SBE Parent Information

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Date: Sunday, October 24, 2021, 10:57 AM


Standards-Based Education Parent Information bps standards logo

Developing a standards-based curriculum and shifting toward standards-reflected grades requires changes in the way teachers teach and in the way schools view education. The shift to standards-based education is perhaps one of the most comprehensive and complex endeavors the public educational system has experienced in over 100 years.

Because change is challenging and because the education field requires constant reflection and revision, the documents and practices that exist today could very well change throughout the years. Please be assured that any changes are based on reflection, research, and effective practices, leading to a greater understanding of how students learn, and are always made with the best interests of students in mind.

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.”

-- Heraclitus --


BPS-Standards Short LogoBismarck Public Schools
Standards-Based Education (SBE)
Last updated: August 26, 2015

“Although the shift from traditional grading practices to standards-based grading may require educators, students, and parents to reframe their existing beliefs and expectations about grades, the benefits to all stakeholders are powerful enough to warrant the change”

(Heflebower 2014).

Introduction and History

bps logoBPS believes that giving students and parents honest and accurate information regarding their progress on both academic and success skills is a key factor in creating passionate, successful, lifelong learners.

In 2007-2008, Bismarck Public Schools (BPS) started implementing standards-based education (SBE) and reporting practices with incoming kindergarten students. BPS currently uses standards-based reporting in grades K-8, which means students receive number scores based on their level of proficiency within a specific standard. 

High school students will need letter grades for the foreseeable future; thus, there is no current plan to exchange letter grades for number scores (4, 3, 2, 1) at the high school level. Maintaining letter grades as the method of reporting, however, does not change the practices of a standards-based classroom where grades or scores are based on student achievement of academic knowledge, skills, and processes; where grades are a reflection of what students know and can do in relation to the standards.

Clarifying the Purpose

What is standards-based education?

The purpose of standards-based education is to communicate student learning in relation to the standards; as a result, we believe this reporting method improves student achievement by aligning curriculum, instruction, and learning with essential standards within the content areas.

Standards-based grading measures the degree of mastery regarding established learning objectives. Grades and scores are not a comparison of one student to another, but rather a way to measure how well students are doing on grade-level/course level standards. In a standards-based classroom, learning targets based on prioritized standards have been identified, and teachers have designed lessons and learning activities that help students reach an understanding of the standards.

Although prioritized standards are the focus of instruction, teachers are expected to address all standards but not necessarily report them. This does not mean non-prioritized standards are not important or that they are not taught; it means that these standards may be addressed through the teaching of other standards.

TO ACCESS content and grade level standards, use the navigation buttons.

BPS-Standards Logo    CATC-Standards image

In a standards-based environment, teachers use a variety of assessment strategies such as pencil-and-paper tests, projects, discussions, essays, or reports. The student’s grade will be based on evidence the teacher collects demonstrating a student’s level of achievement within the learning targets. Because learning is a process that takes place over time, the teacher will provide feedback to the student about what to focus on next, and the student will be allowed to show improved learning over time. The goal of this approach is to communicate an accurate picture of the student’s learning and to encourage conversation about how the student can master the material for the class.

Why is BPS using Standards Based Grading?

The goal of BPS is to improve student learning by reporting grades that are accurate, consistent, meaningful, and supportive of learning, and the shift to standards-based learning is an effort to reach that goal.

Accurate: When basing a student’s grade solely on academic factors, the teacher creates a clear picture of what the student has learned without the influence of other factors such as extra credit, effort, and attitude. Factors, such as effort and attitude, are still essential, but are not part of the student’s academic grade and are communicated separately.

Consistent: For each prioritized standard, BPS teachers have created rubrics or proficiency scales that describe clear expectations for proficiency within those standards. These rubrics and proficiency scales not only shape assessments, but they are at the heart of instruction and learning activities as well. By creating these levels of proficiency, expectations for student learning are more consistent across grade level and content area.

Meaningful: A meaningful grade is one that clearly communicates what learning has taken place. In a standards-based classroom, scores are recorded by the standards rather than by type, such as tests or homework, making it easier to identify areas of strength and to address areas of concern for each student.

Supportive of Learning: This approach supports learning by focusing on the material that has or has not been learned rather than on accumulating points to reach a certain total. The reassessment policy also supports student growth by allowing new levels of learning to replace old when a student shows improvement on an outcome.

