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Standards-Based Grading

South Hills Middle School has transitioned to a standards-based grading model. Students are assessed based upon mastery of a standard or objective being taught. A “4, 3, 2, 1” scale is used to identify the level of mastery a student has achieved on a particular standard or objective as follows:


The student is proficient and demonstrates an advanced application of concepts, skills and/or processes of the standard(s).

Proficient (Meets Standard)

The student consistently demonstrates an understanding of concepts, skills, and/or processes of the standard(s).


The student demonstrates some understanding of concepts, skills, and/or processes of the standard(s) but lacks proficiency in key areas.


The student does not yet demonstrate an understanding of concepts, skills, and/or processes of the standard(s), and requires support to complete key tasks.

In the event a student does not demonstrate mastery of a concept via an assessment, the student is welcome to retake an assessment as long as the student completes assigned learning tasks designed to help them understand and develop proficiency on the learning objective for the standard. Assessments will make up 80% of an academic grade and will reflect the student’s level of mastery on particular standards and/or objectives. Academic practice will make up the remaining 20% of an academic grade.

Letter grades will be determined on the following basis:
A = 4 - 3.5 - Advanced
B = 3.49 - 2.8 - Proficient (Meets Standard)
C = 2.79 - 2 - Approaching
D = 1.99 - 1 - Beginning
F = .99 - 0 - No evidence of learning/mastery

The following information provides a history of the implementation of Standards Based Grading at SHMS.

The primary purpose of grades is to communicate achievement
to students, parents and teachers.
- Ken O'Connor

In 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.

Additional Information on the history of Standards-Based Grading at SHMS:

A Parent's Guide to Standards-Based Grading

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

Parent Article: Traditional vs Standards-Based Grading-Whats-in-a-Grade?

Parent Article: Grading and the Growth Mindset

Parent Article: On Late Work…

Parent Article: Test Retakes and Developmental Learning