Standards-based grading (SBG) is a dry term for a beautiful thing: clarity. Clarity for students. Clarity for teachers. Clarity for parents. Without a set of identifiers—or standards—of what a student should be able to do proficiently, subjectivity and injustice can ensue. Without clear learning targets, how can any learner, especially a child or teen, improve? Why would they want to?
Common Goal Systems Inc.’s webpage “What is Standards Based Grading” at teacherease.com provides an excellent comparison of traditional grading:
Traditional grading has often represented the amount of assignments a student has completed. Teachers might also throw into the pot grades for participation and effort. However, this way of evaluation does not exactly represent what a student has learned or is able to do.
SBG uses a specific scale to rank student proficiency levels. A scale of 1-4 or 0-4 reflects a student’s increasing ability in discrete skills from Little to No Mastery to Partial Mastery to Proficient, and finally to Advanced/Mastery. In the end, it is not difficult to translate this to letter grades. More importantly, SBG allows teachers to give specific feedback in addition to clearly seeing what requires re-teaching for some or all of the students. The writers at teacherease.com liken SBG to “a ladder, where students climb up, ‘a rung at a time,’ eventually reaching the top.” Many parents like SBG because they can see exactly what their child is able to do, why their child has earned a particular grade, and how they can effectively support him or her.
Standards-based grading is simply better for education. It motivates students because learning targets or goals are clear, and clearer still is a map of how to do better. Classrooms can be broken into smaller groups where students working at the same level of skill climb together to reach the next level. Teachers offer level-appropriate work to those groups, and students feel less frustrated and more interested. In this environment of differentiated instruction, everyone benefits. Furthermore, it puts students in the driver’s seat, and they like that! With SBG, if written in user-friendly language, students can reflect on their own work, celebrate their successes, identify their areas of improvement, and make their own plan to progress. Finally, SBG is based on learning and mastery. There are no zeros and no penalty for early mistakes. As students learn, their scores increase, and only final grades are reflective of mastery at the end of the course. In this way, a great deal of grade anxiety is eliminated.
The effectiveness of SBG extends to the college level! In a case study, “Questioning Points and Percentages: Standards-Based Grading (SBG) in Higher Education,” Buckmiller, Peters, & Kruse examined attitudes and experiences regarding SBG principles introduced in an educational technology course in a Midwestern university. The authors revealed that the students ultimately,
“viewed the model as clearer and more fair. . . Based on regular formative feedback, students began to take more ownership of their learning. Ultimately, most participants found SBG more beneficial and defensible—and reflective of their knowledge—than traditional grading practices.”
Increasingly, international schools are employing standards-based assessment for everything from teacher appraisal/growth to that of children as young as pre-kindergarten. Education is constantly growing and reforming, slowly replacing the traditional way of grading with new standards that benefit students, teachers, and parents.