The Ultimate Guide to Standards-Based Learning

Are you looking for evidence, thought leaders, research, books, resources, and more to convince your colleagues and community about making the shift to standards-based learning? You have come to the right spot.

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Highly recommended books on standards-based learningstandards-based learning resources

Top 10 standards-based grading articles 2016-2018

  • Brookhart, S. M., Guskey, T. R., Bowers, A. J., McMillan, J. H., Smith, J. K., Smith, L. F., Stevens, M. T., & Welsh, M. E. (2016). A century of grading research: Meaning and value in the most common educational measure. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 803-848. [Available online]
    Too often, those of us in education receive some of the same questions from multiple audiences. In the case of changing grading practices, I often hear, “Why do we need to change our grading practices? They worked for me!” One article I often point to is this one, which I believe will someday be seminal work in our field. The authors conclude, “One hundred years of grading research have generally confirmed large variation among teachers in the validity and reliability of grades, both in the meaning of grades and the accuracy of reporting.” In other words, traditional grades have all kinds of problems.
  • O’Connor, K. (2017). A case for standards-based grading and reporting. School Administrator, 74(1), 24-28. [Available online]
    Ken has written a number of excellent books and this article seems to sum them all up in a concise way. Although the original audience of the article was school superintendents, I feel confident sharing it with anyone interested in an overview of both why and how grading practices should improve.
  • Buckmiller, T., Peters, R., & Kruse, J. (2017). Questioning points and percentages: Standards-based grading in higher education. College Teaching, 65(1), 1-7. doi:10.1080/87567555.2017.1302919.
    Standards-based grading can be done in higher education! Tom, Randy, and Jerrid document the perceptions of students in an educational technology course. In fact, the learners reported SBG was clear, more fair and a means for going beyond “playing the game of school” in college.
  • Scarlett, M. H. (2018). “Why did I get a C?” Communicating student performance using standards-based grading. Insight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 13, 59-75. [Available online]
    Dr. Scarlett proves yet again that standards-based grading can be done in higher education, this time with impressive attention to the planning and implementation details.
  • James, A. R. (2018). Grading in physical education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 89(5), 5-7. doi: 10.1080/07303084.2018.1442063. [Available online]
    It seems like standards-based grading early adopters are typically in the core content areas such as math, ELA or science, due to the accessibility of state and national standards documents. In this article, the author describes what SBG looks like in physical education. This write-up will inevitably be helpful for schools going “all-in: with SBG and few PE examples to draw from.
  • Buckmiller, T., & Peters, R.. (2018). Getting a fair shot?. School Administrator, 75(2), 22-25. [Available online]
    Buckmiller and Peters receive fifteen points of extra credit for landing on this list more than once. When high schools make a change to standards-based grading practices, one of the often-noted concerns is around implications for the higher education admissions process. Through interviewing staff at several university admissions, the authors document several themes which include, “Letter grades and transcripts based on standards are acceptable, if not preferable, in the eyes of admissions offices, but with some caveats.” In other words, high school students experiencing SBG are getting a fair shot when applying for college.
  • Reeves, D., Jung, L. A., & O’Connor, K. (2017). What’s worth fighting against in grading? Educational Leadership, 74(8), 42-45.
    It would be hard to NOT include this article collectively written by three of the most often cited experts in the grading reform field. Reeves, Jung and O’Connor clear the air and suggest several non-negotiables schools should consider in their quest to better communicate/report student learning.
  • Wormeli, R. (2017). We have to prepare students for the next level, don’t we? AMLE Magazine, 5(1), ##-##. [Available online]
    The title speaks for itself. Rather than worrying about the next grade or institution of learning, educators should “…not sacrifice good instruction because those in upper levels are not there yet. Instead, we employ what we know works, and we spend time mentoring those above us in what we do.”
  • Townsley, M. (2018). Mastery-minded grading in secondary schools. School Administrator, 75(2), 16-21. [Available online]
    I hesitated to include one of my own articles in this list, but by golly, I think it does a nice job describing what standards-based grading can look like at the secondary level. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you think my thinking was severely clouded when elevating this one to the top ten.
  • Tucker, C. (2018). Rethinking grading. Educational Leadership, 75(5). [Available online]
    I’m not sure how I missed this article until a month ago when I was doing a literature search. Catlin lays out her fears and successes when implementing standards-based grading in a way that really resonated with me.

