I have been using standards based grading my entire teaching career. And by entire teaching career, I mean my entire 8 years. I’m no expert on standards based grading, but I do know a thing or two about using and implementing this in my classroom. I’m not going to lie to you, I LOVE it and because of this, my post about it may be a smidge biased. Here are a few quick reasons why I love it: it cuts down on the amount of busy work students have, I am able to give more meaningful assignments and it cuts down on the amount of grading I have to do allowing me to give more directed, personal feedback to students on the assignments that I am grading, so it’s truly a win-win!

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Honestly though, all teachers who use SBG ^^^

Wait, back up, What is standards based grading?

Standards based grading, also lovingly referred to as SBG, measures student’s progress against a specific set of standards and gives students a grade for each standard. This means grades are based on whatever standards your class/PLC/school/county/state follows. I’m in Virginia so my standards are the SOLs (which stands for Standards of Learning – not the Sh*t Outta Luck that you might be thinking of…whoever came up with the acronym was not thinking clearly!) So all of my assessments are based on the specific standards for whatever class I’m teaching.

I hear you, I know what you’re saying.. “But Sam, I already do that!” Unless you’re doing TRUE standards-based grading, you’re not doing it like this.

Standards-based grading separates the content into manageable chunks so that students know exactly what they are being assessed on. (I like to use the word assessment because it is less scary and frightening than the word quiz or test). This is beneficial both to students and teachers because students know exactly what their grade means and teachers can see exactly where students are struggling and what content they’re mastering.

Now I talked about what is graded, now let’s talk about what’s not reflected in a student’s grade… What is not graded are student’s behaviors. Earning extra credit, turning in assignments on time and completion grades are NOT a part of SBG. True standards-based grading is only measuring student’s knowledge on CONTENT not their behaviors. Honestly, this is the part that I had a hard time with at first. I can’t take points off for late work? I can’t give students zeros because they didn’t turn in their homework? How are they going to survive in the real world if they don’t know how to turn things in on time? They will learn and they will want to learn because they can no longer get by on just doing homework for completion grades and the kids who were always punished for not doing homework but still doing well on the test will also do better because they are doing well on the test. I always emphasize to students that yes, doing the homework I assign has a direct correlation to how well you do on a test (I actually graphed this out one time using their data on homework completed vs. assessment scores and showed them the correlation) and while yes, there will always be outliers, the majority of students fall within the correlation. And that’s who we’re trying to reach and benefit, right? The most students we possibly can!


For example, on the summative assessment that I just gave I assessed all things triangles. I split up the triangles summative into four different grades based on the standards that we were learning:

  • 5.1 Classifying Triangles
  • 5.2 Angle Theorems
  • 5.3 Special Types of Triangles
  • 5.4 Triangle Inequality Theorem

Students got a separate grade for each of the four sections and all four grades went into the gradebook weighted in the “summative” category. The top of each of my summative assessments has a chart on it that has each grade and a place that I mark whether I think they have “mastered” the content in that section or not. This chart also is what I call my “road map” to the test. It shows exactly what topics will be covered in which questions. It looks like this:

If I was not using standards based grading, (like some of my colleagues…) this assessment would be just called “Unit 7 Test” or “Triangles Test” and students would get one big grade.  But this begs the question.. How is this fair to students? They’re being assessed on all these different things with your test having a few questions on classifying triangles, a few questions on the triangle inequality theorem mixed in with a few questions on the exterior angle theorem. Students who know EVERYTHING are the only students who will be successful on this assessment. Under standards-based grading students now have the same amount of questions but now it’s split up by learning targets. Grades now MEAN something and reflect knowledge of the content, rather than fluff points for completion grades.

Using SBG, students have more opportunities to show mastery and teachers have more opportunities for catching students who fall in the cracks. As all teachers know, it’s important to assess students formatively and get feedback on how they’re doing before giving them a summative or final assessment. These formative assessments are also split up by learning target so that students know exactly what to expect once the summative assessment comes around. Teachers can assess one topic at a time and can see before the all important summative test that little Johnny really knows how to classify their triangles and they understand the fact that all triangles have 180 degrees in them but what they’re really struggling with is the triangle inequality theorem.

Using standards-based grading also cuts down on the amount of grading you’re doing as a teacher. You no longer have to grade 150+ homework assignments or spend valuable time checking every single classwork assignment. You can spend your time making fun activities that students can work together on and then go over these activities as a whole class. Going over them as a whole class benefits both students who did it and those that didn’t. It’s more valuable to see the answers you got wrong and get immediate feedback on those assignments rather than a big “x” with no further explanation. Students who don’t complete these assignments then typically go on not to do well on the tests, which leads to the all important responsibility conversation. “Why yes, little Suzie, I know these are not for a grade but doing these non-graded assignments will tremendously help you to do better on the assignments that are graded.” It may take students a unit or two to catch on to this, but they eventually do and will start doing the practice work! Not all students will of course, I mean come on, nobody’s perfect!

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Got any thoughts about SBG? What does it look like in your school? Let me know in a comment or shoot me an email: I’d love to hear from you!

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