This is a scoring system whereby students’ results on a state or a national scoring standard are placed in comparison to others, and then, reported. This particular approach is so different from the usual approach whereby grades are reported in letters or percentages are given on the basis of averages.

For instance, in traditional teaching, the focus is on the attempt to deliver knowledge. Thus, traditional grading for a mathematics class could mean students scoring 90% to 95% and achieving grade A, while others scoring 80% to 85% get grade B. However, Standards-based Grading (SBG) works differently as it also evaluates student learning to understand the effectiveness of the teacher’s instruction.

Thus, unlike traditional grading, where a single overall grade is used for certain percentage ranges, SBG breaks down the subject matter into smaller chunks or “learning targets.” Each of these chunks is a teachable concept that students need to master by their course’s end. Throughout the course’s duration, student learning on each chunk or “learning target” is recorded. The teachers track students’ progress and even provide them with appropriate feedback and adapt their teaching instructions to meet students’ needs.

If the same mathematics class (discussed earlier for traditional grading) had SBG, the grading could have used a scale of 1-4, where the teacher will assess the students’ output and select the suitable mastery level they demonstrated. For instance, standards-aligned activities like solving number sentences with brackets could mean scoring 3, defining a number sentence could mean scoring 2, etc. When the students begin with a new target, most don’t have any prior knowledge and begin at score 1. As they learn, they start showing partial mastery and score 2. After they meet a learning target, they score 3. Usually, 4’s are awarded to students who exceed targets.

Even though the 1-4 scale is popular, SBG grading scales can differ extensively. Some other scales commonly used are 0-4, 1-5, half-point scales, and those that use letters instead of numbers. SBG grading scales can even vary across learning communities. Since there’s no standard way to use SBG, discussing what would best serve everyone involved is vital. For schools trying to get started with SBG, such communication can be decisive for the success of SBG in the long run. However, when moving to SBG from a traditional grading scale, schools should avoid having vague or too many categories. It’s important to set the scale with specific and clearly defined categories to convey student performance easily.

In SBG, teaching is receptive to learning. When beginning a new target, teachers present introductory lessons. As students move forward, they are introduced to more complex material. They continue learning and working until they reach the target. Thus, Standards-based Grading can be considered a ladder, where students climb up – one step at a time, to finally reach the top.

After receiving the teacher’s instruction, some students progress right away, while most tend to be confused and can just partially finish an activity. Teachers regularly re-teach them, offer feedback, and provide additional opportunities to help them reach the next level. This process needs practice and patience and is repeated until students attain the planned learning target.