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Standards-Based Grading

The primary purpose of grades is to communicate achievement to students, parents and teachers.

- Ken O'Connor

15-fixes-coverIn his book A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, Ken O'Connor identifies issues with the traditional grading system and what schools and teachers need to do to allow grades to be more accurate, meaningful, consistent, and support learning.  In doing so, grades become a communication tool for learning and can actually help intrinsically motivate students to learn.

The transition to standards-based grading isn't one that can be done overnight.  Teachers, students and parents need time to learn about and implement the changes.  A contingent of teachers at South Hills Middle School has been studying and piloting various facets of standards-based grading for the last two years.  We are now ready as a faculty to begin implementing some of the grade fixes that Ken O'Connor suggests.  These fixes are:

  • Include only achievement in grades.  Include student behaviors (i.e., effort, participation, adherence to class rules, preparation, etc.) in the citizenship grade.
  • Accept late work without penalty to the grade.  The learning opportunity that class work provides is more important to us than the deadline.
  • Seek only evidence that a standard has been learned.  Because late work can be turned in without penalty and, if students will meet with teachers for additional preparation and study, even quizzes, tests and other assessments can be re-taken, there is no need to provide extra credit.
  • Students shouldn't be punished for academic dishonesty through their academic grade - especially if we're trying to communicate achievement.  Other consequences should be used for situations of academic dishonesty.
  • The effort and achievement of other students should not determine another student's grade.  Group grades should be avoided; rather, focus on an individual student's achievement should be maintained.
  • We need to be clear about our learning goals for students in our daily lessons.  Teachers also need to provide specific feedback along the learning journey so that students can adjust as needed.
  • Students should have opportunities to reflect on their learning, analyze their own achievement data, identify strengths and weaknesses in their learning and habits, set measurable goals to improve based on that data, and use effective strategies and support from the teacher to reach that goal.

More Information on Standards-Based Grading:

Parent Article: Traditional vs. Standards-Based Grading: What's in a Grade?

Parent Article: Grading and the Growth Mindset

Parent Article #3 - On Late Work…

Parent Article #4 - Test Retakes and Developmental Learning

Download this brochure for more information: A Parent's Guide to Standards-Based Grading

Standards Based Grading Overview Video

What is the PRIMARY Purpose of Grades? - Video by Ken O'Connor



Growth Mindset and Standards-Based Grading

"When teachers are judging them, students will sabotage the teacher by not trying.  But when students understand that school is for them - a way for them to grow their minds - they do not insist on sabotaging themselves.

"In my work, I have seen tough guys shed tears when they realize they can become smarter.  It's common for students to turn off to school and adopt an air of indifference, but we make a mistake if we think any student stops caring."

- Carol Dweck, Mindset

In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck identified two mindsets that exist in everyone. She writes, “For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value” (Dweck 6; emphasis included). According to Dweck, those that tend more towards a fixed mindset believe that they have a set level of ability and intelligence and, once people hit that level, they can no longer progress in their learning. They will say things like, “I’m not good at math. I can’t do that,” or “Everyone's better than me.” They try to hide their failings so that they can still appear as smart as everyone else. They work desperately to prove to others that they are better than they really believe they are, even to the point of cheating or covering up their mistakes. For students with a fixed mindset, when they make a mistake or fail at something, they believe that’s all they are capable of and stop trying. Students with a fixed mindset believe the grade on that test or project is a symbol of who they are as a person.

Dweck goes on to elaborate on the other of the two mindsets, the growth mindset. Those with the growth mindset believe that their abilities and intelligence are the starting point, not the end point (Dweck 7). They believe that they can learn, grow and progress through hard work and effort. They say things like, "This is hard, but if I keep at it, I'll get better," or they ask questions like, "What can I learn from this mistake?" In fact, they recognize that people often learn more from their mistakes than their successes. Those with the growth mindset analyze their weaknesses, set goals and identify effective strategies that will help them reach those goals, and work hard to improve and grow.

Standards-based grading and the growth mindset go hand in hand.  Unlike the traditional grading system, a standards-based approach to grading recognizes that students grow in their learning with clear expectations, effective and specific feedback, and repeated opportunities to demonstrate learning.  If students didn't believe they could improve (in other words, have a growth mindset attitude), why would they try to improve their learning?  Standards-based grading sets up a structure, system and philosophy that supports, embraces and rewards the growth mindset of students.  In terms of the growth mindset and grading, Ken O'Connor puts it well, "Actual success at learning, then, is the single most important factor in (intrinsic) motivation, and it is important to recognize that success is relative - success for each individual is seeing onself getting better" (O'Connor 10).

More Information on Growth Mindset:

The Power of Yet - TEDTalk by Carol Dweck

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance - TEDTalk by Angela Duckworth

Cultivating a Growth Mindset at Home -