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 Understanding how Standards-Based Grading Differs from Traditional Grading

  “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).

Traditional vs. Standards-Based


Traditional Grading versus 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 or higher 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.

It is not uncommon for students to demonstrate lower levels of proficiency (1.0 - 2.0) at the beginning of instruction for any new standards in their grade level. At times, students may receive a score of 0.5 at the beginning of the year or before instruction begins on a new standard indicating that additional instruction is needed for a student to begin grade-level work. In these instances, staff will work to identify appropriate interventions to bring students to an appropriate level of proficiency.  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 will have an option for a 4.0 (i.e. -identifying letters and sounds in kindergarten a 3.0 would be if student can name all 26/26 so there is not an advanced assessment to go beyond.)  Students will begin working on new more challenging standards when they have reached proficiency on these foundational standards.

» Parent Guide to SBE