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journey to standards-based grading

02 Nov What’s in a Grade? A Journey to Standards-Based Grading

By Steven Koponen, Farmington Public Schools

Tyler brings home his report card and shows his parents his grades for his classes. His parents notice a “C” in Mr. Washington’s American History class. What does a “C” mean in his class?

The Problem with Traditional Grades

Here are some things we know about Tyler:

  • He is a quiet kid and rarely participates in class voluntarily.
  • He struggles completing homework on time, if at all.
  • He is a history buff and aces every test and quiz without studying.
  • He has been tardy to class several times.

Now, if Tyler had Mr. Lincoln for American History, his grade would have been an “A”, even though the content expectations and Tyler’s behavior are identical:

  • He is a quiet kid and rarely participates in class voluntarily.
  • He struggles completing homework on time, if at all.
  • He is a history buff and aces every test and quiz without studying.
  • He has been tardy to class several times.

Colleges don’t put much stock in grades that schools assign because they can be very subjective. In their research, Ken O’Connor and Rick Wormelli have tackled some of the issues that define what is broken with our grading practices, and interfere with reporting accurate and meaningful information to students and parents about what students have actually learned in our classrooms.

The Standards-Based Grading Alternative

On a very basic level, standards-based grading challenges us to separate reporting students’ achievement (to what degree students have learned content standards) from students’ behaviors (to what degree students have complied with instructions, honored deadlines, and managed personal responsibility). Diving deeper, standards-based grades show specifically what a child has learned and to what degree, so students and parents can take the next actionable step to maximize a student’s growth. It recognizes that, as learners, we all learn things at different rates.

Some of the questions that we have tackled in the past few years on our standards-based grading journey include:

  • How can we manage reassessments so the process is manageable?
  • How can work standards-based grading into a system that forces us to use percentages to correspond with letter grades?
  • How do we let go of things we have traditionally scored and counted toward a grade?
  • How do you get other teachers to hop on board?
  • How do you teach students about standards-based grading and empower them as learners?
  • Our (Marzano) Level 4 means “Above and Beyond Expectations”. How do you manage students getting to that Level 4?
  • What happens when new teachers come on board?

Our first session at the Rubicon Professional Development event in Michigan, “15 Fixes for Broken Grades”, is designed for folks interested in an overview of what research tells us a grade should report and what should be reported in other ways. We will also address misconceptions about what standards-based grading is and is not. We want you to learn about our journey with standards-based grading in our math department at Warner Middle School as well as with our district. The session will not be long enough to discuss in detail each of the fixes, so we will send, for those interested, a blurb to your e-mail each week, addressing a couple of the fixes in digestible chunks so you may begin your journey in your classroom, your department, your school, or your district.

Our second session, “Standards-Based Grading: Now what?” is a session designed for educators who have begun (or have thought about beginning) the journey into a standards-based grading classroom. We want participants to come with issues and questions about standard-based grading issues from assessments, reassessing students, computer gradebook programs, and helping others in our departments and buildings take the journey to reform grading. We do not have all of the answers, but we can give you ideas about what has and has not worked for us in our 5-year journey. We also hope that others in the room may have solutions that educators could try as well.

To read more in depth about one school’s journey to a standards-based grading system, click here! Interested in learning from other educators? Join us at a Rubicon professional Development event near you or online.

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