannot read minds, we cannot be sure what students are thinking and what thoughts are motivating their actions, but we can observe behavior. What may seem like a sound rationale for using deficit model systems -- such as those incorporating names on the board and colored cards -- is exposed when we examine the actual practical and psychological effects of the use of such systems on student behavior. Moreover, because the structure and function of these systems is designed only to dissuade misbehavior they are incapable of promoting higher-quality behavior. The best a student can do in a descending levels system design is “okay” – or stay out of trouble. When we contrast the effect of an ascending levels design, we find that one clear advantage is that it has the effect of promoting a higher quality of the behavior defined in the rubric.



Chapter Reflection 19-g: Some schools use strategies such as “detention cards” and other symbolic indicators for students who misbehave (e.g., so many detention cards will lead to a detention). If we reflect on the purpose of these systems, we find that they operate much like the descending levels behavioral assessment systems. Rather than produce an actively meaningful consequence that is logically related to student misbehavior to help the student learn greater levels of responsibility, the prescription is for a symbolic, passive public-shaming device, intended to make the student feel guilty for their actions. As you reflect on the effectiveness of shame-based systems such as colored cards, would you expect a system that features detention cards to be any more effective at reducing misbehavior, or for promoting more functional and responsible behavior if used?





In the next chapter we will examine a step-by-step procedure for creating a system to assess behavior that is characterized by the ascending levels rubric structure. This system focuses on the quality of behavior in any area that is most essential to one’s grade level, subject area, and particular needs, including process, behavior, participation, cooperation, effort, listening, group work, or citizenship. This type of system provides the level of visibility of shame-based systems without the harmful effects. They have the capacity to teach as well as assess.


The ascending levels systems can be tailored to any grade level. Figure 19.E represents an example of a participation assessment rubric for a high school science class.


Figure 19.E Sample Group Lab Assessment Rubric for a High School Science Class




Level 4


Roles are executed effectively. All members have read and understand lab requirements and features. Data collection is complete, and shows evidence of certainty in results. Data analysis shows evidence of all group members’ collaborative involvement. Hypothesis is stated when applicable. Data is displayed in an appropriate form and clearly represented. Group members are careful to complete one step in the process before going to the next. Group members work together cooperatively. Each member of the group shows a high level of investment in the process from the beginning of the period to the end.

Materials are treated with care. Group spends a sufficient time setting up their lab materials before they begin activity. Group members refrain from dangerous or careless use of the lab materials. Group members take responsibility for other group member’s treatment of the materials. When the lab is complete all materials are cleaned and returned to their proper place. Group members wash their hands before leaving class.

Level 3


Roles are executed effectively. All members have read and understand lab requirements and features. Data collection is complete. A conspicuous and devoted effort is made to analyze data. Hypothesis is stated when applicable. Data is displayed. Group members are careful to complete one step in the process before going to the next. Group members attempt to work together cooperatively. Each member of the group shows a sincere investment in the process from the beginning of the period to the end.

Materials are treated with care. Group sets up their lab materials before they begin activity. Group members refrain from dangerous of careless use of the lab materials. When the lab is complete all materials are cleaned and returned to their proper place. Group members wash their hands before leaving class.

Level 2


Roles are attempted. All members have read and understand lab requirements and features. Data collection is attempted. Data analysis is attempted. Data is displayed. Group members refrain from conflict.


Materials are treated with care. Group sets up their lab materials. Group members refrain from dangerous of careless use of the lab materials. Clean-up is attempted.

Level 1


Data collection is attempted. Data analysis is attempted. Data is displayed. Group members refrain from conflict.


Group members refrain from dangerous of careless use of the lab materials. Clean-up is attempted.

Level 0


Members of the group were unable to meet the minimal requirements of the lab for effort, procedure, responsibility, or level of conflict.

Members of the group were unable to take care of the materials provided and therefore lost the opportunity to continue the lab.


Whether our assessment rubric is used formally or informally, helping students reflect on the quality of their investment in their process-related class work will have a positive effect (Lotan, 2006). Because there is no public shame, and any and every student is capable of doing top level work, students are empowered to work toward better quality behavior. Each student’s basic needs are met through positive recognition for striving for higher quality work rather than by obtaining negative recognition for misbehavior (Hickey & Schafer, 2006).