What Does the Research Say About Standards-Based Grading? - Matt Townsley

  • Beatty, I. D. (2013). Standards-based grading in introductory university physics. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(2), 1-22. Retrieved from
  • Brown, B. W. & Saks, D. H. (1986). Measuring the effects of instructional time on student learning: Evidence from the beginning teacher evaluation study. American Journal of Education, 94(4), 480-500. Retrieved from
  • Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987–2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1–62. doi: 10.3102/00346543076001001
  • Cox, K. B. (2011). Putting classroom grading on the table: A reform in progress. American Secondary Education, 40(1), 67-87.
  • Craig T. A. (2011). Effects of standards-based report cards on student learning. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from
  • Dueck, M. (2014). Grading smarter, not harder: Assessment strategies that motivate kids and help them learn. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
  • Guskey, T. R. (2000). Grading policies that work against standards…And how to fix them. NASSP Bulletin, 84(620), 20–29. doi:10.1177/019263650008462003
  • Guskey, T. R., & Bailey, J. M. (2001). Developing grading and reporting systems for student learning. Lexington, KY: Corwin.
  • Guskey, T. R., Swan, G. M. & Jung, L. A. (2011). Grades that mean something: Kentucky develops standards-based report cards. Kappan, 93(2), 52-57.
  • Guskey, T. R. (2011). Five obstacles to grading reform. Educational Leadership, 69(3),16-21.
  • Guskey, T. R. (2014). On your mark: Challenging the conventions of grading and reporting. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
  • Harrison, M. A., Meister, D. G., & LeFevre, A. J. (2011). Which students complete extra-credit work? College Student Journal, 45(3), 550-555.
  • Haystead, M. W., & Marzano, R. J. (2009). Meta-analytic synthesis of studies conducted at Marzano Research Laboratory on instructional strategies. Englewood, CO: Marzano Research Laboratory. Retrieved from
  • Matthis, T. L. (2010). Motivational punishment: Beaten by carrots and sticks. EHS Today. Retrieved from
  • Marzano, R. (2000). Transforming classroom grading. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
  • Marzano (2003) What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
  • O’Connor, K. (2009). How to grade for learning, K-12 (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  • Marzano, R. J., & Heflebower, T. (2011). Grades that show what students know. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 34-39.
  • Moore, R. (2005). Who does extra-credit work in introductory science courses? Journal of College Science Teaching, 34(7), 12-15.
  • Peters, R. & Buckmiller, T. (2015). Our grades were broken: Overcoming barriers and challenges to implementing standards-based grading. Journal of Educational Leadership in Action, 4.
  • Reeves, D. (2004). Making standards work: How to implement standards-based assessments in the classroom, school, and district. Englewood, CO: Advanced Learning Press.
  • Reeves, D. B. (2008). Effective grading practices. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 85-87. Retrieved from
  • Scriffiny, P. L. (2008). Seven reasons for standards-based grading. Educational Leadership, 66(2), 70-74.
  • Schoen, H.L., Cebulla, K.J., Finn, K.F., and Fi, C. (2003). Teacher variables that relate to student achievement when using a standards-based curriculum. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 34(3), 228-259.
  • Stiggins, R. J., Frisbie, D. A. & Griswold, P. A. (1989). Inside high school grading practices: Building a research agenda. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 8(2), 5-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-3992.1989.tb00315.
  • Spencer, K. (2012). Standards-based grading. Education Digest, 78(3).
  • Vatterott, C. (2015). Rethinking grading. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
  • Wormeli, R. (2006). Fair isn’t always equal: Assessing grading in the differentiated classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
  • Wormeli, R. (2011). Redos and retakes done right. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 22-26.
  • Zoeckler, L. G. (2007). Moral aspects of grading: A study of high school English teachers’ perceptions. American Secondary Education, 35(2), 83-102.

