The Promise of Standards-Based Education

 Schools across the country are making the move to standards-based education, which includes but is not limited to standards-based grading.  Why are they doing so?

The purpose of standards-based education and the system of grading it entails is to improve student achievement, increase the accuracy and fairness of grades, and enhance communication between classroom teachers and students, parents, colleges, and employers regarding what students are expected to know and do in each course and how well each student is performing in relationship to those expectations.  Student achievement is improved by using high-probability instructional practices in the classroom, including establishing clear learning targets for students based on state standards and giving students ongoing feedback on their achievement so that performance improves as mastery of learning is assessed over time. 

Grades are more accurate in that they are based exclusively on students’ demonstrated mastery of state standards and benchmarks rather than a mixture of academic performance, extra credit, behavior, and work habits as is often the case in more traditional grading systems.  Accuracy is also increased by basing grades on trend scores or what students know and can do at the end of instruction rather than on an average of what they knew (actually, what they didn’t know) at various points throughout the learning sequence.  And standards-based grading is more fair to students in that course outcomes and the quantity and quality of student work needed to get a particular grade will be consistent across teachers of the same course.  Presently in most districts across the country a student’s grade often depends in no small way upon the luck of the draw regarding with which teacher the computer schedules the student.

 Trend scoring, an integral component of standards-based grading, is built  upon the premise that, for grading purposes, the most accurate representation of a student’s mastery of a particular standard is his or her knowledge or skill level on that standard at the end of instruction.  To cite an example using traditional grading marks, a student who started out as a rather weak writer in 10th grade English and earned three  “Ds” on initial writing assignments but worked hard to improve his skills and earned three “Bs” by the end of the term should receive a “B” as a final mark on writing, not a “C” (the average).  Looking at performance trends over time encourages students to keep trying and to keep  improving.

Standards-based grading actually scores student work on a 0-4 ( no evidence of learning, some understanding with help, basic understanding, proficient, and advanced) scale, but for the purpose of communicating to parents, colleges, and employers final standard or benchmark trend scores are combined to arrive at a traditional comprehensive course grade,” A” to “F.”  Implemented properly, standards-based education and standards-based grading provide students, parents, colleges, and employers with a clearer picture of college and career readiness than has been available heretofore.

Standards-based education provides a school community with a window into the essence of effective instruction.  School leadership teams would be wise to consider standards-based education as a vehicle for school improvement.

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