There are many ways that an ascending levels of behavioral quality rubric can be incorporated into a class. It can be used to assess daily group or individual participation. It can be used for student self-assessment individually or as groups. The rubric can be used by the teacher to lead whole-class reflections regarding the collective level of behavior. Students can be given formal recognition for their level of performance such as grades or comments on report cards, or they can be given informal recognition such as private comments by the teacher, stickers, points, or public recognition. Each of these applications will produce slightly different results. The more formal and regular the use, the greater the impact the system will have on behavior. Moreover, it is essential to the success of the system that it is designed very “soundly” and implemented very deliberately.


How does an ascending levels of quality rubric system for behavior compare with a descending levels model? We can explore the effectiveness of the ascending level systems here on two fronts: preventing misbehavior and encouraging healthy behavior.


How does this type of system affect the student who comes to us with a habit of misbehavior?

  1. A well-constructed ascending levels rubric will make the desired behavior in the class very concrete and operational. One of the reasons students continue to misbehave is because such concepts as listening, cooperation, being positive, sharing, trying, or effort are still abstract. The teacher may have a clear idea what is meant when students are encouraged to demonstrate these behaviors, but many times our students lack a concrete and meaningful understanding of what that desired behavior looks like or how to demonstrate it. Clear language in a rubric that is clarified by behavioral examples makes those abstractions much more tangible, comprehensible, and therefore more likely to be demonstrated.
  2. All behavior that is outlined in the ascending levels of quality rubric (if it is constructed soundly) is within the students’ control. Many times students who feel incompetent or powerless to get what they want attempt to gain some sense of power by misbehaving in an effort to feel that they have control. If a student feels in control and capable of displaying top level behavior in a day, they are able to meet their need for competence and power through demonstrating and being recognized for their quality effort. When it is possible to be the “best best,” or at least attain the best level of recognition, it is much less likely that a student will feel satisfied to be the “best worst.”
  3. As students become more familiar with and successful in attempting positive behavior they begin to have their needs met. While there is a symbolic aspect to the system, as there is with the descending levels systems, the benefits of having days where one’s performance is at or near the top of the scale feels meaningful. The student can relate the daily mark that they were given to their recollection of the positive effort that they made that day. In the deficit model, there are essentially two kinds of feelings that a student can experience –- one related to being shamed and one relating to being spared for another day but anxious about the next. As the student moves from level to level in the ascending level system, they feel a whole range of desirable emotions -– capability, belonging, power, and an indirect effect on achievement. Above all the student experiences a multi-level sense of affirmation: seeing their performance at the top level of the chart, witnessing the teacher recognize their effort, and bonding more strongly with their peers as their behavior merges more consistently with the top level behavioral definition.
  4. If one or more students have negative identity patterns, the ascending levels system will not support their negative self-image. In fact, in the ascending levels behavioral assessment system, there is no means to obtain negative attention. It recognizes all effort as progress toward more functional behavior. There is no public recognition of poor behavior and no red level -- only feedback related to one’s progress toward being the best that one can be.


How does this type of system affect the average and well-behaved students?

  1. Richard Stiggins (2003) states that if an assessment target is clear and standing still, all students can reach it. If the rubric in the system is clearly worded, the ideas are clarified and related to personal experience, and the students have enough time to internalize the system, the result is a target that is clear and standing still. As you were challenged earlier to examine the effects of the deficit model systems in practice, you are also encouraged to examine the long-term effects of ascending model systems. Note the effects that you observe when students are given a system that sets out clear targets for quality behavior. It is likely that you will find nearly all students will ultimately hit that target, with more regularity over time.
  2. Simply put, in a deficit model the best one can do is okay/adequate. In the ascending levels of quality model, behavior characterized as adequate is assigned Level 1. There are higher levels to which the student can aspire. In the shame-based descending levels model there is no meaningful incentive to do anything but stay out of trouble. In the ascending levels of quality model, there is a built-in challenge to not merely stay out of trouble, but also the incentive to make an extra effort, to think beyond one’s own needs, and to exhibit positive and supportive behavior. In essence, one cannot get a top-level distinction without demonstrating behavior that essentially will make oneself and the whole class better.



