Standards-based grading involves measuring students' proficiency on well-defined course objectives. Many districts adopt standards-based grading in addition to traditional grades, but manhy proponents insist that standards-based grading can and should replace traditional point-based grades.
Introducing standards based grading is easier said than done. Guskey and Young explain:
With their curriculum standards articulated and assessment procedures to measure those standards in place, many elementary educators today are developing standards-based report cards. However, shortly after beginning the process most find themselves embroiled in controversy, particularly when parents see a standards-based report card for the first time. Discussions about the report card turn into heated debates and unexpected problems thwart their progress. Developing a report card that satisfies the diverse needs of parents and the school often seems impossible.The idea of standards based grading seems sensible enough. Instead of summarizing a student's performance with letter-grades A-F, why not provide the student and parents a disaggregated list of the student's mastery of the particularized course objectives? One is left, in theory, with a permanent record of whether the student mastered fractions, or decimals, or percentages, and so on. Consequently, proponents argue, grading becomes more intentional, more objective, and much more complex. This accounts for resistance from many parents, who feel that they inherently understand what an A is, but really would prefer not to try to figure out what it means that their student got 4's in three objectives, and 3's in two others.
Some arguments for standards based grading include the following:
- That they provide more coherent and precise information as to what the student has learned.
- That they force the teaching staff to focus evaluation on the key objectives of state adopted learning standards
- That they convert grades into formative assessments that focus the learner on what they still need to learn in order to be successful
- That it is possible to report more complex learning objectives
- That it requires a tremendous amount of effort by teachers and curriculum staff without a proven payoff..
- That students who are far behind (or who have disabilities that prevent achieving standards) can work very very hard to achieve, yet receive grades that may suggest failure, no matter how hard they work.
- That some parents simply don't like them and that they engender significant controversy
- That some implementations of standards based grading do not appropriately reward attendance, effort, and completion of homework
- That not all students in any class are at the same level, and so evaluating students at grade level tends to focus assessment on what the kids in the middle are ready to learn
Most board members want to support reforms when the administration recommends them, because we feel that education needs to be run by educators. In this case, it is my view that the change is big enough and difficult enough, that we would be well to keep the existing letter grade system along with the new standards based grading, until teachers and parents have enough experience with the new system to accept elimination of the old.