Friday , 23 February 2018
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David Schouweiler Touts the Merits of Standards-Based Grading

Standards based grading (SBG) provides students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery.

Standards based grading (SBG) provides students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery.

Standards Based Grading (SBG) is an education buzzword gaining momentum nationwide over the past few years — and for good reason!  Unlike other education flavors-of-the-week, SBG is a powerful tool and educational philosophy that empowers students to take ownership of their learning while alleviating the burden of remediation.  The core principle of SBG is that students should be assessed on their mastery of learning goals and be given multiple opportunities to demonstrate that mastery.  Students are directly given a series of learning goals to guide their learning over the course of a lesson or unit.  Assessments are then tailored to directly measure mastery of learning goals, giving equal weight to each goal.  Perhaps the strongest component of SBG is the opportunity for remediation; if a student simply did not perform well one day or was harboring a misconception about one of the learning goals, reassessment opportunities can be provided, enabling students to regain full credit.  Student grades are tracked not on book work or homework, but in a much more fluid system that tracks mastery of individual standards or objectives.

When I first heard of SBG, I was skeptical.  A quick Google search reveals numerous blogs and articles extolling the praises of the system.  Still, seeing how the system is logically outlined and linked to directly measuring objective student achievement, I decided to give it a shot.  I started with the unpacked Common Core State Standards and North Carolina Essential Standards.  The objectives were not grouped in a way that lent itself well to the way I taught, so I rearranged the learning objectives into groups of 4-6 objectives, which I called “standards.”  In my class, I set up my quizzes so that the questions directly reflect the standards.  Instead of questions 1, 2, and 3, students find questions measuring their mastery of objective a, b, and c.  If a student does not receive full credit for that objective, then they know what they need to review for the reassessment.

Whenever my class takes a quiz, I give them a new version of the previous quiz, providing them with an opportunity to earn full credit for showing me that they mastered what they did not know the first time around.  Students aren’t punished for not getting it the first time and are rewarded for revising their understanding and trying again.  The grades in my class are entirely based on the quizzes, so every student has a legitimate shot at earning a grade of 100% by the end of the semester.  This doesn’t mean that we forsake homework and formative assessment; my students learned quickly that doing the homework that doesn’t count for a grade will help them learn the objectives and do better on the quizzes.


David Schouweiler’s students aren’t punished for not getting it the first time. They are rewarded for revising their understanding and trying again.

After three weeks of working with SBG in the classroom, my students were not sold.  Having never been exposed to anything like this before, they were confused and unsure of how SBG would play out in the end.  Still, we stuck with it.  In the following weeks, I saw students begin to take ownership of their learning; reflect on what they knew and what they needed to know; evaluate their own learning styles and practices; and achieve more than any class I’ve previously taught.  Here’s what they’re saying about SBG after nine weeks:

  • I like it because we know exactly where grades come from and that we have chances to retake them.

  • I actually prefer this form of grading because it gives everyone an opportunity to see where they are at on the standard and re-study and re-take if necessary.

  • I enjoy it and feel that it is the ultimate way to have a second chance. Maybe you were having a bad day and you bombed.  Well, you get another shot to show your teacher you know the material and know it well.

  • Standards Based Grading is my favorite grading method so far, for several reasons.  It tells you exactly what you need to know, and you’re tested on those exact points, so you know what to study before the quiz.  You also get to see what you’ve mastered, and what you need to work on, specifically.  You know what standard, and what letter of that standard needs improvement.  The ability to retake quizzes is also amazing because if you mess up once, you still get a chance to prove your mastery of a subject later on.

  • I like the Standards Based Grading because it allows room for improvement and we can always change that grade if we put in effort and try to.

  • IT’S AWESOME!!  It’s the way school was originally designed! I loves it and I wish the rest of the teachers would do it too!

  • I like our grades being based on quizzes. It helps me focus more, and not have to worry about other things like homework every night.

  • I like the idea of our grades being based on quizzes.  In my opinion, the goal of any class is to master a subject, which is why I like being able to retake tests.  Without retaking tests, I might have not understood some learning goals as well if we had just moved on to the next topic.

  • I would much rather have all classes use this to grade.  I feel like you should work at something until the student shows mastery and that is the only way they will be successful.

  • I like it a lot because it gives me another chance to do better and it’s a good study tool so you can learn from your mistakes from your previous quiz.

Successful SBG implementation is rewarding, but relies heavily on finding the right system for your classroom.  Each subject has its own learning goals and needs, but SBG is adaptable.  In addition to the quizzes, I was able to design a research project, aligning the rubric with a set of learning objectives.  Students learn best when they know what they need to learn and how their learning will be measured.  SBG doesn’t require changes to any lessons and gives you the freedom to assess your students in the way you see fit.  When implemented in a way that matches your individual style, SBG can open new doors to achievement for your students and motivate them to try until they get it right.

– David Schouweiler, Newton-Conover High School

About Heather Mullins

Dr. Heather Mullins is the Chief Academic Officer in Newton-Conover City Schools. She is a North Carolina Teaching Fellow who spent 12 years as a high school English Teacher. She received her B.S.Ed. in Secondary English Education from Western Carolina University. Heather completed her National Board Certification in Adolescent Young Adult English Language Arts in 2002. She holds an M.Ed. in Academically and Intellectually Gifted from UNC-Charlotte. She completed her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership through Western Carolina University. Her dissertation focused on improving principal practice through strategic professional development. Heather has served as a Curriculum Specialist in Hickory City Schools, an adjunct professor at Lenoir-Rhyne University, and a Professional Development Consultant for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Heather is one of the co-founders of #NCed Chat, North Carolina’s first Twitter chat for teachers. She is passionate about innovative practices, instructional technology, student ownership of learning, and supporting teachers. Heather serves on the advisory board for the North Carolina Digital Learning Plan, North Carolina School for the Deaf and Catawba Science Center. She is a recipient of the 2015 NCMLE Central Office Administrator to Watch Award. She also received the 2016 Don Chalker Award for Excellence in Educational Leadership. Heather is the proud mother of one son, Jackson.

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