Standards Based Learning

Standards FAQs

CCSD 93 Frequently Asked Questions About Standards Based Grading

What is Standards Based Grading?

In a standards based system teachers report what students know and are able to do relative to the Illinois Core Standards. This system includes:

  • The mastery of defined learning targets instead of the accumulation of points,
  • The reporting of student achievement toward meeting learning targets at a given time by reflecting on the mounting evidence based on various forms of assessment,
  • A system that encourages student reflection and responsibility.

What are the purposes of standards based grading?

One purpose of standards based grading is to align grading with the state academic standards as measured by consistent and accurate student achievement data and common criteria for grading. Another purpose is to accurately communicate achievement of learning targets to students, parents, and educators. The influence of positive and consistent work habits on student learning is reported separately for the academics.

How does standards based grading work?

Traditional grading approaches average work that a student has done over a trimester with other student characteristics such as work habits. Standards based grading removes extraneous factors and focuses solely on a student’s academic achievement and evidence of his or her attainment of the learning targets.

What are standards?

The standards describe what a student should know and be able to do at a given grade level in a given subject area. More information is available on the "Standards" tab on the Parent Standards Based Learning webpage.

How is a standards based grade different?

  • The student’s grade more accurately represents the progress toward mastery of grade level learning targets than a traditional overall grade for a subject.
  • Subject areas are subdivided into big ideas related to standards and their respective learning targets that students need to learn or master.
  • Each target is assessed.
  • The influence of positive and consistent work habits on student learning is reported separately from the academics.

What are the advantages of standards based grading?

  • The learning targets are clearly articulated to the students throughout instruction.
  • Teachers and students and parents can see which learning targets students have mastered and which ones need re-teaching and re-learning.

What are the disadvantages of standards based grading?

  • It’s a change, and change takes time to build understanding for everyone involved
  • Traditional grading practices are ingrained in the community. It’s what most people understand.

How do teachers determine if students are meeting standards?

Common classroom based assessments measuring progress toward the standards are available to teachers. These assessments include rubrics and scoring guides that help teachers link a student's performance to a standards progression (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5).

1: Does not meet the standard

2: Sometimes/Inconsistently meets the standard

3: Mastery of the standard

4: Sometimes/Inconsistently exceeds the standard

5: Exceeds the standard

In a standard based system students are provided with opportunities to practice the skills and strategies linked to a standard before being expected to master that standard. Teachers are encouraged to review student work in teams to ensure consistency.

How are teachers assessing student understanding of the standards?

The CCSD93 curriculum is a standards-based curriculum which provides a roadmap for teacher to use to insure that instruction targets the content standards. Teachers then use assessments to measure learning and the extent to which a student has met the grade level content standards.

Teachers use both formative and summative assessments in the classroom. Formative assessments are assignments designed for students to practice a standard (homework, classroom work, discussions, NWEA, etc.). Summative assessments (District Benchmark Assessments, Classroom Based Summative Assessments) are used to determine a student's final level of mastery.

What is the role of homework in standards based grading?

The purposes of homework include the following:

  • Preview – To prepare students to learn new material
  • Practice – To help students practice learning targets
  • Evidence – To provide the teacher with evidence of a student’s progress toward mastering a learning target. Failure to turn in this type of homework may negatively impact a learning target grade not as a punitive measure, but rather because a key piece of understanding may be missed by a student.
  • Extension – to provide opportunities for extension and application of skills taught in class to new situations
  • Integration – To provide opportunities to apply skills to a larger task. Examples of this type can be projects, writing, or on-going research.

Work ethic related to homework is reflected separately from the academic grade. Failure to complete homework may negatively impact a student’s ability to demonstrate their learning on a summative assessment. Students need to understand their responsibility to do homework and the difference it makes in their grades, and more importantly, their learning

More information on homework can be found on the "Homework" tab on the Parent Standards Based Learning webpage.

Do we report on the student’s proficiency for the end of the year target or is the grade based on proficiency for that time of year?

The Illinois Standards give us end of the year statements for learning. Teachers “deconstruct” those statements into learning targets. Some learning targets need to be mastered prior to others. Overall, the targets reflect learning that should be mastered or exceeded by the end of the school year.

Doesn’t standards based grading lead to grade inflation?

If a grade truly represents the level of mastery of standards, the grades students have earned represent their level of understanding of grade level material. It should provide an accurate picture of the student’s performance, neither inflated or deflated.

My child used to get straight A’s but doesn’t now.

Similar to the answer about grade inflation, the grade reflects the student’s progress toward standards. Under the traditional grading system, grades reflected a combination of ability and compliance. Now the student’s participation and effort are reported in a separate place, Lifelong Learning Skills. Standards based grading provides an accurate representation of what a student knows and is able to do in relation to grade level learning targets.

Isn’t there subjectivity in standards based grading?

There is subjectivity in all grading. With Standards based grading we have identified and published standards for the students to aim for. Traditional grades were derived from assessments of varying levels of difficulty depending on the teacher. Grades were not defined. Teachers across the district are now working together on a regular basis to emphasize consistency in expectations and grading.

If students are allowed to “re-test”, why should they try the first time?

“Retest” is not the most accurate description of what occurs. Having multiple opportunities to reach a standard should not be a repeat of the same performance. Prior to an additional chance for assessment, significant remediation should occur, including an opportunity for the student to reflect on what went wrong the first time. The additional opportunities to show evidence of achieving mastery of the standard should be presented in an alternate form.

Is standards based grading more work for teachers?

In the first few years of implementation, any new system is more work. A system designed to be fair to students, increase achievement, and link learning to the state requirements is worth the time.

Did the District implement this practice too quickly?

The consideration of standards based grading was begun in 1999. Since then, the district has taken incremental steps toward full implementation, which occurred in the 2013-2014 school year.

Will students with superior abilities have a chance to excel?

We are expecting all of our students to strive for high performance. To earn a score that exceeds standards students must operate on a higher level of critical thinking and application, not just get more questions correct. Teachers continue to provide enrichment opportunities for students.

After viewing standard scores on formative and/or summative assessments, what questions should I ask my student?

What standards do you think you still need to learn?

When was the last time you practiced/worked on this standard?

When was the last time you were assessed on this standard?

What practice or studying can you do right now to gain more understanding of this standard?

After viewing standard scores on formative and/or summative assessments, what questions should I ask my student's teacher?

When was the last time all students were assessed on this standard?

When is the next opportunity my student will have to be assessed on this standard?

What practice or studying opportunities should my student take advantage of for this standard?

How do I find information on accessing my student's standards scores?

Please see the CCSD93 District Parent Portal Gradebook page linked here

Suggested Readings:

Scriffiny, Patricia. “Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading”. Educational Leadership, October, 2008; Volume 66, No. 2; pp. 70-74.

Marzano, Robert. (2000) Transforming Classroom Grading. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Marzano, Robert. (2006) Classroom Assessment and Grading That Work. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Wormeli, Rick. (2006) Fair Isn’t Always Equal. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.