Time for Change: Why and How We Implemented Standards-Based Grading

Autumn leaves changing. It's time to change to standards-based grading.
Contributed By

Jack Ballard

Assistant Principal for PAUSD

Time for Change: Why and How We Implemented Standards-Based Grading

Posted in Community | June 12, 2017

We have a crisis in our public schools surrounding how we grade students. Traditional grading scales based on points and percentages only serve to rank and order students despite our best efforts as educators.

Learn step by step how to implement standards-based grading by attending Jack's Schoology NEXT session.

I work within a high-performing, public high school and the traditional system of grading has been internalized by students. They seek more and more ways to receive points, so they can be sure to have a perfect GPA that will get them into an elite college. This system of grading makes students so focused on the outcome of a course that they cheat themselves out of having a meaningful student experience.

Encountering this culture of grading is what led a team of Chemistry teachers at my high school to jump headfirst into implementing an alternative grading system. The grading system they have adopted is based around two complementary forms of grading:

  • Mastery Grading—students are given multiple opportunities to demonstrate their mastery of content and skills. This usually comes in the form of retakes or revisions.
  • Standards-Based Grading—students are graded using a set of standards or learning outcomes rather than using a traditional grading system.

Generally, these two terms have been used interchangeably, and for the context of this post, I will refer to the combination of mastery grading and standards-based grading as just standards-based grading.

Before I detail the steps taken by this Chemistry team to implement standards-based grading, I want to acknowledge the work of Ken O’Connor. Ken O’Connor is a consultant and author for standards-based grading who has been very influential for the team. They have read his books and even participated in a Google Hangout with him to help provide guidance for their implementation.

4 Critical Steps for Implementing Standards-Based Grading

If you are a member of a team wanting to implement standards-based grading, there are a few critical steps that include selecting essential standards, choosing guiding principles, communicating with all stakeholders, and determining grades.

#1 Select Essential Standards

A deceptively difficult aspect of implementing standards-based grading is selecting essential standards. This process involves working together with your team to choose the most essential learning outcomes contained within curriculum standards or frameworks.

Your team will need to work through productive and professional conflict to select essential standards. This process will bring your team together and will help build a culture of collaboration around student learning.

#2 Choose Guiding Principles

Once a team knows what they want students to learn, they need to choose guiding principles for their alternative grading system. This is a brief vision statement that outlines the philosophy of standards-based grading and the reasons why it is being adopted. If this philosophy can be expressed by a team, a department, or a school, students and parents will have a much easier time of understanding and accepting an alternative grading system.

#3 Determine Grades

Because we have college admissions to grapple with, it is impossible to completely eliminate letter grades. However, it is possible to institute systems that shift grades to be a form of feedback rather than a form of ranking. To make this happen, it is necessary to change how all stakeholders think about grades.

Instead of calculating grades based on points, grades need to be determined using mastery of essential standards. This means that growth and consistency can be used along with professional judgment for a teacher to determine a grade. Having a set of guiding principles and a communications plan are key elements to shifting towards a culture of feedback and student ownership of learning.

#4 Communicate With All Stakeholders

Getting all stakeholders on the same page is the most critical and most difficult aspect of implementing standards-based grading. The technical aspects of using an LMS to implement standards-based grading are simple compared to educating stakeholders.

Students, parents, other teachers, school counselors, school and district administrators, and school board members all need to understand the guiding principles behind the implementation of standards-based grading. Students, parents, counselors, and administrators also need to be trained on how to use the tools available in their LMS for tracking student mastery and providing relevant and timely feedback.

If students have full transparency into their grades and performance, they are able to use the feedback from their assignments to set goals and to own their learning. They can then teach adults how to use and understand a standards-based grading system.

Implementing Standards-Based Grading Requires Collaboration

It is possible to make a cultural shift surrounding grades and feedback, but it takes a concerted and aligned effort on the part of teachers and administrators. Without a teacher team and administrative support, only small individual shifts can be made.

Working together as a coalition is the only way to properly communicate and build buy-in for a shift in how students, parents, and community members think about learning and grading.

* To learn how to use Schoology to implement standards-based grading, join Jack Ballard at Schoology NEXT 2017.

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About Jack Ballard's Schoology NEXT Session

Best Practices for Using Schoology to Implement Standards-Based Grading

Do you want to try implementing standards-based grading within your classroom? You may philosophically agree with a system like this, and you may have even read some books or attended a presentation, but you are unsure what tools are available to you to help implement a new grading system. This workshop is a place for you to learn how to use Schoology as a tool for tracking student mastery and communicating student results.

Best practices will be shared based on experiences of innovative teachers who have already taken the dive into building a culture of feedback.

Attendees will come away from this session with

  • Step by step guide to using Schoology to establish a standards-based grading system
  • Understanding of how to use Mastery View to help determine, not calculate a grade
  • Understanding of the parent, student, and educator communication necessary to successfully implement standards-based grading and how Schoology supports this as a tool

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