Standards-based Grading

I got this from Robert Harrell a few weeks ago and it looks like I overlooked putting it up here. Please accept my aplogies. It looks like good stuff we can use:
Hi Ben,
Tomorrow night is our Back to School Night. I am required to have a syllabus and policies available to parents. I have taken some of the things we worked on in the spring and boiled them down to a single page. I’ll be handing that out tomorrow night. Below is a copy of it, in case you want to put it up.
Also, I have been going over the Interpersonal Communication Self-Evaluation Rubric with my classes during our extension. Then students do a self evaluation and give it to me. So far most of the students have been very honest, and their evaluations largely agree with mine. I’m not certain yet if they have figured out how that computes to a grade. After progress reports come out, we’ll see what kind of response I get.

Standards-based Grading

What is Standards-based Grading?

SBG emphasizes mastery of a standard rather than merely doing a certain amount of work or accumulating so many points in order to get a grade. Students should not think that by doing extra work or getting “extra credit” they will improve their grade. Instead, they need to compare their work to the standard to see if they exceed, meet or fall below the standard. Think of it as being similar to learning to ride a bicycle. It doesn’t matter how many extra times I get on the bike; what matters is whether I can ride the bike.

Standards-Based Grading focuses on the three Modes of Communication (Interpretive, Interpersonal and Presentational) and how well students use them. Instead of categories like “reading” and “speaking” or “tests” and “homework”, assessments evaluate one of the three modes of communication and indicate the student’s level of competence while communicating in that mode.

What are the Standards?

California State Standards for the World Language Classroom: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve gives California’s World Language Standards. Coupled with the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Proficiency Guidelines for K-12, these standards state what students should be able to do and how well they should be able to do it at various stages of acquisition.

What sets the World Language Standards apart from standards in other subjects is that they do not describe discrete-item knowledge. Rather they describe communicative competence. Students do not learn a language by talking about the language, its parts and structure in English. They acquire a language by talking about other things in that language. This is different from all other disciplines. The California Standards state, “We . . .must provide students with opportunities to learn languages and cultures by participating in communicative interactions that prepare for real-world language use and global citizenship.” Consequently, I must speak German at least 90% of the time in class.

What do Standards-based Grades Look Like?

In Standards-Based Grading, students do not receive a percentage or number of points. Instead, they receive a notation that indicates how closely their performance aligns with the standard for that mode of communication. As a result, performance indicators will look different. I will be using the following markings:

A = Advanced; the student’s performance exceeds the standard
P = Proficient: the student’s performance meets the standard
B = Basic: the student’s performance partially meets the standard
L = beLow Basic: the student’s performance fails to meet the standard
F = Far Below Basic: the student’s performance falls significantly below the standard

Access rubrics through your parent code at See Mr. Harrell for parent code.



13 thoughts on “Standards-based Grading”

  1. Hi Robert,
    VERY interesting write-up. That was another frustration of mine back when I taught in Termite Tower. I was very frustrated about my students earning grades because assignments were turned in. I knew it should be based on actual progress in language ability. How can it be ay other way for language learning?
    I’d be interested in the self-evaluation that the students fill out (Was that posted here once? Sounds familiar…) as well as how those evaluations translate into a grade. Also, I suppose that the performance indicators just translate into A, B, C, D and F on report cards?

  2. Ok, I just want to say it’s kind of scary that most of the time I sign onto this site with a burning question about something, as soon as I log in, there is the answer!
    Yes. Grading. This is a totally embarrassing question but I am going to ask anyway, because there is nobody else I can ask. I don’t really have a system or standards to use. In my course description I was vague and said that in levels 1-2 the students would be assessed on input for at least the first semester. But I didn’t say what that meant, because I don’t really know what it means, beyond my quick quizzes and dictations and paragraph translations that we’ve been doing so far. Looking at my grade book right now, everyone has an A. I don’t have a problem with this for the first quarter with new rules and a totally new game for all of us. I wondered if this would happen first quarter and then kids would “crash” when they started to coast AND the complexity picked up???
    But I’m sure it will be “suspect” at the very least. Obviously all the kids are not all at the same level of proficiency, but our department doesn’t even grade based on proficiency. I know this is a discussion to have with my dept. head, but we are in a transition, and (I’m not trying to “blow my own horn”or whatever, but I am the most invested in this whole thing, so I feel like I need to be clear and be able to ‘splain myself.)
    I love this concise description, Robert, and if I were working toward standards based grading I would totally use this. My problem is that I don’t know if we are working toward this. I would like to move in some direction…any direction… on this now. I know I should have already figured it out so the kids will know what to expect. Not to mention parents and guidance and all that. Gah! Our quarter ends the first week of November so I can still fake it like I had the system all along, no? I know I sound like the biggest unprofessional dork. Ok, I am. But how am I going to come up with a system for this transition that works toward (??? ACTFL standards???)
    So very confused… :0 But the good news is I am not hyperventilating (yet).

