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Implementing Standards-Based Grading (12-Step Checklist)

Author: Chris Hull | Otus Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer | Blog |

As you’re researching standards-based grading you might start thinking, “This sounds awesome, but where do I start?” And while the road to implementing standards-based grading may not be a simple checklist to follow, at Otus we’ve helped countless educators transition to and implement SBG across their schools and districts.

Below you’ll find a roadmap to implementing standards-based grading that was created based on real use-cases we’ve seen both with our clients and within our own experience in the K-12 education field. (Over 30% of Otus employees are former educators or administrators, so we understand what it’s like to be in your shoes!)

Every school, district, and community is a little bit different, so this roadmap may not fit your exact needs, but it’s a great way to start planning what your implementation may look like and how long it will take. Let’s start one to two years before implementation.

1-2 Years Before Implementation:

What’s Your WHY?

Long before reaching a destination, you first have to have a reason for traveling there. If you don’t have a good reason, the minute the journey becomes difficult, everything will fall apart. Standards-based grading is a fundamental shift away from a system that has been around for more than a century. It is not an easy journey.

At Otus, we encourage administrators to spend a lot of time understanding the “why?” behind standards-based grading. This is the most important key to success and will help keep the initiative from getting derailed. We can’t give you that “why.” However, we can give you some resources that might help you find it. Here are 35 resources (from podcasts to Twitter accounts) that will give you a firm foundation with which to start thinking and planning.

Key Activities:

  • Determine your WHY
  • Gather and consume as many SBG resources as possible

ㅤDownload the Checklist!

11 Months Before Implementation: 

Build an Alliance of Admins

Now that you know all about standards-based grading, it’s time to talk about it. Start bringing up SBG with other administrators, leaders, and board members. While you may be excited to spread the word about all you’ve learned, begin by fully understanding others’ current perceptions of the subject. Is there interest? Hesitation? Resistance?

In order for there to be a change at this scale, everyone needs to be on board. If you skip this step, one angry email or phone call to a board member could derail the entire initiative. Make sure everyone is committed to this change and more importantly, the WHY behind the change. Consider appointing two to three admins as SBG advocates/experts who can answer questions and concerns as word of the change begins to spread.

Key Activities

  • Begin discussing SBG with school or district leadership
    • Principal, Superintendent, School Board
  • Secure buy-in from key decision-makers
  • Appoint 2-3 SBG “advocates/experts” to help answer questions/concerns when they inevitably arise

10 Months Before Implementation:

Check the Pulse

Now that you have administrative buy-in, start to get a feel for the attitude towards standards-based grading on a school/building level. Identify influential teachers and ask questions to understand their current perceptions and opinions. If there are negative responses, listen closely for the reasons why. Make a list of any objections that you hear. These conversations will help test the waters and allow you to understand how easy or difficult it will be to garner widespread support.

Key Activities

  • Begin discussing the idea of SBG with influential teachers and get a pulse on possible reception
  • Brainstorm possible objections that teachers will have to implementing standards-based grading

Check out our interactive SBG Calculator

9 Months Before Implementation:

The Nitty Gritty of Standards

Nobody likes being told what to do. Rather than simply announce to teachers that you are moving to standards-based grading, try including them in the decision-making process. A great way to do this is through a professional learning community (see our guide to PLCs). Discuss your WHY behind SBG and foster open conversations around whether or not they believe this might be a good fit for your school.

If there is momentum to further explore the topic, consider discussing some of the following: Which standards would be the most important to measure? Which mastery scale would be most beneficial for your learning community? What are the pros and cons of different calculation methods? (Try our free SBG calculator)

Key Activities

  • Create a PLC to work with teachers to better understand SBG
  • Discuss if SBG could be a good fit for your learning community
  • Which standards would be most important to measure?
  • Look at different types of mastery scales and brainstorm what might work best for your school
  • Look at different calculation methods and discuss the pros and cons of each

8 Months Before Implementation:

Searchin’ for Software

Once everyone is clear on the WHY of standards-based grading, the next topic is HOW? What are the tools you need in order to make this easy? Hint: it’s not a job for spreadsheets. A standards-based gradebook operates very differently from a traditional gradebook. 

Key Activities

  • If the PLC is bought into SBG, begin researching SBG software (like Otus!)
  • Determine what implementation might look like (partial, full, transitional)
  • Schedule demos for possible software platforms
  • Determine a budget
    • Will this new system replace older systems?
    • Is there any state or federal funding for this initiative?

7 Months Before Implementation:

Guiding Parent Perception

As a timeline for implementing standards-based grading emerges, you’ll want to begin thinking about how to inform the parents about this exciting new change. Some parents may be excited and others may be hesitant. We tend to see more parent hesitation the closer to high school the student is. While announcing such a big change may seem like a daunting task, a good place to start is by creating a list of potential concerns or questions. If you can proactively answer these questions, parents may be more inclined to listen to the benefits of SBG.

Key Activities

  • Discuss possible parent reception of a transition to SBG
  • Brainstorm a list of  possible concerns or questions

6 Months Before Implementation:

Commit To Your Software

With six months to go before your implementation, you should make the final decision on your SBG software and begin the purchasing process. The time it takes to finalize a purchase varies widely depending on your specific district or school policies, so try to give yourself some extra time.

Depending on which software you choose, you’ll get connected with an implementation team that will help you plan some of the finer details of your implementation. At Otus, we have a team of former educators that will walk you through each step of the way to ensure a successful rollout.

You might also consider designating a few teachers who tend to be good with technology as your “power users.” These users can help field any questions from other teachers and help them with best practices to get the most out of the software.

Key Activities

  • Choose your software
  • Determine the implementation process
  • Create a group of software advocates/power users to get teachers on board
An Educator's Guide to Implementing Standards-Based Grading

Download Our FREE SBG eBook

5 Months Before Implementation:

Spread the Word

Now it’s time to make sure everyone knows. You’ve probably already talked to a lot of teachers and parents by this point, but this is the time to make sure that everyone is aware of the change. This will look different for each school or district depending on how you typically communicate with the community. Consider hosting a question and answer session (either in person or virtually) for parents to come and learn more about this new direction.

Key Activities

  • Make a public announcement about this exciting new change
  • Schedule a question and answer session

2-4 Months Before Implementation:

Nail Down The Details

Things should be starting to fall in place. Work with your software vendor to customize everything to your specific use case. Scales, calculation methods, and permissions all need to be set. Make sure to lock in dates for teacher training sessions and record them for anyone who can’t attend.

Key Activities

  • Work with your software vendor to customize your instance for your specific use case
  • Plan and schedule training sessions for teachers

1 Month Before Implementation:

Time to Log In

The time has come to get everyone online. Training sessions should be underway, passwords are set (and inevitably reset) and confused looks are slowly subsiding. With any new change there is going to be frustration, so make sure to have plenty of support available for teachers. Lean heavily on your power users to answer questions and support best practices during rollout.

Key Activities

  • Make sure all your teachers are able to log in
  • Utilize your power users to support the rest of the teachers
  • Complete any last-minute training

Phew! We know that was a lot of information to take in. Implementing standards-based grading can be intimidating, but Otus is here to support you every step of the way! To learn more about how Otus can help your school community successfully transition to SBG, request a demo below.

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