5 Ways to Approach a Standards-based Mindset in Schoology

Learn about standards-based grading in Schoology
Contributed By

Kellie Ady

Director of Instructional Strategy, Schoology

5 Ways to Approach a Standards-based Mindset in Schoology

Posted in Schoology | February 22, 2019

Not a new concept by any means, many districts across the country are embracing the concept of standards- based grading. Perhaps seen first at elementary levels, standards-based grading is a way to view student progress based on proficiency levels for identified standards instead of relying upon a holistic representation as the sole measure of achievement (or an “omnibus grade,” as Marzano and Heflebower call it).

Often contrasted with a more traditional approach to grading and assessment, standards-based approaches look at evidence of learning and the reporting of that learning in different ways.


One challenge, though, is that some districts seek only to reframe the ways “grades” and points (or report cards) work instead of looking at the pedagogical shifts necessary to really adopt a standards-based approach. It might be more beneficial for educators and leaders to think about a standards-based mindset instead of standards- based grading (Schimmer, 2016). That subtle shift in language helps keep the focus off of the grading process while placing the spotlight on the paradigm shift.

Having a learning management system in place like Schoology can help teachers and leaders explore the standards-based mindset in a way that supports collaboration, coherence, and communication. Here, we suggest five ways to put a standards-based mindset into practice.

Get Proficient with Standards and Scales

Obviously, thinking about a standards-based approach relies upon standards -- tying learning materials (assignments, assessments, projects, etc.) to the standards, learning objectives, or learning targets you wish to measure. Whether working individually or as part of a PLC or teacher team, teachers can take any material type in Schoology and align to standards already in the platform or align to custom ones at the district, group or personal level.

This is one of the more powerful features of Groups. Members of a group can create custom learning objectives that they can track (like what you might see a PLC do), even re-wording existing standards into student-friendly language.

Tip: Only align (and grade!) items that are strong demonstrations of learning. There might be the temptation to grade all work and to align everything to standards, but if you aren’t intentional about the quality of the evidence being provided, you won’t have quality data on which to make an informed inference.

Getting items aligned is one step, and determining proficiency levels and scales is another. Some districts already have scales in place for standards-based reporting (e.g. 4 or 5 point scales) while others may only have certain teachers using a standards- based approach. In a common district scale, that scale can be added by a system admin in the Enterprise console for district-wide access. Any scale entered at the district level is automatically available in the “Gradebook Setup” area in any course.

For teachers who wish to adopt a standards-based mindset but are in a district that isn’t using a system- wide approach, they can set up a scale for their own use in their gradebook setup area.


Regardless, the key is to make sure to communicate what those proficiency scales indicate beyond a number or percentage. What does a 4 mean? What does a 1 mean?

Also keep in mind that numbers and percentages can be very deceptive when looking at progress against proficiency levels. A student at the beginning of a unit or lesson may only be at a “1,” and while that might be perfectly acceptable before learning occurs, parents and students may see that in a much more negative light.


Tip: Set up your proficiency scales (at the district or course level) to display text vs numbers. You can do that by using a percentage based scale and checking the “only show letter grade” box. Any text that you type in will be what the student or parent sees, which could greatly alleviate concerns about the level indicators.

Realize the Power of Rubrics

Unless you are scoring something based on a single standard, a rubric is probably the best way to identify different levels of proficiency for multiple standards. One great thing about Schoology is how PLCs or teams can leverage Groups for this: teachers can collaboratively create rubrics in Groups so that they can be shared widely. That means less work since teachers won’t have to recreate existing rubrics. And, any assignment that is created in a Group with a rubric attached automatically goes with the material when added to a course.

Part of a standards-based mindset is also being very clear about learner expectations, so be sure that students know how they are being assessed against the standards. This helps them track their own learning as well as knowing what they are aiming for.


Tip: When you create a rubric, use the “Learning Objective” option to align the rubric to standards. You can use “Criteria” to measure something that might not necessarily be related to a standard but reflects a work habit, for example.

Factor in the 0 Factor

One thing a standards-based mindset encourages is a change in how missing work is treated and how homework or practice fits into the gradebook. If it’s truly practice, is that something a student should be penalized for not knowing how to do well? Or, if it isn’t handed in at all, why would you give a zero if that represents a consequence for behavior, not evidence of proficiency against a standard?

