Tag Archives: Grading

The use of standards-based grading is growing

3 Apr

Mila Koumpilova writes in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press article, Minnesota schools give standards-based grading system a closer look:

Standards-based grading often uses a 1-to-4 scale, which corresponds to the four outcomes on state tests: does not meet, partially meets, meets or exceeds standards.

Across the country, as well, standards-based grading is gaining traction. Most districts remain reluctant to experiment with it in high school because of the key role GPAs play in college admissions.

“Standards-based grading is beginning to grow exponentially,” said Robert Marzano, a Colorado-based expert on the subject.

Marzano said some districts are doing it right. Those that fail to spell out what the new grades mean are taking “a step backward.”


Ramsey Middle School in Minneapolis opened this school year with a new staff and students. Educators pitched the idea of trying standards-based grading, Principal Paul Marietta said.

The numerical grades students get this year strictly reflect how well they have mastered the concepts they are expected to learn in their courses. Students can re-take tests and re-submit assignments. The most recent grade, not an average, holds sway. Grading against how the rest of the class does is out.

The change has not come without soul-searching among educators and parents. Marietta said the school is still working on creating more detailed and clear grade reports for parents.

“We’re running up against 100 years of history with traditional grades,” he said.

Marietta said he’s encouraged to see more students meeting with teachers before classes or on their lunch breaks to prep for do-overs. Because the new grading approach breaks down feedback to individual standards, it’s more informative.

“Traditionally, you take the test; the learning is done,” Marietta said. “We’re using the grades as a learning tool to communicate to students how they can do better.”

Osseo is midway through a three-year rollout of standards-based grading across all grades. Two years of research went into the shift.

But in a recent letter to the school board, teachers singled out grading changes, among other new initiatives, they say added stress, swelled workloads and hurt morale.

Jay Anderson, the local teachers union president, said educators have rallied around the idea of setting academic goals and grading students on their progress toward them. But they have grappled with how the district implemented the new system.

Parent Steve McCuskey, a vocal critic, said the district’s speedy shift to the new approach has created confusion: Should teachers stick to just whole numbers or use fractions in grading? What exactly does attaining a 4 (exceeding standards) take?

The new system has made it harder to get the equivalent of an A and easier to pass a course, McCuskey said.

“This hurts the overachievers and helps the underachievers,” McCuskey said.


Some educators like standards-based grading while many parents are skeptical.

Patricia L. Scriffiny writes in Educational Leadership article, Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading:

Reason 1: Grades Should Have Meaning

Each letter grade that a student earns at the high school level is connected to a graduation credit, and many classes reflect only one step in a sequence of learning. So what does each grade indicate to students, parents, and teachers of later courses in the sequence? When I first considered this question, I realized I had no answers. When I was pressed to describe the qualitative difference between an A, B, C, D, or F, my answers were vague. So, I developed a much more focused idea of what I want my grades to mean:

  • An A means the student has completed proficient work on all course objectives and advanced work on some objectives.
  • A B means the student has completed proficient work on all course objectives.
  • A C means the student has completed proficient work on the most important objectives, although not on all objectives. The student can continue to the next course.
  • A D means the student has completed proficient work on at least one-half of the course objectives but is missing some important objectives and is at significant risk of failing the next course in the sequence. The student should repeat the course if it is a prerequisite for another course.
  • An F means the student has completed proficient work on fewer than one-half of the course objectives and cannot successfully complete the next course in sequence.

Reason 2: We Need to Challenge the Status Quo

.When I assign homework, I discuss with my students where and how it applies to their assessments. My goal is to get students to constantly ask themselves, “Do I know this? Can I do this?” To my surprise, my homework completion rates have remained steady over the past three years. Some students don’t do all of the homework that I assign, but they know that they are accountable for mastering the standard connected to it. Of course, not every student who needs to practice always does so, but I am amazed and encouraged that students ask me for extra practice fairly regularly.

Reason 3: We Can Control Grading Practices

One of the biggest sources of frustration in schools today is the sense that we are at the mercy of factors we teachers cannot control. We cannot control student socioeconomic levels, school funding, our salaries, our teaching assignments, increasing class sizes, difficult parents, or a host of other important issues. However, we can control how we assess students….

