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Standards-Based Grading in the Classroom

As educators, we’re always looking for ways to improve student learning and increase transparency in grading. One way to do this is to utilize standards-based grading (SBG). SBG provides teachers, students and families with a real-time  understanding of their student’s strengths and weaknesses in a subject area, as well as guidance on which specific standards or topics need intervention. But how do you get started? Read on to find out everything you need to know about standard based grading:

What is Standards-Based Grading? 

Standards-based grading (SBG) has been gaining popularity in classrooms over the last few years. As the name suggests, this type of grading system focuses on student mastery of specific learning objectives rather than focusing on an overall  traditional letter grade or percentage. It is designed to give teachers and students a deeper understanding of where a student stands in terms of their mastery of the material.

The essence of standards-based grading is that it enables  teachers to evaluate students in real time based on their mastery of certain skills or knowledge. Teachers utilize a list of standards that students are expected to master by the end of the semester, quarter, or year. For example, if you’re teaching a math class, your list might include topics like fractions, decimals, percentages, etc. The teacher then uses these standards to measure each student's level of comprehension throughout the course, such as using formative assessments during the lesson cycle, rather than relying primarily on summative end-of-topic/unit/course assessments (such as weekly quizzes or unit tests) to gauge mastery.  The summative assessments have their place, of course, but in standards-based grading, they don’t have to serve as the primary indicators of standards mastery. Instead, they confirm what formative assessments have shown throughout the lesson cycle. 

Pros and Cons

One major advantage to using SBG is that it provides more detailed information about individual student performance in each standard of study. Furthermore, it gives additional focus on assessing skill-level rather than just scores on assignments such as homework or summative tests. For example, in the SBG process, students who are showing difficulty understanding certain concepts can still demonstrate their mastery through activities such as  independent study or extra help from peers/teachers outside class time.  This gives teachers a more holistic view of student progress and understanding, making it easier for track overall student progress . Additionally, this provides more meaningful data and insight for students regarding their own learning progress. 

On the other hand, there are also some potential drawbacks to using SBG systems in schools. Because there are so many different standards that need to be tracked throughout an academic year—especially if multiple subjects are involved—it can be challenging for teachers to keep up with all the data they need to effectively evaluate each student’s progress. Additionally, since SBG relies heavily on individualized instruction and assessment rather than large group activities or summative assessments (i.e., tests), there may not be enough time for more hands-on activities that provide additional opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery in multiple contexts.   However, with some straightforward techniques and ideas, these potential concerns can be addressed and implementing SBG could prove to be a valuable component in your classroom practice. If you’re interested in introducing SBG into your school or classroom, here are 5 steps you can take to get started:

5 Steps to Implementing Standards-Based Grading 

1. Set clear learning goals and objectives: The first step in implementing standards-based grading is to identify the learning goals for the topic, unit, or course. For example, if you’re teaching physics, the goal for that unit might be for the students to learn about Newton’s Laws of Motion, and the objective may be to describe the three laws and how they each apply to moving objects.

2. Break down those goals into individual standards: To make sure that all students master each lesson, it is important to identify the standard for that lesson.  Each standard should clearly outline what knowledge or skill needs to be demonstrated in order for a student to get full credit for it. For example, if a standard for Newton’s Laws states that students should be able to describe the differences between the three, then that is what they will be expected to master throughout the lesson and be able to do on their own at the end of it. 

3. Assess student performance on each individual standard: Once the standards taught in this lesson/unit/course have been established , it is important to assess each student's performance on that standard. This is done in real time through daily activities ranging from hands-on, collaborative activities (such as asking questions), to informal checks (such as exit tickets), as well as weekly summative activities (such as quizzes). Giving students a variety of ways to demonstrate their new knowledge gives teachers an idea of how well they understand each particular concept or skill. This is especially important for evaluating mastery in students who may excel at projects and presentations, but struggle when it comes to test-taking. 

4. Provide feedback and support to help students meet their goals: Once you have assessed a student's performance on each individual standard, it is important to provide feedback and support. This may involve offering additional resources such as books or videos for further study or providing tutoring sessions for students who need extra help with specific topics or concepts.

5. Track progress over time: Last but not least, it is important to track progress over time by keeping track of a student’s performance on each standard throughout the course. By doing this, teachers can more easily identify where students are excelling and where they may need additional help, allowing them to tailor instruction accordingly. This ensures that all students have the opportunity to master each topic covered in class. 

In Summary

Implementing standards-based grading in your classroom or school requires careful planning and execution. However, it can offer many benefits such as improved learning outcomes for all students regardless of starting point. These can include: 

  • Increased accountability for both teacher and learner

  • Better tracking of progress over time

  • More detailed  assessment data that allows teachers to provide meaningful, tailored student feedback.

By following the 5 steps outlined above, you should be well on your way towards successfully transitioning towards using SBG in your classroom.