Accurate Grading with a Standards-Based Mindset (WEBINAR)

On Monday, December 16, 2013 I conducted a webinar entitled Accurate Grading with a Standards-Based Mindset. The archived copy of the webinar can be viewed here. (It’s just under 80 min, including questions at the end.)

Please note: This webinar was presented by Pearson Education. When you click on the link above you will first be asked to provide contact information before the webinar will play. While it says “the author has requested the information” please know that it is Pearson (not me) who requires this…just wanted you to know.

Below is a brief blog post that encapsulates (but by no means covers) the essence of the webinar:

While the standards-based grading movement is in full swing, not every school, district, or state is in exactly the same place. The difference is attributable to a variety of factors including the level of the school within which a standards-based approach to grading is being implemented. Elementary school standards-based report cards often look very different from middle or even high school standards-based report cards; that’s not a bad thing as the application of standards-based reporting at each level needs to be suitable for that level. The point is that schools and districts across the country are at various places along the standards-based grading continuum. While some have implemented fully, others are still exploring.

Despite this variation, the common link for all along the standards-based grading continuum is how we think about grading; what I call the standards-based mindset. This mindset represents the heavy lifting of the grading conversation. Once we shift how we think about grading, the implementation of standards-based reporting is easy, or at least easier, since the way we think about grades, how we organize evidence, and what is most heavily emphasized is different. We become more thoughtful about ensuring that a student’s grade represents their full level of proficiency and not just the average of where they were and where they are now.

Adults are rarely mean averaged and certainly, it is irrelevant to an adult that they used to not know how to do something. Yet for a student, these two factors are dominant in their school experience. A student’s grade (at least traditionally) is almost always a function of the mean average and a failed quiz or assignment early in the learning almost always counts against them; remember, every 40 needs an 80 just to get a 60.

The standards-based mindset shifts this conversation to a more accurate way of reporting a student’s level of proficiency. Like any idea, there are always detractors who’ll try to hijack the conversation by suggesting that standards-based grading is about lowering standards, making it easier for students, and letting them off-the-hook; none of that is true. Standards-based grading is about accurately reporting a student’s true level of proficiency. As students learn and grow through the curriculum they should be given full credit for their achievement. When they don’t receive full credit we are sending the not so subtle message that you should have learned faster!

A standards-based mindset is separate from how we report grades. With a standards-based mindset you can still report traditional grades, it’s just that how you determine grades is significantly different. Teachers with a standards-based mindset eliminate the influence of non-learning factors from their gradebooks. Whether it’s extra credit or late penalties, a standards-based mindset is about accurately reporting a student’s level of proficiency. Another misrule about standards-based grading is that meeting deadlines, completing work, etc. are not important; they are, however, they’re different. A student isn’t less proficient in math because the work was handed in two days late. Attributes, habits, and college/career skills are important and with a standards-based approach they remain important, but separate.

The standards-based mindset is about emphasizing the most recent evidence of learning by allowing students to receive full credit for their accomplishments. Reassessment is not about hitting the reset button or developing a do-over generation; it’s about recognizing that students have surpassed their previous levels of proficiency and giving students the opportunity to demonstrate those higher levels…and then giving them full credit for their learning. Students are still held accountable – for the learning – and not punished when they fall short of expectations. We don’t need to use the gradebook to teach students to be responsible; when we do it leads to grades that are inaccurate.

Standards-based grading and reporting is about levels of proficiency, accurate information, and a reorganization of evidence. Before we can fully implement standards-based reporting we need to develop a new way of thinking about grading; we need a standards-based mindset. Whether you still report traditional letter grades derived from predetermined percentage scales or are somewhere in the midst of developing a standards-based way of reporting, the standards-based mindset is the necessary first step toward more thoughtful and meaningful ways of reporting. With a standards-based mindset, if a student used to be a 40, but now is an 80, she should get an 80, not a 60!

9 thoughts on “Accurate Grading with a Standards-Based Mindset (WEBINAR)

    • I want to refer your Webinar on Accurate Grading with Standards Based Grading, but when I click “here” it says it’s not available. How do I access the Webinar…I want to reference it on a You Tube PowerPoint called “Fair Grading with 50-100 Point Scale…a Few Extra Points.

  1. As a former student of standards-based grading I can see many things wrong and right about how grading is done in schools. From the start of elementary school until I graduated high school and even now in some of my college classes I have always felt like my grade at the end of most of my classes are not accurate. By saying this I do not mean I think my teachers have graded me wrong, but that I did not end up with grades that I thought I deserved on my level of learning. My whole life I have never been able to learn as fast or as efficient as most of my classmates, and seem to always struggle and have to catch up more at the beginning of the class terms. After adjusting to the class and catching up with my classmates the grades I made at the beginning of the term always make my grade at the end of the term fall short of my high expectations, but always passing with no higher than a B-. What I am trying to say about standards-based grading is that it puts all students in one category, grading each student as if they were on an equal intellectual level as their peers. But the truth is every student learns differently and at their own pace. The future for grading students, especially at the high school and under levels should be changed to fit each child. Grading should not be based on just how a student does on test, quizzes, assignments, ect. Students usually are cramming information in their brains just one night for a test that they will forget all about right after they are done. If we continue to grade students like this they will continue to forget all of the things they learn throughout their years of school.

  2. As a more recent student of Standards Based grading I can really relate to the points made. What I mean by that is I can remember back to one of my first classes in college, calculus. Going into it I knew if I did not start off well I was doomed, because of the difficulty in the class. I knew if I had started off poor, that it would bring my grade down even if I did really well on the difficult activities. I think it really adds unnecessary stress in an environment filled with stress. I agree that with the new process of grading it would show a student’s true skill, but why do you think it has taken so long to move beyond the Standards Based Grading?

  3. Mr Schimmer, Thank you! This is exactly what I have been saying for years! I have 3 children, and I have said repeatedly, why does learning and testing have to be such a competition of who is doing the best in any given class? Why can’t learning be a “train to proficiency” model? Isn’t learning the material the main objective? Not, who learned the most from my style of teaching?

  4. It’s a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset; substitution not addition; wealth of learning over deficit of skills. When did we ever start thinking about multiple opportunities as multiple failures? So glad @ecsaibel pointed me in your direction. Great post.

    P.S. Check out our division’s work around student progress reports and criteria development at

  5. How about students that in spite of everyone’s best efforts, do not show growth? For example, Jane Doe has been trying fractions all year and still struggles to find the correct answer, when a fraction is part of the problem. Do we give her an F for not meeting the standard? Should her effort, work completion, behavior, and attendance play no role in the calculation of a grade? I can guarantee these pieces of student achievement will matter as much and likely more than the arbitrary standards we are constantly trying to retool.

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