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Standards Based Grading Q&A


What changes to first through fourth grade report cards are happening this year?

We are implementing a Standards Based Reporting system to communicate how well students are achieving specific, grade-level standards.  By using this new reporting system, accurate information describing each student’s level of performance on specific, grade-level standards will be communicated in the form of levels of mastery rather than letter grades that are based on a percentage of points earned.  So, our new reporting system does not include traditional A, B, C, D, and F grades, instead, the emphasis and focus will be on describing the student’s present level of achievement on specific learning goals.

Why are we making these changes?  

One of the reasons we have experienced academic success at Webb City Schools is we constantly evaluate and refine our practices in an ongoing effort to continuously improve the instruction provided our students.  Based on much of the literature available and our own experiences, we believe a report card that communicates student levels of performance on specific learning goals will have an even greater positive impact on student learning.  In other words, we believe this is a strategy that will help us improve student learning.

In what ways will these changes help improve student learning?

A large body of research indicates student learning increases when improvements are made to communication regarding student academic performance.  Changing to a standards based report card will improve communication in a number of ways.  One such improvement, by identifying specific priority standards, we will be communicating more detailed information for each content area.  For example, instead of providing a single grade for “Reading,” our standards based report card will communicate student levels of achievement on several, specific standards that all contribute to a student’s ability to read.  Additionally, by using proficiency scales to describe what students know or are able to do, we can increase the probability our focus will be on those specific learning standards and not on an accumulation of points.  

How will communicating a student’s performance on specific standards be helpful?

By more specifically identifying learning strengths and weaknesses, teachers, parents and the students themselves can more accurately address any “gaps” that exist for individual students.  (For example, an overall “A” in reading may “cover” up a student’s need to improve in “identifying the main idea of text”)

How would you explain the difference between a focus on learning and a focus on accumulating points?

A grading system based on accumulating a certain percent of points to achieve a grade (90% for an A, 80% for a B, etc.) lends itself to the question, “how many points do I (does my child) need to get an A?”  A standards based system lends itself to the question, “what do I (does my child) need to know or be able to do to be at the highest level?”

How will a student’s level of performance be communicated?

A student’s performance will be reported using three different levels.  We refer to them simply as Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.  A student at Level 3 is On Target and meeting the learning goal, independently, at a very high level.  A student at Level 2 is Approaching mastery of the learning goal, but may need a little help or simply hasn’t achieved the goal at the highest level.  A student at Level 1 has shown evidence they are starting to learn the concept, but that learning has just started to Emerge and the student still has much work needed to completely master the goal.  A way to think of levels metaphorically may be as follows.  Level 1 might be represented by a plane starting to move on the runway toward take off.  Level 2 might be the plane after take off but still ascending to the targeted altitude.  And, Level 3 would then be the plane flying high at the intended altitude.

What other reasons are there for moving away from a point accumulation grading system?

There are a number of risks associated with a traditional grading system.  Most of them are related to generating a final grade that inaccurately communicates what a student knows or is able to do related to the learning standards.  Some examples include the influence of non-academic factors and the effects of averaging all performances on the final grade.

What risks are associated with including non-academic factors in calculating grades?

In traditional grading systems based on the accumulation of points, there is a risk that points will be given (or taken away) for reasons that have little to do with what a student knows or is able to do.  Some non-academic factors, while not specifically related to learning standards, ARE very valuable for our students to learn and are addressed on the new report card under the “Cardinal Qualities” section.  (How a student is working in the classroom i.e. work ethic, responsibility, effort, participation)

What risks are associated with averaging scores?

As is the case with non-academic factors, most risks are related to not communicating accurately a student’s present level of performance.  When final scores are averaged, a student who simply does not know the content at the beginning of a unit and scores poorly initially, may not, even if they fully master the content, be able to “raise” his/her average to a grade that indicates they have learned fully the content.  Any system that does this, simply does not communicate accurately a student’s present level of performance.

What are standards?

Standards are statements about what students should know and be able to do within each content area, at each grade level. This curriculum is identified in the Missouri Learning Standards which can be found online HERE.


How is SBG different than what we're currently doing?

Traditionally, student performance for a quarter was based on averaging scores from the entire quarter.  Early scores could be averaged together with later-quarter performance in which a student demonstrated proficient performance.  Typically, student work habits affected the overall grade such as incomplete or missing homework or participation points being averaged into the overall grade.


Standards-based grading communicates how a student is doing on a set of performance goals.  It takes into consideration consistent performance as well as the most recent data collected and separates behavior and work habits.


Traditional Grading

Standards-Based Grading

Connected to assessment methods

Directly connected to standards



Achievement, effort, attitude, and behavior all factors

Achievement is the only factor

Every grade recorded with minimal support for re-assessment

Most recent assessment information used

Averaging all grades

Various forms of data collected

Variations of assessment quality

Quality assessments aligned to standards

Teacher-only involvement in grading assessment

Involvement of student in assessment


How will this affect Special Education students?

Students who are currently in Special Education (SPED) will continue to work on IEP goals just as they had in the past.  If a student is in the SPED room for an entire subject, the SPED teacher will assess and report student progress through progress goals.  However, if a student is not in the SPED room for the entire subject, the SPED teacher and regular education teacher will collaborate and report student progress.


Why aren't all of the standards listed on the grade card?

The purpose of the standards-based report card is to communicate with parents and students about the progress of the student.  Teachers collect evidence on specific grade-level standards and use that evidence to make a decision about a grade to report.  Although the teacher is collecting evidence on the standards, reporting every single standard at each grade level would most likely be overwhelming to parents and teachers.  For example, in third grade, there are over 40 standards in ELA alone.  Many of the standards are not taught in isolation, so listing them separately is not necessary.


How will decisions about promotion be made?

Decisions about promotion will be based on a consensus about what is best for each student individually.  If there are questions about whether a student should be promoted, the school and parents will review all the evidence to decide if the student is ready for the next grade level.  


How is SBG teaching students responsibility and accountability for the real world?

"In a standards-based system, the emphasis is on learning. When a student doesn’t do the work, the [natural] consequence is that he or she doesn’t learn the content or practicing the skill.


When we do not allow a student to turn in late work or re-do the work, we deny that student the opportunity to grow character traits that are vital to student achievement, such as perseverance and persistence.


If a teacher doesn’t accept late work, the teacher sends the message that the assignment had little educational value. It’s as if the teacher is saying, “Hey, it’s okay if you don’t do the work, and it’s okay if you don’t learn the content or skill.” As professional educators working to prepare students to successfully navigate the 21st century world, we can no longer accept these messages.


Granting a reduced grade or zero doesn’t teach responsibility to students who are not [self]-motivated. It actually allows the student to avoid the accountability of demonstrating what he or she has learned, and it teaches them to shrug off important responsibilities." Ken O'Connor


How will this motivate and challenge students?


The goal of SBG is for students to take ownership of their learning.  The desire to learn becomes the motivator instead of the desire for a grade.  Traditional grading can make school about points and percentages…not learning. That kind of system creates fear for many students and separates them from the curriculum and from the teaching. (O’Connor, 2014; Guskey 2010) 


It is important for teachers to challenge all students to achieve at the highest possible level and when students excel, this should be acknowledged through other communication than report cards and grades.  For example, the teacher may talk to the student and/or parents, send an email, make a phone call, or note in the larger comments section on the report card.