Standards-based grading

What is it?

In standards based grading, teachers provide specific academic goals for students, evaluate if those goals have been met, and then provide detailed communication to students/parents/guardians. More about how we identify standards, and what each department uses can be found here.

Why use it?

Because instead of providing a broad letter grade for each course, students would now receive more-detailed scores for each standard so that they would know exactly what their areas of strength and weakness are. The focus is on students acquiring skills. This provides specific targets for conversation between teachers and students, teachers and parents, etc…

What a standards-based grading environment looks like
Prior to the start of school…
  1. School administration would set out similar parameters for all subject areas covering the general process each department should address as it identifies its standards.
  2. Each department identifies the standards for its area, and how those standards will be evaluated.
  3. from those standards, each teacher identifies out which ones they will address in each of their classes, and how each will be assessed.
  4. Teachers then meet back with their departments to compare the standards they are addressing with one another.
Helping students and parents understand the process
  1. at orientation, freshman parents would learn about the standards-based grading process, what they will see in the gradebook, and how to read that information.
  2. at the start of school, all students in all classes would be able to see what standards they are expected to learn for the year. This would be more detailed than a regular syllabus, and would include not only content, but also skills to be learned.
    (World Studies Classroom Syllabus Example)
During the year
  1. at the start of each unit teachers identify the standards to be covered, the practice items that will occur, and how each of them relate to the summative. In addition, teachers let students know what the assessment and feedback loop will look like.
    (Biology Example of Ecology unit standards)
  2. ideally, students start understanding that classes are not about the assignments, but instead, are about the skills to be learned.
    (World Studies summative rubric)
    (Biology cell respiration lab with standards identified)
Reporting and using the data from standards
  1. instead of just entering letter grades or percentages, teachers now enter scores for each standard. The “report card” becomes much more detailed and specific in terms of the data it shows. (Grading criteria)
  2. teachers, parents and students can read that data, and begin to clearly see what areas are weaknesses for the student.
  3. improvement strategies can be coordinated to target those specific weaknesses.
  4. ideally, students get good at identifying their own areas of weakness.
What about weaker low-achieving students?
  1. Ideally, they take more ownership for their own learning.
  2. However, even if they don’t, the teacher now has more information to identify why they are struggling. Is it because they have weaknesses in reading or writing? Comprehension? Story problems? Etc..?
    (Example of a re-do contract)
At the end of the year…
  1. students can look back at their body of work to see what skills they achieved, and what skills they need to work on.
  2. students are not put in the “F” pit – they have the ability to recover (mode, re-do process)
  3. teachers can identify patterns within their courses where many students struggled, and can then work to adjust their course with new learning activities and assessments to better address those areas.
The challenges in converting to a standards-based grading system
  1. Change. Standards-based grading represents a significant change to how most of us were taught, and how most teachers are used to teaching.
  2. Uniform implementation: it’s difficult for a school to have some teachers using the system, and some not. Students and parents will be confused by the lack of consistency between how teachers use and assess standards if everyone is not on board.
  3. differences in types of standards identified between departments
  4. differences in standards-based grading between departments
  5. Implementing a gradebook that effectively captures standards-based grading, and works across the curriculum
  6. providing professional development time for faculty to identify the standards, implement them into their curriculum, learn the grading system, learn how to read the data, and how/when to develop strategies for students struggling with specific areas.
  7. teacher workload; standards-based grading involves much more detail when grading, more feedback and more time to develop individualized strategies.