Home » Educational Principles » Baby Steps towards Standards-Based Grading

Baby Steps towards Standards-Based Grading

The part of teaching I like the least is assigning grades at the end of a marking period. The problem is the cognitive dissonance between my grading philosophy and grading policies in the schools in which I have worked. Experts say that teachers should determine their beliefs regarding grades and assign accordingly, but it isn’t always that easy. Often, we must work within the system we have. Changing grading policies is a paradigm shift that not everyone is ready for. Baby steps.

I believe in supportive grading practices. By this I mean promoting a growth mindset, providing feedback during the learning process, and grading based on the standards. However, I work in a school with a more traditional system where most teachers grade based on averaging scores, use a straight points rather than a weighted system, and incorporate behaviors such as missing or tardy homework into the final grade. Therefore, I am doing what I am able within the system we have in order to reconcile my beliefs with the final grade the student receives at the end of the marking period. Baby steps.

First, I use weighted categories. Summative assessments account for 90% of the students’ grades and formative assessments are only 10%. Most parents and students believe that homework and classwork are very important, so I lend credence to that by incorporating them into the final grade. Ideally, I would be using a standards-based grading system and formative assessment wouldn’t count at all, but I am not there yet. Baby steps.

Second, I accept late work. I don’t give assignments that are busywork and all of them meet specific standards. Therefore, it is important to me that students complete these assignments. I allow students to hand in work late with a minor penalty (a flat score of 75%). Students and parents appreciate this as a kindness and I generally receive nearly 100% of student work—eventually. On the rare occasion that I do not receive an assignment, I record a score of 50%. (There have been numerous articles written about the idea of 50% instead of zeroes, so I won’t go into it here.) All of this may sound like a gift to some who adheres to traditional grading practices, but remember that formative work is only 10% of their final grade, so I am not giving them anything, but rather encouraging them to do the work and to learn. Baby steps.

Finally, I do not accept extra-credit, but I do allow for test corrections or redos/retakes. However, because my school does not adhere to standards-based grading, I must respect that. As a compromise, students in my class are allowed to redo, correct, or retake an assessment, but only for a maximum score of 73%. This does not make me entirely happy, but it is better than allowing a child to fail my class if they are willing to work to learn the information. I take partial responsibility for low scores and am willing to work with students to help them understand and accomplish what they missed the first time. At the end of the quarter, I do have a grade distribution and not everyone receives As, but no one receives Fs either. Baby steps.

None of this means that I am an “easy” teacher, that my students don’t have to do the work, or that I inflate grades. For the moment, this is my method of staying true to myself while working toward a standards-based grading system. I even managed to get everyone on my team to attend a Rick Wormeli (http://rickwormeli.net) on Effective Grading Practices. Change is slow, but I am confident that it will happen. Baby steps.


5 thoughts on “Baby Steps towards Standards-Based Grading

  1. Baby steps is right, Cheryl. I had a teacher on my team this year ask me, “Why should I start trying this now, if it’s not going to be required, maybe EVER?” My answer – “It’s not about you, it’s for the kids.” I think, as long as we’re focused on what’s right for kids, and we have that in common, we should be moving those mountains, inch by inch. 🙂 Thanks for your reflection – I’m sure it will help some people feel good about how far they’ve come, and inspire others to get to where you are!


  2. It’s sometimes very difficult to work within the guidelines given when you’re heart believes something else. I like how you gave many examples of this and how you are taking the (baby) steps necessary to move forward, even just a little. You should feel positive about the policies you have set up so far! 🙂


  3. Just stumbled upon your blog! I am also a teacher in SE Michigan (HS English in Monroe County), and our grading scales sound very similar! I use a 4-point scale, and assign 30% to formative assessments and 70% to summative assessments. I also have a very liberal late work & assignment revision policy. It sounds like we have a lot in common in this regard!

    The question I keep struggling with is this — if a student turns in half of an assignment, but it’s clear from the work that s/he has mastered the skill — what grade should that assignment receive? From an ideological standpoint I would think that skill mastery is more important than anything else, but sometimes I wonder if my grade scale doesn’t prioritize progress or — the ever-popular virtue in education these days — grit. Should the student who worked through the entire assignment receive a higher grade than the student who only completed half, assuming that both have demonstrated understanding? I just don’t know the answer.

    Thanks for sharing! Look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.


  4. Just stumbled upon your blog! I am also an English teacher in SE Michigan (HS English in Monroe County), and it sounds like we use very similar grade scales. We assign 30% to formative assessments and 70% to summative assessments, and I also have a liberal late work policy. One difference is that we use a 4-point scale instead of a traditional 100-point scale, which I have really come to like. All letter grades are weighed equally (much like GPA), so this scale alleviates the mathematical disadvantage of receiving zeroes. It sounds like we are very similar in many regards! 🙂

    One question I find myself struggling with is this — if a student only completes half of an assignment, but it’s clear from the work that s/he has mastered the skill, what grade should that assignment receive? Should that student receive the same grade as a student who completed all of the work (assuming that both students show the same level of understanding)? Sometimes I wonder if my current grade scale devalues the virtue that seems very popular in education these days — grit. Should perseverance be reflected in a student’s grade? Or should grades purely represent proficiency? I just don’t know the answer…and that’s why I’ve stuck with the hybrid traditional/standards-based grading system for the last few years. I don’t know what the right next steps would be! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing! I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.


  5. Sounds like we have a similar plan — my grades are set up 90 summative/10 formative as well. It’s that way across the school, though in our high school it’s 100 summative. Within the summative, I must have a minimum of 7 grades per quarter. Sometimes this is a stretch (think first quarter), but it resolves itself as we move forward. Those summative grades include papers, projects, and tests – and since I believe writing/creating/learning is a process, I allow students to redo within a window after we discuss a plan. It’s not ideal (though I’m not sure a standard system is since we teach individuals), but it works. Thank you for sharing!


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