Reason 4: Standards-Based Grading Reduces Meaningless Paperwork

…I don’t assess student mastery of any objective until I am confident that a reasonable number of students will score proficiently, and that makes each assessment mean much more. Students who are still struggling after a significant portion of the class has demonstrated mastery can retest individually. The bottom line is that when I review any set of papers, I walk away knowing a great deal more about what my students know than I ever did before.

Reason 5: It Helps Teachers Adjust Instruction

Imagine two different grade books for the same set of students, as shown in Figure 1. Which one of the two better illustrates what students know and what they still need to learn?

Figure 1. Comparing Traditional and Standards-Based Grade Books

Traditional Grade Book


Homework Average

Quiz 1

Chapter 1 Test





















Standards-Based Grade Book


Objective 1: Write an alternate ending for a story

Objective 2: Identify the elements of a story

Objective 3: Compare and contrast two stories


Partially proficient


Partially proficient




Partially proficient


Partially proficient

Partially proficient

Partially proficient






Partially proficient



The standards-based grade book gives a wealth of information to help the teacher adjust instruction. Note that two objectives (1 and 3) may require more class instruction. The notations for Objective 2, on the other hand, suggest that the class only needs practice and one student needs some reteaching….

Reason 6: It Teaches What Quality Looks Like

In the adult world, everything is a performance assessment. If adults on the job make poor decisions or cannot determine the quality of their own work, the results are generally undesirable. Quality matters, and the ability to measure the quality of one’s own work is a learned skill….

Reason 7: It’s a Launchpad to Other Reforms

When I began using standards-based grading, I quickly discovered that I needed to reexamine my curriculum. Each class needed a clear and concise set of standards with precise levels of mastery. This prompted a number of discussions with other teachers in my department, and each year we continue to adapt our objectives. No one can use standards-based grading without clear standards….


Educational Leadership

October 2008 | Volume 66 | Number 2
Expecting Excellence Pages 70-74


Stanford Education details the pros and cons of standards-based grading in a course syllabi.

In Advantages and Disadvantages, Stanford lists the following pros and cons:


In spite of the debate over state and national standards reform efforts, it is universally agreed by educators and experts that a key component of improving student achievement is raising standards.

In the 1996 National Education Summit, state governors, education leaders, and business leaders came to a consensus that use of standards will:

1. Help all students learn more by demanding higher student proficiency and providing effective methods to help students achieve high standards;

2. Provide parents, schools, and communities with an unprecedented opportunity to debate and reach agreement on what students should know and be able to do;

3. Focus the education system on understandable, objective, measurable, and well-defined goals to enable schools to work smarter and more productively;

4. Reinforce the best teaching and educational practices already found in classrooms and make them the norm;

5. Provide real accountability by focusing squarely on results and helping the public and local and state educators evaluate which programs work best.

Proponents of standards-based reform argue that flexibility in past reform efforts have not necessarily been shown to be successful.  State tests can highlight gaps and promote pressure for improvement, as well as demonstrate that these gaps will drive the resources to the most needy schools.  On a wider scale, a major advantage of standards-based reform is that standards and assessments can allow access of curriculum for all students, as well as more equitable outcomes.

However, it is generally agreed that in order to be successful, these higher standards must be aligned with reforms in testing, teacher education, improved teaching practices, and proper allocation of resources.


While several states are implementing some form of standards-based reform, there is very little empirical evidence to prove that standards, assessment, and high-stakes accountability programs are effective in improving public schools.  In many states, such as California, attempts to implement standards-based reform are inconsistently or carelessly aligned with quality research. The following are some of the shortcomings of standards-based reform.

1. Recent reports on the standards-based reform movement in New York suggest that in many schools the careless implementation of standards and assessment may have negative consequences for students.

2. Vague and unclear standards in several subject areas in several states complicate matters and do not serve as concrete standards defining what students should know and be able to do.

