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Give Your Grades More Meaning with Standards-Based Grading


Traditional grading requires teachers to assign a letter grade to a specified subject. An “A” in Mathematics, for example, often means that the student is doing well and that he or she has mastered most of the concepts in the subject. But what about those few concepts the student has not mastered? How have those been communicated to the student? For the students who get a “B”, a “C” or even a “D,” a simple letter grade can be extra frustrating. Students and parents often have no idea which concepts are being mastered and which need improvement.

This is where the practice of Standards-Based Grading comes into place. Not only does Standards-Based Grading help everyone, including the student, understand a student’s mastery of the content, but there are many other benefits as well.

What is Standards-Based Grading?

Standards-Based Grading is an innovative practice in education that measures students’ mastery of each individual standard in order best demonstrate student learning and understanding of the content. Standards are the guide for instruction and assessment in the classroom. Rather than students simply getting an “A” in Math, students in the Standards-Based Grading classroom would receive a breakdown of the standards within a particular grading period and their level of comprehension for each one.

How is It Implemented?

The best place to start when it comes to Standards-Based Grading is to rewrite all of the standards as learning targets. These should be written as “I can” statements in student-friendly language, so students can easily interact with the learning targets daily. Then, each grade in the gradebook is linked with a specific learning target.  By doing this, students can now view their progress on each learning target rather than see how they did on a particular assignment. This in turn allows students (as well as the teacher and the parents/guardians) to clearly see which learning targets are being mastered and which need improvement.

When it comes to larger assessments, break down assessment grades into multiple grades per learning target, rather than one final test grade. For example, an “A” on a science test would be broken down into several grades for each standard, or skill, that appears on the test such as the structure of an atom, comparing and contrasting compounds and mixtures, and calculating density.

As a reminder, in true Standards-Based Grading, any grade should only communicate the level of mastery of the content. Therefore, if in your gradebook, you like to include grades for things like behavior, tardies, and work ethic, which cannot be linked to a learning target, consider giving those items zero weight so that they don’t affect the final grade. The gradebook can still provide feedback to students on how they are doing with these non-content related topics, while still maintaining an accurate portrayal of mastery of the standards.

Other considerations for implementation are:

  • Have students record their own progress on each learning target throughout a unit. This can be done on a simple progress-monitoring sheet you create that students keep in their notebooks or binders.
  • You can use the traditional grading system of letter grades in combination with Standards-Based Grading.
  • Make the learning targets constantly visible within the classroom and have students interact with them daily.
  • Start to be OK with the idea of students redoing assignments and assessments in order to show mastery. It’s important to send the message that mistakes are ok and we often do not get things correct the first time.
  • For assessments, create a system where students can earn a retake, by showing you they have learned from their mistakes and are ready to try again. Rather than simply allowing students a second or third try just to fail again, having a system in place helps to ensure the student is actually prepared for the assessment saving everyone time, including you.

What are The Benefits?

Both teachers and students benefit from the system of Standards-Based Grading. The key benefits for students are:

  • They get an opportunity to take ownership of their learning.
  • The system naturally provides students with better, more specific feedback.
  • Students no longer have a fear of making mistakes since failure ceases to exist when they know that they are able to retake and redo assignments and assessments.

The key benefits for teachers are:

  • Grades are a more accurate reflection of what students know and understand, making instruction and differentiation more effective.
  • The system keeps track of standards mastery, streamlining progress analysis and preparation for state testing.
  • Teachers are able to be more purposeful in their planning, as each learning target is tied to an assignment.

Overall, teachers and students are held more accountable, students are more intrinsically motivated, and everyone feels more connected to the curriculum. Standards-Based Grading provides meaning to the grades, rather than just distributing letters, numbers and, inevitably, frustration.

How Can Credits For Teachers Help?

CFT provides self-paced online Professional Development courses for K12 teachers. Teachers who take our courses receive graduate credit from our university partner that can be used for salary advancement or license renewal. Learn more about the courses we offer today!

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(NOTE: Credits for Teachers provides self-paced online Professional Development courses for K12 teachers.  Teachers who take our courses receive graduate credit from our university partner that can be used for salary advancement or license renewal – Learn More Now)

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