One common concern with this approach is giving feedback without grades in the gradebook and motivating students to complete work. A standards-based mindset recognizes that formative evidence should never be punitive, and punitive grading isn’t a motivator (Guskey, 2015). The quality of evidence is the focus for standards-based grading, not behaviors or “averaged” averages. Having zeros factor into the numbers mix has a heavy impact on the accuracy of your data.


If a standards-based approach is desired, think about using a “0 factor” and avoid factoring a 0 into a score. In Schoology, you can use a 0 factor to provide point or rubric feedback without it impacting the overall grade in Schoology. This basically gives the item no weight. Another option is to create a category that has 0% weight, meaning it won’t impact an overall grade. (The latter approach can be problematic if you do use categories to track types of tasks as it would lump everything together.)

As for missing work, that’s a behavior, not a reflection of learning. Basically, no evidence was provided in terms of the standard, so while it might be reflected in a work habit category, it shouldn’t be counted as evidence of learning.

Tip: If you are syncing with a SIS, it may not recognize a factor and only see the points. Check with your system admin(s). In many cases, teachers can decide what not to push over to a SIS gradebook, which is typically where grades “that count” reside.

Try More Tries

If a standards-based mindset is about quality of evidence, it’s also about ensuring that students have adequate opportunities to provide that evidence (Wormeli, 2011). That doesn’t mean giving unlimited chances or letting students take advantage of the system, but if you suspect that a student really wasn’t able to demonstrate understanding, it’s worth it to see if another attempt would provide better evidence.

This is especially true with something like written work that might take multiple drafts to get “right,” so to speak. Or, in the case of a performance task, perhaps a student’s anxiety level interfered with their ability to demonstrate a skill. If that occurs, any score given isn’t the most accurate representation of their true proficiency level.


Schoology has options for multiple attempts built into the platform. For something like test/quiz or a course assessment, you can determine how many times a student can take the assessment. You can also determine how Schoology treats that score. Using “last score” can be helpful when you want to make sure the evidence you have is most recent. Regardless, the teacher will be able to see all attempts and all scores and can override if necessary.

For submitted assignments, students can submit multiple times as long as submissions are enabled in the settings area. All submissions are visible in the grading window (nothing gets overwritten, including annotations or comments made by the teacher). If talking about an assignment completed outside of Schoology (like a performance task, for example), a teacher can just use the rubric feature and update the rubric for the latest attempt.

Master the Mastery Area

After aligning items, using proficiency levels and rubrics, and being intentional about the evidence gathered, the Mastery area in Schoology can be a very effective way to communicate ongoing progress to teachers, students and parents.


The Mastery report is designed to be, as Schimmer advocates, “a more frequent and less formal process of communicating growth.” The Mastery area tracks all items that have been aligned to standards and shows progress on those standards. The view pictured here shows a single standard with the aligned assignments or activities. It also shows individual as well as class progress on that standard (notice also that the indicators are text-based, not number-based).

The settings area for Mastery also lets you decide how the evidence is weighted. For a standards-based mindset, one would probably elect to use “Decaying Average” as that would weight the most recent evidence at a higher percentage than evidence gathered earlier in the year. It defaults to 75%, but a teacher can change that value accordingly.



Adopting a standards-based mindset takes time -- and reframing thinking. Some districts still must utilize a traditional gradebook due to policy or other considerations, but that doesn’t mean that teachers can’t approach student learning with a standards-based lens. For those willing to go down that road, Schoology can support those efforts.

Recommended Reading

Feldman, J. (2018, February). The End of Points. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb18/vol75/num05/The-End-of-Points.aspx

Guskey, T. R. (2015). On your mark: Challenging the conventions of grading and reporting. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (n.d.). SEDL – Advancing Research, Improving Education A New Wave ... Retrieved from https://www.sedl.org/connections/resources/evidence.pdf

Marzano, R. J., & HHeflebower, T. (2011, November). Grades That Show What Students Know. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov11/vol69/num03/Grades-That-Show-What-Students-Know.aspx​

Schimmer, T. (2016). Grading From the Inside Out. Solution Tree Press.A. (n.d.). 

The Quest for Quality. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov09/vol67/num03/The-Quest-for-Quality.aspx

Wormeli, R. (2011, November). Redos and Retakes Done Right. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov11/vol69/num03/Redos-and-Retakes-Done-Right.aspx

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