What does a standards-based teaching and learning classroom look like?

  • Instruction meets the needs of every student and encourages them to achieve at high levels.
  • All units, lessons, and activities are intentionally linked to the North Dakota content standards, and learning targets are clearly defined.
  • Common courses have common expectations, common standards and assessments, which are intentionally aligned to the standards.
  • Teachers know exactly where students stand in their progress toward mastering the standards.
  • Teachers provide enrichment and intervention to meet the learning needs of students, using the multi-tiered system of supports.
  • Students understand the expectations and purpose of units, lessons and activities.
  • Students monitor their own progress toward proficiency.
  • Students have multiple opportunities and ways to show learning.


As we continue to learn and grow within a standards-based environment, we can expect to see:

Student Benefits

  • Students as partners in their own learning.
  • Students monitoring their own progress toward the achievement of learning targets.
  • Learning targets that are clearly defined.
  • Students understanding the expectations and purpose of each learning experience.
  • Multiple opportunities and ways for students to demonstrate proficiency.
  • Students who can think critically and solve real-world problems.
  • All students achieving at their highest potential.

Parent Benefits

  • Parents and their children discussing and monitoring progress on current learning targets.
  • Parents receiving information about what their child knows and is able to do separate from behavior and work habits.
  • Parents know specific content standards in which their child needs more support or more academic challenge.
  • When considering college and career readiness, parents and students have a better idea of the learner’s academic strengths and weaknesses.

Understanding Differences (table)

Traditional Grading Compare to Standards-Based Grading



  • Based on assessment methods (tests, quizzes, essays, homework). One grade per subject; for example English: A.

  • Gradebook is organized by sources of information or grading tasks: quizzes, tests, homework, etc. This method for collecting assessment data makes it difficult to discern specific strengths and weaknesses in a student’s learning.

  • Based on learning goals and prioritized standards with a score for each standard.

  • Gradebook is organized by learning topics or standards, which are based on the grade level learner expectations :for example,  comprehension, word analysis in reading, or geometry, number sense in math.

  • Final grades are often based on preset ranges and and percentages such as A = 90-100%. B = 80-89%, often lacking clear criteria. Students may be compared with each other and may be graded on a curve.

  • Based on proficiency levels that are accompanied by clear criteria and targets known to all. Teachers determine what the performance for each proficiency level (4, 3 ,2, 1) entails, including descriptors for each level.

  • Might involve an uncertain mix of achievement, attitude, group work,  effort and behavior, using penalties and extra credit.

  • Grades reflect the student’s individual  academic achievement based upon the standard; behavior grades are reported separately.

  • Grades are averaged with little consideration given to whether a student actually reached proficiency by the end of a grading period. Averaging early learning experiences with those later compromises accurate communication of learning.

  • Grades reflect current evidence of learning. The most recent assessment information is given higher priority or weight. A student may start a grading period with little or no knowledge regarding a topic but end the grading period with a great deal of knowledge.

  • Percentage correct determines the grade. Memorization or recall tasks may receive the same weight as higher level thinking skills and transfer of learning to new problems or settings.

  • Grades reflect the level of academic achievement in relation to the criteria established on proficiency scales or rubrics.

How does Standards-Based Grading Work?

While traditional grading averages all of student work and may include non-academic factors, standards-based grading focuses solely on proficiency. Teachers use the following scores to indicate the level of proficiency a student is demonstrating throughout the school year:

  • 4.0 - Demonstrates understanding that exceeds the grade level standard or target.
  • 3.0 - Demonstrates proficiency with the grade level standard or target.
  • 2.0 - Demonstrates partial understanding of the grade level standard or target.
  • 1.0 - Demonstrates beginning understanding of the grade level standard or target.
  • 0.5 - Demonstrates misunderstandings about prerequisite knowledge and/or skills necessary to meet the grade level end of year standard (expectation) or target.

The goal is that learners will demonstrate an understanding of the critical content, that their proficiency level will be at a 3.0 by the end of the school year or at the end of instruction for each grade level standard. When that happens, learners are better prepared for and find success at the next grade level.

