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Standards based grading entered my little corner of the world on the winds of a perfect storm: teachers were acquainting themselves with a new set of challenging standards, they were eager to create a culture of learning after witnessing how our historic fixation on performance was influencing their kids, they recognized inconsistencies in their assessment and grading practices, and their report cards did not align well with their curricula. In short, their grades were meaningless at best and hurtful to kids at worst.

Deciding to implement standards based grading was kind of a no-brainer.

Facilitating the change has been a fairly challenging process though, and in the beginning, it was all too easy to focus on the report card. This was dangerous, since standards based grading isn’t really about the report card. It’s about creating a culture where learning, in all of its glorious messiness and uncertainty, is valued more than performance. This is a massive shift away from traditional mindsets and practices, and it’s forced us to consider the following:

  • What are our standards? We support the Common Core Learning Standards, and they live at the center of our work, but they aren’t the only standards that matter. What else does?
  • How can we articulate outcomes and levels of mastery in ways that learners not only understand but truly value?
  • How do we achieve balanced and consistent assessment practices that empower us to study what has been learned as opposed to what has been earned?
  • How can we improve our feedback? How do we better enable self-assessment and create opportunities for learners to change their thinking and their work as often as they are inspired to as they strive to learn more and more?
  • How do we ensure that levels 1, 2, 3, and 4 mean something decidedly different and far more powerful than A, B, C, and D.
  • How will standards based grading change the way we study learners, identify their strengths, and attend to their needs?
  • How will standards based grading change the way learners reflect, self-assess, set goals, and advocate for themselves?
  • How can we use standards based grading to communicate more effectively with parents? To what degree should they be involved in the planning? When? Where?

As I was finishing this post, I received a timely email from Abner Oakes over at JumpRope. Turns out, they’ve been developing implementation benchmarks for schools and districts who are eager to get standards based grading right. Abner speaks to them here, and if you’ve been following along, I think you’ll appreciate them. I used these tools to self-assess, and this helped me discover where I might need to head next as a facilitator. If you use them, I hope you’ll reach out to the folks at JumpRope to let them know what your thoughts are.



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