Solid Measures: Standards Based Grading

Helping students become masters of what they’re learning — that’s one of the main objectives of CJ’s new grading system approach called standards based. The school’s academic assistant principal, Steve Fuchs, broke down the main purposes of this system:

  • to separate the reporting of academic content and non-academic skills;
  • to focus on learning; and,
  • to not penalize students as they navigate new content.

“A standards based system usually includes multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of a standard,” Fuchs said. “This does not mean we are decreasing rigor. Instead, we are pushing students towards mastery since students have the option to demonstrate mastery later if they did not demonstrate it on the first attempt.”

“The biggest impact of standards based grading is the instructional strategy,” principal John Marshall ‘86 added. “This allows students to come back to something they may have missed a couple of weeks prior and now earn credit for mastering that standard.”

“Consider a child who is learning how to tie his shoe,” Fuchs said. “The standard is that the child is able to tie his shoe by himself. Along the way it will take practice and the child will most likely fail many times. However, after enough practice, the child will learn how to do it. When the child is able to demonstrate consistently that he can tie his shoe, he has ‘mastered’ this standard. It does not matter if it took three days or three months to do so, it matters that he has mastered the skill.

“So in a traditional grading system, if a student has an overall grade of 95% in math, it could mean the student knows 92% of the material but earned extra credit and participated in class to earn another 3%,” Fuchs continued. “In a standards based system, a 95% would represent that the student has mastered 95% of the content and has not mastered 5% of the content.”

Many teachers, including science teachers Maura Lemon and Caty Maga, were already using the standards based grading system prior to the 2019-2020 school year. Lemon and Maga spoke about standards based grading at the National Science Teacher Association’s National Conference on Science Education.

“Putting this power into the hands of the students, with the proper guidance and coaching, has the power to change the way students experience learning in a science classroom,” Lemon told her fellow educators. “They are more motivated to seek outside resources, present alternative methods of learning, engage in conversation about their position with the content in terms of mastery, try a second or even a third time to understand challenging concepts, and encourage their classmates to do the same.”

“One of my favorite projects is researching evidence for evolution in two specific species that students choose; however, I warn students that this can be a difficult process as the research is not easy,” Maga shared with the teachers. “Using the standards based approach motivated my students to push themselves and their peers to further delve into new information that I had not seen before.”

Fuchs, who is also a CJ parent, noted, “What I am most excited about is knowing where my child stands in terms of mastering the content standards. I also look forward to the feedback from teachers my child will receive in terms of their learning.”

As first seen in the Spring 2019 Vision — Posted September 18, 2019