A Pilot Program of Standards Based Grading

Standards Based Grading

What are we doing to help students achieve?

Standards based grading (SBG) is a method of assessment that is gaining in popularity.  Lauren Stewart has devoted a considerable amount of time to this in her blog. There is ample research to suggest that students who participate in SBG do just as well or even better than those students in traditional classrooms (“Keep It Simple Standards-Based Grading,” 2012; Peters, Kruse, Buckmiller, & Townsley, 2017; Scriffiny, 2008).  There seems to be a growing frustration and lack of research with traditional grading. Frustration often begins with common student statements such as, “How many points do I need to get an A?” and “Can I do extra credit?”  These statements support the idea that many students care more about the grade and less about learning. This is often at direct odds with the goal of the teacher.  With this in mind, I have started my first year teaching a chemistry class with standards based grading.

Teacher Homework  -  First, I spent almost a year doing research into standards based grading. The overwhelming research supports this approach and there is little to almost no research that I could find that supports the traditional approach. I read papers, listened to webinars and talked to others about the topic. Lauren Stewart's blogs have been an incredibly valuable tool in this journey.  I found other teachers doing the same.

Buy in from “stakeholders” - I took time to run the idea past an administrator.  SBG is a major shift in classroom assessment. Word gets out quickly. Administrators must be brought along during the process. I also constructed a first unit on SBG. Students spent a few days learning how to calculate their grades in a SBG world. They actively researched SBG and traditional forms of assessment. I encouraged them to ask questions and challenge ideas about grading.

The SBG Classroom - Everyone’s is slightly different. Here is what was developed. There were some “tweaks” along the way and this is still a pilot program. Currently, every activity students do is tied to a standard. The standards have been rewritten to be in a form that students are able to understand. These are the “I can” statements. Each “I can” statement, unit topic, resources, lesson plans and activities are on one hyperlinked document. This “one stop shop” for each unit makes it much easier for parents, students and myself.  The rubric is also on the hyperlinked document. We decided to use a 0-4 scale. Every single activity and standard is graded with the same rubric. If a student scores a 0, 1 or 2 on an assignment, they are able to take a “redo”. Thanks to Lauren Stewart, I learned how to use an “autocrat” add on with a Google sheet.  Students fill out a form about why they want to do a “redo”. This information gets sent to a Google sheet. I am able to click on a link that merges the information in a Google document. I also paste in some appropriate problems. Students have a week to do a redo and they must also provide concrete evidence of new learning. They come in and the Google document is waiting for them. All activities are either formative or summative assessments. They both count for 50%. Typically, this places much weight on the fewer summative assessments. However, by the time students take the summative assessment, they have had practice through the formative assessments and activities.

Summative Assessments -  There are no true / false or multiple choice questions on the summative assessments. Summative assessments are multiple step problems. These assessments are typically the front and back of one page.  If everything is done through a rubric then it is all about depth of knowledge. Another aspect is that the summative assessments are open notes. This allows me to ask much more difficult and involved questions to check for understanding.

An Unexpected Path -  My desire for all of my students is for them to go through deep learning. I was tired of students just wanting “points” or a grade. I learned that it is going to take time to change a culture. I am starting to see positive results. We have an electronic gradebook that allows not only for standardized grades but it also allows students and myself to view how students are doing with the standards. The conversation is slowly starting to shift from “What is my grade?” to “Can you help me with this standard?”. Parents have been receptive to this type of grading. I had a completely packed parent teacher night and not one parent said, “I don’t understand why my child has a B or C in your class when they are doing fine in other classes.”  It has been completely clear to them what students must do to achieve. There are still students who are struggling or lack motivation. But there are also other students who understand if they have one or two bad grades, it does not have to define them and there are steps they can take to do better. Another aspect of SBG that I did not anticipate was what I have learned about student understanding of certain topics from the assessments. Summative assessments are short one or two page open ended questions. The more probing questions, the more misconceptions are uncovered and then the more I am forced to decide how that should influence my teaching. It has been a struggle, but I view it as a good struggle.

Are you frustrated with students attitudes about grades, achievement and learning?  Please consider joining the conversation about standards based grading. It is challenging and difficult but it also will help us and our students possibly get to a better place in the educational landscape.  It also makes for an exciting journey.


Keep It Simple Standards-Based Grading. (2012, August 23). Retrieved February 5, 2019, from Action-Reaction website: https://fnoschese.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/keep-it-simple-standards-base...

Peters, R., Kruse, J., Buckmiller, T., & Townsley, M. (2017). “It’s Just Not Fair!” Making Sense of Secondary Students’ Resistance to a Standards-Based Grading. American Secondary Education, 45(3), 9–28.

Scriffiny, P. L. (2008). Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading. Educational Leadership: Journal of the Department of Supervision and Curriculum Development, N.E.A, 66(2), 70–74.

