FAQ on Standards-Based Grading

What is standards-based grading?
In a class with traditional grading, students typically study a unit in a particular subject, then take a test on that unit. After the test, the class moves on to the next unit, even though some students may not have a complete understanding of the material.

With standards-based grading, a unit is broken down into key skills, or standards, and students are tested on each standard. While the class will continue to move through the standards as the semester proceeds, there will be time for students to review, relearn, and reassess previous material when they feel confident.  With this model, each student will continue learning material, but will reach mastery in a fashion that fits his or her learning and understanding. 

Why are we moving to a standards-based grading system?
We want to improve student achievement for all students in every classroom every day.  We also want students to take an active role in their learning, by developing awareness of their current level of mastery and a clear understanding of our expectations for success in mathematics. 

Research supports standards-based grading (SBG). It helps students receive better feedback and learn more effectively. It allows them to learn, relearn, and self-advocate throughout the year, as well as receive a grade that is more indicative that they’ve mastered information rather than just completed work. Student work habits such as homework, behavior, participation, etc., are reported separately from the academics and have minimal influence on the overall grade.

What are the advantages of standards-based grading?
The learning outcomes students are expected to achieve are clearly explained to them, and they are accessible for students to monitor their own progress. Parents and students can see which learning standards students have mastered and which ones need re-teaching/re-learning. SBG can change the complexion of parent-student conversations from, “Why didn’t you finish your homework?” and “Did you make up that quiz you missed?” to, ”Tell me your understanding of this standard” and “What more do you need to do to meet this benchmark?” With traditional grading some students struggle at the beginning of units, fail assessments, and give up. With SBG the door remains open to achieving standards.

How does standards-based grading work?
Traditional grading averages a student’s assessment data with other characteristics that might be better described as work habits, such as keeping a binder organized, completing note cards, or turning in homework. SBG removes extraneous factors and focuses solely on a student’s mastery of standards. Other characteristics are reported separately and are a very small part of a student’s overall grade for the course. 

If homework counts for only 5% of a grade, how do I make sure my student understands the importance of homework?
Homework is practice. Therefore, let's re-think the question to be, "Does practice matter?" To use a sports analogy, or a knitting analogy, or a painting analogy, or an accounting analogy, or pretty much any other analogy you can think of... Practice is extremely important and valuable because it prepares you to perform. For example, Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls) is known for his dedication to practice and study. He's one of the first ones at practice and the last to leave. He works incredibly hard while practicing—but his work at practice or during preseason doesn't count for anything. What counts is his performance in actual games. In our case, the homework is practice, and assessments are what count.

How are the students graded?
Each course has certain units and large concepts that students are expected to know at the end of the course. To get to these larger concepts, students need to achieve certain standards along the way. Teachers collect evidence that students understand and meet the standards through a variety of assessments, such as oral questioning, multiple choice, short answers, etc. A student’s overall performance is evaluated using the following scale: 0 - 1 – 2 – 3 – 4.

Score Level of Understanding Description
0 No Evidence of Understanding Not turned in, no evidence shown, the problem was not attempted.
1 Approaching Basic Understanding The student demonstrates a minimal understanding of all procedural, analytical and application skills being assessed. There are multiple major mistakes throughout the problem and the student provides incomplete work to justify the answer.  The problem may not be fully attempted.
2 Basic Understanding  The student demonstrates a basic understanding of all procedural, analytical and application skills being assessed.  Most of the problem is completed accurately with some minor errors or omissions.  There is no more than one major mistake throughout the entire problem. The student provides the majority of the work to justify the answer and the entire problem is attempted.
3 Proficient Understanding  The student demonstrates a good understanding of all procedural, analytical and application skills being assessed.  Most of the problem is completed accurately with only few minor errors or omissions.  Student provides all work to justify the answer and the entire problem is attempted.
4 Mastery of Topic  The student demonstrates a thorough understanding of all procedural, analytical and application skills being assessed.  The problem is completed accurately with only few minor errors (labeling, etc.)  Student provides all work to justify the answer and the entire problem is attempted.

So is a 4 like an A, a 3 like a B and so on?
No. While it may feel as though standards-based grading performance scale scores easily translate to the traditional A, B, C, D, F, there is more that goes in to the grade calculation. 

Students will still be issued a letter grade at the end of the semester and on the transcript. But the calculation to get to the letter grade is different from a traditional classroom. 

So how are the grades converted to a letter grade?  Are the grades for each standard averaged?
Grades for each standard are partially average.  Here is the difference:
When doing a normal averaging of grades, often the final grade does not represent an accurate picture of where a student is in his or her learning or growth in learning.  The purpose of standards-based grading is to report what students know and retain after learning, relearning, and mastering has occurred.

Consider two students in a traditionally grade class, Student A and Student B:

  • Student A earns the following scores: 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3 and 3 on standard 1. The average is 3 (out of 4), which is a 75% and the grade is a B for standard 1.   (The grading scale evenly distributes grades over a 100 point scale.  80-100 is an A, 60 – 79.99 is a B etc.)
  • Student B struggles initially and turns in this performance: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, and 4. The average score of a roughly 2.3 (out of 4) would result in a 57.5%, which is a C for standard 1 it is obvious that the student now understands the concepts even though they struggled in the beginning.

Looking at both of these students in a standards based class gives a different image:

  • Student A has a consistent trend of scores, and would end the semester with a 75%, or a B.
  • Student B has shown growth and by the end of the semester, has shown greater mastery.  Based on the standards based parameters, the grade would be calculated using the growth scores:  3, 3, 3, 4, and 4. This would give the student an average of 85%, which is an A.

How will I know what progress my student is making and whether he or she is on track to meeting the standard?
Standards will be in Skyward as separate categories, and every assessment score will be recorded.  In addition to scores, you may also see comments or codes in the grade book:  Here are a few examples:

  • No Count: The student has taken the assessment, but based on growth patterns, this grade will not count towards the student’s overall grade.
  • *:  The student has not yet taken the assessment, or based on their performance, will not need to take the assessment. 
  • Additional Comments:  For additional reassessments, there will be a comment added to specify the type of reassessment that was given, and on what date.

Homework will be in the grade book as worth up to 2 points, regardless of the assignment:
2 points for fully completed work, 1 point for partially completed work, and 0 for work that is not attempted or minimally completed.

What does my student need to do in order to be able to reassess?
Students will be provided at least four in-class attempts to show their level of mastery of a standard. Student who wish to take further reassessments will need to fill out a reassessment form.  On the form they document their current scores on the given standard, what help they received to help them better understand the material, and from whom they received the help.  At this time they can reassess on that standard outside of class time.