Standards Based Grading

A few weeks ago Robert wrote the draft of a letter to eventually be mailed to parents. It appeared as one of the comments to his original blog post at:
I just wanted to put it here as a formal blog post to ask him its current status. I wish I could capture all of the nuance of thought that went on between Robert and Frank and Nathan and others in those record 83 comments. I want to keep this process under the microscope. I think that the topic got too big, but we need to honor the work of the Chevalier de l’Ouest here. I,  for one, don’t want to go into next year with an outmoded way of doing formative assessment [edit. note: I made a few very minor formatting edits only].
Dear Parents and Students:
Garden Grove Unified School District and Pacifica High School have committed themselves to Standards-Based Grading. This represents a change from what most people think of when they think about grades, so perhaps an explanation of what SBG is and how it looks in the World Language Classroom is in order.
What is Standards-Based Grading?
In SBG the emphasis is on mastery of a standard rather than merely doing a certain amount of work 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.
This method of grading works well in the World Language Classroom. The State of California adopted California State Standards for the World Language Classroom: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve in 2009. These standards define the content that should be taught at various stages of language acquisition. Coupled with the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) Performance Guidelines for K-12 Learners, these standards tell teachers what students should be able to do and how well they should be able to do it at various stages of acquisition.
What’s different about learning a foreign language?
Students acquire a language by talking about other things in the language. That’s what sets foreign language learning apart. The World Language Standards describe communicative competence, not discrete-item knowledge. As the introduction to the California Standards notes, “We can no longer afford to simply learn about languages and cultures but rather, 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.“ In other words, students do not learn a language by talking about the language, its parts and structure, but by communicating in the language. This makes foreign language different from all other disciplines.
What does Standards-Based Grading measure?
In the German classroom, Standards-Based Grading focuses on the three modes of communication and how well students use them.
What are the three modes of communication?
– Interpretive mode: students understand oral and written messages
– Interpersonal mode: students exchange messages to gain understanding
– Presentational mode: students pass their messages on to others
What do Standards-Based Grades look like?
What categories should I look for?
Instead of categories like “reading” and “speaking” or “tests” and “homework”, grades will be entered under one of the three modes of communication (interpretive, interpersonal and presentational) and indicate the student’s level of competence while communicating in that mode.
What does the grading scale look like?
In Standards-Based Grading, students do not receive the traditional letter grade or a percentage. Instead, they receive a notation that indicates how closely their performance aligns with the standard for that mode of communication. As a result, grade indicators will look different. I will be using the following markings:
– A = Advanced; student performance exceeds the standard
– P = Proficient: student performance meets the standard
– B = Basic: student performance approaches the standard
– L = BeLow Basic: student performance fails to meet the standard
– F = Far Below Basic: student performance falls significantly under the standard
Why not just give traditional grades?
Traditional grades often reflect many different things, so students don’t really know why they got a particular grade. Standards-Based Grading compares student work to a specific standard and informs students as to whether or not they are meeting the goal. As a result, students can see and explain why they received a particular grade. The Standards-based grade gives students important feedback so they can improve.
How do students know how well they are doing?
In a word: Rubrics. The Standards and ACTFL Guidelines are the basis for rubrics that enable students to see their level of competency. Attached to this letter are the basic rubrics I will be using for German class. For certain assignments a more detailed rubric will be given, but all work in the German classroom will be assessed using the general rubrics.
Work that exceeds these standards will be evaluated as Advanced
Work that meets the standards is Proficient
Work that approaches the standard is Basic
Work that fails to approach the standard is Below Basic or Far Below Basic.
What if a student doesn’t meet the goal or standard?
Any time students fail to achieve a level of competence that satisfies them, they may come to me to discuss what might be improved and then re-submit a performance or product to show mastery of the standard. Of course, this must fall within the constraints of the school system and requirements to submit grades at regular intervals.
How can parents support students in German?
If both your students and I do our jobs, the class will be interesting, relevant and enjoyable. I am asking you as a parent to reinforce and support the need for students to do their 50% as outlined in the rubrics so I can more effectively do my 50%. Working together we can do the job of language acquisition.
I am excited about sharing my love for German with your students and look forward to an enjoyable and productive year.
Thanks for your help and support.
Robert Harrell
German Teacher
Pacifica High School



6 thoughts on “Standards Based Grading”