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Comments 9

Matt Townsley | Mon, 10/21/2019 - 13:06

Looking forward to following your standards-based grading journey.  I used this philosohpy of communicating student learning as a high school math teacher and assisted teachers in our secondary grades towards SBG as well during my tenure as a district administrator.  Currently as an educational leadership faculty member, I am interested in thinking about / researching how schools change, particularly through the lens of grading shifts.  Keep up the good work! 

Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Tue, 10/22/2019 - 06:29

Will do my best to keep you posted.  It truly is a journey.  I have had to rethink what grading is all about.  I have just gotten through a quarter and am wondering how I am going to do the final exam.  If you are interested in how schools change you might want to check out the Synnovation Lab.  We are currently doing a "school within a school".  They have helped me with SBG.  Thanks again for the comment.

Byungmoon Cho | Sat, 11/16/2019 - 10:34


I am a trainee teacher in chemistry and recently came upon the idea of SBG which I find fascinating!  I am wondering about its connection to NGSS and if you have any comments about SBG in relation to NGSS.



Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Sun, 11/17/2019 - 08:02


Thank you for your comment. I have not had any comments or thoughts about NGSS in relation to SBG.  I am certainly not an expert on NGSS.  I view NGSS as the "what" as far as content and practices.  SBG centers more around the "how"  in terms of pedagogy.  I will say that I think SBG can foster, in an ideal situation, a deeper level of knowledge and content which in the end I think is one of the big goals of NGSS.  SBG rarely has the quick true false or multiple choice type questions.  It strives to examine the "why" and "how" of a students thinking and assess in terms of a rubric.  I hope this helps.  Thanks for the thought provoking question.

Drew Melby | Fri, 11/22/2019 - 10:58

What steps would you recommend to get started in SBG? You mentioned you spent a year researching and such, but there seems like there should be information, websites, etc that get help a teacher (specifically science) get started.

Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Sun, 11/24/2019 - 19:26

Drew - Thanks for the comment.  First, I was taking some classes and the research seemed to be overwhelmingly supportive of SBG.  Second, I would read all of Lauren Stewart's blogs.  She has been a huge help and really helped wrap my head around the "nuts and bolts" of it.  Next, make sure to align and have standards in place.  Finally, I would start working and talking with your department chair and an administrator.  Also, the AACT has a great webinar that was recorded. Hope this helps.

David Gervais | Tue, 11/26/2019 - 07:59

You wrote an interesting article, and your students have benefited from your enthusiasm and hard work as regards their achievement. I am not sure what you see as traditional evaluation. In classroom in Ontario, students are assessed using formative (that don't count), and summative evaluations. Rubrics and exemplars help define what must be achieved to reach level 1,2,3 and 4. Student marks show the most recent success, as they can show mastery on at least two occasions. This evaluation has been in effect since the 1990's. Is that a traditional classroom evaluation?

I agree with your stand on multiple choice. In my opinion, they are the poorest way to evaluate a student. Often students that have a deeper understanding see the nuances that make more than one option correct. That or they see that none of the options are correct.

The tracking required for re-do tests etc could become a nightmare. Typically on test day there may be 2 or 3 students that are absent. Getting them to write the test usually requires a few days. Rarely will all three write the same day. Then the re-do evaluations must be arranged and completed and then marked. If evaluations are frequent (15 to 18 days) then new tests may be written while the previous re-dos are still being assessed. Factor in a full teaching load (3 classes of 30 students) and Oh boy.

Dave G

Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Wed, 11/27/2019 - 14:10

David, Thank you so much for the comment and the information.  First of all, let me say that I had no idea Ontario did assessments in the way that you described.  It sound like you are way ahead of the game as far as standards based grading in that regard.  The traditional method I was a referring to is a straight points system.  Everything from tests, labs, quizes and homework gets points.  Essentially, the more points you get, the higher your grade.  That is the way most schools do it just because ....well...that is the way most schools have always done it.  There is  no real research to support that is best for student's learning.  You might be scratching your head at this point....that was my feeling as well.

     You also make an excellent point of tracking the "redo's" on a full teaching load.  Currently, I am only doing this with one class as a pilot program.  I have implemented a few ideas that help.  First, students can only do a redo if some conditions are met.  First, they were absent or scored a 0, 1 or 2.  Second, they have to show me what they have done differently (notes, activities, homework, etc).  Third, they have to come in at specific times within a week of the missing assignment.  This summer when I was trying to organize all of this I intentionaly made a "redo" folder for each unit with alternate assignments and tests.  Finally, as mentioned, the "autocrat" add on for google sheets makes everything work as far as using technology to keep track.  Students fill out a google form the night before.  Each morning I check the google sheet and pull of  google document with the merged information.  I grab some information from the "redo" folder I prepared this summer and paste it in the  document and hit print.  It goes in a file cabinet in the room that students have access to.  There have been a few hiccups but overall it works really well.  I blantantly stole this idea from Lauren Stewart.  Would this work with a 100 students....not sure.

Again, thanks for your insight.  It is right on the money.  I really appreciate the thoughts and comments.