Standards-Based Grading Systems Effectively Communicate Student Learning

Discover how standards-based grading systems, centered on individual learner achievement and growth mindset, can revolutionize teaching and enhance student performance.

Standards-Based Grading Systems are an Effective Way to Communicate Student Learning

It took me a long time to realize that the key to effectively implementing standards-based grading was to implement standards-based teaching and learning.

Simply changing the grading scale I was using or the language to describe success would not result in any meaningful changes in my ability to support students or their engagement or performance. Those would come later as I learned what was central to this practice.

Eventually, I realized that some of the most valuable aspects of standards-based practice had nothing to do with the grading scale I used.

Instead, the key to standards-based teaching and learning is the focus on the individual learner, which manifests in a few ways:

    • Carefully looking at and concentrating on individual student achievement over using grades to sort groups of students.
    • The use of specific teaching practices with the stated goal of improving student achievement.
    • The inherent emphasis on continuous improvement and, thus, the natural connection to nurturing a growth mindset.

When I first came to standards-based teaching and learning, I instinctively knew that the old bell curve was damaging to students. I had to cover some ground before I understood that the bell curve served to sort students and found myself asking, “If my job is to teach, then shouldn’t each student learn the content and skills I am teaching? And if they don’t, at some point, isn’t that a reflection of my approach?

So, what is most important in helping each student reach grade-level learning goals? How would I support them all to achieve their highest potential?” I would need to design the best path between each learner and what I was asking them to learn, and I saw some common elements to all the paths I would need to create.

First, each student needed to know what they were meant to learn. In turn, I needed to be clear with each day’s learning targets, share them with my students, and be sure my assessments addressed those targets. Student achievement is, therefore, a reflection of what each individual learns; it is measured against the learning goals themselves, not how well those individuals stack up relative to one another, a norm, or a curve. When I can see what each student has and has not learned, I can provide feedback and support based on what each student needs.

Learn how standards-based grading systems, focused on individual achievement and growth mindset, can transform teaching and boost student performance.

Targeted Assessment, Feedback, and Separating Academic Scores from HOWLs Scores for Individual Student Growth

Teachers make dozens of instructional moves to meet students’ needs and boost academic performance. Those foundational to standards-based instruction include targeted assessment and feedback and the separation of academic performance from habits of work and learning (HOWLS). Targeted assessment and feedback help students know exactly what to work on, and it helps teachers know where to remediate and extend for individual students.

One of the support mechanisms for this targeted assessment and feedback is the use of disaggregated data. Data collected and sorted according to targets is far more precise than the traditional data we use for grades. Those omnibus grades leave students and teachers with mantras like “study more” or “work harder” without identifying specific areas for needed improvement or areas where a student truly excels. Furthermore, considering academic and HOWLs achievement in their own categories helps teachers and students see a more accurate picture of learning.

Things like consistent submission of, or missing classwork, are not indicators of academic understanding and should not be counted as such. Likewise, habits of work, such as consistent class participation, are not the same as high test scores. While it’s easy to argue that work completion and participation likely contribute to academic achievement, and they, along with adequate test scores, are important indicators of student success, conflating them doesn’t accurately represent or help students improve upon any of them.

Learn how standards-based grading systems, focused on individual achievement and growth mindset, can transform teaching and boost student performance.

Empowering Growth Mindsets: Standards-Based Grading for Individual Student Achievement

An intensified focus on individual student achievement sets students up to practice a growth mindset. Since student achievement is measured relative to known targets rather than relative to a fabricated norm or peers, students can look at their learning and their achievement as it evolves: “How did I do with this target three days ago, and how am I doing with it now?” Assignments become vehicles to demonstrate learning of specific, articulated targets rather than finite placeholders for grades, and since assessment of targets is recursive, students inherently have multiple opportunities to show their growth. It’s baked in.

Additionally, teachers typically offer dedicated retakes, named opportunities for students to revisit targets after additional learning, to demonstrate additional growth. Of course, providing feedback and support based on what students actually need encourages a growth mindset. These teacher practices within a standards-based system implicitly encourage a growth mindset in students and support student achievement in general.

As part of a broader standards-based practice of teaching and learning, standards-based grading systems are an effective strategy for supporting student growth and development. Such a system helps us look carefully at the content, skills, and habits each student has learned and those they still need to work on. When the system shifts to the individual in this way, the student is more apt to develop and sustain a growth mindset because the only person they are compared to is their earlier self.

That mindset and focus on individual achievement are supported by specific instructional practices designed to promote a clear view of learning. Ultimately, this makes for teaching and grading practices that support individual learners in reaching their highest potential.

If you’d like to learn more about how JumpRope can help you in supporting student growth and development, reach out today for a discussion.

Works Cited
Harsy, Amanda, Carlson, Christina & Klamerus, Lauren (2021) An Analysis of the Impact of Mastery-Based Testing in Mathematics Courses, Primus, 31(10), 1071-1088, DOI: 10.1080/10511970.2020.1809041
Link, Laura J., Guskey, Thomas R. (2022) Is standards-based grading effective? Theory Into Practice, 61(4), 406-417. DOI: 10.1080/00405841.2022.2107338