  3. Robert,
    With your permission I’d like to use your paragraphs about bikes for my SchoolLoop webpage where I describe my standards based grading approach. I think that is a great analogy that will help others get it. I’ll say something like my e-colleague Robert explains…
    It’s not abnormal for your entire class to have great grades. It means you are teaching to them and for them. This is the email that I sent to all of the parents today. I wanted to quantify what we do in class because I’m sure they run home and say things like “a penguin kissed me today”.
    Dear Students and Parents,
    I wanted to take the time and debrief the first quarter with you all.
    First, while grades are not the goal of learning, our institution and colleges rely on the data and it’s not something that we can escape. With that said, I am proud to say that not one of my students in 4 sections of Spanish has earned a D or an F. Congratulations to you all.
    There are 78 As, and 51 Bs. The few Cs that are out there are well able to hit that B, or even A range, by the end of the semester. The key to learning scales are to focus our efforts on the areas that need specific attention.
    Grades were calculated with the following scale:
    A 4.0-2.8
    B 2.79-2.5
    C 2.49-2.0
    Our Spanish I classes continue to impress me. I am already seeing some students who are linguistically gifted. We are spending our time focusing on the top 500 most common words in Spanish. We are using our verbs in the present and past tenses to describe people (singular). As we move into this next quarter we will focus on describing people (singular vs. plural). We have had our first oral performance, which is listed as Midterm on your progress reports. This Friday we will do our first Free Write. By then end of the semester students will be expected to write at least 50 words in 10 minutes. We will have at least one more oral performance before final exams in December. We are three chapters into our novella “Pobre Ana.” We are on target to finish with Ana by December.
    Our Accelerated Spanish II classes are making great progress. We are focusing on the top 1000 most common words in Spanish (with a few from the top 5000). We are starting to distinguish between the past tenses and the present tense. We are acquiring the differences between verbs like come/comió/comía, hace/hizo/hacía, va/fue/iba, trabaja/trabajó/trabajaba. We are also continuing to work with the present tense and the subjunctive forms of the top 20 verbs. We have covered tenga, vaya, sea, and haya so far. We have started to explore compound verb tenses in readings. We continue to enjoy Love Song Friday. Our first song was “Colgando en tus manos” and we are currently working on “Mientes” by Camila. We are in our 4th chapter of our novella “Mi propio auto”, the story of Ben, who travels to earthquake-stricken El Salvador to repair houses. We will do our first oral assessment the next few weeks. There will be one reading assignment per week on WordChamp until the end of the quarter.
    How can I get better at Spanish?Listen to music and continue to read. Reading is the best way to acquire language (which is why people who read have much better English). Let’s be literate, not aliterate!
    Can I study? You can try, but it won’t work. We can’t cram for a language, we must acquire it. You need to be engaged in class and you must tell me when I am going too fast for you to understand!! I try to read your eyes but it all comes back to you and rule number 5: Do your 50%.
    I am thankful for such great classes this year. Please continue to do your 50% and I’ll do mine,
    Take care,
    Mr. Hiben

  4. Well done Drew. I love the in your face attitude about how it is your professional decision that all your students have EARNED their good grades. You thereby prevent those parents/administrators from thinking that you are an “easy grader” and force them to think about that little glimmer of a thought – just being born into the world right now these days – that all kids can learn languages. That creaking noise you hear is the door being shut on most traditional teachers’ position that that is not true.

