Standards-based grading is an approach used to evaluate classroom performance for students. Many schools are beginning to adopt this method because it provides a more accurate snapshot of how students are performing against expectations for their specific grade level.
Before diving into how a teacher can be successful in the classroom when implementing a standards-based grading model, it is important to understand how this model differs from the traditional grading system used by our educational system for decades.
The Difference between Standards-Based Grading and Traditional Methods
The traditional method of grading student performance required teachers to place a letter grade ranging from A-F on every output, from homework to an assessment. These grades were then averaged together for an overall grade in each subject. Luckily, there were often potential opportunities for extra credit to boost any low grades received.
The standards-based grading method, however, focuses more on skills (“targets”) to master within subjects, rather than having one grade average for the entire subject. The grading scale is numerical and ranges from 1-4, with 1 meaning “not mastered” and 4 meaning “exceeded mastery” for grade level skills. This encourages students to grow towards skill acquisition over time rather than measuring mastery one moment in time. The focus on assessment is quality over quantity. Instead of averaging grades, assessments have a weight with opportunities for reteaching and reassessment until mastery is reached. That means, homework and class assignments are used as moments of practice instead of evaluation. Extra credit is not needed because a low grade signals the need for additional practice and instruction, rather than being recorded in a grade book.
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Standards-Based Grading Examples
As you can see from the images above, the standards-based grading model is much more specific in how a student performs on grade level skills, as well as provides clear directions for how students can improve going forward.
Tips for Successfully Implementing Standards-Based Grading
Now that we have discussed the difference between standards-based grading and traditional methods, it’s time to dive into tips for how to be a successful teacher in a classroom and school that utilizes a standards- based grading model.
Prior to Implementation
- Explain the Purpose to Students– Students want to feel part of the decision making process in the classroom. When explaining the rationale for a decision, it clues students in to how teachers make decisions that are best for students. Sharing the benefits and details on how the process works eases student anxiety about what is expected of them. This discussion will increase motivation for student performance because they feel set up for success with the roadmap and specific feedback offered.
- Create a Standards-Based Grading Rubric– This roadmap helps students know how to improve. Map out the skills needed to meet grade level expectations by subject. A rubric helps students know what quality output looks like at each performance level and provides clarity of expectations. Students are naturally challenged since the skills increase in complexity as they master previous ones. This also increases ownership in the learning process.
- Track Progress and Feedback– Create a system to track how students are performing. A data file with work samples and the rubric would work best. Be sure to write thorough feedback so students know why they are scoring in a certain range and tips in how they can improve. A quick 1:1 conversation might be helpful too.
- Reteach and Reassess until Mastery– Standards-based grading allows students to reassess skills until they have mastered them. This means they will need additional opportunities to practice as well as learn the skills. Carve out time in your schedule to pull a small group of students to reteach while other students are working independently. You might want to limit when and how often students reassess to protect your instructional time and prepare students for the real world (ie. once a month reassess vs. daily).
- Adapt Instruction– If students did not understand content the first time, teaching it the same way a second time may result in little learning gains. Be sure to differentiate instruction:
- Process in which you teach it
- Product of how they demonstrate it
- Content by how deeply you go with the skills
- Communicate Changes and Progress to Parents– Parents might feel uneasy with the change of grading models, so keeping them up-to-date on how and why it works is helpful. Be sure to share their child’s progress with parents often as well as share tips for how they can help at home. Just like students want to be part of the decision making process, parents want to be partners with the teacher and be aware of what is happening with their child’s learning journey.
What tips for success have worked for you when implementing standards-based grading?