Standards-Based Grading

Standards-Based Grading & Converting to a Single Letter Grade

By Anna Murphy, Rubicon international | Spark Webinar led by Darby Meade, Principal, David Midkiff, Educator, Gil Luna, Educator

Darby Meade

David Midkiff

Gil Luna

Educators from Vancouver iTech Preparatory shared their school’s approach to Standards-Based Grading (SBG) and reviewed their process and considerations in developing an SBG model at Vancouver iTech Preparatory.

Vancouver iTech Preparatory is a public school of choice located on the campus of Washington State University in Vancouver. It is an early college model with emphasis on project-based learning and STEM. iTech’s SBG approach uses the acronym: G.A.U.G.E. Grading for Academic Understanding, Grit, and Excellence.

Standards-Based Grading

iTech’s definition for SBG is ‘an approach to learning that assesses students’ growth towards proficiency in clearly defined academic outcomes (standards)’. It attempts to provide meaningful feedback to students about specific skills and skill development over time.

SBG aims to mitigate inconsistencies and deficiencies of more traditional grading, which often does not capture student growth and lacks transparency in scores. Vancouver iTech shared this image to frame the impetus behind switching to an SBG model rather than grading traditional.

standards-based grading

Through averaging and lack of specificity in what’s being assessed, the grades denoted do not capture learning or demonstrate progress. In realizing  issues with traditional grading, iTech sought a better, more holistic approach that recognizes growth and identifies specific learning targets.


A major focus of G.A.U.G.E. is developing a way to effectively and fairly assign letter grades to student performance. Vancouver iTech uses a rubric to assign proficiency levels to specific standards; there are four levels (Beginning, Approaching, Meeting, and Exceeding), which iTech defines by thresholds per the rubric.

To capture student growth, iTech ensures G.A.U.G.E. does not average grades but rather assesses individual and groups of standards and tracks progress to proficiency over time. Their mechanism to achieve this: decaying averages.

standards-based grading
1. Decaying Average

A decaying average weighs the most recent scores more highly than previous scores. For example, iTech selected 87.5% of scores on standards to be contingent on the most recent score, meaning that 87.5% is reflective of the most recent score on a performance assessment. In doing this, the grading system acknowledges that learning is a process. iTech uses a spreadsheet they developed to calculate decaying averages found here.

2. Conjunctive Grading

To transfer proficiency scores to letter grades, iTech utilizes conjunctive grading. Similar to a rubric, conjunctive grading details a series of thresholds that must be met to receive a certain letter grade. For example, a letter grade is dependent on both achieving a certain number of ‘Meeting’ and ‘Exceeding’ proficiencies as well as not having under a certain number of ‘Below’ or ‘Approaching’ proficiencies. This approach to grading encourages students to improve in areas where proficiency is below grade level.

standards-based grading

Advice for Undertaking a Standards-Based Grading Initiative

First and foremost, the moderators necessitate permission to fail. This is a complicated and timely process that is prone to mistakes. Making mistakes is not detrimental to its overall success and can help improve and elucidate the process further. Second, communication and collaboration between colleagues is paramount. Switching to SBG is a school-wide initiative and colleagues are excellent resources for support and advice. As a corollary, communication with the community: students and parents, is also necessary. Community members will have questions and concerns. Working with them and incorporating them into discussion can allay these fears and hesitancies and generate support. This process, and change management more generally, thrives on transparency.

SBG offers the opportunity to improve student learning, acknowledging it is a process of growth towards proficiency. And, aligning SBG with traditional letter grades allows it to be an accessible grading method within schools. Vancouver iTech Preparatory offered a lens into their process of adopting SBG and converting proficiency levels to letter grades in the hopes of helping other schools develop a similar approach. Check out their full toolbox of resources here!

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