Standards Based Learning and Standards Based Grading from the trenches – part 2

This post is the second in a series about my journey and growth with Standards Based Grading and Learning


Culture Shock


So, you are thinking about changing the way you grade?  Traditional systems do not work for you?  Get ready for a culture shock.  Most grading systems are antiquated and are used to rank and sort students.  They create cultures of compliance, competition, and fear.  Yet, many in our profession cling to them like glue.  They are afraid to analyze why they grade, how they grade, and what they are communicating to their students and parents.  They hide behind percentages and letters.  This culture must shift.  Compliance must be replaced with citizenship, competition with collaboration, and fear with risk taking and confidence in the learning process.  


Grades and scores are communication.  They represent a student’s proficiency level in relation to standards at a given moment in time, nothing more, nothing less.  But are grades this simple in today’s schools? No, they are not.  Grades are a haphazard mix of achievement, growth, and behaviors.  They are used by some as motivation and repercussion, when in reality they can elicit the opposite result that is sought.  Grades are not punishment, nor are they a means to encourage positive behavior in the classroom.


The premise of moving to a standards based system is a simple idea.  Learning is the most important feature in a classroom.  Everything that we do should be learning centered – including grading and assessment.  Learning is messy and chaotic.  Learning does not involve a teacher handing out information and the students regurgitating it.  Learning is taking a risk, trying something new, persevering and relentlessly seeking new and further understandings.  We must take this idea and make it apparent in everything we do as educators.  No time can be wasted in a student’s mind worrying about how many points they need to earn a grade, when they should be considering how to grow their proficiency and improve their mastery.


Just because the premise is straightforward doesn’t mean that converting to a standards based system is easy. Grading is a very personal part of what we do as educators.  Deciding to analyze your grading procedures and practices is a reflective experience that takes bravery and honesty.  Changing to a standards based system is a complete paradigm shift from what most of us were taught and practiced during our teacher preparatory programs.  It is a shift from the way we ‘did’ school, from the way it has been done for generations.  It is a shock to our system, but a wonderful way to model learning, growth, and change for our students.


Creating and nurturing a standards based culture for learning is no easy task. Diligence and grit are required to evoke and maintain change.  All must make a commitment to learning – students and teachers alike.  A community of learners struggling, growing, improving, failing, recovering, and succeeding together.


5 thoughts on “Standards Based Learning and Standards Based Grading from the trenches – part 2

  1. I have learned so much from everyone connected to #sblchat/#sbgchat over the past 18 months, and I thank everyone from whom I have ever “borrowed” strategies and techniques. Sadly, I was too far ahead of the curve at my school and district, and I have abandoned most aspects of SBG.

    At the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, I dove in headfirst with SBG in all of my high school physics classes. What I didn’t realize is how conservative and absolutely resistant to change the culture was in my school. I hung with it, despite multiple admin, counselor, and parent contacts and meetings, usually related to “Why are you the only teacher doing this?” or “Can’t I get credit for HW and labs?” or “I just want to know if I got an 84 or an 85 on this test?” or “How can you judge whether my child is proficient or not, can’t you just give him a test and a grade?” or “Parents are complaining that they don’t understand your grading system”.

    In the current school year, I gave it another shot, and after about 10 weeks, I was essentially bullied into reverting to a points based system. I attempted to maintain some of the key aspects of SBG: grade only depends on assessments, and reassessments always available. I’ve even abandoned that – a large number of students refused to do much practice/hw (since they weren’t getting “credit” for it), even though it would mean they didn’t do well on the assessments. They fell behind on lab report submission, again since there was no direct credit. Reassessment requests were minimal, becasue it meant additional time, usually after school.

    Perhaps my specific implementation was a factor, but as the only practictioner of SBG in my high performing, suburban, grade-focused high school, I was alone and unsupported on all fronts. Without a progressive vision from above, changes like this are simply too foreign to accept to most in education. I live in a traditional world, and taking a risk is not rewarded.

    Probably what will happen is in a few years someone at the top will catch on, and it will be rolled out as the greatest idea ever created in education.

    Thank you again for all I lhave earned from you Garnet and all the SBG practitioners in the twitterverse. @larrywirth

    1. Thanks so much Larry! I hope more people will catch on, it is one of the reasons I write. I also work in a traditional setting and it can be very difficult at times. I hope you find more success in the future and let me know if I can be of help!

  2. Excellent article. It is time for a change and that will require a huge paradigm shift in teachers, but it is so necessary. I love the way you adovcate for the change. Keep writing great articles!!!! They definitely help those of us who are changing education

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