75 New England Institutions of Higher Education State that Proficiency-Based Diplomas Do Not Disadvantage Applicants

  • With some parents wondering what potential impact proficiency-based education may have on their children or the college-admissions process, the New England Secondary School Consortium reached out to institutions of higher education throughout the region. We asked them about their support of proficiency-based learning and how non-traditional grading systems and transcripts might affect the admissions process.
  • Includes Harvard, MIT, and Tufts
  • Downloadable signed statements from each university
  • How Selective Colleges and Universities Evaluate Proficiency-Based High School Transcripts: Insights for Students and Schools - White paper

Matt Townsley’ Blog

Continue the Learning

Standards-Based Grading requires the right mindset and the right tools

Otus is designed for K-12 school systems who are transitioning from traditional grading to standards-based grading. We are unique in that we ensure that parents and families also have the tools necessary to understand this shift in grading.

As proud as we may be of our platform, we recognize the importance of sound instructional strategies and want to empower educators to reach their greatest potential. Therefore we’ve created two places where you can engage with a community of like-minded educators.

Join our Facebook group! The purpose of this group is to connect educators who share a focus on the ongoing paradigm shift in instructional, assessment, and grading practices. Join us to collaborate with prominent educators and walk away with strategies to support your teaching and learning initiatives.  

Follow us on Twitter! We share resources and spark conversations about healthy instructional, assessment, and grading practices. Ask your questions using the hashtag #ModernMeasures or follow @Modern_Measures.


Influenced by Design: Leaders Who Have Shaped Our Vision for Education

It's widely known that Otus is a company founded by educators and driven to simplify educational technology. We accomplish this by helping teachers assemble a holistic display of student interest, engagement, performance, and growth. We are proud of the platform we’re building, but we’ll be the first to acknowledge that Otus is only as effective as the educators using it every day. 

Our work has been influenced by several people. There are six people in specific who’ve played a significant role in shaping our views and efforts. They each support K-12 school systems who are transitioning from traditional grading to standards-based grading.    

Tom Guskey

Tom’s work is dedicated to helping teachers and school leaders use quality educational research to help all of their students learn well. Above all, he wants students to gain the many valuable benefits of that success. To learn more about Dr. Guskey’s work, visit or follow him on Twitter @tguskey.

Lee Ann Jung, PhD

Lee Ann Jung, PhD, is Founder of Lead Inclusion, Clinical Professor at San Diego State University, and a consultant to schools worldwide. She provides support to schools in many area. In specific, the area of inclusion, standards-based learning, and grading, designing individualized goals and interdisciplinary supports, and measuring progress. She can be reached at and or find her on Twitter @leeannjung.

Lisa Westman

Lisa is an author, speaker, and consultant who provides customizable learning opportunities. She also provides professional development services for K-12 educators nationwide and internationally.

Her presentations typically focus on differentiation, instructional coaching, and standards-based grading. Most importantly, her approach is to “keep it real” focusing on specific strategies that all educators can implement after our time together. You can contact Lisa here and follow her by subscribing to her blog and/or following her on Twitter @lisa_westman.

Rick Wormeli

He is one of the first Nationally Board Certified teachers in America. Rick brings innovation, energy, validity and high standards to both his presentations and his instructional practice. His experience includes 39 years teaching math, science, English, physical education, health, and history, as well as coaching teachers and principals. He can be contacted or You can find his website at or follow him on Twitter @rickwormeli2.

Matt Townsley

Through conferences, professional development, and workshops, Dr. Matt Townsley has consulted with thousands of teachers and administrators across the country. These meetings focus on the topics of assessment and standards-based grading.  In addition, Mr. Townsley was named Iowa’s Central Office Administrator of the year in 2017. In 2014, he was recognized as an ASCD Emerging Leader.

