Last year, I changed my assessment system from traditional “points-based” grading to standards-based grading (SBG) I want to start writing a few posts about this change, and figured I would start with why I started looking for a change in the first place. Please note that most of my ideas here are borrowed and remixed from books I’ve read and great teachers I’ve followed online!
I started researching grading methods because I was frustrated with the conversations that I had with students and parents. I didn’t like that students seemed to be more focused on earning points than actually learning the material, even some of my good students. I was frustrated that some students would pass my class without ever passing a test or demonstrating any significant knowledge the material I was supposedly teaching them. I was frustrated that other students would learn a lot and demonstrate knowledge of all the important concepts, but would have poor or failing grades because they couldn’t seem to keep track of their homework. When I talked with students and their parents the focus of our conversations was consistently about students’ missing work, late work, extra credit, and generally how they could earn points to improve their grade. I was almost never asked about how we could help students learn a topic. We didn’t talk about how to change student study habits. We didn’t talk about resources students could use to get extra review on topics they were struggling with. Students didn’t come in outside of class for extra review. So I decided that I needed to change what I was doing in the classroom. I’ve learned through teaching and coaching that if you accept something, you should expect it. Of course Students and parents were focused on points; that is what my grading system rewarded.
I initially tried several different interventions, including changing the weighting of different assignments and tests, grading homework more strictly, requiring students to re-submit work that was not done completely, retesting over topics until student scores reached a certain percentage, etc. But I wasn’t happy with any of them. Through reading research about grading methods and reading bog posts from teachers around the country I came across a different system called standards-based grading (SBG). Standards-based grading intrigued me so much that I decided it would be the focus of my capstone research project for my master’s degree. Here is what I found.
1. SBG grades are more consistent from teacher to teacher.
- According to educational researcher Robert Marzano, traditional points-based grades can be, “so imprecise as to be almost meaningless.”
- Teachers differ in whether they include attitude, effort, punctuality, attendance, and improvement in their grades.
- Teachers can greatly impact grades depending how they weight different assignments and assessments.
- Teachers can greatly impact grades on a single assessment depending on the number of questions they give on each topic, or by the weight given to particular questions on the assessment.
2. SBG grades more accurately reflect what students know.
- Research has shown that SBG grades are more closely related to student performance on end of course assessments (Semester Exams)
- Some research has shown that SBG grades more accurately predict how students will perform on statewide standardized tests or tests such as the ACT.
3. SBG grades give much more feedback to students, parents, and teachers about what students know and what they need to improve on.
- Traditional quizzes, assignments, and tests are often not explicitly connected to specific learning objectives.
- Traditional grades may tell students and parents that they earned a 70% on the genetics tests, but they don’t tell students specifically what they are struggling with or what they have mastered within this very large topic.
4. Standards-based grading allows students to re-assess over learning objectives, meaning that students are graded based on what they know at the end of instruction, not what they know during instruction.
- SBG grades don’t punish students for practice, or for a lack of knowledge at the beginning of instruction. In traditional grading schemes, students’ grades on homework, quizzes, and tests are averaged. So doing poorly on an early quiz can lower students’ grades even if they learn it by the end of instruction.
- SBG systems allow and encourage re-assessments, and new scores replace old ones completely, reflecting the student’s current level of knowledge.
- I believe SBG more accurately reflects how learning really works, it encourages students to go back and try again. (Students are used to traditional grades being permanent. Why go back and study over that genetics test you bombed? That grade is already in the gradebook.) SBG changes that. “Not yet mastered” has a different ring to it than 56%. Well, actually this is still a tough attitude to overcome, but is overcomes that for some students, and I’m still working on others.
5. SBG grades don’t give zeros, which can unfairly distort grades.
6. And most importantly, SBG grading helps to change the focus in the classroom from earning points to learning skills and content!
- After implementing SBG, the conversations that I had with students and parents changed to focus more on helping students learn.
- After implanting SBG, more students came in for help outside of class.
- SBG fundementally changed the conversations that I had with my students and parents. When a student or parent comes in asking if they can improve a grade, if they can turn in missing work or do extra credit, I can immediately redirect and explain that they can still demonstrate mastery over ANY of the semesters learning objectives. Then I can show them were to go to learn them. After a while, some students stop asking for missing work, and go straight to asking questions about something they didn’t understand.
So in summary, I have decided to use SBG to assess students in my classroom because it helps put the focus in the classroom back on learning. It gives students more feedback, which improves learning. It increases the chances students have to learn the material and helps level the playing field for students coming in with differing backgrounds. I believe that SBG is fairer than traditional grading methods. Education research and my own experience have shown it to be a more effective and honest way to assess students.