What is Standards-Based Grading?

Assessment and grading are not to be confused.

Assessment involves using a wide array of tools and methods to collect information on the progression of a student’s learning with the goal of improving it.

Grading (is a method of evaluating an individual student’s performance, which can play a role in assessment but can often include factors that do not directly represent learning such as attendance or participation.

Standards-based grading (SBG) is part of a larger formative assessment system. SBG is the concept of determining a student’s level of proficiency in an area of study as opposed to determining their grade based on the type of assignment they perform. This is often done through the use of a rubric indicating levels of achievement in reference to a particular learning goal or academic standards. It involves real-time assessment of a student instead of traditional assessments that take place weeks after a concept is taught.

The goal is for students to demonstrate comprehension, or mastery, of the knowledge they are expected to learn before they can progress to the next level of their education. By designing instructional time to allow for teacher instruction, student demonstration, and teacher feedback, students are receiving daily checkpoints on the progress of their learning.

How is Standards-Based Grading Different From Traditional Grading?

Traditional Grading System: Students are typically evaluated on a scale of 1-100, or percentages. These scores can then be translated into an overall Grade Point Average (GPA) if the school chooses to. A GPA is typically on a scale of 0.0 to 4.0.

Overall grades are often determined by combining academic and non-academic components, such as classwork, participation, attendance, homework, quizzes, and exams. Each component has a weight assigned to influence the final grade accordingly.

Standards-Based Grading System: This system differs significantly from a traditional one in that non-academic components (attendance, effort, etc.) are not included in the final grade. Another differentiation is that standards-based grading amalgamates all of the student’s work on one standard to determine if they have achieved mastery or need to improve their knowledge in one particular area.

Instead of tracking how they performed specifically on tests that covered an array of topics, standards are tracked individually using a rubric to provide a holistic overview of how a student is truly performing. Typically a scale of 1-4 is used, with 1-2 indicating more work is needed and 3-4 representing sufficient knowledge of a standard. Parents, teachers, and students can determine exactly where and why a student is or is not succeeding in their learning, apart from any behavioral or non-academic considerations.

Standards-based grading amalgamates all of the student’s work on one standard to determine if they have achieved mastery or need to improve their knowledge in one particular area.

Benefits of Standards-Based Grading

  1. Provides holistic student portfolio as evidence of learning
  2. Provides transparent progression of a student’s learning
  3. Encourages personalized instruction to maximize student success
  4. Highlights the grading practices that are effective and those that are not

Core Components of Standards-Based Grading

  • Specific learning goals, each assessed separately
  • Learning goals replace tests, quizzes, etc. in a gradebook
  • Multiple chances to meet standards should be presented
  • Behavior does not indicate learning and should be recorded separately

Standards-based Grading in the Classroom

The goal with standards-based grading is to lean away from a weighted average of all scores on test, assignments, etc. and move towards evaluating progression in particular standards. That means not reporting a score on each activity that takes place in the classroom or at home as homework. Consistently engaging in creative standards-based grading methods is key to keeping students and teachers on board with adopting a new grading system. If implemented into learning on an ongoing basis, students can see where they are improving and excelling. When the comparisons to objective benchmarks cease, students can focus on their personal learning and growth and not how to only master a multiple choice examination. The goal of standards-based grading is to guide students toward mastery of skills and learning objectives, not just doing well in one subject to boost their overall grade point average.

Making the Shift

Any major shift in a day-to-day routine, especially one that is tried and proven, can be challenging. In order for the shift to standards-based grading, there are a few add-ons to the previously mentioned core components.

  • Grade by Goals – Some students may excel through homework assignments. Others may thrive on the energy of a sit-down examination. The rest? Perhaps presentations and creative expression are more effective. Basically what we are saying is to stop recording individual scores for student work.

    Instead, do not forget the goal is to help guide students to mastery of certain skills and record the progress being made towards those. Be mindful of which assessments are used as formal evaluations and recorded towards a student’s grade. The biggest benefit of this shift is it is a step towards personalizing the education of each pupil.

  • Rule Out Behavior – As difficult as this might be to accept, tardiness does not indicate how well a student understands a concept taught in class and should not be reflected as such. Neither does a student being extra “keen” and participating fully in all activities. Instead, consider recording things like attendance, tardiness, and classroom behavior separately from the learning progression presented in class.
  • Weight Relevant Knowledge – Recognizing the fact that concepts taught weeks prior are not as fresh in a student’s mind is paramount to the success of a standards-based grading system. Weighting sections of an exam or assignment with respect to when information was presented is a sound decision to gauge fully what a student has grasped. Understanding what is representative of a student’s knowledge at present is more important than their recall skills of certain facts or figures from the first unit of study.
  • Ditch Extra Credit Assignments – Similar to ruling out classroom behavior, extra credit assignments should be left at the curb as well. While the initiative a student takes to ensure nothing is left as zero on their homework list, or even better, to complete work above and beyond that list, still does not represent their learning progression. It may indicate potential for success in a professional environment, yes, but that is not the goal of standards-based grading. The goal is to highlight progress towards mastery – no matter how the student can show it.

Standards-Based Grading Examples

Below are a few common methods used when engaging in standards-based grading. Each offers the ability to gather insights into a student’s learning progression towards mastery of a skill. For any of the methods mentioned, the key to success is to clearly communicate to students what their end goal is and any major milestones that must be achieved for mastery. With clear communication, teachers can see where instructional gaps are.

  • Display Grade Meanings – Standards-based grading employs a system of levels to determine progress towards a learning goal. Keeping the meanings of these levels visible and transparent to students will ensure no lines of communication are down. For example, if the grading scale is Levels 1-5, what is considered a pass? Is 1 “good,” or is 5?
  • Self-Grading – Have students submit a self-assessed rubric along with each of their assignments. This way, it is guaranteed students are aware of the learning objectives expected of them. It will also provide the chance for critical reflection on their own work adding to their character and ability to see room for improvement later on.
  • Deconstruct Learning Goals / Academic Standards – For each major learning goal it is helpful for students to understand exactly what is expected of them so any feedback can be turned into actionable takeaways. This is a complementary technique to keeping the levels visible. It ensures mutual accountability between the student and educator. Having students submit a written interpretation of the standards (or presented verbally if it suits a student’s skillset) will ensure everyone is on the same page before learning takes place.

With clear communication, teachers can see where instructional gaps are.

Sample Standards-Based Grading Template

A standards-based rubric or grading template will clearly outline the learning goals expected of students. It will also include the level of proficiency the student has in certain areas, all the while maintaining a separation between academic and behavioral components. You will notice it does not highlight individual activities in which students participated. It is a holistic portfolio of skills.

Chapter ThreeHow to Implement Formative Assessments and SBG

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