3. Top-down standards imposed by the federal or state government are also problematic.  They impose content specifications without taking into account the different needs, opportunities to learn, and skills that may be appropriate for specific districts or regions.                                                       http://www.stanford.edu/~hakuta/www/archives/syllabi/CalTex_SBR/procon.html

See, Pros and Cons of Standards-based Grading http://readingsolutionsblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/pros-and-cons-of-standards-based-grading/

Moi wrote in What, if anything, do education tests mean?

Every population of kids is different and they arrive at school at various points on the ready to learn continuum. Schools and teachers must be accountable, but there should be various measures of judging teacher effectiveness for a particular population of children. Perhaps, more time and effort should be spent in developing a strong principal corps and giving principals the training and assistance in evaluation and mentoring techniques. There should be evaluation measures which look at where children are on the learning continuum and design a program to address that child’s needs. https://drwilda.com/2011/11/27/what-if-anything-do-education-tests-mean/


What is the learning pyramid                                             https://drwilda.com/2013/03/06/what-is-the-learning-pyramid/

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The importance of appropriate grading

11 Jan

Education is a partnership between the student, parent(s) or guardian(s), teacher(s), and school. Standards are a benchmark, but students and families need to prepare for and support student education success. Teachers must be prepared and supported in meeting the standards adopted by the schools. Schools must be learning environments which support and mentor teachers and keep children safe. Otherwise, standards are simply a nice goal.

A report, Standing On the Shoulders of Giants by Mark S. Tucker examines high performing education systems. Among the recommendations are:

What follows is a new agenda for recasting the structure of the preceding section, derived from the experience of the countries that have consistently outperformed the United States. It was constructed simply by taking the subsection headings and reframing the language of the preceding sections in the form of an action agenda. To be clear, this is not an agenda for the United States; it is an agenda for individual states:

Benchmark the Education Systems of the Top-Performing Countries

  • Make sure you know what the leaders are trying to achieve, the extent to which they achieve it and how they do on common measures

  • Compare your state to the best performers, with particular attention to countries that share your goals

  • Conduct careful research on the policies and practices of the best performing nations to understand how they get the results they get

  • Benchmark often, because the best never stand still

Design for Quality

  • Get your goals clear, and get public and professional consensus on them

  • Create world-class instructional systems and gateways

  • Define a limited number of gateways — not more than the end of basic education, end of lower secondary and end of upper secondary (matched up to college entrance and work-ready requirements)

  • Create standards for each gateway, making sure they are properly nested and are world class

  • Create logically ordered curriculum frameworks (topics for each year or each subject) for the basic education sequence

  • Create curriculum (broad guidelines, not lesson plans) for each school level leading up to the gateway exams (the level of detail at which this is done should be inversely related to the quality of your teachers)

  • Create exams for each gateway, based on standards and curricula

  • Train teachers to teach those curricula well to students from many different backgrounds….

Appropriate use of grading and testing are methods to determine whether the education system is meeting stated goals.

University of Michigan Center For Research On Learning and Teaching suggests in Best Practices for Designing and Grading Exams, adapted from M.E. Piontek (2008) :

The most obvious function of assessment methods (such as exams, quizzes, papers, and presentations) is to enable instructors to make judgments about the quality of student learning  (i.e., assign grades). However, the method of assessment also can have a direct impact on the quality of student learning. Students assume that the focus of exams and assignments reflects the educational goals most valued by an instructor, and they direct their learning and studying accordingly  (McKeachie  & Svinicki, 2006).  General grading systems can have an impact as well.  For example, a strict bell curve (i.e., norm-reference grading) has the potential to dampen motivation and cooperation in a classroom, while a system that strictly rewards proficiency (i.e., criterion-referenced grading) could be perceived as contributing to grade inflation. Given the importance of assessment for both faculty and student interactions about learning, how can instructors develop exams that provide useful and relevant data about their students’ learning and also direct students to spend their time on the important aspects of a course or course unit? How do grading practices further influence this process?

Guidelines for Designing Valid and Reliable Exams

Ideally, effective exams have four characteristics. They are:

  • Valid, (providing useful information about the concepts they were designed to test),
  • Reliable (allowing consistent measurement and discriminating between different levels of performance),
  • Recognizable  (instruction has prepared students for the assessment), and
  • Realistic (concerning time and effort required to complete the assignment)  (Svinicki, 1999). 

