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Standards-Based Grading in High School

posted Mar 11, 2018, 5:06 PM by HSD Principal
Matt Townsley writes about moving to Mastery-Minded Grading in Secondary SchoolsTeachers shifted from giving students grades on homework assignments, projects, and class tests to monitoring and posting students’ current level of mastery on course standards. (At the end of each reporting period, these were converted to letter grades.) The school moved to standards-based grading for three reasons:

            • To communicate students’ current level of learning – The best way of explaining this to students and parents was with the analogy of how a band instructor gives feedback to a flute player: “Rhythm could be better, but you’re exceptional at hitting high notes.” Clearly this is a better way to affirm and improve performance than a letter or percentage grade.

            • To eliminate the influence of practice work on students’ final grades – What really matters is mastery at the end of a unit or course, not on the formative assignments, some of which may not have gone that well. An athletic analogy is apt: some of a football team’s scrimmages may have been less than stellar, but it’s game scores that count. Teachers using standards-based grading keep track of homework and other assignments, as well as student absences, but the key feedback for students and parents is final mastery of content and skills.

            • To give students multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding – Students learn at different rates and find some parts of any curriculum unit more difficult than others. Standards-based grading keeps students’ and parents’ eyes on the ball: mastery of content, which sometimes requires several attempts and some stumbles along the way.


One of the concerns about standards-based grading in high school is now it will affect university admissions. Here is an article that addresses that issue.

FYI, Sycamore can be set up to reflects standards-based grading. If you would like to try that out, shoot me an email and we can work through how to set that up.
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