To receive a 4.0, students must demonstrate that their level of understanding exceeds the standards set for their grade level. Keep in mind, however, that not all standards, foundational standards for example, will have an option for a 4.0 (example: identifying letters and sounds in kindergarten -- a 3.0 would be if a student can name all 26 letters, and there is not an advanced assessment to go beyond). Students, however, may begin working on new, more challenging standards when they have reached proficiency on these foundational standards.

Assessment Explanation

How will my child be assessed?

A student’s learning is assessed using a variety of formative and summative assessments. These tools include formal assessments such as traditional paper-and-pencil tests, projects, written papers, lab reports, or verbal assessments, but they may also include informal assessments such as classroom discussions or teacher observations. Essentially, everything that a student does in a standards-based class provides the teacher with evidence of the student’s learning.

Formative Assessment

The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:

  • help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
  • help teachers recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

Formative assessments are assessments of learning and are a powerful means of determining growth and understanding.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessments are used to evaluate student learning progress and achievement at the conclusion of a specific instructional period—usually at the end of a project, unit, course, semester, program, or school year.

Assessment Chart

Homework and Grades

What can my student do to raise his or her grade in a standards-based class?

The goal in a standards-based class is to ensure that students demonstrate an understanding of the essential outcomes for the class, so any efforts to raise a student’s grade will have the same goal. The student should meet with the teacher to determine where improvements in learning need to take place and fill out a reassessment agreement to create a plan on how to relearn the material and when to be reassessed. Redoing an assignment encourages students to reflect on their thinking; this also helps them understand that learning, not the grade, is most important.If the student demonstrates a higher level of mastery on the outcome assessment, then the newer score will be given more weight. Again, the focus is to improve the student’s mastery of the material, so extra credit points are not used in standards-based classes.

What is the role of homework in standards-based classroom?

  • Homework should be assigned purposefully, keeping in mind different types of homework: practice, preparation, review, application, extension.
  • Homework is a meaningful practice when it is generated by responding to a specific need of a class or student.
  • Homework should always receive feedback, but should only be scored and reported if the teacher is confident that the work reveals a student’s independent ability.
  • Teachers intentionally make connections between assigned work and academic success.
  • Students are motivated to do homework when they clearly understand the learning target and evaluation; when learning goals and assessments are meaningful; when they believe they can successfully learn and meet expectations.

How do we motivate kids to complete homework or take assessments seriously if the results of those tasks are not counted toward the final grade?

It is important for students to understand that their teacher is evaluating their performance on learning tasks, or homework, each day. Teachers analyze student work to determine growth and improvement towards mastery of a specific skill or content.

Parents and teachers can help motivate students by talking about the role of practice/homework. Grading is meant to communicate learning. It is not a reward/punishment system. The ultimate goal is for students to demonstrate high levels of understanding by the end of a course. Students are motivated to do homework when they clearly understand the learning target and evaluation; when learning goals and assessments are meaningful; when they believe they can successfully learn and meet expectations.

We also help kids understand how the role of practice in sports/music is similar to that in learning. The reward is the game and/or performance. Student-athletes are not rewarded after every practice. If a student chooses not to do an assignment, not only are they missing an opportunity to practice a skill, they also miss an opportunity to display mastery of an outcome to their teacher. It can help by having these conversations with students to rethink homework.

Why doesn’t my student have a grade yet?

Because standards-based learning focuses on the learning a student demonstrates, grades may not be updated as frequently as they were when every assignment impacted the grade. This shift is especially noticeable at the beginning of the semester when it may take a few weeks for the teacher to collect enough evidence to determine each student’s level of mastery. However, while the overall outcome grade may not change as frequently, the teacher is still recording performance on other learning tasks, such as homework, quizzes and in-class activities that provide important feedback about what work is being done. Please contact your student’s teacher at any time if you have questions about your student’s grade.

IF my child receives a 1 on a 4-point scale, does that mean he has earned a 25%?

One common misconception that arises when moving to standards-based education is that a student only needs to get a 25% percent to pass; this misconception arises when we do not understand exactly what the 1 on a 4 point scale means. In a traditional grading system, a 25% means that a student answered 25% of the questions correctly. In SBE, this means that a student reached the 1.0 level on the rubric, which is based on the learning the student demonstrated and completely unrelated to how many questions the student answered correctly. This distinction is important as standards-based education sets a much higher level of expectation for student learning.

