Why standards based grading?

Standards based grading is something that has transformed my classroom into a true learning environment. Points have disappeared, as well as grades on formative assessment.  We simply learn, practice, apply, connect, assess, rework, revise, and reassess.

This may sound wonderful, and it is a huge improvement over what I had previously done with grading, but let me be clear…this was not an easy road!

But despite the challenges of writing standards, developing scales, working with (and at times against) our computerized gradebook program there was this excitement.  I felt that this new system would be a game changer for my students, and I was right.

No longer did my students and I discuss points, extra credit, homework, or the value of assignments.  The conversations were centered about learning – where they were in the process, what our goals were, and how to achieve those goals.  We replaced percentages, numbers, and letters with meaningful feedback for growth.

Sometimes my students struggled with the new system, having spent their elementary school years with a traditional grading program.  In the beginning of the year there were a lot of questions and some push back.  But when we got to the end of the year, I read my students reflections and talked with them during the last weeks of school.  Things had changed!  They enjoyed a year without the high stakes of grades infiltrating every assignment and assessment.  They sought learning over grades, with the assurance that once you achieve the former, the latter will follow.

Why standards based grading?  I believe it is imperative for the future of our children.  It teaches them perseverance, responsibility, and to focus on learning.  We are in this business to create lifelong learners, right?  Then the time is now, we cannot wait.  Our students deserve more than just a letter or a number.

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  1. Richard Leib August 14, 2013 at 10:58 PM - Reply

    I too am motivated by your post. I too would like to make the shift away from points. I am part of multidisciplinary team so this change is a little difficult. I think the selling point to them would be the rubric descriptors (instead of advanced, proficient…) What descriptors would lead to giving good feedback? THANKS for sharing your passion!

  2. Erica July 25, 2013 at 9:35 PM - Reply

    I just stumbled onto your blog, and I appreciate you sharing your enthusiasm and experiences with SBG. I’m hoping to take the leap this upcoming school year because SBG aligns much better with my philosophy on teaching and learning. I am, however, having a hard time finding WL teachers who are currently doing SBG and sharing online. (Again, thank you!)

    Would you be willing to share the standards and/or learning objectives that you chose to assess and list in the grade book? The ACTFL standards seem too broad to use, but my learning goals for each unit seems almost too specific. Also, is 100% of your students’ grade dependent on assessment? Thank you in advance!

    • Garnet Hillman July 26, 2013 at 8:45 PM - Reply

      I am very willing to work with you and share whatever I have. I used the ACTFL, my state standards, and my district standards as a guide, but I wrote my own. I wanted them to be easily understood by all involved. I am currently working on another post with more of the details about what I did last year. If you are on twitter, please connect with me that way @garnet_hillman and we can talk! Thanks for reading and your comments.

  3. Rik Rowe July 23, 2013 at 7:32 PM - Reply

    Kudos to you for being willing to go out on a limb and investigate, research and transition to Standards-Based Grading (SBG)! With your help, I’m realizing the significant learning that can take place with SBG with the iterative feedback that students receive on their progress. Our education system should be focused on Learning, not on Grades. Keep up the great work and help those of us trying to follow your lead!

    • Garnet Hillman July 26, 2013 at 8:41 PM - Reply

      Thanks Rik! Your work has been most impressive this summer as well. I have really enjoyed collaborating and look forward to working together in the future.

  4. Garnet Hillman July 18, 2013 at 6:55 AM - Reply

    Thanks for your kind words, Jasper! Teaching is stressful no matter what, but the stress last year from implementing standards based grading was well worth it. I look forward to what this school year will bring! Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  5. Jasper Fox Sr. July 17, 2013 at 8:45 PM - Reply

    Great post, wonderfully written description of how powerful your experience with standards based grading was/is. I really appreciated two points: first, how the conversations shifted from grades to learning and second, the enjoyment you observed in your students. Learning is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. It can be difficult at times but stress of grades and consequence shouldn’t overpower the whole experience. Again, well done! Anyone thinking of trying this style of teaching would do well to read your post.

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