Introduction to Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading 

Implement standards-based grading and formative assessment in your school with this guide.

Why start formative assessments and standards-based grading?

In today’s world of endless information sources, it’s hard to define what is relevant for student learning. Students are in need of an assessment strategy that provides them with timely, relevant, and honest feedback on their academic performance.

As we move towards becoming a data-driven society, we need to recognize that the tangible evidence of skills is arguably more valuable than a transcript highlighting academic achievements on a scale. To keep pace with the advancements in technology and the rapid growth of entrepreneurial endeavors, the way the education system is preparing students for their lives outside of formal education is evolving. This is where the concept of standards-based grading comes in.

Formative assessment is rooted in in-process evaluation of a student’s learning progress. What does this mean for a student? The ability to adapt and close the gap of where they are to where they need to be to stay “ahead of the curve.” Whether it is globalization opening up previously unfathomable opportunities or just keeping up with technological advances, students need to be given every chance to effectively and efficiently learn content.

Education is shifting from basing a student’s academic merit on test performance to basing it on mastery of essential concepts.

Education is shifting from basing a student’s academic merit on test performance to basing it on mastery of essential concepts with evidence of learning presented. Data is being used to analyze and inform teaching practices, providing a proactive approach to a student’s education. Assessments are taking place on a daily basis as opposed to months after a concept is taught, supporting the system mentioned above of building mastery of standards instead of mastery of examination styles.

What is the result of standards-based grading? Students who understand an A+ does not define their level of intelligence. It helps students become confident and lifelong learners. Teachers who have a better understanding of how to assess learning can capitalize on the time spent with students in the classroom and personalize instruction to nurture students. Parents informed on the importance of emphasizing ongoing learning to students over receiving straight A report cards are advocating for quality over quantity in academics. 


Students are in need of an assessment strategy that provides them with timely, relevant, and honest feedback on academic performance.

The education industry as a whole is shifting towards personalized education for students. Formative assessment is one important foundation in this endeavor. It prepares students to accept feedback provided to them in environments outside of formal education as an opportunity to learn, and not as personal criticism.

What are the results of formative assessments? A highly engaged learning experience for students and educators and refinement of curricular content as teachers regularly see what is successful and what is not throughout a course.

What’s in this guide?

In this introductory guide, we will introduce you to the topic of formative assessment and standards based grading. We are going to provide you with key concepts and considerations to keep in mind when looking to shift from a traditional grading system. We will also provide you with an overview of the primary stakeholders, and professional development needs to consider. This guide is suited for those focused on curriculum development and assessment strategies, but if you are in a smaller school or district, this will be valuable to administrators and teachers alike. Regardless of who you share this with, engaging in formative assessment and standards-based grading is a complete team effort.

We are excited to share with you this information on the positive impact formative assessment and standards-based grading can have on your students. We are barely scratching the surface of what a full assessment strategy can entail, but let’s take it one step at a time – starting with this guide!


Chapter OneWhat is a Formative Assesment?