  5. If you go to moretprs and search standards based grading, I’ve written what I do and it is easy and works for me. I think the trend is towards standards based grading, more and more school districts around here are saying grades should be based mostly on summative assessments and no extra credit or behavior in the grade, but frequent formative assessment to give feedback on how they are doing, which I think is all the questioning and interaction in TPRS, as well as the quizzes. I also don’t give zeroes, which are grade killers, but I give 5.5 for an F.
    If you are interested here is a link for a paper about grading from Assessment for Learning:
    Also Scott Benedict has a website explaining it:
    I think what Robert is doing is even a step up because it actually aligns with the ACTFL Standards. I still use the categories speaking, reading, writing, listening and culture and vocabulary and structures.

  6. Drew, you have my permission to use any or all of what I wrote, either as is or edited. You do not need to give me credit – I heard the bicycle example from other people.
    Melanie, last spring I did a lot of reading and research about assessment, ACTFL standards, etc. While doing that the three modes of communication really jumped out at me. Last summer when I attended an AP summer institute I learned that even the German and French AP exams are now organized around and testing the three modes of communication. That just solidified it all for me as the proper approach. After all, if I do vertical planning in preparation for the AP exam, I should be assessing in the same way that the exam is assessed.
    Understand that the content of the exam is still beyond what most students can accomplish in four years. (At the summer institute some of the teachers had difficulty with the sample questions.) The exam is still primarily for superstars, but at least the emphasis is no longer on discrete-item grammar. There is not a single fill-in-the-blank section on the exam. The picture sequence is also gone. Instead students hear texts, read texts, look at graphs, etc. and interpret what they have heard or read, respond in an oral or written interpersonal exchange, or prepare and deliver an oral or written presentation.
    My understanding is that the Spanish exam will be re-done (again) to correspond to the German and French exams. As advocates of Comprehensible Input methodologies, we can use this as leverage for our position. The College Board places a premium on Vertical Teaming, the idea that AP preparation begins in level 1. Let’s use that to our advantage.
    Levels 1 and 2: emphasis on interpersonal and interpretive communication with a soupçon of presentational communication. This lays the foundation, and without a firm foundation no edifice will stand.
    Level 3: begin introducing more presentational communication as students are ready; continue interpretive and interpersonal communication.
    Level 4: while continuing interpretive and interpersonal communication, give increasing guidance in and opportunity for presentational communication.
    Who knows, if people are willing to quit just “defending their turf” we might even get some sort of cooperation between CI teachers and more traditional teachers. With an acceptance of the three modes of communication as mandated by College Board (the people who put out the [sarcasm] revered AP test [/sarcasm] for us), traditional teachers need to change the approach to preparing for the test. There’s the rub, of course. But a department could give the level 1 and 2 classes to CI teachers. That would get students through high school requirements and a start on acquiring the language. Grammar gets introduced in the upper levels but is hit hard and heavy only in the AP course. That would allow people who simply want to learn to speak the language to take non-AP upper level courses and prosper. Everyone goes home happy: College Board gets Vertical Teaming, students acquire language, CI teachers prepare students for real-life language use, and grammarians get to play to their “elite” in the AP courses.
    Pipe dream? Probably.
    One other complaint that I have with the AP exam is that it is “norm referenced”. That means that it is not truly Standards based. Instead everyone is compared to everyone else, and your score is given as a percentile. “You scored in the 95th percentile” means that 95 percent of the people who took the exam didn’t do as well as you did on it. Several teachers at the summer institute expressed concern that their students would not do as well with the new format, but the presenter assured them that this would not be the case. I doubt that anyone but I truly heard what she was saying: If people do poorly on the exam they will adjust the scores downward accordingly; if people do well not he exam they will adjust the scores upward. That absolutely violates my principle of not putting students in competition with one another but measuring them by a standard. If every student meets the standard, then every student has earned the grade. (There is no such thing as “grading on a curve” in my classroom.)
    Brian, I’m using the self-evaluation rubric that I posted in another thread. Unfortunately I don’t remember which one, but here’s a link to Russian Rocks with it – – and yes, the 5 scale converts to regular grades with a twist.
    One of the other high schools in my district has forged ahead in science with Standards-Based Grading. They are currently the poster child for doing this, and I recently went to an after-school inservice to hear what the department chair had to say. It was interesting, and I picked up a couple of good tips:
    1. If necessary, you can do 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 and 4.5 (but it usually isn’t necessary)
    2. Anything above a 3 (e.g. an average of 3.1) is a 4 in the final grade; same thing goes with the other numbers
    3. Weight categories as desired for grading purposes rather than using points to weight the grade
    4. It can take some creativity to convert for a traditional grading scale.
    The last point was very helpful to me. No test, quiz or other assignment is worth X number of points. Instead I simply enter the number that corresponds to the level of mastery. The grading program we use (Aeries) has to be told not to treat these like normal percentage scores, so my scale is as follows:
    100% = A+
    81-99% = A
    61-80% = B
    41-60% = C
    21 – 40% = D
    0 – 20% = F
    Some adjustment in the D-F range may be necessary, but at least for World Language I don’t think so. (I think the “pilot program” starts a C at 45%)
    Some other things that I am doing include
    1. Distinguish between formative and summative assessment; throw out early low formative scores if later scores show that the standard has been mastered
    2. Keep track of homework (e.g. signed notes about sharing work with parents) in a category that has a weight of zero; track this data for input on work habits score, not for academic grade. (I am required to give both citizenship and work habits marks on report cards)
    3. There was something else, but I don’t remember what it was. So I’m going to go have a cup of tea.
    /rambling off

