Sunday, April 21, 2013

Transitioning to Standards Based Grading: Retakes and No K's.

I have had several teachers approach me over the past month asking about Standards Based Grading.  Now I am far from being the SBG guru, but I can share with you what I have seen first hand in my school.  Our school has not transitioned to "full blown" SBG, but many of our teachers are now using a hybrid system, that in my opinion, is better than no change at all.

We are still on the 100 point scale, and many of the teachers who have inquired about this are also on the traditional grading scale.  So here are three steps you can implement, which will benefit student learning:

1.  Allow students to retake an assessment (quiz/test).  A grade's true purpose is to communicate a student's level of mastery.  If you determine a student has only mastered 70%, then why not give him or her an opportunity to learn some more and then demonstrate his or her new level of understanding?  The whole purpose of teaching is to make sure students are learning.  When the student retakes the assessment on the same material, enter his or her new grade into the grade book.  If the student demonstrated 90% mastery on the second attempt, then put the 90% in the grade book.

2.  Separate behavior from grading.  If a student turns in an assignment or project late, there should be a consequence.  That consequence should NOT be the student's grade. If your building principal is pushing for SBG, then he or she has to be willing to help you on this part.  A possible consequence could be a lunch detention.  The consequence should NOT be half credit.  If you are on your own in this venture, meaning your change to SBG is teacher driven, then I will be honest, you will have to get creative here.  I believe if you communicate what you are doing with your building principal, he or she is going to assist you in this endeavor.

3.  Stop giving Ks.  This is a big one, and has more to do with making sure our grade books are an accurate reflection of what a student has mastered.  We have to be sure we are not altering students' grades with items that do not reflect their level of mastery (extra credit, participation points, completion points).  Most schools grade on a 100 point scale:  90-100 A; 80-89 B; 70-79 C; 60-69 D; and 0-59 is an F.  If we continued on that 10 point scale, a zero would be the equivalent to a K.  Now if I were to ask you how likely would it be for a student to go from a D to a B with three weeks left in the grading period, many of you would tell me it would be unlikely.  So how likely would it be for a student to go from a K to a D in the same time period?  That student would have to jump six letter grades just to get to a D.

Now this is the hard part, I had great difficulty doing this as a teacher, but it was never explained to me like I am going to try to explain it to you.  Instead of giving the student a zero, you give them a 50, which is an F.  It makes an F the same weight as any other grade we issue.  You are not giving them something for nothing, you are making sure that an F has the same weight as an A.  If you issue that student a zero, you are really giving them a K.  Some students may deserve an F, but no kid deserves a K.

If you are going to accomplish one thing, make sure your grades reflect what a student actually knows and not how hard they try.  It will make it easier for you as a teacher to identify who has not mastered the skills, so that you can do what you got into teaching for in the first help kids.


  1. Hi Ryan,

    I really like this post because it helps teachers who are tied to their 100 point scale consider what that means for students. I also like how it is a great first step for teachers who are resistant to using standards based grading. I will add this post to my other grading resources. I am hoping your section on "Stop Giving K's" will help move some of our teachers who continue to argue that some students deserve K's.

    Thanks for the concise and useful first steps!

    1. Thanks. Just trying to share what some of our teachers have done and what I have seen, not a theory. The stop giving zeroes was a difficult concept. Referring to it as a K has put it in perspective for many.
      Thanks again.

  2. Ryan
    We moved to standard-based assessments and reporting a few years ago and it continues to be a mixed bag. While I have made the transition completely over to assessments based on the standards for ELA, my colleagues in the content areas have struggled and toggle between traditional grades and standards. Parents have loudly, and consistently, voiced concerns over understanding the format of our reporting (now called progress reports) but that is more of how our district went about explaining it, I think.
    The biggest concern has been the motivation of students. There is an entire middle group of students (not the high achieving, who work hard no matter what, and not the unfortunate low achieving, whom we will always work hard to motivate) for whom letter and number grades were always a prime motivator. Meeting or progressing towards expectations just doesn't cut it for them, and we see it in the work.
    I am in favor of the overall idea because learning is the goal, but we have not yet found the right balance, and it is frustrating at times. I hope you find your way to a nice balance, and then write about it.

    1. actually have students who are motivated by grades...what is it about grades that is motivating them? Most research shows that external influences are not motivators, only intrinsic are, especially when skills require thinking or any cognitive process (synthesis...)

  3. This is a great post, Ryan. What stands out to me is that traditional grading is about how a student did on an assignment, which is why retakes aren't fair. We need, though, to grade a student on how much he/she has learned. They're actually very different concepts, which is why it could be such a tough switch for many.

  4. I have never thought about the fact that zero is basically equivalent to a "K" grade before. Wow. Thank you for all of the information about SBG!

  5. Great post Ryan. I agree with all of your points. Early in my teaching career I struggled with the 'zero.' My conclusion was to record 50 as the lowest grade a student could earn. That was over 25 years ago.