The Whats and Whys of Standards-Based Grading

What is Standards-Based Grading? Well, if you look it up on the internet, this is the definition you’ll see

Standardsbased grading measures your student’s mastery of the essential standards for a class, or how well your student understands the material in class. At the beginning of every unit, the teacher will break down the standards for the unit into smaller objectives and criteria using a detailed rubric.

What that means, in my own words, is that students are assessed on whether they are proficient in something–do they understand it, can they complete assignments correctly, are they communicating/doing the skill effectively?

The goal is to remove traditional grades from the education system and have the focus be on learning. Are students learning new skills? Are they proficient in those skills?


Standards-Based Grading offers the opportunity for students to retake assessments and be re-taught lessons. The focus is on improving the student and not moving on without that basic understanding and knowledge. It’s a wonderful idea, in theory.

However, like any great idea, there are some complications. These stem from the idea that success is now measured more subjectively, especially in the Mastery, or highest category. On a scale of 1-4, the problem with a 4 is that it’s not clearly defined. Part of that is because this allows for the students to go above and beyond and be creative without being restricted by requirements on the Mastery section of the rubric. However, without a defined Mastery category, students won’t know what to strive for and both students and parents will be wary of their 3 grades vs. 4 grades.

The idea behind Standards-Based Grading is to ensure all students are given educational opportunities that will make them stronger learners and have them continually working towards goals. With SBG, students will have formative assessments and feedback throughout their entire process; at the end, a final, summative assessment will be scored. This assessment and all activities will match with a power standard for that grade level, and because of the feedback and practice, the final assessment should be something the students feel confident about.

I’m curious about Standards-Based Grading and how I will assess students without measuring their skills against one another and unintentionally comparing.

Hopefully I can continue to learn more about this process, because it really does sound like a wonderful idea, especially at the middle school level where things like class rank and GPA are almost irrelevant.

When I was looking up information on Standards-Based Grading, I found this picture. I think it speaks volumes about the SBG process. Success isn’t easy. It happens through work, through mistakes, through re-dos, and as a continual process. If there’s one positive I’m taking away from SBG is that it allows for opportunities for growth. I’m interested to see how I can reflect and measure that growth as I start making my own assignments and assessments.


Any thoughts, feedback, questions or comments regarding SBG? I’d love to hear them! Comment below!

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