Most importantly, exams and assignments should focus on the most important content and behaviors emphasized during the course (or particular section of the course). What are the primary ideas, issues, and skills you hope students learn during a particular course/unit/module? These are the learning outcomes you wish to measure. For example, if your learning outcome involves memorization, then you should assess for memorization or classification; if you hope students will develop problem-solving capacities, your exams should focus on assessing students’ application and analysis skills.  As a general rule, assessments that focus too heavily on details (e.g., isolated facts, figures, etc.) “will probably lead to better student retention of the footnotes at the cost of the main points” (Halpern & Hakel, 2003, p. 40). As noted in Table 1, each type of exam item may be better suited to measuring some learning outcomes than others, and each has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of ease of design, implementation, and scoring.

Table 1: Advantages and Disadvantages of Commonly Used Types of Achievement Test Items

Type of Item Advantages Disadvantages
True-False Many items can be administered in a relatively short time. Moderately easy to write; easily scored. Limited primarily to testing knowledge of information.  Easy to guess correctly on many items, even if material has not been mastered.
Multiple-Choice Can be used to assess broad range of content in a brief period. Skillfully written items can measure higher order cognitive skills. Can be scored quickly. Difficult and time consuming to write good items. Possible to assess higher order cognitive skills, but most items assess only knowledge.  Some correct answers can be guesses.
Matching Items can be written quickly. A broad range of content can be assessed. Scoring can be done efficiently. Higher order cognitive skills are difficult to assess.
Short Answer or Completion Many can be administered in a brief amount of time. Relatively efficient to score. Moderately easy to write. Difficult to identify defensible criteria for correct answers. Limited to questions that can be answered or completed in very few words.
Essay Can be used to measure higher order cognitive skills. Relatively easy to write questions. Difficult for respondent to get correct answer by guessing. Time consuming to administer and score. Difficult to identify reliable criteria for scoring. Only a limited range of content can be sampled during any one testing period.

Adapted from Table 10.1 of Worthen, et al., 1993, p. 261.


Choosing the appropriate measurement is important for accurate evaluation.

Education Research reports in the article, Teachers so focused on fairness issues they overlook best practices in grading:

The 77 teachers who participated in the study completed questionnaires asking them to rate their awareness of 4 grading principles and to provide information about their own grading practices.  Among the results:

  • 29% reported considerable awareness of recommended grading principles
  • 40 % reported some degree of awareness of grading principles 
  • 17% of teachers said they had only very little awareness
  • 13% said they had no awareness of the grading principles.

When asked how much they used these principles in their grading practices, 

  • 23% of teachers agreed that they followed the principles
  • 43% somewhat agreed that they followed   the principles
  • 10% said the principles did not apply to them
  • 13% somewhat disagreed that they fol- lowed the principles
  • 3% disagreed that they followed the prin ciples and 10% felt they did not apply to them.

In a standards-based system,  it’s important for teachers to stay focused on assessing a student’s achievement against standards, the study says.  However, teachers persist in taking into account a hodgepodge of other factors such as student effort  or whether the student hands in work on time, according to the study on the grading beliefs and practices of 10th-grade math teachers in Ontario….

The 4 principles that formed the framework for the study were:

  1. Grades should be referenced to the curriculum objectives or learning expectations (criterion referenced)
  2. A grade should be an accurate representation of achievement and non-achievement factors should be reported separately 
  3. Results from multiple assessments should be combined carefully with weighting that reflects learning expectations 
  4. Information about grading should be clearly communicated so that grades are justified and their meaning is understood by students, parents, and other teachers. 

The study was part of a larger nationally funded study on teachers’ grading practices in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Ontario. One goal of the study was to determine how teachers calculated students’ final report card grades in 2 educational systems with differing assessment policies. http://www.ernweb.com/public/Grading-best-practices-fairness-achievement-standards-based.cfm

Appropriate grading practices is an important component of ensuring that an education system is using best practices.

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