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Standards-Based Grading: A Perspective


The tools I create target teachers interested in a perspective that seeks to identify patterns in student development that can be either in, or out, of the traditional curriculum schedule. I feel the need to explain this mindset for teachers to make sense of how my tools may support them. So, what is it about this Standards-Based perspective that is most critical?


The classroom teacher is used to juggling unending amounts of tasks to get students to think, learn, and communicate about a variety of topics. Every academic year, teachers trying new things for new students in new ways will almost always be the most challenging - and most rewarding - part of the job. The moments when a student shows growth in a topic are the moments that this mindset can be most effectively applied. It is like a special “filter” that attaches to a teacher’s perspective on whether the child has shown *proficiency* that effects how they assess and see growth of an individual student as it relates to state expectations (e.g. standards) over time.


The question teachers ask me about this is always the same: what exactly do we write down, where, and how, in order to make this work?  Now, there are a growing number of digital platforms for grading and reporting that try to answer that question by providing a series of tasks to complete in the guise of ‘standards-based’ grading, but it always seems too complicated and does not make it easy for teachers with different teaching, grading, and assessment styles. These platforms have a hard time adjusting to the teachers and, therefore, require teachers to adjust to the platform.


Instead of seeing Standards-Based Grading as a collection of new tasks that must be meticulously followed for it to work, I see this mindset as more of a *perspective* toward the tasks teachers are already doing.

Ya, but what is it about this perspective that’s most critical?


It starts with assessments. A teacher must understand what is on the assessment - not just what skill is assessed but how much cognitive manipulation is required to “pass” that particular assessment. Also, does this assessment focus on only one particular skill or are there questions that may be unrelated to the focus skill in question? Will the teacher need to adjust the assessment or adjust their grading of the assessment in order to show accurate reflection of student learning?


Defining proficiency and grading scales comes next. This is a big one that requires conversation within - and across - grade levels. It is common for teachers to disagree on the subjectivity of strict rubrics when looking at student work. By defining proficiency and agreeing on what each grade level expects in order to be “proficient” at individual skills or standards, schools can better see how a skill is developing across grade levels. This results in teachers knowing with what knowledge and capabilities students are coming to them, and preparing students appropriately for the level of proficiency that is, and will be, expected for each standard or skill.


Curriculum and materials is the next big facet to consider. School’s that either design their own or purchase from publishers a curriculum for each grade level and subject need to understand how the materials are targeting levels of proficiency for the standards that are most important to each grade level subject.


Professional Development remains the constant in this mindset where adjusting teaching practices and procedures, curriculum and materials, assessments, proficiency definitions, and the needs of students academically, social-emotionally, and cognitively, becomes the necessary backbone to ensure the students in any particular community are being tracked objectively based on their individual needs.

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