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Standards Based Grading: Everything You Need to Know (2021)

What Is Standards Based Grading?

Standards Based Grading (SBG), or mastery based grading, is a system that evaluates students’ progress towards mastering specific learning targets called standards. These standards can be set at national, state, or school levels. A standards based grading scale is often composed of categories ranging from “below” the standard to “mastering” it.

What Is The Purpose of Standards Based Grading?

The purpose of standards based grading is to give a clearer picture of a student’s learning progress. Instead of a traditional points gradebook where you see a single letter grade, an SBG report card gives a detailed view of student strengths and weaknesses. Traditional grading communicates on a high level, whereas standards based grading provides detailed and actionable insights.

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3 Benefits of Standards-Based Grading

Increased Student Engagement

A standards based education helps students understand the goals behind homework, quizzes, and tests. Since standards are often written in student-friendly language, they become more engaged in the learning process. This shifts the goal from receiving points for a grade to mastering a complete understanding of a concept. A common practice is to encourage students to “self-assess” their mastery of learning targets. This not only provides insight for the teacher but can also prompt students to ask better questions.

Better Parent/Family Conversations

Imagine bringing your car to the mechanic, and they say, “your car is in B+ condition.” Not very helpful. Instead, what you want is a checklist of what is working and what is not working. Everything is good except the brakes are broken? Now, that would be good to know.

A graphic that compares traditional grading to standards based grading. The graphic is blue on the left, and purple on the right. In the middle of the two sides, there is a mechanic working on a car. On the left, it says "Traditional Grading" with a B+ circled. On the right, it says Standards Based Grading with a detailed list of how each part of the car is operating. For example, the engine is marked working great.

Families want the same clarity with their students. A letter grade offers little insight as to what might be going right or wrong in the classroom. This can lead to emails and phone calls to the teacher requiring a further explanation of their student’s grade. In contrast, standards based grading shows families exactly where their student is both excelling and struggling. Understanding their student’s strengths and weaknesses can help families better support students at home and lead to fewer teacher emails.

Consistent Measurement

In traditional grading systems, grades can vary widely based on the teacher. Teachers can weigh different aspects of the class based on subjective style and preferences. For example, consider a student who has a true understanding of the material but lacks participation and homework consistency. In a traditional grading system, this student will receive an A from a teacher who focuses only on assessments and a D from another who calculates participation into the final grade.

In a standards based approach, it becomes easy to measure progress across classrooms. Rather than waiting until the end of the year for standardized tests to measure student learning, teachers and administrators can use SBG software like Otus to access real-time metrics across classrooms and grade levels. This results in a faster (and more accurate) feedback loop that can accelerate learning.

What School Administrators Need to Know About Standards Based Grading

The thought of transitioning your school to standards based grading can be daunting. Here are a few things you can do as an administrator to set your school up for a successful transition to SBG.

Communicate and Discuss

There is a quote by Patrick Lencioni that is crucial for any big change: “If people don’t weigh in, they can’t buy-in.” There are many exciting benefits of SBG. Many school admins who have implemented SBG started the process by getting feedback from teachers to establish a baseline. Whether via informal discussions, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), or small group meetings, this feedback is instrumental to achieve that much needed buy-in. If teachers are part of the process, they will be much more supportive and active during the transition.

Download the Case Study!

See how Blair Community Schools used Otus to implement Standards-Based Grading.

    Start Small

    It can be difficult for a lot of people to buy into something they haven’t used before. Consider starting with one or two teachers who are excited about this change. Maybe even create a Professional Learning Community around implementing SBG. If the test is successful, it will be much easier to garner wide-scale support. This can provide a boost in momentum which will increase the likelihood of long-term success.  

    Equip Your Teachers

    There are many challenges that come with switching to SBG, and the last thing you need is another third-party software to integrate. 

    Otus is an all-in-one solution for educators to teach, grade, analyze, and plan. With a built-in, highly customizable standards based grading system, Otus makes the transition to SBG much smoother. One of the best SBG features is the standards based report card that helps families understand their student’s performance against standards.

    Check Out The Otus SBG Report Card!

    Download the Report Card!



      SBG Report Card

      What School Teachers Need to Know About Standards-Based Grading

      Do Some Research

      Ironically, there is not a standard way to use standards-based grading. You might have questions like which scale should we use, how will we handle missing/late assignments, how many standards should we teach? All of these questions, and many more, will need to be answered. Before you embark on this new adventure, spend some time researching best practices from other educators.

      Here is a comprehensive list of resources that can help you on your journey!

      Communicate with Students

      One of the benefits of standards-based grading is that it empowers students. However, it is hard to empower students when they are out of the loop. Once you get the SBG ball rolling, consider how you’ll communicate this change with your students. Whether you give a presentation or provide resources for students to see how standards-based grading works, communication is key. They will feel more empowered when they have a clearer understanding of what they’re learning and why. 

      Communicate with Families

      Communicating with families is just as important as communicating with students. It can be difficult for families to transition from viewing grades as compensation (or as something their student earned) to viewing them as a better form of communication around their student’s learning. Listening to family feedback and offering helpful resources is a great way to ease the transition. If done well, families can become some of the biggest advocates for mastery grading.

      What School Families Need to Know About Standards-Based Grading

      Everyone knows what a traditional report card looks like, so it can be unnerving when something radically different shows up instead. Many families are accustomed to a definitive score for their child, especially when they are a “straight-A student.”

      Families need to know that grades aren’t meant to be a game with a high score but rather a tool for effective communication. While a letter grade can give a fuzzy outline of learning progress, an SBG report card gives a high definition view. Rather than knowing a child has a B+, they can see that they are having trouble with thesis statements. Instead of informing families that their child needs help, a standards-based approach allows families to understand exactly how to help their child.

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