Standards-Based Grading Systems

View the video below.  There is a strong argument for a true standards-based grading system.   


I think that we need to be clear about what a standards-based grading system really is.  I believe it’s different for every school–as most things are according to population–which is necessary, but there are a few commonalities that need to be addressed.

I like the idea of long term and short term goals.  Short term goals are specific and they are building blocks to the long term goal.  (I once put a standard in my lesson plan and the comment from my supervisor was “you are not working on this standard in this lesson.” I said, “You’re right, I am working toward that standard.”)  And I think we need to remember that idea…that we are working toward something.  We need to break down the standards and look at the skills that are necessary in order to master that standard and teach them separately if need be, and then work on integrating the skills and working on the whole standard after the parts are mastered. 

This is also a great argument for formative and summative assessments.  I like the bike analogy.  It’s similar to sports practices vs. games.  Practice is practice.  You can mess up and it’s okay because the point of practice is to PRACTICE! You’re supposed to make mistakes in front of your coach so your coach can help you refine your skills and eventually master them. You’re working toward something and that is the purpose.  The summative assessment, the game, is when you show whether or not you have truly mastered the content.  Some people argue that the game, or summative assessment, is “cold”, it is something the student has never seen before, and this might not be fair.  I beg to differ.  An athlete never knows what she will encounter in a game situation and she needs to use the skills and knowledge she has in order to perform.  Circumstance is a part of life.

I also agree that we cannot have an A-F grading system that is an amalgamation of formative and summative assessments.  We need to focus on each skill or standard in its purity.  Report cards should be broken down by standard.  Either you have mastered it, you’re on your way to mastering it, or you haven’t mastered it yet.  We should offer our parents and our community an accurate picture of what we are actually doing with our students and a clear picture of what they are able to do.  How awesome would it be for the HS teacher to view an upcoming student’s report card from the MS and see what skills that student has mastered and which the student hasn’t?  I would appreciate that more so than a 95% on a student’s report card and yet the frustration of the fact that the student has no understanding of parts of speech.

The thing is, we need the buy in–from all teachers. (Isn’t this always the fight?) The pendulum swings again, but it’s our job to stay current and decide how we are going to make the new systems put in place by our government work for our students.  Isn’t that our job? Help our students learn?  Yes, there will be state officials who think they know what they are doing, and someday when I get to Washington, I will fight it.  But today I am in the trenches with my students and it’s my responsibility to teach them the skills outlined by the mandate.  I may agree with them, I may not, but I always know that my job is to make sure my students are learning.  I can do that within this standards-based system and so can every other teacher.  We need to be on the same page from early childhood education to the new graduating class.


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