Standards Based Learning
Why transition to a new grading system?
Our primary focus is creating better learners, who are knowledgeable, reflective and inquiring lifelong learners. We are taking this step toward standards based grading because we believe, as a result of thorough research and discussions with the greater educational community, that it will enhance teaching and learning for our students and will provide more meaningful and focused feedback to students and parents. Standards based grading also puts less stress on students when assessments come as they know the focus is on mastery so they can focus on the learning and mastery of material rather than how a specific test grade will affect their final grade. Lastly, standards based grading will also help us a school be more consistent and understandable in communicating with students and parents as we all, within subject areas, are working with the same set of standards and expectations.
What is Standards-Based Learning?
Standards-based grading 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 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. It also 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. The other important component of standards based grading at WIHI and WIMA 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 the goal of standards-based learning?
To better communicate students ability level to both parents and students and to separately assess and provide feedback on the learning behaviors that contribute to success in the content area. This focus on student learning outcomes ultimately raises student achievement.
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. For 6-10th grade the standards come from the MYP rubrics. The different sections and markbands of the rubrics are the standards. For 11th and 12th grade the standards are based on the Diploma Program rubrics and assessments. These standards are adapted from the MYP to fit the DP subject areas to make a smooth transition from 10th grade to 11th grade. Teachers also consult the state and national standards in assessing skills in the content area.
How does standards-based grading work?
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.
Ex: Students sometimes struggle in the beginning of a course or a unit with new content, but then learn and demonstrate proficient performance by the end of a unit or semester. In standards-based grading, the grades and assessments towards the end of a unit or semester would be more important than those when a student is still learning or practicing. As a student's mastery of a particular skill improves, his or her score for that skill is updated to reflect his or her best work—that is, his most current ability or most consistent.
Teachers are in the process of transitioning toward more of a standards based grading approach, however implementation across the board and in different subject areas will differ. In general, however, you should see distinct differences from traditional grading practices in all classes. These include: opportunities for re-assessment available for students who have not mastered a concept(s), focus on content and skill mastery in the grading categories, as opposed to completion of work, and lack of penalty for students who do not master concepts on the first try, but continue to build mastery over time.
How is standards-based grading different from the traditional?
Traditionally, grades have focused on a combination of separate parts and an average of a grade of all of those parts rather than focusing on the overarching skills. As noted in recent research, students are more ready for college and the work force when they focus on big ideas and concepts and the complex system in which they exist, rather than their individual parts. (IB World Magazine VOL. 3, ISSUE 2, 2015). Here is a chart adapted from Adams 12 Five star schools detailing the differences.
What are the advantages of standards-based grading?
Learning outcomes are clearly articulated to the students throughout instruction. Parents and students can see which learning outcomes students are strong in and which ones need re-teaching or re-learning by referring to PowerSchool. SBG can change the complexion of at-home conversations between the student and the parent/guardian from, “Why didn’t you finish your work?” “Did you make up that quiz you missed?” and “Have you finished your project?” to “”Tell me your understanding of this standard,” “How does your teacher connect your in-class work to the unit’s objectives?” or “What more do you need to do to achieve this benchmark?” Some students struggle at the beginning of units, fail assessments and give up as there is little hope for recovering with a decent grade after failing an assessment; with SBG, the door remains open to achieving standards and achieving the highest level of mastery in that standard.
What are the disadvantages of standards-based grading?
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.
Why aren’t grades just averaged?
Because the purpose of standards-based grading is to report what students know and are able to do, averaging does not represent an accurate picture of where a student is in his learning. A student who struggles in a class at the beginning of a grading period and receives poor grades, but who keeps working and by the end of the grading period can clearly demonstrate competence in the subject, should receive a grade that reflects that competence. The average is a fixture in most grading systems, but the average does not always represent the data accurately. Consider two students, Stewart and Maria. Stewart earns the following scores: 85, 85, 85, 85, 85, 85, 85, 85 and 85. The average is not difficult to calculate, and Stewart’s grade is posted as a B. Maria struggles in math and turns in this performance: 50, 60, 65, 70, 80, 85, 90, 90, and 90. Her mean score of a little over 75 would result in a C on her report card, but it is obvious that Maria now understands the math even though she struggled in the beginning.
Adapted from Adams 12 Five star schools
Schools have been the only place historically where performance is averaged.
Think of the professional world or even sports for example. The basketball game’s score at the end is not an average of the 4 quarters, but rather where the team gets to at the end, regardless of how many points were scored in each individual quarter. In the same way, most professionals undergo some sort of evaluation process in their job and their performance evaluation is not averaged with their previous performance evaluation but rather replaces the previous one as it is a better reflection of where the individual is performing currently.
How will I know what progress my student is making and if he or she is on track to meeting the standard?
In order to know what progress students are making, parents should begin with talking to their student’s teacher to understand what assignments, assessments and/or student work products are most important for their student in regard to the MYP/DP standards in any given content area. In the gradebook, many teachers will have certain assignments, assessments and/or student work products listed in the online gradebook with a 1-8 score for 6-10 or a 1-7 score for 11th & 12th grade. Parents should look at these scores over the course of the semester and pay attention to trends in these scores, knowing that they will not be averaged, but that over time, students should be progressing toward the 5-8 range by the end of the semester. Teachers using the SBG system will be using the multiple opportunities in the different grade categories in the subject area to determine the grade that is most reflective of the students ability at the end of the semester.
What about homework? I’ve heard it doesn’t “count” in standards-based grading. How do I make sure my student understands the importance of homework if it isn’t part of the final grade?
