SBG Hacks: Lab Reports

lab glassware

As a chemistry teacher considering the switch to standards-based grading, you might be wondering how lab reports work in a system that is not based on points. My general grading rule with standards-based grading is “if you can grade it with a rubric, you can grade it with standards-based grading.” In reality, you should be able to grade everything you assess using a rubric anyways (even if you do not always formally write it out)!

With lab reports, you just need to decide whether you are grading chemistry content skills, scientific communication skills, or both. From there, you need to decide what learning targets your lab report is assessing.

I choose to focus on scientific communication skills when I grade lab reports. I do this because labs in my class are often an introduction to a new topic and we do the calculations and conclusion together as a class so it would not make sense for me to grade content skills. If you are doing a lab at the end of a unit as an assessment, you would probably want to grade content skills.

Your learning targets become your performance criteria and the scale you use to grade learning targets becomes your rating scale. You simply have to fill in the indicators that would earn each level of your rating scale for each learning target. In my class, I use a “got it”, “almost”, “not yet” grading scale as you can see in the example rubrics I have shared below (see Table 1 and  2). (Both tables are available in the Supporting Information below.) 


Table 1: An example rubric to show where you would place your learning targets and grading scale.

Grading Criteria / Scale Got It! Almost Not Yet
Learning Target 1 Indicators for "got it" level mastery of learning target 1 Indicators for "almost" level mastery of learning target 1 Indicators for "not yet" level mastery of learning target 1
Learning Target 2 Indicators for "got it" level mastery of learning target 2 Indicators for "almost" level mastery of learning target 2 Indicators for "not yet" level mastery of learning target 2
Learning Target 3 Indicators for "got it" level mastery of learning target 3 Indicators for "almost" level mastery of learning target 3 Indicators for "not yet" level mastery of learning target 3


Table 2: An example rubric I would use to assess scientific communication skills in a written lab report.

Learning Target Got It! Almost Not Yet


I can identify the hypothesis to be tested, the phenomenon to be investigated, or the problem to be solved

Purpose of the lab is correctly identified. Purpose of the lab is partially identified. Purpose of the lab is not identified.


I can document experimental procedures clearly and completely

Methods are clearly documented so someone else could conduct the same experiment and get the same results. Methods are documented but key pieces of information are missing or methods are written as instructions, not in a narrative form. Methods are unclear and the experiment could not be replicated from the narrative.


I can record observations and experimental data neatly and accurately

Data are recorded neatly and accurately, in a table if applicable. Table is introduced with text and table is captioned appropriately. Data are recorded but are disorganized and/or difficult to follow OR table is not introduced with text or captioned. Data are missing and/or are incomplete.


I can justify conclusions using experimental evidence

Both experimental conclusions and sources of error are adequately addressed in the discussion. All calculations are clearly shown and explained.  Sources of error are not addressed OR calculations are missing. Experimental conclusions are not addressed or are incorrect. Calculations are missing. Sources of error are not adequately addressed.


The great thing about writing rubrics this way is you can apply them to whatever assessment you can dream of. Using standards-based grading does not limit you to only paper and pencil assessments! 


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Supporting Information: 
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Comments 1

Scott Balicki's picture
Scott Balicki | Wed, 01/22/2020 - 11:06

Thanks for the thoughtful post regarding how to align lab report rubrics with standards, as opposed to points.  This appears to be a wonderful way to direct students to focus on their learning, rather than accumulating points. I am curious as to how these standards were developed; either within your school or within your district.  As a teacher considering transitioning from point-based grades to standards-based grades, I would love to read a post about this process.