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What Is Standards Based Grading?

Let’s start off with what Standards-Based Grading is not:

  • SBG is not a collection of scores and points that will be totaled at the end of the year and converted to a percentage with a letter assigned to it.
  • SBG is not an end-all solution to grading issues.
  • SBG is not the end of grades and grading.
  • SBG is not created to determine the rank and file of students in a class.
  • SBG is not the traditional method of grading that most are accustomed to.
  • SBG is not a subjective grading system - it takes the opinions out of the grade.

So what is Standards-Based Grading?

  • When done right, SBG will provide a clear snapshot of where your student currently stands with key standards in each subject area.
  • SBG allows students to see their strengths and weaknesses and to focus on skills that are necessary to become proficient.
  • SBG removes classroom behavior from the evaluation process of student learning.
  • SBG is a grading practice that Focuses on the learning at hand without holding past mistakes or failures against the student.

Standards-Based Grading Requires that Grades be based on the students demonstrated proficiency. The proficiency scale in Schoolcraft Community Schools is broken up into a 0-4 grading scale. This scale allows for the development of assessments and grades that truly measure the students knowledge within a standard.

  • Content Standards/Learning Targets that are clear and concise and focuses on authentic-assessments that demonstrate proficiencies within the standard. Below is a sample standard from the 9-10 ELA standards that addresses argumentative writing. Our standards at Schoolcraft Community Schools are based on College and Career Readiness Standards and have been focused in our departmental power standards. Notice that the standard also includes a rubric with specific bench marks required to achieve the desired score.
SHS.ELA.9-10.W.6

Furthermore, Standards-Based grading uses only summative assessments to determine proficiency. Formative assessments are used to determine how skilled the students are throughout the learning process. By the way, summative assessment refers to a test or project that allows the student to demonstrate the learning that has taken place while formative assessment is a midpoint assessment to check for gaps or holes in the learning. The formative assessment allows educators to reteach where there are gaps in the mastery progression. In the traditional grading model, most teachers use homework and classwork as a part of the final grade. Usually a teacher will assign either 100% of the course grade to summative assessments or they will use a 90% summative assessment and 10% classwork model.

Students will have multiple (at least three) opportunities to demonstrate knowledge and mastery of a standard with the most recent artifacts/assessments holding the greatest weight. This is a change from traditional grading when an average or total of all the points from a grading period were used to determine the final grade. Yes that is the traditional way of grading, but does it actually assess what the student knows? The purpose of SBG, remember, is to assess learning, not total the points the student earned. This method allows for the learning that has taken place to be graded and doesn't penalize students for struggles or failures early on in the class.

A simple way of explaining traditional grading and learning vs the Standards-Based classroom is to think of a glass and a pitcher of water. Say the glass will hold the exact amount of water contained in the pitcher. When you go to pour that water into the glass you spill 15% of the water onto the floor. Can you recover that 15%? No, it is spilled, gone, lost.

Traditional grading is very similar to this, if points were lost on a test, quiz, project, or on homework, those points are now gone and have a negative outcome on the final grade even if the student, during the grading period, learns and masters the material being covered. If education is the focus, shouldn't the outcome be a measure of said learning?

Stephanie Pinkin, in her article "Putting Standards-Based Grading Into Action" provided another way of looking at it.

  • SBG reports levels of mastery more current than those in traditional grading practices. Grades are entirely flexible—not a single number is set in stone, and the numbers constantly adjust up and down as students conquer and wrestle with new skills and content. When students, parents, or other stakeholders see a grade report from my classroom, they can count on seeing an evaluation of students’ most current knowledge.

This will cause the shift from a discussion on "how to improve the grade?" to a discussion of "What skills and standards is my student struggling with and how can we help them show mastery in this standard?"

With Standards-Based Grading, it is the goal that students will practice and work on a standard under the tutelage of the teacher. When the teacher feels that students have mastered a skill, they are assessed. Future assessments will continue to check for the previous skills and cognition of the learning in the classroom. Preferably through a high-level skills assessment and artifact creation (paper, assessment, and projects). Ways to demonstrate the higher level skills can be found on the Depth of Knowledge Wheel created by Dr. Norman Webb. The wheel to the right is version 2.0 that includes apps and resources that will allow for those skills to be demonstrated.

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