Moving to Standards-Based Grading, a 3-Step Guide
By Marybeth Irvin, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Mt. Lebanon School District
**This content was also shared in a webinar, which you can download here.
We are all well aware of the research and literature that supports the use of formative feedback to increase student learning. Educators everywhere are focusing on how we can best assess students’ current knowledge and skill and communicate that to them in a way that supports continued growth.
The development of common assessments and the use of standardized formative tests are just two of the ways teachers attempt to provide students with meaningful and relevant information that will help them take their next steps along a learning journey. At the same time, this formative data is critical for teachers to plan and implement lessons that meet students where they are and take them to where they need to be.
We also know that traditional report cards, and especially a single symbol grade per content area, do not provide the kind of meaningful feedback supported by research.
It is a mismatch between what we strive to give during the learning process. But grades and report cards are somewhat venerated in the world of schools, and any attempt to eliminate reporting student progress to parents and other stakeholders is bound to result in controversy.
Enter Standards-Based Grading
Thus, the question becomes, how can we provide the kind of evaluative information that parents and students are accustom to traditionally in a way that supports ongoing learning and growth? For our district, the answer to this dilemma is standards-based grading. While our process was long and arduous, we were ultimately successful in finding a way to have our standards-based report cards better match our beliefs about the need for positive and constructive feedback.
1. Build the Case
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): Fortunately, we also found that the process of transitioning to a standards-based reporting system was highly aligned with other district initiatives, especially Professional Learning Communities. If you are thinking of transitioning to standards-based progress reporting and are already doing PLCs, you have a great framework on which to build. If, like us, you are not yet using the PLC structure, you may find yourself there anyway.
Parent and Teacher Buy-In: The success of standards-based report cards depends in very large part to the buy-in from all stakeholder groups. This especially concerns the teachers as well as the parents. For buy-in, it is necessary to build trust, provide information, and allow for input in as many aspects of your planning as possible. It makes sense to begin by creating a sense of urgency for this change. Sharing information about the power of standards-based grading and formative feedback, especially with regard to how it helps support learning, is an important step. Fortunately there are many resources that can assist in creating buy-in the need for change.
2. Determine the Standards
Power Standards: It also takes time and input from teachers to identify the “power standards” for their subjects and grade levels. We found that by embedding the power standards process in our curriculum review and design plan was helpful in making changes in teacher planning, resource selection, and assessment design. If you are not using Understanding by Design for curriculum, now is the time to make that switch.
3. Create the Measurement Scale
Indicator Scale: Finally, the type of indicator scale is of great importance as well. Those letter grades carry a great deal of emotional baggage, so making sure parents understand the new indicators is critical to the success of the implementation of standards-based report cards.
Our purposeful process, that allowed for input from all stake holders and was predicated on what is best for student learning, allowed us to transition from traditional report cards to standards-based report cards in a way that was supported and understood.
Are you interested in transforming your school’s grading system? We offer professional development specific to standards-based grading and developing standards-based report cards.
A former elementary teacher, principal, Federal Programs coordinator, and curriculum director in Mifflin County and State College Area School Districts, Marybeth has served the Mt. Lebanon School District for 6 years. She began as the principal of the Blue Ribbon Award winning Lincoln Elementary, and she now leads the district’s elementary program. Marybeth also spent 10 years serving on the executive board of Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education, PAMLE.