Chapter Reflection 19-h: Examine ascending levels of quality rubrics such as those depicted in Figures 19.D and 19.E (as well as 22.B and 22.C). If you were in a class that used one of these systems, would you make the choice to invest at levels lower than the top level?



What Happens If Students Violate Rules?

In an ascending levels of quality behavioral assessment system, when students violate the social contract they receive logical consequences. These systems do not replace or confuse the social contract and its logical consequences. Whereas a public descending levels system will confound and weaken the cause-and-effect that you have developed in the social contract, the ascending levels system will support it. The behavioral assessment system supports behavioral improvement, and the social contract creates accountability. Both practices create more responsible students, clarity of expectations and motivation to behave well. There is no need for or presence of pain-based logic in any form.

1,2,Orchestator,Facilitator,4,Student - 
Centered,Teacher -








While they are used in classrooms characterized by all four teaching styles, shame-based models would best be classified as 4-Style teaching practices. However, the use of an ascending levels of quality behavioral assessment system has the potential to promote the goals of the 1-Style Classroom. If the language in our rubrics defines high quality behavior as self-responsible and cooperative, these systems can be tools to promote collective function and self-reliance. If they are used as a teacher-centered mechanism to evaluate which students are on task and following directions and which are not, they will promote outcomes more consistent with the 2-Style classroom. The essential question that will distinguish the two is whether the use of the system is primarily about supporting learning and growth or rather about a reliable method of behavioral evaluation. In the 1-Style class, these systems must be perceived primarily by the students as tools for their growth.



In the next chapter, we will examine systems for assessing complex performance-related outcomes such as process and behavior. These systems can have a number of applications from the ascending levels of quality behavioral assessment systems discussed in this chapter to process-related aspects of a learning task. A step-by-step process will be outlined. If you are currently using a shame-based, descending levels system and wonder how to implement change, the chapter will offer a process for creating a more effective and healthy alternative.


Journal Reflections

1.     What is your opinion about the use of public disappointment and/or shame in the classroom? Do you feel that it is justified or necessary in some situations? Why or why not?


2.     Reflect upon the descending levels behavioral systems that include facial expressions to define each level of behavior (e.g., smiley face, neutral face, unhappy face). In your assessment, whose expression is it that is being depicted? If you were a young student, what effect would these expressions have on your sense of self?



Chapter Activities

1.     In groups discuss your experiences with shame-based behavioral assessment systems. Share the various forms in which you have observed them. What are their common qualities? Reflect on the action research questions posed earlier in the chapter and discuss them as a group.

·         As a result of the system, did you see the overall sense of motivation to behave well in the class get better or worse over time?

·         Did you find that the system motivated the students who were already inclined to behave well?

·         Did you see the behavior of the students who had to move their cards (or had their name put on the board) improve fundamentally, or did you see the same names on the board, or same cards on the yellow level throughout the year?

·         Did you find that it brought more positive or negative energy into the class?


2.     In groups or individually, brainstorm ideas for areas for which you might assess the quality of behavior, participation or process. In the next chapter, you will be asked to envision an application for your specific situation. What areas do you see in your class (or your eventual class) for which you could use a system to improve behavior? The answer to the following question may be helpful in your efforts: “If students would just do a better job of _______ behavior, the class would be much more effective.” Potential ideas could include individual participation, group participation, the process aspect of a task, listening, preparation, effort, lab work, station work, field-trip behavior, etc.


3.     In groups, examine each of the two models presented in this chapter: 1) the descending levels behavioral system; and 2) the ascending levels behavioral assessment system in relation to the three factors that define student psychology of success -– internal locus of control, sense of acceptance and belonging and mastery orientation. Brainstorm the effect each type of system would likely have on each of the three areas. Refer to Chapter 7 if necessary.



Descending Levels

Ascending Levels

Internal LOC















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