Moving Away From Letter Grades
How do you know that a student is learning? This is a fundamental question for educators. Traditionally, tests are given, and the student earns a certain percentage. That percentage is then equated to a letter grade. However, does that grade or percentage really capture whether or not students understand concepts or standards? Many districts are questioning this concept and are moving away from letter grades and towards a Standards Based Grading system or SBG for short. You may have some questions about SBG to better help your clients.
What is SBG?
Standards-based grading starts with standards-based instruction. This is a term used to describe the combination of research-based instructional, assessment, and grading strategies that are developed around the set of knowledge and skills (standards) that students are expected to achieve at each grade level.
Who is involved?
Standards-based instruction guides the planning, implementation, and assessment of student learning. Parents may need to attend informational sessions if the school district is moving to this type of system. The more communication, the better. This system can be implemented at all grade levels. Having a common process through a district may be helpful to ensure all stakeholders understand the expectations.
When does grading happen?
Teachers utilize the standards to drive instruction by making a yearlong curriculum map. This helps educators plan when each content standard will be taught. At the end of grading periods (i.e. quarters, semester), parents are given updates on their child’s progress. Parents may need several informational sessions to help the transition to SBG.
Why schools are making the switch?
Research shows that SBG helps students because it provides transparent and honest feedback on learning objectives. It can also be used to identify learning gaps and provide learning opportunities to fill those gaps. With a focus on learning losses, foundational concepts may have been forgotten or missed completely over the past few years, this helps to ensure all students have a solid understanding of each content area. As schools begin to transition away from letter grades, concerned parents may become worried that this will have an impact on their high school students applying for college. However, this has no impact on their application because colleges do, in fact, accept an official transcript for traditional and standards-based grading.
How do schools implement it?
Moving away from traditional grading systems may take time for districts to implement. All stakeholders should be involved to discuss concerns and help mitigate future problems. Teachers and parents need to work together to help their children feel successful. Receiving nearing proficiency or needing support on a progress report should not mean a student is “failing”. It is just that, they are working towards being proficient. We need to appreciate that learners do not learn at the same rate. Just as a baby learns to walk, we don’t give up on the baby. Parents want their children to walk, so they offer support and encouragement until their child has mastered walking. The same is true of educators wanting their students to achieve academic success.
What does this mean for stakeholders?
Understanding alternatives to letter grades is beneficial for you as a stakeholder. This common language allows you to adapt your products and services to support standard-based grading and instruction. More districts are seeing the benefits to standard-based grading. As schools make the transition away from traditional grading, they can look to you for guidance as they begin the implementation process. We all want students to succeed. By focusing on the standards and allowing that to drive instruction and grading, it simplifies the learning process.
Written by: Teresa Marchant
School Librarian at LOCKWOOD SCHOOL DISTRICT 26
Teresa has been an educator for over 25 years. She holds a Masters in Educational Technology with an emphasis in Online Instruction from Montana State University as well as a certificate in School Library Media from the University of Washington. Over the years she has served in many capacities at the state and local level. Highlights include being the Vice Chair of the Certification Standards and Practices Advisory Council to the Montana Board of Public Education, a member of the School Leadership Team and Chair of the Professional Development Committee for her school district, and a member of Montana Library Association board. She loves learning and enjoys helping others!