10 Things Your Brain Should Know about Standards Based Grading


The purpose of STANDARDS BASED GRADING is to provide a more accurate indicator of students level of achievement or performance (Stiggins, 2008) and to accurately link curriculum standards to grading.


The national standards-based reform movement that emerged in the 1990s called for “high standards for all students" to achieve higher levels of thinking through real world problems (McLaughlin & Shepard 1995).


“The terms ‘criteria’ and ‘standards’ continue to be used interchangeably in the literature (Sadler 2005). A useful distinction is that standards are written descriptions of the quality of work expected at different levels, e.g., ‘pass’ (threshold) or ‘distinction’ (excellent). Standards are usually constructed with key criteria in mind. Criteria are the important things students are expected to be able to do as a result of their learning…”

When kids don't meet test score standards, don't blame teachers.

"There are also good reasons to be concerned about claims that measuring teachers’ effectiveness largely by student test scores will lead to improved student achievement."

Don't merge grading criteria.

Product criteria focuses on what students know and can do at a specific point in the semester—these are usually summative assignments at the end of the school year. Process criteria emphasizes the process of learning; formative assessments, punctuality, and participation counts. Progress criteria focuses on learning growth over a specific period of time. A tenet of STANDARDS BASED GRADING is that you keep these 3 types of criteria separate so as not to muddy what the scores mean.

What does STANDARDS BASED GRADING go against?

SBG proponents reject the beliefs that comparing students against each other or that score distribution along a bell curb are meaningful indicators of learning.


Carol Ann Tomlinson writes that STANDARDS BASED GRADING can be successfully employed in contexts where the answers to the following questions is yes.

  • Do the standards reflect the knowledge, understandings, and skills valued most by experts in the disciplines that they represent?
  • Are the standards reflected in the curriculum—not used as the curriculum?
  • Is there still time for joy, creativity and inquiry?
How can you fairly report grades for students with severe special needs?

Kids on IEPs might be demoralized by their STANDARDS BASED GRADING report cards. One solution: “An asterisk, for example, might be added to the grade or mark to indicate that it is based on modified standards. The accompanying footnote might then state, ‘Based on modified standards.’ By law, however, it cannot identify ‘special education’ or ‘IEP goals.’”

One way to help students meet or exceed standards.

“Providing examples of past students’ excellent work and explaining why this work is excellent in class is part of good teaching, and is consistent with an approach to assessment that is learning-oriented (Carless, Joughin, and Liu 2006)."

The biggest reason to adopt STANDARDS BASED GRADING?

Grades should be meaningful. Right now, they usually aren't.

If you like my writing, you'll love my funny teaching memoir, Dinkytown Braves, free on Kindle Unlimited and $10.33 as a paperback. Also check out Rethinking Classroom Design (Rowan & Littlefield) co-written with Blake Wiggs or The Best Lesson Series: Literature: 15 Master Teachers Share What Works, edited by Brian Sztabnik. Please leave a review on Amazon to make my day!
Todd Finley

Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at www.todd-finley.com || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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