  7. …students hear texts, read texts, look at graphs, etc. and interpret what they have heard or read….
    And they do so successfully if the instructor happened to cover with them the vocabulary that has to do with global warming or whatever. If not, they are out of luck. It’s a superstar crapshoot, with the superstar – yes, it is still for superstars only – being prepared with vocabulary that may or not be on the test and which, in any case, is fairly useless.
    That the superstar white females, along with the occasional white male, are the only ones who may be able to respond eliminates an AP class that might otherwise be full of normal kids who were brought up on CI since 9th grade.

  8. It’s a superstar crapshoot, with the superstar – yes, it is still for superstars only – being prepared with vocabulary that may or not be on the test and which, in any case, is fairly useless.
    Amen to that, Ben. It certainly won’t be high frequency vocabulary.
    BTW, my suggestion for reconciling a mixed department was intended as a stopgap measure until the dinosaurs perish from the impact of the CI comet. It certainly isn’t the ideal.

    1. “a mixed department was intended as a stopgap measure until the dinosaurs perish from the impact of the CI comet.”
      That is exactly what we have done in our department. Those of us who believe in CI are teaching all the Spanish 1-2 classes. Our last traditional teacher handles the Spanish 3′ and an honors 4 class. We have no AP because not enough students sign up. However, our IB class is overflowing. I teach it with as much CI as I know how to do and often feel inadequate. Next year, we will have so many students wanting to go on to level 3, one of the CI teachers will have to share that level. It will be interesting. TPRS/CI has had a vey positive trend in our enrollment.

  9. …I teach it with as much CI as I know how to do and often feel inadequate….
    Anyone on this list who feels adequate at this, please stand up. I don’t think any of us does. That’s the cool part.

  10. I have to share an experience that I’ve never had before – and part of the reason it happened is Standards-Based Assessment.
    My 3/4/AP class has been reading a story. For chapter 3 they were supposed to do a skit that showed they understood what was going on. The action was a bit complex, so getting it right would show real comprehension. One group presented a video that was a disaster. Contrary to my express directions they simply read the text while standing around. It was so obvious that they were reading that is was pathetic.
    After watching the video I made some comments about not having met the standard, and the group knew the demonstration of comprehension was far below basic. At the end of class, the leader of the group came and asked me what they could do. I said that they needed to show me in some way that they understood the chapter. He asked if he could come in after school.
    Following sixth period the group came to my room, and we simply talked about the chapter. They pored over the text again to work out what was going on, and I helped them through the difficult parts that they hadn’t understood before. At the end of about half an hour I was satisfied that they were demonstrating comprehension of the text at an appropriate level, and they were much more confident about their understanding as well. They thanked me and left – no pleas for “extra credit”, no wrangling over points – we simply worked on mastering the material.
    Definitely a win-win situation for everyone.

    1. Teachers at our school who have put SBG into practice have started to find this same reaction. Instead of whining about points and seeing the teacher as some sort of arbitrary Santa Claus of grades, kids start to view their teachers as collaborators. It’s wonderful that you have had this response. It means that your students understand the point of learning.

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