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Tips for Implementing a Standards-based Grading Model

December 09, 2016

As educators today focus on teaching students specific skills and concepts, more and more school districts are turning away from traditional grading systems in favor of a standards-based grading model.

In standards-based grading systems, students are evaluated on their mastery of specific goals, skills or standards. This helps educators, parents and students alike to see more clearly where gaps in achievement are occurring and additional work needs to be done.

Tips for implementing a standards-based grading model:

  • Create a new scale. A traditional 100-point scale offers perhaps too wide a range to accurately and consistently reflect a student’s achievement level. Simplify grading by using a four-point scale. On such a scale, a “1” indicates a very limited understanding of the standard and a “4” represents consistent, advanced understanding of the standard beyond what is expected for the grade level.
  • Grade by goals, not by assignments. It isn’t necessary — or productive — to record the grades of each and every assignment. Instead, remember you are grading the level of understanding of each standard; homework and in-class assignments are often used to practice and achieve mastery of those standards. Be strategic when choosing which assignments will be used to formally assess student progress toward each learning goal.
  • Weigh your grades. In a traditional system, grades from the beginning through the end of the marking period are added together and averaged for a final grade. However, that average grade will be low relative to what the student knows right now. If a student has been progressing over the course of the grading period, you will see scores rise at the end. Later assignments should be given more weight because they are more representative of the student’s current performance level.
  • Put effort and behavior to the side. Work habits and classroom behavior are certainly important, but in a standards-based grading model, they should be marked separately from academic achievement scores. Keep achievement scores more accurate by reporting things like classroom participation, cooperation, attendance and attitude in a separate column.
  • Do away with extra credit and zeros. Marking zeros in the grade book for forgotten homework assignments or missed tests will impact the accuracy of a student’s actual academic understanding and ability. Likewise, extra credit will simply pad a student’s grade. Eliminating zeros and extra credit will result in more precise grades.

A helpful way for educators to make the mental shift from traditional grading systems to standards-based systems is to begin organizing their grade books by standards or learning goals, rather than by assignment or unit. Assess each standard when you are confident that a number of students in the class have reached proficiency. You will then be able to more easily identify students who need additional work toward each goal.

For more information on standards-based grading, read our post on the 4 Common Roadblocks to Standards-based Grading – and How to Overcome Them.

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