Homework is practice. Therefore, let's re-think the question to be, "Does practice count?" To use a sports analogy, or a knitting analogy, or a painting analogy, or an accounting analogy or pretty much any other analogy you can think of... Practice is extremely important and valuable as it prepares you to perform. Let’s take Peyton Manning as an example. Manning is known for his dedication to practice and study. He's one of the first ones at practice and he's one of the last to leave. He works incredibly hard while practicing, but his work on the practice field or during preseason games doesn't "count" at the end of the season. What "counts" is his performance in actual games - in our case, the assignments, assessments and/or student work products. Just as you don’t get points towards the game for showing up to practice, you show up to practice in order to improve to be ready for the game. This same mentality should be applied to the academic arena as well.
While effort is great, effort that does not produce results is not commonly rewarded in any aspect of life, including higher education, so teaching them this responsability now and to value the practice is an invaluable lesson.
The influence of work habits on student learning is reported separately from the academics; it will often be recorded as a 0 or 1 in the gradebook and will be communicated out to parents when students are not practicing good learning behaviors.
Here are some examples:
Law School is practice. The Bar Exam counts as performance against the standards of practicing law. There are examples of people passing the Bar Exam with very little formal law study, and there are lots of examples of people who attended numerous law school classes and may have even earned a law degree, but they never passed a bar exam.
Driver's Ed is practice. The driving exam “counts.”
Homework assignments need to be aligned to the MYP and DP standards in order for students to utilize homework as practice toward proficient performance on content standards. Students should be able to articulate how a homework assignment helps them practice toward mastery of any given standard. Homework is NOT an indicator of student proficiency on a standard. However, homework IS an indicator of a student’s progress toward successful Learning Behaviors (Respect, Preparation, Risk Taking, Perseverance, and Excellence). Progress on such behaviors will be reported at the 1st & 3rd quarter progress report time.
How are we going to teach our kids that in the real world or on tests such as CSAP, ACT, etc., that they must do their best the first time or on a continuous basis?
Our goal is student learning. We all know students learn at different rates, and students have issues that may affect their testing ability on a given day. Many real life final tests such as driver’s license, ACT, SAT, bar exam, MCATS, Olympics, etc. offer multiple opportunities for mastery with no penalty for number of attempts nor do they average the current score with any previous scores. There are still deadlines within units and some of the practice work is time bound. There are indeed cut off times for re-assessment per teacher discretion when time does not allow. And in some cases, when a concept is assessed and a student fails to show mastery, they will have to wait until the teacher presents the next opportunity to show mastery of that concept. Thus preparing them for time constraints that will be present outside of WIHI and WIMA as well.
How will student progress be measured?
The IB standards (MYP & DP) are divided into major learning goals (grade bookcriteria) to provide clear and concise information to parents regarding student progress. Teachers collect evidence of student understanding through observations, class work, projects, and test data then evaluate overall performance using the following IB Scale of 1-8 for MYP (1-2, 3-4, 5-6, & 7-8) or 1-7 for IB.
Will standards-based grading disadvantage college or university acceptance?
Generally, admissions officers treat all grades as welcome indicators of high school performance while implicitly acknowledging that every school has a unique perspective, student body, and system. None of the college admissions officers contacted expressed a concern or a negative view of a transcript based on standards-based grading (from the summary document of Hanover Research Council Study on Standardized Grades on Transcripts and College Admissions, January 2009).
The 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.
If students are graded by the standard they are expected to achieve at the end of the semester, then how do they achieve good grades at the beginning?
Standards based grading does not mean that students are graded on a future standard or skill. Rather, we are trying to let students know, for every concept/skill in every class, how close they are to achieving mastery. Students are not assessed on something that has not been taught nor are they penalized for not being at the end of the semester standard yet. Some departments have quarter based standards to reflect this idea and as time progresses so do the expectations, other departments set students up for achieving mastery with each opportunity and the content is what changes between the different opportunities; not the expectations.
What happens if a student messes up at the end of the year for one reason or another (being sick, traveling, etc.)?
We deal with students on an individual basis when illness, colds or travel interfere. These should not affect a student's grade because if they are absent and miss work, they would make up that work before a final grade is assessed. If this occurs at the end of the semester, that is taken into consideration when considering what is most reflective of the students ability when configuring the grade. In the case of illness it may not be as good of a reflection of their understanding as the previous one. However if they are traveling and ending the school year early than it may be a good reflection of their current understanding because they are missing out on key instructional time. Some departments are addressing this issue by rethinking semester and final exams to rather be one last attempt at showing mastery on the skill(s) of the students choice so it can have no negative impact on the grade if improvement is not shown.
Doesn’t Standards based grading demotivate students with no homework counting for a grade and the opportunity to constantly re-assess?
Standards based grading is not a cure-all for our education system today. It is simply a better way to report student learning and motivate them towards improvement. There are students who are not motivated in the traditional grading system and there will be students who are not motivated in a SBG grading system. However, not being able significantly improve your grade by working harder and learning more information is no longer a deterrent. The conversation has switched from telling a student with a D “If you turn in all of your homework and do well on your next few assessments you could get a C in the class” to “If you demonstrate mastery of these skills we are working on, you could get an A in the class”. This has proven to be more motivational for students.
What if I still have questions?
Please see your child’s teacher, the Lead teacher, WIMA assistant principal or the WIHI/WIMA principal
- "Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading" from ASCD
- Getting Serious about School Reform from Marzano Research Lab
- Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning
- "The Power of Feedback" (John Hattie Meta-Analysis)
- Classroom Assessment and Grading that Work by Marzano
- "Working Inside the Black Box" by Black, et al