Standards-Based Grading

ProActive Schools seek solutions to problems before they happen. One area that continues to be of concern to teachers is how to effectively communicate academic concerns to parents in a way that is clear and offers opportunities for at-home intervention. Many times parent-teacher conferences rely on points-based grades and discuss student’s missing work. There is no clear indication for parents as to what skill or concept that the students need support in. In Data-Driven Instruction Cycle we don’t emphasize grading, nor do we tell teachers how to assign grades (e.g., homework, class participation, etc.) We do provide suggestions on how to use success criteria to come up with the standards-based portion of the grade students receive. It is up to the teacher to choose how to allocate points for each success criteria (e.g. weighted vs. non weighted, Likert scale vs. binary, etc.).


One of the challenges in standards-based grading comes from the question of mastery and non mastery. Using a percentage type approach can be problematic. For example, as a teacher you give a short formative assessment of 10 questions over a single standard. The student gets seven of the ten questions correct. Since each question is over the same standard, does this necessarily indicate mastery or simply tell you how many times the student got the question correct, these are different measurements. In order to avoid this pitfall, the teacher must look at the sublevels of skills within the given standard. If the assessment then has questions covering each sublevel you can more accurately see the degree of mastery. It is important to keep in mind that some standards may take an entire school year to master. By looking at sublevels, you can chart the success of students along the way. These sublevels should be indicated clearly in success criteria and accounted for in pacing guides and the DDIC calendar.

In standards-based grading the quality of success criteria becomes incredibly apparent. Beyond giving your students the ability to monitor their own learning, we are now using the criteria in a way that differentiates certain skills against others. Let’s say that we have a great set of success criteria for an upcoming unit and we are compelled to use standards-based grading to evaluate student learning, as each set of criteria naturally will indicate specific skills we can turn the document into a binary checklist in which we mark whether a student has mastered the skill or not. Grading in this fashion is truly standards-based as it tells us exactly what part of the standard the student has mastered and what they need further support in. This allows the teacher to accurately engage remediation in an efficient manner and to clearly communicate to a parent where the student has gone off track academically. The conversation is about skills and concepts rather than more subjective elements like attendance and homework participation. The parent comes away from the conference with a clear understanding of the needs of their student and how to support their learning. This takes pressure off what can be tough conversations.

Contributed by A. T. Nelson, President and Sr. Advisor