  1. Thanks for bringing this back to the front, Ben. And thanks for the sobriquet / appellation. Chevalier de l’Ouest That is quite an honor, and I will savor it.
    Right now I’m letting it simmer for a little bit as we approach the end of the year (2 1/2 more weeks – my last day is 23 June).
    As I look it over quickly, though, I think I will re-word one paragraph, “Categories”:
    Instead of giving marks in categories like “reading” and “speaking” or “tests” and “homework”, grades will reflect the student’s level of competence while communicating in one of the three modes of communication (interpretive, interpersonal and presentational).
    I also think that interpersonal communication can be boiled down to a single sentence:
    Students engage in conversation in German
    The components can then be further defined – What is engagement and what does it look like? What is conversation and how does one engage in it?
    “La conversation s’oppose aux autres formes d’interaction (entretien, débat, colloque, pourparlers, conciliabule, etc.) par son caractère familier, improvisé et gratuit: aucune de ses composantes n’est fixée à l’avance et elle n’a pas d’autre finalité que sa propre pratique, elle est coupée de tout but instrumental. Sa principale motivation est le plaisir.”
    Un bavardage sans détour, et la présence de ceux qu’on aime….
    Right now I think the hard work needs to be about figuring out the mechanics of implementation. My infamous fourth period class was abusing my bathroom policy, so I told them it had to change. Someone in the class came up with the idea of being allowed to go only once a week. That wasn’t the way I had intended to go (I was going to use Ben’s idea of 3 people per day), but since it was their suggestion, I went with it. Now I keep a notebook by my projector and write down the name of anyone who goes to the bathroom. If a name is on the list, that person can’t go to the bathroom again that week. It has helped a lot.
    The point is that I can track this because I write down a very limited number of names. If I can keep this up (and I can), I can keep up a system that requires a limited number of marks. That’s why I like the idea that anyone who is performing at Proficient level has no marks. A clean slate is proficient. Now all I need is a system that allows me to record Advanced, Basic, Below Basic and Far Below Basic quickly and easily.
    Also, for conveying what those terms mean to my students, I’m thinking of something like
    -Advanced: bmx master
    -Proficient: smooth on the road around town
    -Basic: on your own but wobbly
    -Below Basic: training wheels are helping
    -Far Below Basic: bicycle is chained and waiting for you to get on
    I’m not happy with all of those, but it’s a start. Of course, students need to see the bicycle prezi first.

  2. I’ll create a category called Bathroom Policy. I bet I’m not the only one who will try that idea in the fall.
    Also, for those who don’t read French, that beautiful description of what conversation is basically says that we don’t know where the discussion is going, it is random as opposed to other more formal use of language, and its principal function is to give pleasure.

  3. If you need an actual record-keeping book to make sense of all of the data you will rerecording Easy Grade Pro has a standards-based gradereport option that is powerful and easy to use. It delivers grade reports with good, easy to understand information. You meet standard here here and here. Your total standard score is 3.00: Meets Standards.

  4. I can’t find the posts about the Interpretive/etc. grading scheme. It got too hard for me to fathom and put into letters this year, though I love the letter above and will think about those ACTFL standards over the year.
    I was explaining “Listening” grades to kids yesterday. As Nathan et al pointed out earlier, we need only describe “Proficient.” A “proficient” listener sits alertly, looks at or toward the current speaker with interest, and responds as requested. Not everyone is going to “Exceed” in this area (giving feedback–nodding, smiling, looking curious, asking questions–as appropriate) because of shyness or just hanging on, but what otherwise might be seen as misbehavior (talking on the side, focusing on a toy, using a cell phone) is taking away from the listening grade.
    Two classes discussed this idea yesterday, and they got it right away. It’s not simply behavior, I think. I can’t really get into their brains whether they’re taking in what I say except by watching the eyes. (Later I will add “comprehension” under listening.) But this description helped them all — and me.
    I told them that some cultures don’t look people in the eye (several of our Alaskan cultures), so they don’t have to do that. But knowing how to demonstrate that you are listening will serve you well in every situation.
    I think this will make for an easy grade every so often–remind them that I’m grading listening for the day and keep just a few notes. In a language class, you must demonstrate the ability to listen.
    Then it will be easy to call parents with concerns: Jacob’s grade is dropping because he is not demonstrating listening skills. It will come off less as a behavior “disruption” than an explanation of how he can practice this skill.
    What do you think?? (Before this is in stone.)

  5. Michelle, I like this version/instantiation of Interpersonal Mode as Listening Grade. Is it still working?
    So much better to say: “not demonstrating listening skills” than “behavior disruption”! As I am kicking the terminology around in my head, and thinking about what parents and administrators expect as grades, I am wondering if I might have more success with Listening as a Grading Category/Standard, and just make it crystal clear that I mean Interpersonal Mode [read: learned behaviors of meaning negotiation appropriate to levels one and two]–

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