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Standards-Based Learning FAQ's

Sources include district and school resources from the States of Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri.

What is Standards Based Learning and Assessment?

  • This approach emphasizes the mastery of a standard of performance rather than a completion of an amount of work to receive a grade (i.e. accumulation of points).
  • This system allows students to retake assessments as they continue to master knowledge or skills as time allows during the course, without penalty for mastering them later.
  • This focuses on rewarding students for learning that occurs, regardless of when it occurs in the semester, rather than averaging student learning over the course of the semester.
  • This method allows students to receive feedback on assignments as they practice learning new skills, but not to be graded on them until the time of the assessment.
  • Another important component of standards based grading is student self-reflection as to what they are doing well and what they could improve on in order to improve their overall performance; research shows that when students reflect on their role as a learner, their learning improves.

What is a standard?

A standard is a description of what a student should know and be able to do in a particular content or subject area.

Why are we changing to a standards-based grading system?

  • We are changing because research overwhelmingly tells us that Standards-based grading is the best way to impart 21st century skills to and personalize learning for our students.
  • Our primary focus is creating better learners, who are knowledgeable, reflective and inquiring lifelong learners.
  • This will enhance teaching and learning for our students and will provide more meaningful and focused feedback to students and parents.
  • Standards-based grading also motivates students as they know the focus is on mastery learning so they can go beyond rote memorization and transfer their learning in authentic and meaningful ways.
  • Standards-based grading will also help us as a school be more consistent and transparent in communicating with students and parents as we all, within subject areas, are working with the same set of standards and expectations.
  • Standards-based grading measures how well an individual student is doing in relation to the grade level standard/ skill, not the work of other students.

What are the advantages of standards-based grading?

  • Learning skills are clearly articulated to the students throughout instruction.
  • Ensures students master high-level research-based and rigorous academic standards .
  • Students and parents can see easily which learning skills students have mastered and which ones need reteaching and relearning.
  • Improved student achievement towards learning the essential outcomes in all of the content areas
  • Focus is on the mastery of essential learning outcomes, and on extension and transference of knowledge, rather than the accumulation of points toward a grade on a report card.
  • Communicates student achievement more precisely to both students and parents.
  • Provides teachers with data/evidence that helps them adjust instructional practices to better meet the needs of students.
  • Encourages students to reflect on and take responsibility for their own learning
  • Promotes growth mindset and student ownership of learning, risk-taking, and grit by allowing them to learn from previous mistakes or iterations.

What are the challenges of shifting to standards-based reporting?

  • It’s a change, and change takes time to build understanding for everyone involved.
  • Changing long-held traditions is a tedious process that requires a lot of communication amongst all stakeholders in order to be successful. Taking on this change of switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset within our seemingly impervious system of grading and reporting is a challenging task.

What research has been used in developing standards-based assessment and reporting?

Research has been utilized from the following experts in the field: Robert Marzano, Ken O’Connor, Jay McTighe, Rick Wormeli, Thomas Guskey, Douglas Reeves, Rick Stiggins, Lee Ann Jung, and Myron Dueck.

How does standards-based grading work?

  • Traditional grading takes student achievement data over a period of time and averages that data with other data, such as work habits.
  • Standards-based grading focuses only on student attainment of learning outcomes, giving greater weight to the most recent evidence of learning. Other factors are reported out separately. Subject areas are subdivided into standards that students are expected to master. Each of the standards is assessed separately.
  • Students can retest multiple times to show they know the concept or skill. Consistent descriptive feedback will be given to let students know what improvements are needed and what they are doing right. The information that provides the most accurate depiction of students’ learning is the most current information.
  • Traditional grading averages a student’s achievement data with other characteristics, such as work habits. SBG removes extraneous factors and focuses solely on a student’s academic achievement and continued mounting evidence that indicates a true assessment of the student’s present attainment of learning. Other characteristics are reported separately.

Will standards-based grading disadvantage college or university acceptance?

  • Admissions offices treat all grades as welcome indicators of high school performance while implicitly acknowledging that every school has a unique perspective, student body, and system;
  • No college admissions officers contacted have expressed a concern or a negative view of a standards-based grading transcript (from the
    summary document of Hanover Research Council Study on Standardized Grades on Transcripts and College Admissions, January 2009).
  • Research included feedback from the following top-ranked institutions: Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Stanford University, California Institute of Technology, MA University of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Duke University, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Cornell University, Brown University, Emory University, Vanderbilt University, Carnegie Mellon University, and University of Virginia.