Talking Points

When talking with your child about his/her progress in school, consider asking your child the following questions:

  • What standards are you working on in this class?
  • What standards do you think you still need to learn?
  • When was the last time you practiced / worked on [standard]?
  • What feedback has your teacher given you on your work?
  • When was the last time you were assessed (i.e. test, quiz, project) on [standard]?
  • What is your proficiency level in this content area or standard? What do you need to do to improve? What are your areas of strength?
  • Have you set a goal with your teacher regarding next steps toward reaching proficiency?
  • Do you keep track of your own progress for these standards? If so, what does that pattern look like?
  • When is your next opportunity to reassess on [standard]?
  • What practice, studying and/or re-teaching opportunities have you completed in preparation for the next reassessment opportunity?
  • Are you working on your homework/practice?

When contacting a teacher about learning in accordance with the standards, consider asking the following questions:

  • When was the last time all students were assessed on [standard]?
  • When is the next opportunity my child will have to reassess on [standard]?
  • What practice, studying and/or re-teaching opportunities should my child take advantage of related to [standard] before reassessing?
  • Is my child on target to reach the standard(s) by the end of instruction or end of the year?
  • What will my child do after he/she reaches proficiency?
  • Are formal assessments the only opportunity for my child to show proficiency?
  • What other forms of communication can I expect outside of PowerSchool?

Separating Behavior from Academic Grades

Why are middle schools also assessing student behavior?

A behavior rubric is used to assess middle school students on the 2 Rs: Being Responsible and Being Respectful. These behaviors are part of a student’s educational responsibility and important for student learning, but they are reported separate from a student’s academic achievement. For example, a student could be doing exceptional work but not handing assignments in on time. Instead of reducing the student’s grade for late work, the student the student will receive an additional report that he/she “Needs Improvement” in the area of responsibility.

What is listed on the elementary behavior scale?

Elementary teachers are reporting* on the following behavior indicators: ·

  • Responsibility for learning
  • Responds to teacher-directed activities
  • Demonstrates self-monitoring
  • Interacts positively with peers and adults
  • Puts forth effort · Creating, imagining and innovating
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving

* 'N' = Needs Improvement, 'P' = Progressing Towards the Goal, 'M' = Meets the Goal

PSsis Parent Portal

For a variety of informational resources on how PowerSchool works to report Standards Progress at BPS, please view this presentation:

Visual Progress Report

Glossary of SBE Terms:

Assessment: Gathering and interpreting information about student achievement using a variety of tools.

Common Assessment: The same assessment that is given and graded by common grade level/subject classrooms at about the same time to collect data.

Curriculum: The lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program

Feedback: Feedback is not evaluative or generic; instead, it offers specific comments regarding student progress toward proficiency and next steps (academic or behavioral) for reaching the goal of the standards.

Formative Assessment: Periodic assessment tool for learning that is used to adjust instruction for individual students or a whole class.

Grade: A simple, clear, and concrete summary representation of student achievement based on what a student knows at the end of a given time period. The number (or letter) reported at the end of a period of time as a summary statement of student performance.

Learning Target: Concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education.

Prioritized Standards: power standards or prioritized standards refers to a subset of learning standards that educators have determined to be the highest priority or most important for students to learn, based on endurance, leverage, readiness, and professional judgment.

Proficiency: Marked when a student reaches the expectations of the standard.

Proficiency Scale: Articulates learning progressions and expectations for each prioritized standard.

Score: To mark, evaluate, or place a value on a single product as compared to a standard or objective. The number (or letter) “score” given to any student test or performance.

Standard: Statement that describes what and/or how well students are expected to understand and perform.

Standards-based practices: A wide gamut of classroom practices that involve prioritized standards, learning targets and proficiency scales, assessments, student self-monitoring, and feedback directly related to proficiency of the standards.

Standards-based Reporting: Achievement level based on mastery of essential standards—a grading system where scores denote progress toward the understanding of a specific standard. Summative Assessment: An evaluation tool designed to show information about a student’s achievement at the end of a period of instruction.

4.0 Rubric: A grading tool used to provide feedback on an identified learning goal. The score signifies the knowledge a student has towards that learning goal. It moves from simple (2.0) to more complex (3.0) with a score of 4.0 requiring synthesis and analysis or performance above the grade-level target. A score of 3.0 is the proficient level of the targeted learning goal.


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