What teachers need to know about standards-based grading

Posted on Tuesday, 4/16/2013 4:15 pm

If teachers' idea of assessing their students' academic progress is to give them traditional letter grades, then they may want to consider switching to a standards-based approach to grading. Educators who teach in schools that have adopted the Common Core State Standards may find this method of tracking students' classroom progress especially helpful.

Here are a few things teachers should know about standards-based grading before they fully embrace it:

The basics of standards-based grading
If parents were to look at the online GradeBook of a teacher who assesses students using a traditional grading system, they would see letter grades and percentages assigned to specific classes. A standards-based approach to grading, on the other hand, abandons letter grades in favor of more detailed information as to how pupils are performing in individual areas.

Ultimately, the standards-based approach to grading allows teachers to go deeper and provide parents with a more informative look at how their students are doing, not just on the whole, but in terms of multiple concepts.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) provides an example of how students would be graded based on standards. If pupils are required to write an alternate ending to a story, a student named John may be "partially proficient" at doing just that, while Felicia could be "advanced." At the same time, Felicia could only be "proficient" when it comes to identifying the elements of a story and comparing and contrasting two stories. Using this information, both Felicia's parents and teachers can get a better sense of what areas she is excelling in, and those in which she could stand to improve.

Rewarding quality over behavior
Teachers who use a traditional approach to grading typically factor classroom behavior, attendance and extra credit into students' final grades. While each of these areas is important, whether or not they arrive for class does not tell parents how well they understand a concept. According to the ASCD, this is why standards-based grading is so vital. This approach evaluates quality - something that will be very important throughout students' careers.

Educators in some school districts have turned to standards-based grading as a way to avoid rewarding students for behavior, rather than how well they understand essential information.

"Over time, we began to realize that many teachers had been grading kids for compliance - not for mastering the course material," Katie Berglund, the principal of Ellis Middle School in Minnesota, told The New York Times. "A portion of our A and B students were not the ones who were gaining the most knowledge but the ones who had learned to do school the best."

As schools are urged to place a greater focus on preparing today's youth for tomorrow's challenges, teachers may want to consider how moving away from letter grades can be an effective strategy in ensuring students graduate from high school with the skills they need.

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