86: Standards Based Grading


Chapter 8 in Berger, Ron, Leah Rugen, and Libby Woodfin.  Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming School through Student-engaged Assessment. Print.



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Purposes / Uses:
  • Tie grades to specific understandings and learning
  • Communicate progress to students & their families about progress towards concrete goals (transparency)
  • Measures mastery at closure of grading period – not on average over the period
  • Make connection between work habits and skills more clear
Guiding Principles
  • Grades describe student’s progress and current level of achievement.  This involves:
    • considering trends in student work – especially most recent ones because these reflect more time to develop mastery
    • multiple opportunities for students to show mastery
  • Habits of scholarship are reported separately from content mastery grades.  This involves:
    • keeping separate grades  for assessments of character learning targets (in New Tech schools – this may be covered by showing the learning outcome grades separate from the content grades)
    • scaffolding and assess character learning targets, just as one does for academic learning targets
  • Grades communicate (not motivate or punish).  This involves:
    • knowing that low grades are not a motivation for better habits
    • early communication of grading criteria
  • Student engagement is the key to success.  This involves:
    • teaching students how to effectively self assess their knowledge and use it to plan next steps
    • knowing that effective self assessment leads to more feelings of self-efficacy
    • believing that all students can succeed with the right supports
    • comparing work to standards not to other students’ work
  • Communicating clearly about achievement.  This involves:
    • realistic accounting for early mistakes
    • opportunities to learn and improve
  • Engaging students.  This involves:
    • students playing an active role in understanding and assessing learning targets
  • Holding students accountable.  This involves:
    • holding students accountable to academic AND character learning targets
    • having frequent conversations about what that accountability means and using those conversations to guide learning
Getting started involves …
  • developing and using learning targets to guide curriculum, instruction and assessment
    • building supporting learning targets that build towards long term learning targets
  • defining clear character learning targets based on school-wide behavior expectations
  • committing to student-engaged assessment practices
School-wide implementation involves …
  • formulating and communicating school-wide grading guidelines to ensure school-wide consistent grading. These include expectations for …
    • building body of evidence for mastery
    • using formative and summative assessments
    • fine tuning instruction in response to assessments
  • vertically aligning curriculum that prioritizing essential standards and shows a clear progression from grade level to grade level
  • developing consistent criteria for meeting or exceeding proficiency on learning targets
  • professional development on good practices relating to writing, scaffolding and assessing learning targets
Casco Bay High High School’s Grading System
  • 1 = Does not meet standards.  Does not demonstrate substantive progress towards learning target over the course of several assessments.
  • 2  = Approaches the standards.  Substantive progress towards learning target, but more time needed for mastery
  • 3 = Meets the standards.  Demonstrates competency in learning target.
  • 4 = Exceeds standards.  Demonstrates deeper level of understanding / skill than learning target required.
Sample Guidelines for Determining Progress Towards Long Term Learning Targets
  • Break long-term learning targets into several supporting learning targets that scaffold up to long term targets
  • Create assessments built on supporting learning targets
  • Assess long term target over the course of several assessments tied to relating supporting learning targets
  • Require students to demonstrate long term target RELIABLY not PERFECTLY
  • Value and reward long term progression towards mastery of long term learning targets over early demonstrations of mastery that can not be reproduced reliably later
  • Base mastery of long term learning targets on multiple summative assessments
Different approaches to passing courses:
  • Base passing grade on average grade over all learning targets
  • Passing course can only occur if student passes ALL learning targets.  Scores 3 or above (see above) on all learning targets.  (Casco Bay HS approach)
Reporting on habits of scholarship.  This involves:
  • Consistent school-wides standards for assessing and reporting grades on character learning targets
    • Interesting features of Casco Bay example:
      • Uses 1-4 grading scale on character learning targets (similar to academic learning targets)
      • HOW honor roll for students who earn 3 or above on all character learning targets
      • HOW scores of 3 or above on all character learning targets can NOT fail.  Instead get an incomplete and extra support and time (2 wks) to meet academic learning target criteria
  • Structures for supporting students who don’t meet character learning targets.  This can include:
    • Team teacher meetings that brainstorm how to provide support to students who are struggling to meet targets
    • Regular student opportunities for self assessment on character learning targets
    • More formal individualized intervention programs for students who are still failing to meet standards by the end of the grading period
Examples of Student-Engaged Assessment Practices:
  • Regular formative assessments
  • Descriptive feedback that supports multiple revisions of work
  • Formal presentations of learning
  • Passage presentations – students present their progress to an audience
  • Assessments tied to meaningful work
  • Peer and self assessments made by comparing work to established criteria tied to learning targets
Checklist for Quality Assessment Plans:
  • Learning targets are high quality:
    • aligned to standards
    • includes ONLY ONE clear, aligned verb
    • divided into long term and supporting standards
    • student friendly language
    • I can … format
    • collection includes variety: reasoning, knowledge & skills targets
    • knowledge and skills targets build up to reasoning targets
    • collection includes prioritized collection of content, literacy, numeracy & character learning target
  • Summative Assessments:
    • multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery of long-term learning targets
    • clear assessment tools used to measure mastery
    • learning targets and assessment tools align
    • collection is varied in format and type
    • motivate students
    • includes smaller formative assessments
    • aligned to standards
  • Formative Assessments:
    • formative assessments for each supportive learning target
    • prepare students for summative assessments
    • accommodates multiple learning styles
    • motivate students
    • clearly communicate learning target and means to achieve them
    • involve self & peer assessment and reflections
Supporting Students who need Additional (outside class) Time & Support
  • Intensives
    • 4-8 day remediation courses
    • intense focused study on learning targets not met
    • students who don’t need these have menu of electives to choose from
    • earns back lost credit
    • involves 1-on-1 conferences, small group instructions, lots of formative feedback
  • Block seven
    • extra study hall period with teacher support
  • Mud season school
    • opportunity to earn 3’s on character learning targets and 2+’s on academic learning target
  • Summer standards intensives
    • See above.   Takes place in summer instead of school year.
  • Out of class tutorials
    • afterschool, before school, Saturday, etc


Woah! This looks hard.  However some advantages I can see:
  • better communication of what students are actually learning
  • better means to target support
  • assessments that reward reliable knowledge built over time instead of averages over instances of learning that may or may not be reliable
  • clear separation between scaffolding, assessments and consequences (both good and bad) for academic and character learning targets
  • school-wide consistency on how grades are assigned
  • school-wide consistency on how students are supported in their efforts to achieve mastery
  • stronger professional culture in staff that emerges from school-wide agreements, training, & experimentation related to meaningful assessment practices



Preparation Steps
  • Identify a team of guinea big teachers who are willing to commit to building prototype systems that lay the foundation for this strategy.  These systems:
    • break up courses into long term and supporting learning targets
    • establish agreements on high priority character learning targets and develop long term and supporting targets for these
    • define consistent means for assessing long term and supporting learning targets
  • Conducting classroom trials to test and refine these systems
Early Implementation Steps
  • Guinea pig team of teachers implement and refine prototype systems described above
  • Consolidate tested strategies into a Faculty Standards Based Grading Guide
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • Wide implementation of Standards Based grading based on field guide and related professional development sessions
  • School-wide agreements are made and supported that relate to grading and support structures



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