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 ( on Effective Grading Practices. Change is slow, but I am confident that it will happen. Baby steps.