You can find Matt’s blog here or follow him on Twitter.

Douglas Reeves

Douglas Reeves is the founder of Creative Leadership Solutions, a non-profit with the mission to improve educational opportunities for students throughout the world using creative solutions for leadership, policy, teaching, and learning. Dr. Reeves is also the founder of, and has created a non-profit called, which helps doctoral students finish their dissertations via phone, Skype, or personal conferences.

Educators Like You

Overall, our work has been influenced by the countless conversations we routinely have with educators. Their dedication to improving the lives of students is an inspiration for all of us at Otus. Thank you.

The Surest Path to Success

These people have cemented our belief that for any education initiative to be successful, we must first establish a unified vision based upon the answers to the following three questions.

  • What are we doing?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • What does that look like?

When these pieces are in place, Otus amplifies the ability to successfully implement standards-based learning, grading, and reporting. We encourage you to refer to their work whether your just getting started or are well on your way to challenging the conventional belief about grading practices.

3 Keys to Ease Teacher Resistance to Standards-Based Grading

Let’s face it, change is hard. Especially when you’ve been doing something for so long that it has become part of your identity. The desire to change occurs often. Knowing what steps to take in order to do things in new ways is not always clear. We recently had the pleasure to work with Lisa Westman. She is a frequent speaker on standards-based grading, differentiated instruction, and instructional coaching. Lisa speaks about these topics in her webinar. She provides three keys for how school leaders can bring teachers along on the journey to standards-based grading (SBG).

Empathize with teachers

  • Many, if not all educators, are familiar with letter grades and understand how grading works. They have become part of our identity. The shift to SBG is not only a systematic change. It can affect the ego because it alters that identity.
  • Before standards-based grading, we asked teachers to differentiate instruction. We expected them to grade students according to where they were in relation to their peers.
  • Look at report cards as bank statements. The minute that statement is put in your mailbox, it already has become obsolete. There are changes that have already been made since it was mailed. That’s why we have online systems to check things as they stand in real time. The same capability exists when looking at grades.

Ensure a solid understanding of the foundational pieces of SBG

  • Start with ensuring that your teachers have a clear understanding of the universal tenants of standards-based grading and what exactly is non-negotiable in your district. It’s crucial to have a unified vision for the following questions: What are we doing, why are we doing it, what does that look like?
  • Next, invest in differentiated professional development that helps teachers feel confident in moving away from the instructional routines they used to rely on in the past i.e. a student receiving a lower grade from turning in an assignment late). Not including homework as part of the overall grade. Many resistant teachers understand the value of such changes but don’t know how to actually do these things in their daily practice.
  • Lisa Westman shares that the he final piece to a successful and sustainable standards-based rollout is to make certain the instructional strategies have been determined and are understood by your staff before looking at reporting out.
    • Grade-level teams and/or department have clearly defined learning intentions and success criteria according to the standards.
    • Formative assessment is utilized consistently and correctly.
    • Instruction is differentiated for students

Equip teachers with appropriate tools

  • One thing that can lead to teacher resistance happens when teachers have a solid understanding of the universal tenants and a shared loyalty to foundational principles of standards-based grading and then there’s a missing system or tool needed to share important information about student learning. This results in teachers spending a lot of time creating spreadsheets or manipulating systems not intended for standards-based grading. Teacher’s experience misplaced frustration. Lisa Westman says this is because they’re spending a lot of time and cognitive space trying to learn a tool when they haven’t yet figured the instructional piece.

If you would like to hear additional details about Lisa’s approach or how to contact her about working with your district, you can email her here or check out the downloadable audio and a video recording of the webinar.   

Continue the Learning

We are on a mission to simplify educational technology by helping educators assemble a holistic display of student interest, engagement, performance, and growth. However, if you talk to any one of the several former educators who work at Otus, you’ll often hear them say that Otus, plus ineffective teaching is still ineffective teaching.

