Vision Statement (Part 2 of 7?) – Standards-Based Grading

2 Oct

Let me start out by saying that I LOVE standards-based grading. LOVE. I bought a ring, popped the question, she said, “Yes!” and we are going to be together for a very long time. (At least as long as I keep teaching and as soon as gay marriage is legalized). In order to explain why I love SBG so much, let me tell you about my high school experience.

I was a good student in high school. I took almost every AP class that my school offered, I got good grades, and I graduated at the top of my class. Here’s me at my high school graduation…Oh the places you'll go!

They gave me lots of medals to put on. The medals were supposed to be for being a good student. I felt like a fake. I rarely felt like I was smart in high school. Some of it was standard teen angst, but some of it was because of the nature of my classes. Even in my AP and honors classes, homework, classwork, and participation made up a large chunk of my grade. I was fond of saying that if I just showed up to class and was breathing, I would pass. Many of my teachers offered extra credit and if I did poorly on a test or quiz, I would just make up the points with extra credit. I got really, really good at accumulating points. I had one teacher give extra credit if you brought your own pencil for a test. My average in his class was over 100%.

Did my grades in my classes reflect my knowledge and understanding of the subject? Sometimes, coincidentally, they did. In some classes though, I skated by on my good test-taking abilities and impeccable homework average. If learning occurred, it was just a byproduct of  my quest to accumulate the maximum amount of points possible. I didn’t feel like getting a good grade meant that I had really learned anything and in many cases, I was right.

This is not how it should be. Grades should reflect actual knowledge. Grades should reflect learning.

Going into my first year teaching, I set up my grading policy as an afterthought and based it on grading policies that I remembered from my time in school. For the first half of the year, I used a grading policy that gave significant credit to classwork and homework. Students got a nebulous “participation” grade that was really a behavior grade. I labeled my tests and quizzes sequentially and the numbers didn’t really mean anything to me or my students. When students did poorly on an assessment, the percentage that I gave them for the assessment didn’t tell me anything about what they did or didn’t know.

Besides being detrimental to student learning, my grading policy also made me feel extremely guilty. Students who didn’t know anything were passing. Students who had learned a lot but refused to do homework weren’t. There were some days when I thought that throwing darts at a wall would have been a better way to assign grades.

For the second semester of the year, I switched to standards-based grading. The system that I implemented (and still use) was adapted from Dan Meyer. It transformed my classroom. Grades reflected learning. Students could reassess skills and have their current level of mastery reflected in their grade and not have their hard work ruined by averaging. I knew what students needed more work on. I am not going waste time defending standards-based grading or describing exactly how it works because I don’t think I could do half as good a job as Dan and Shawn and many others have already done. It was the first grading system that made perfect sense to me and helped me to start feeling good about being a teacher for the first time.

I am going to write much more about my experiences with Standards-Based Grading in the future. For now, I will end with some concerns about my implementation of Standards-Based Grading for this school year:


  • Not enough time to give opportunities to reassess now that I have twice as many students as last year
  • I am still not confident in my ability to write rigorous, standards-based questions in my Geometry class.
  • It takes me hours and hours to grade non-MC assessments every weekend.
  • Not as much student investment as last year. How can I increase by-in?
  • Not enough time to incorporate visual tracking in the classroom.

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