Standards Based Learning and Standards Based Grading from the trenches – part 4

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

Setting the standards


Writing standards is a daunting task.  And while many organizations have already created standards, it may not be best to take pre-made standards at face value.  Standards have to be respectful and appropriate for your students.  They must be comprehensible and meaningful for students, colleagues, and parents alike.  Jargon and technical language must be minimized to ensure that all stakeholders understand what is expected of our students.  


Standards must communicate the key performance indicators for your students.  They must go beyond content knowledge and demand application, synthesis, or creation of material and new knowledge.  Standards must be fluid and updated from year to year.  As we further our research about the most relevant knowledge, understandings, and skills our standards must follow suit and represent that research.


Standards must also have an open endedness to them.  When we create a ceiling for our students, they will only work to reach that point in their learning.  This is not what we want for the learners in our classrooms.  Students deserve every opportunity to maximize their growth.  Each must fulfill their own potential, not some artificial target.  Learning must be limitless; when we try to place too much control, our students cannot reach their ultimate potential for success.


Mastery of standards can be presented in a variety of ways.  In my classroom, I will give opportunities to demonstrate mastery in the form of summative assessments, but if a student has an idea of how to show me their learning, it is welcomed.  Student developed assessment is many times better and more effective than what I have developed.  And of course, the more evidence a teacher has of consistent mastery, the better.  


I have written the standards for my classes and rewritten them.  I know that next year my ideas will improve, and my standards will be revised again.  This is yet another way to model learning for our students and remember that it is a lifelong process.  My students need to be able to take the standards that I write and own them.  The learning objectives must be not only understood by my students, but taken and personalized by them to achieve individual mastery.  As educators, we set the stage for learning, and then must let our students take the lead.



5 thoughts on “Standards Based Learning and Standards Based Grading from the trenches – part 4

  1. As always, Garnet, I really appreciate your thinking and the clarity with which you help to move this conversation forward. As a parent, I just received an SB report card for my kids and felt a bit flat about it, truthfully. My struggle was that everything on the report was listed as “standards,” but because there were spots next to each line for two more reports this year, it was pretty clear that these were learner outcomes for the year. So, with regards to being better informed, it seemed like a miss. Where my kids weren’t meeting proficiency, I didn’t know what they ought to be doing or what that looked like, and where they exceeded expectations, I wasn’t sure what they’d be doing for the rest of the year.

    I’m not looking to be critical of the school’s effort; it is their first year with this but I’m thinking of some pieces (may or may not be upgrades for some) that SB report cards need:

    1) Students absolutely need to understand what the standards are. Mine couldn’t help me, and they were marked quite high across the report card.

    2) The work students do and the comments/marks made on the work have to relate to the standards.

    3) Jargon be gone. These reports cards need simplicity make-overs. “I can” statements will work for me, I think. This is especially true for younger students.

    4) I’m really thinking that a portfolio makes the most sense, and students ought to be putting them together, to the best of their abilities. These would allow sections that start with a page explaining the relevant standard and what progress across the year ought to look like, and then continue with the assessed performance grade for the student, the work itself, and a “what’s next for me” statement from the student. Yes, that will take a bunch of class time, but reflection, processing, and awareness are highly worthwhile lessons.

    5) Even if none of these are possible, the report card should, as you and Ken have pointed out, differentiate between “yearly outcomes (content standards)” and “performance expectations (what should this look like at this point).” My son may write well now, but fall short on next term’s work, and I’d have no idea why the marks are different on the report card if there’s only one standard put there for the year.

  2. Garnet, I think we are of one mind on this topic! When I was a classroom teacher, I was the only one in my school using SBG. As a middle school science teacher, I did develop my own standards, but I based them on the Benchmarks for Science Literacy. I only had 5-10 standards per quarter, because that was the number that I could actually teach. (My opinion: if we expect students to learn 50-odd things in one quarter, this almost guarantees shallow learning and regurgitation of facts.) I called the standards “Big Ideas,” and the kids adapted fairly quickly to this language.

    I fully support teachers interpreting the standards to their own teaching practice–or even writing their own–but I think a community of practice is key for this! Conversation is key.

    Great post! Thanks so much for sharing it.

    1. Garnet, I agree that everybody has to own their own standards and that they must be in student and parent friendly language. I think there is a small typo in this sentence – “Standards must the the key performance indicators for your students.” This sentence also demonstrates a key misunderstanding about standards;most of what you have written here (I think) is about the what of the learning – the content standards, but when you talk about “performance indicators” you are bringing in the other (often forgotten) half of standards – performance standards, which tell us how good is good enough. I am increasingly of the opinion that we shouldn’t just talk about standards but we should always identify whether we are talking about content standards or performance standards or both. A student can’t master/meet a content standard, they can only meet the performance standard attached to a content standard.

  3. I love the autonomy involved in writing your own standards. As a teacher, we ask our students to “own” their learning. Shouldn’t we own ours as well and have a hand in the direction we are going? I think that this is a wonderful topic- one that I have to explore more and develop as well. As I was reading, I was wondering: do you ever have your students write their own standards or help you revise them with you? Thanks for writing such a thought provoking post, its one that I’ll be thinking about for a while!

  4. Great post, Garnet. I agree that we need to revisit our strategies and objectives/standards each year. This practice helps keep our classrooms fresh and relevant. More importantly, our students appreciate the extra effort. Thank you for reminding us that fine-tuning our craft should not be overlooked!

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