More on Standards-Based Grading

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Last Friday was a teacher institute day.   I spent my time planning, working on report cards, and listening to a speaker in the afternoon.  The speaker spoke to all of the elementary teachers in the district.  The event ended up being in the cafetorium (that’s what we call the auditorium/cafeteria).  It’s a huge wide-open space that usually holds elementary and middle school lunches.  The speaker introduced himself and told everyone that he was there* to chat about standards-based grading/policies.  There’s been talk that the district will be moving towards standards-based grading at some point in the next few years.

The presenter went through questions related to why teachers grade students, why standards are used, and how inadequate a 100 scale is while emphasizing the need to use feedback instead.  I think most educators there were  aware that specific feedback is a more useful tool than points.  The presenter reaffirmed the audience’s beliefs and also  dolled out research by Paul Blake and Dylan Wiliam’s “Inside the Black Box” study.

After about an hour and half the presenter mentioned how he would introduce a  standards-based reporting model.  He also prefaced this saying that there’s not a perfect model.

4 – “Blows the expectations out of the water”

3– “Meets the expectations”

2– “Student needs a little help to meet the expectations”

1– “Student needs a lot of help to meet the expectations”

I’ve never had standards-based grading explained like this and it was refreshing.  I noticed a few teachers nodding and a few commenting about the simplicity behind the reasoning.  The presenter went through a number of submitted questions related to what happens when teachers have different opinions on what “blows the expectations out of the water.”  Questions also came up about how many standards to report for the report card.  There wasn’t exactly a right answer with this, but the presenter mentioned that students have “all of the year” to meet the standard.  There were questions about this.  Consistency with teachers’ expectations was also addressed and many teachers believed this would be a good use of PLC time.

in some schools that use standards-based grading, I’ve seen a number models where teachers use a percent scale and then convert that value to a 1-4.  I’m sure there are plenty of standards-based grading models out there and doubt there’s a fool-proof way to implement this new communication tool.

The good news is that I believe teachers are already using standard-based practices.  Some teachers are eliminating points and percentages on some of the assignments. They’re also moving towards a “Not Yet” or “Met” policy with tasks.  Report card grades tend to reflect unit assessments. I know of some classrooms that are already using classroom policies that reflect a standards-based model, while others don’t. Moving forward, I believe there’ll need to be support in developing consistency as districts move towards new reporting models.  Some Illinois districts have moved towards or have already started using standards-based policies and some have encountered turbulence.  I believe there’s consensus that averaging grades isn’t always the best option.  Moving away from that will cause some to squirm and ensuring that there’s a smooth transition won’t be easy.  Communication and consistency will play a major role in how it’s received by all stakeholders.

*Bonus – the presenter introduced the think, ink, share process.  I wasn’t aware of this and am planning on trying it out in a couple days.

Teaching and Scuba Diving


Last week I took some personal time to disconnect and spend time with my family before school starts up again. While away I decided to swim and snorkel. I’ve always enjoyed snorkeling and watching the life under the ocean. We stayed at a particular facility that had a scuba diving class. My wife and I decided to take the class and learn about the scuba diving experience. The class was great and the instructor gave a basic overview of the equipment and we practiced different skills in a pool before heading out into the ocean. The ocean experience went so well that we decided to pursue a scuba certificate.

The instructor communicated that a certificate would require us to read an instructional book, take a test, practice skills in a pool and then show mastery of the skills in the ocean. That evening I read through the book. The book began with a section on performance-based mastery.  The section explained that students will be instructed using student-centered learning strategies.  Meeting the objectives are what’s important – not how long it takes.  As I read this I felt a bit of weight come off of my shoulders.

Each section had questions that required an answer and then you checked your own answers on the following page. At the end of each section there was a review of the content. After a few hours the book was complete.  The next morning I reviewed the book and my responses with the instructor. Time was given to ask questions. I was then given a 30 question open-book test. In all honesty, I have to admit that I used the book to find some of the answers. The test wasn’t timed and I didn’t feel anxiety during this process. After the test was complete the instructor quickly reviewed the answers and then we jumped in the pool.

The instructor went through specific skills that he showed me in advance. We learned how to clear a mask, check air gauges, and establish buoyancy.  There were many other skills, I just can’t remember them all as I write this post. I’d like to say that I perfectly practiced each skill on the first try, but I didn’t. In fact I commend the instructor for his patience with me. After each failed attempt the instructor gave feedback and we tried again. After about 3 hours we were finished and ready to show the skills in the ocean. My wife and I then went down to the bottom of the ocean to demonstrate the skills needed for a certificate.


After the ocean dive, I reflected on this learning experience and came up with a few takeaways:

  • I never received a grade or even an official percentage during this process
  • The feedback I received during this journey was clear and could immediately be used
  • I practiced the skill until I was able to independently complete it on my own
  • I was given time to reflect on my performance and ask clarifying questions
  • My documented proficiency was based on my last dive

I also thought of how much more pressure I would have felt if I was graded on each section of the certificate process. I would most likely fixate on each individual grade and not necessarily the skill. Instead, this process had me focus on the skill and the proficiency of that particular skill. I was able to fail, reflect, ask question and retry until I became proficient.  I found the low-risk opportunities to practice were beneficial during this learning experience.  This led me to ask …

How often do educators utilize these strategies in the classroom?  

This is just something I’m considering before school starts in a few weeks.

By the way, we passed the final dive and are looking forward to diving at some point in the future.

photo credit: CaptPiper via photopin cc




Standards-based Grading Strategies in Second Grade

Second Grade

Yesterday, students in my second grade class took a unit assessment on fractions.  Generally after the assessment students review their results and reflect on progress made.  I graded the tests last night and the scores were across the board, as some did extremely well while others floundered.  The point values were placed on the top of each test to be reviewed by the students and parents.  I don’t put a grade on the test, but instead add bits of feedback for questions missed.  I’ve used similar strategies with homework for the past few years.  No one had a perfect score, but I definitely wanted the students to check their results before we move on to the geometry unit.  I think reflecting on achievement can lead to personal goal setting.  

There are many ways in which I could facilitate the reflection process.  The class could review the test together, question by question.  Students could ask questions to determine misunderstandings. Or I could have the students work in partners to review questions missed.  Or possibly even have the students fill out a reflection sheet.  I feel like these strategies provide value, but the results vary and aren’t individualized, except for the reflection sheet.  All of the strategies tend to be missing a student ownership/accountability piece.

Regardless of the grade/score I want students to be able to focus on the learning, not necessarily the grade. This is a focus in all my classes.  This emphasis as well as participating in #sblchat has led me to embrace more standards-based grading strategies.  Even at the second grade level I feel that it’s valuable to set a growth-mindset tone.  I’m becoming more comfortable in using standards-based strategies in the classroom and am starting to see the benefits as the school year continues.   

Instead of using a strategy that I’ve used before, I decided to try something different.  I spent about 10 minutes reteaching misconceptions that I found while grading.  Some of the major themes were retaught in this mini lesson.  I then gave all the students an opportunity to retake the test questions that were missed.  I gave students a blank test and highlighted specific questions that were missed.  I met with students as they finished their retake. The student and I reviewed the assessment results and the retake opportunity. Students were given  about 3-5 minutes to meet with me to review the retake.  I’d like to spend more time with each student but time was definitely a constraint. I feel like the conferences were helpful as I was able to confer with students about their thinking, retake and test. I added any second attempt points to the original total.

Even though this was a time-consuming activity I feel like it was time well spent.  I even had a few students ask if we we’re going to do this after every assessment.  I’m not sure about that, but I may use this strategy again in the future.

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