3 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Standards-Based Gradebook

Author: Keith Westman | Blog |

When school systems decide to implement standards-based grading, a common first step is to find a standards-based gradebook that will meet the needs of all stakeholders: teachers, students, school leaders, and parents. In the day and age where an edtech tool claims to exist for pretty much every problem under the sun, it is only logical to look for standards-based grading software.

As you begin the search for a standards-based gradebook, you will quickly learn that your student information system or learning management system was not designed to accommodate standards-based grading. These systems are helpful for lots of things, but they oftentimes prevent teachers from implementing standards-based grading using best practices, because the idea of measuring growth on a learning standard over time conflicts with traditional grading, where percentages and averages rule.

As an administrator, before you start searching Twitter or Googling “standards-based gradebook,” the best first step is to determine how your school’s instructional practices will change when making the move to standards-based grading. Consider asking yourself these questions:

  • How will your teachers use formative assessment data to differentiate instruction for students as they progress to mastering a standard?
  • How will the school speak with a single voice when parents ask, “how does standards-based grading help set my child up for success in high school where they rely on traditional grades?”?
  • What is your comprehensive professional development and communication plan that will allow your stakeholders to buy-in to this worthwhile initiative?

Only after this legwork is done will it be time to find the tools to help your initiative.

As someone who has sat in a district leadership role and has spent many years as an edtech vendor, here are three questions you should consider when selecting a standards-based gradebook:

1. Will it require your teachers to enter grades multiple times?
A surefire way to prevent the standards-based grading initiative from being successful is by providing teachers with a standards-based gradebook that does not integrate with the formative and summative assessment tools they use each day.

In some cases, teachers are being asked to grade a Google Doc using Google Classroom, enter those grades in an SIS, and then reenter mastery levels in a standards-based gradebook. This is not helpful and is likely to prompt teacher frustration toward your standards-based grading initiative when this isn’t an SBG issue, it’s a tech issue.

Be sure that you are not just buying a standards-based gradebook, but a comprehensive teaching and learning platform that contains the tools teachers need to assess student performance. This platform should integrate with Google as well.

2. Do the standards follow the teacher or the student?
Believe it or not, some standards-based gradebooks restrict the standards a teacher can assess to the grade level they teach. This does not best support standards-based grading.

Be sure that your standards-based grading platform allows any teacher to evaluate the mastery level of any learning standard. Your gradebook needs to be as flexible as your teachers are to meet the needs of all the students in their classroom.

3. Will parents, students, teachers, and school leaders have the story behind the mastery level?
As a parent, two years ago I received a standards-based report card from my son’s school. Despite having a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction, spending years as a school administrator, and teaching graduate-level courses to school leaders, I was lost — the report card made Ikea instructions look easy to understand.

If we want all school stakeholders to buy into the standards-based grading shift, consider how performance levels will be communicated to stakeholders who have no idea what standards-based grading is (and will not take the time to explore the standards-based grading section on your district website). People not only want to see a mastery level, but they will also want to see what the standard is measuring and all of the assignments and assessments that have been used to determine that mastery level.

One more thing…the report card
An amazing standards-based paper report card does not exist. A piece of paper does not let you “click to learn more,” and what ends up happening is parents receive a multiple page “summary” of student performance on standards. Then, they call the school wondering what it all means, and administrators are put in the position of defending their position on standards-based grading.

While our focus at Otus was initially to make the online standards-based gradebook interactive and informative to parents, Otus is releasing a standards-based report card during the Summer of 2018, which we think will help parents better understand standards-based grading and their child’s performance. Additionally, we love this article by Lisa Westman, which discusses parent communication and standards-based grading.

Otus was designed to allow school systems to implement standards-based grading using best-practices. We are a software company, yes. But, the vast majority of our people have spent dozens of years working in school leadership roles — we want you to be as successful as possible when you implement standards-based grading.

Have you already made the switch to a standards-based gradebook? Or are you still uncertain on how best to make that transition? I’d love to hear from you at @keithwestman or in the comments below!

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