Standards-Based Grading

Standards-Based Grading

What is the purpose of Standards-Based Grading?

The purpose of standards-based grading is to improve student achievement by focusing instruction and the alignment of curriculum with the essential standards. Standards-based grading and reporting will provide better communication to students, parents, teachers and administrators on what each student knows and is able to do according to the identified standards and separately assess the influence of positive and consistent work habits on student learning.

Why use Standards-Based Grading?

Standards-based grading measures the proficiency of the learning objectives, or how well students understand the material in class. It is based on a specific set of standards that students need to meet for each content level. Grades are not a comparison of one student to another, but rather a way to measure how well students are doing on grade-level/course level standards. A standards-based approach allows parents and students to understand more clearly what is expected of students and how to help them be successful in their educational program.

What are the benefits of Standards-Based Grading?

By reporting on specific learning standards, standards-based grading provides considerably more feedback about how a student is progressing toward learning each standard. This will allow the school to report student learning more accurately and to the degree to which students have attained mastery of learning objectives. It is essential for students to do homework that is tied closely to learning objectives and for students to see those connections. Teachers provide feedback on homework that is assigned to practice new skills. Attendance, effort, behavior, participation and other factors are important but separating these from achievement factors will give parents a clearer picture about their student's learning.

How does Standards-Based grading differ from traditional letter grades?

Standards-based grading provides information about what students have actually learned and know. Standards-based grading measures students' knowledge of grade-level content over time by reporting the most recent, consistent level of performance. So, a student might struggle in the beginning of a grading period with new content, but then learn and demonstrate proficient performance by the end of the grading period. In traditional grading, the student's performance for the whole grading period would be averaged and early quiz scores that were low would be averaged together with proficient performance later in the course resulting in a lower grade. In standards-based grading, a student who reaches proficiency would be reported proficient and the grade would reflect current performance level.

Parents Guide for Standards-Based Grading using PowerSchool

Helping Parents Understand Elementary Report Cards

At Crestwood Elementary, report cards are issued four times a year. If a student is having difficulty meeting established learning objectives, a report card may also be sent home mid-quarter or the teacher may contact you to indicate areas in which your child is experiencing difficulty. Crestwood Elementary has established grade level learning objectives based upon the Iowa Core Curriculum standards. The purpose of this report card is to communicate student progress toward achieving these objectives. A standards-based report card: 

  • provides a clear message to parents about which skills and concepts students know and are able to demonstrate in relation to established grade level Iowa Core Curriculum standards 
  •  helps teachers and students focus on identified end-of-year expectations from the very beginning of the year, giving students a direction for their learning 
  • aligns instruction, assessment, and grading with standards 
  • creates a higher level of consistency and continuity in assessing among teachers and across grade levels 
Why are we hearing so much about standards? 
Teaching and learning should be aligned with Iowa Core Curriculum Standards. Our curriculum (what we teach) is developed, and our textbooks and curriculum resource materials (what we use to teach) are purchased or developed with standards as the guiding influence. 


What is a standards-based assessment? 
Standards-based assessment is based on the belief that every child can learn given adequate instruction and opportunity for practice. It allows teachers to accurately communicate achievement of learning targets or benchmarks to students and parents, as well as providing information to plan for instruction. Your child’s report card is to inform parents and students what skills and content students should learn at varying points in their educational experience. Developing assessments and report cards based upon learning standards measures how well students are acquiring skills and knowledge relative to those established standards. Standards-based assessment is used to help every student understand where he or she is in relation to meeting standards so they can improve. By aligning curriculum, assessment and student report cards to standards, teachers measure student learning against consistent, established criteria. This is different from traditional assessment and reporting, which gives a single letter or number grade for broad subject categories. A standards-based report card puts the emphasis on learning, rather than on a comparison between and among students.


What is the difference between traditional assessment and standards-based assessment? 
Traditional assessment uses averaging of student work over time, and other student characteristics such as work habits, attendance, homework, and effort. Standards-based assessment focuses solely on a student’s academic achievement and continued mounting evidence that indicates a true measure of the student’s attainment of learning targets (such as the ability to write a paragraph, or add and subtract whole numbers). In standards-based assessments, reporting is based more upon the progress toward mastery of learning targets or standards than “traditional” assessment. Subject areas are broken down further into standards-big ideas and learning targets that students need to learn or master. Each target is assessed. On traditional report cards, students receive one grade for reading, one for math, one for science and so on. On a standards-based report card, subjects are divided into a list of standards-skills and knowledge that students are responsible for learning. Students receive a separate mark for each standard. The marks on a standards-based report card are different from traditional letter grades. Letter grades are often calculated by combining how well the student met his/her particular teacher's expectations, how he/she performed on assignments and tests, and how much effort the teacher believes was put forth. Letter grades do not tell parents which skills their children have mastered or whether they are working below, at or above grade level. Standards-based report cards will provide more consistency between teachers over the years than traditional report cards, because all students are evaluated on the same grade-appropriate skills. Parents can see exactly which learning objectives their child have mastered. 

Do the performance descriptors on the report card correlate with letter grades? No, the following performance descriptors are used to indicate a student’s progress in meeting academic learning standards: 

4=Exceeds Expectations The student consistently demonstrates an understanding and application of skills and concepts beyond what was taught in class. The student may benefit from work that is differentiated or of greater rigor. 

3=Meets Expectations The student demonstrates consistent understanding and application of skills and concepts taught in class. The student is consistently on target for meeting established grade level learning objectives. It is not anticipated that students will receive “Meets” in all areas of the report card as many skills and concepts are revisited over the course of a year to support consistent understanding and application. 

2=Progressing Toward Expectations The student demonstrates partial understanding and application of skills and concepts taught in class. The student may require more exposure or practice to fully demonstrate consistent understanding and application. A mark of approaching is expected and often occurs when a new concept or skill is introduced. 

1=Not Meeting Expectations, Needs Assistance The student consistently requires assistance to demonstrate understanding and/or application of skills and concepts taught in class. The student may benefit from work that is adapted or from differentiated instruction in order to demonstrate better understanding or application of skills and concepts. 

How does standards-based assessing effect student motivation? 
When students can clearly see the learning goals/purpose for each activity and connect the outcome of those activities to actions that are within their control, motivation improves. In other words, when students can see that the level and amount of work they contribute to a learning activity is directly related to the outcome/grade, they will be empowered and encouraged to work hard. 

How does a standards-based report card improve teaching and learning? Knowing where the students are in their progress toward meeting standards-based learning objectives is crucial for planning and carrying out classroom instruction. Teachers teach to the needs of each student. Standards-based assessment gives teachers more information about each student’s progress in meeting the level of proficiency required by each standard. In addition, teachers share the standards with students and parents, helping them to better understand the learning that needs to take place.