As proud as we may be of our platform, we recognize the importance of sound instructional strategies and want to empower educators to reach their greatest potential. Therefore we’ve created two places where you can engage with a community of like-minded educators.

Join our Facebook group! The purpose of this group is to connect educators who share a focus on the ongoing paradigm shift in instructional, assessment, and grading practices. Join us to collaborate with prominent educators and walk away with strategies to support your teaching and learning initiatives.  

Follow us on Twitter! We share resources and spark conversations about healthy instructional, assessment, and grading practices. Ask your questions using the hashtag #ModernMeasures or follow @Modern_Measures.

Photo by Monica Melton on Unsplash

Standards-Based Learning: 5 Essential Terms for Teachers

While there are many factors that determine the success of a standards-based learning initiative, reporting the mastery of standards is one of the most essential aspects for teachers to understand. Due to the fact that students are assessed and re-assessed during the grading period for each learning target, determining the calculation method is crucial for arriving at the overall score. For starters, get to know the following list of terms and check out the examples for each.  

Essential Terms for Standards-Based Learning

1. Mean
Show the average grading scale level by taking the standard scale and providing a number for each.

Mastery = 4, Near Mastery 3, Approaching Mastery 2, Not at Mastery 1 and dividing by the number of attempts.

2. Mode
Show the grading scale level most frequently received by the student.

A student has a variety of attempts: five at Mastery, four at Near Mastery, and two at Approaching Mastery. The student displays Mastery as this has happened the most frequently.

3. Most Recent
Show the most recent grading scale level for the student.

The student received Mastery on Monday and Near Mastery on Tuesday, display the latest score “Near Mastery”.

4. Highest
Show the best grading scale level the student received.


The student received Mastery on Monday and Near Mastery on Tuesday, display the highest score “Mastery”.

5. Decaying Average
This formula is calculated based on an average with more weight given to the most recent scores; the higher the decay rate, the more heavily recent assessments are weighted.

The most recent assessment defaults at 65%.

For example, if there are two assessments, the most recent assessment gets 65% weight, and the first gets 35%. For each additional assessment, the sum of the previous score calculations decays by an additional 35%. If you have three assessments, the weighting would be 12% for the first assessment, 23% for the second assessment, and 65% for the third assessment.

The math behind the 65% decaying average works like this:

Let’s say you have four assessments that receive the following scores: 1, 2, 3, 4 (this last one being the most recent):

(1 × .35) + (2 × .65) = X (X × .35) + (3 × .65) = Y
(Y × .35) + (4 × .65) = Z (this being the current standard score; 3.48

An example:
A student receives a score of a 2, 3, 4 (most recent) on a single standard, using decaying average the student receives a 3.5. The formula calculates to a 3.5275 and rounds down.

If a student receives a score of 2, 4, 4, the Decaying Average formula calculates to a 3.755, so it rounds up.

Continue the Learning

Now that you have a better understanding of these terms, what questions about standards-based learning do you have? We’ve created two places where you can engage with a community of like-minded educators.

Join our Facebook group! The purpose of this group is to connect educators who share a focus on the ongoing paradigm shift in instructional, assessment, and grading practices. Join us to collaborate with prominent educators and walk away with strategies to support your teaching and learning initiatives.  

Follow us on Twitter! We share resources and spark conversations about healthy instructional, assessment, and grading practices. Ask your questions using the hashtag #ModernMeasures or follow @Modern_Measures.

What is Agile development and why should K-12 care?

Agile development is an approach to software development that emphasizes collaboration, flexibility, and continual improvement. You might not realize it, but agile development is something you experience in education all of the time. Whenever you receive a software update -- whether it’s on an edtech tool or on your cell phone -- you’re seeing agile development in action.

This is important for educators, because technology constantly evolves, and as it does, you want to be able to utilize those new capabilities to better educate students, and provide a better classroom experience. You don’t want to spend the time, effort, and money on purchasing and learning an entirely new system every time one of your edtech tools is out of date.

