what is standards based grading for k-12 schools

What is standards-based grading?

Author: Keith Westman | Blog, Standards-Based Grading |

Standards-based grading is a shift many K-12 school systems are implementing to measure student performance based on the mastery of learning standards. This is different than traditional grading where student performance is measured based on an average of all of the work a student has done within a given period of time.

Standards-Based Grading vs. Traditional Grading: Riding a unicycle

Consider an adult who is learning how to ride a unicycle. The ultimate goal is for the adult to ride the unicycle 50 feet without falling off. In standards-based learning, we know the adult has “mastered” the skill of riding a unicycle if the adult is able to ride a unicycle 50 feet.

While the adult is learning to ride the unicycle, he is practicing (a formative assessment). On the first day of our two-week unit on learning to ride a unicycle, he can’t even sit on the unicycle without falling over. Slowly but surely, he begins to get better. Pretty soon, he is riding the unicycle ten feet before he needs to put his feet on the ground. After two weeks of practice, he is finally able to ride the unicycle 50 feet without falling. He has mastered the skill!

In traditional grading, this man would be graded on each attempt to ride the unicycle. Using a points grading scale, each foot covered is one point out of a total of fifty points for covering the desired distance. In the beginning, he would receive Fs for each time that he tried to ride the unicycle but couldn’t. As he got closer to being able to ride the unicycle 50 feet, his grade on each attempt would go up. He would earn a C for going 35 feet. Then, a B for going 40 feet.

If we were to give him a final grade, we would average all of his attempts to ride a unicycle 50 feet and give him a grade. In this case, a B-. But, is this right? The goal was to ride a unicycle 50 feet. And, he did it! Does a B- accurately describe the fact that this person successfully rode a unicycle 50 feet without falling over?

To be able to say that he Mastered the skill of unicycle riding is a much more accurate way to describe his ability than taking the average of each of his attempts and giving a final grade.

But what about high school and college?

Just because your K-8 student is in a school that uses standards-based grading does not mean that your child will be unprepared for high school or college. As a matter of fact, it may allow your child to be better prepared. To read some of this research, click here.

When a student receives a B+ in Math, it tells parents that 87% of the time the student was assessed in Math, the student answered correctly. This grade tells you nothing about what was assessed. It also assumes that the 13% of Math content that the student didn’t get right isn’t important- a B+ is pretty good!

When standards-based grading is used, students and parents know the specific skills that a student has mastered. This allows the student to focus their practice so that they know exactly what to work on in order to master the skill.

When the student gets to high school where a traditional grading scale is used, that student will have a seamless experience because, so long as a skill has been mastered, they should get an A on the assessment of that skill.

In closing

To say that standards-based grading doesn’t prepare students for the real world is an easy way to reject a well-researched and proven instructional methodology.

Is your school using standards-based grading? Share your experiences with us on Twitter at @OtusK12.


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