Standards-Based Learning at Van Buren Middle School

Frequently-Asked Questions

What is standards-based learning (SBL)?

Standards-based learning changes the metaphor for grades from currency to communication. These teaching and reporting practices communicate how students are performing based on pre-determined standards.

Why did Van Buren Middle School implement SBL?

Our staff began looking at our grading practices in 2014. We found much of our traditional practices did not reflect a growth mindset and promoted students to "point-chase" rather than learn content. This led us to begin making changes in 2016 to give student academic content grades greater integrity.

What does this mean for middle school students?

During classes, middle school students will notice that teachers reference their learning targets a lot. These learning targets guide the course content and are written to be student-friendly and to accommodate transparency between classroom activities, homework, assessments, reassessments, and grades. Everything we do in a class is aligned to learning targets.

What is reassessment?

Students have the opportunity to reassess or retake full- or partial-assessments to show understanding of specific learning targets. The purpose of this is to demonstrate learning with the philosophy that some students need more time and instruction to understand some content.

Grade level teams have specific criteria for reassessments and the reassessment grade replaces the first attempt. Because of limited time, students may reassess only once for each assessment. There are instances when reassessment is not practical or possible and this judgement is left to the classroom teacher.

What will parents notice that is different from traditional grading?

Because SBL is focused on standards and learning targets and what students are learning, student grades only reflect summative assessments and retakes of summative assessments. This means homework is not graded, participation grades are not posted, and extra credit for behaviors such as bringing in tissues is not part of a student's academic grade.

In classes, students will track their learning target progress. This facilitates the focus on learning rather than chasing points for a specific letter grade. A teacher's gradebook will reflect each summative assessment (and related reassessment) along with the learning targets specified.

What is the "work habits" grade?

It is important for us to communicate a student's work habits such as responsibility. Because these behaviors are no longer a direct part of a student's academic subject grade, the core teachers will track "work habits" for each student.


Is every class at VBMS using SBL?

All core classes have implemented standards-based learning at VBMS. Depending on how the course is structured and the grade level, there are subtle differences. However, the core philosophies are consistent.

Why isn't homework graded?

Homework is often corrected, but not graded because it's practice. A student's academic letter grade should indicate what he or she knows or is able to do independently.

Is the purpose of SBL to prepare students for state tests?

No. Standards-based learning promotes learning and a growth mindset. It mirrors how we learn outside of a structured setting by making multiple attempts at a skill. SBL has nothing to do with standardized testing other than the hope that students are better prepared because they've been given extra time to learn and more than one opportunity to demonstrate their learning.

Do you still have grade cards with SBL?

Yes. Grade reports will be generated at the conclusion of each quarter and will look similar to what parents have seen in the past. The quarterly academic course grades are a mean average of student scores on summative assessments and reassessments, much like a traditional grading system.

Reassessment grades are not weighted differently than the first attempt and replace the original score.

If a grade is based on summative assessments, what about nervous test-takers?

Summative assessments come in many forms. In addition to traditional tests, student learning can be assessed using projects, labs, and writing.

Our students are assessed often: Formatively (during instruction to inform a teacher's instructional decisions) and summatively. With the addition of reassessment, we find that most issues for nervous test-takers are eliminated - they know that in most cases, they will have a second opportunity to demonstrate their learning.