On top of that, agile development makes it easier for technology providers to adapt to the needs of users. If you’re finding ways that our software could be improved, we want to make those improvements as quickly as possible. By staying nimble and adaptable, we can work together more effectively with educators. And those educators can have the edtech tools they need to ensure their school communities keep learning together.

Now that you can recognize agile development, take advantage of it - you should feel comfortable sending suggested improvements and updates to your software providers, and they should feel comfortable incorporating user feedback in real time. Have a suggestion for Otus? We would love to hear from you! You can message us on Twitter at @OtusK12, contact us on Intercom, or leave a comment by clicking the envelope in the top right corner of

10 Things We Learned About Standards-Based Grading from Lee Ann Jung

Standards-based, mastery-based, and competency-based learning all have the same end goal in mind: healthy assessment and grading practices which result in students mastering a set of standards or skills to the greatest degree possible.

We recently asked Lee Ann Jung to facilitate a webinar called, “My parents don’t like standards-based grading. Now what?”. During this 60 minute session, she shared her experiences with SBG and the best path toward getting buy-in from students, parents, and faculty.

Ten things we learned from Lee Ann

#1: The purpose of assessment on a day-to-day basis is not to generate a grade or to accurately communicate where a student is. It’s to inform our instruction.

#2: Schools who’ve successfully implemented a standards-based grading initiative start with getting everyone, parents, and teachers, on board with the purpose of assessment. Think of this as your Northstar for the initiative.

#3: When the purpose of assessment, both formal and informal, is to inform instruction... the goal is to ensure that all students get to mastery. Measure what matters and realize grades are no longer about sorting and classifying kids.

#4: The heavy lifting of making the move to standards-based grading is building a culture of healthy assessment with the students, families, and faculty. When that comes first, the change in the report card is compelled. Start with the why and work back to what.

#5: Invite families early on into the conversation about the school culture, who we are as a school, what we value for students, and how these types of assessment practices support all students getting to mastery.

#6: For standards-based learning to be successful, confidence and competence are crucial. We must be ready to lead conversations. Can all faculty at your school lead a conversation with families on mastery, grade inflation, percentages, averaging, and rubrics?

#7: What will colleges and universities think about standards-based grading? They’re already getting all kinds of transcripts. There are applicants from all over the world, homeschool transcripts, Montessori transcripts, and they have their ways of making sense of all kinds of grades.

#8: The Hanover Research Council report states that “Generally, admissions offices treat all grades as welcome indicators of high school performance while implicitly acknowledging that every school has a unique perspective, student body, and system.” None of the college admissions offices contacted expressed a concern or a negative view of a transcript based on standards-based grading.

#9: Admission offices recalculate GPA based on school profile and student data. They also have algorithms in place that take into consideration student performance at their high schools and how historically other students from that school performed their freshman year at that university. They know how difficult classes are at your school.

#10: You are not alone: Many schools are encountering obstacles in way of the various initiatives they’re implementing

Technology is a Tool

At Otus, we believe that for any initiative to be successful, it begins at the human level. Technology is simply a tool and it’s only as good as the person using it. Note- there’s no mention of technology throughout our key takeaways from Lee Ann’s webinar on standards-based grading.

Rather, she emphasizes starting with creating a culture of learning, the confidence and competence of faculty, and creating community buy-in. Once those conditions are in place, it’s time to consider a platform to enhance teachers’ ability to use student data to inform their teaching.

Otus is designed for K-12 school systems who use traditional, standards-based, or “transitional” grading. We are unique in that we help ensure that parents and families also have the tools necessary to understand this shift in teaching and learning.

We are inspired by the work of Lisa Westman, Lee Ann Jung, Rick Wormeli, Tom Guskey, our courageous clients and their students, and parents who are struggling to understand this “new” way of grading. If this article resonates with you, schedule a 30-minute demonstration of Otus. You can also follow us on Twitter or join our Modern Measures learning community on Facebook.