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Frequently Asked Questions

Standards Based Instruction


What is Standards Based Grading?
In a standards based grading system, teacher's report how their students are performing in relation to the standards set forth by the Utah State Office of Education. Student behavior including work habits, ability to work with others, coming to class prepared, etc. is separated from the academic data and reported separately. Students receive feedback regarding how they are performing academically as measured against content standards rather than an overall grade for a course. This is important to note, students receive a proficiency report describing how they are performing in relationship to a standard rather than a grade that is derived from accumulating points, averaging across the term, and assigning a letter value.

How is that different from the traditional grading system?
In a traditional points based system, student grades generally include product, process, and progress criteria. In other words, a student's grade may include points earned by completing classroom activities, homework, assessments, extra credit, student attendance, student behavior, effort, punctuality, and/or other factors determined to be important by individual teachers. If a student receives an A it may mean:

  • The student had exceptional understanding of the concepts and knowledge included in the course curriculum, or
  • The student had only an average understanding, but did extra credit that may or may not be related to the core curriculum, such as bringing in classroom supplies, or attending school activities, or
  • The student demonstrated model behavior--turned in all assignments on time, participated exactly as the teacher wanted and was never tardy or late to class.
Conversely, if a student received an F, the meaning of that grade could have many different explanations including:
  • The student learned much of the content being taught but did not turn in much of the work and earned a low percentage (25%) as a result of averaging scores across the term.
  • The student learned much of the content being taught but turned in much of the work late and earned a low percentage (59%) as a result of averaging scores across the term.
  • The student did not understand the concepts and knowledge of the course.
  • The student had a high level of understanding of the course but was "accused" of cheating or had some other behavior, such as, tardies or attendance problems.
Traditional grading is also associated with academic competition and distribution of grades on the traditional bell curve. The standards based model encourages the attainment of proficiency for all students and purports that good teaching can lead to the accomplishment of that goal.

Why has Box Elder School District converted to Standards Based Grading?
Many of the leading educational researchers in our country (Doug Reeves , Robert Marzano, Tom Gusky, and Richard Dufour) have identified the educational benefits of increasing the fidelity with which students receive feedback regarding how they are performing in relation to clearly identified standards. By using a standards based grading and reporting system we are following the results of educational research and best practice. Standards based instruction/grading has the potential to provide a rich array of information on a students academic progress. In short teachers will focus on four essential questions.

1. What do students need to know and be able to do?
2. How will we know that they have learned it?
3. What will we do when they haven't learned it?
4. What will we do when they already know it?
"The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement is feedback. The simplest prescription for improving education must be 'dollops of feedback'"
Hattie, J. (1992). Measuring review: Assessing the effects of schooling. Australian Journal of Education, 36 (1), 5-13.

"The promise of standards based grading is that both teachers and students will have a clearer conception of what needs to be learned and of what constitutes successful performance" (2009) Practical Solutions for Serious Problems in Standards-Based Grading. Corwin press

Is Box Elder School District the only district changing to standards based grading?
No, schools across the country are seeing the educational value in making changes to their assessing, evaluating, and grading procedures. Many other districts in northern Utah are using standards based grading models including Logan, Weber, and Davis districts.

Which schools/grades are affected by this change?
This change has been implemented in all schools that serve kindergarten through seventh grades. Students in the middle and high schools will continue to receive the traditional letter grade.

What are the Life Skills?
We believe that students need to develop more than just academic proficiency in order to be successful. The life skills are the topics that we will report to students and parents separately from the academic proficiency (view rubric). By separating these behaviors (process criteria) we are able to provide accurate information regarding academic and life skills and abilities of our students in relation to an established standard. By doing this we will be providing more accurate information to students and parents than is possible in a traditional grading system.

How do I understand the report card my child brings home?
Proficiency scores are not and cannot be related to a traditional grade. When a parent sees proficiency scores on a report or in the PIV (parent internet viewer) they should consider that the goal of that report is to give them information regarding how their student can perform as measured against content standards. Parents can still contact teachers and principals directly when they have questions, they can look at the academic and life skill rubrics (make these titles an active link to these on the web) on the district website, or they can look at the legend on the report card

When my child does everything asked of them, why don't they get a proficiency score of 4?
A score of 3 on the general rubric indicates to a student that he/she is proficient on the standard being evaluated. A score of 3.5 or 4 indicates to a student that he/she has demonstrated advanced proficiency on the given standard. For instance if the standard being taught and measured basic facts of multiplication and division, which for a third grade student, grade level expectation would be to compute basic multiplication facts 0-10 and related division facts using a variety of strategies. Once a student can multiply and divide numbers within the expected range they would receive a 3, meaning they are proficient on that standard. Some students may also be able to perform multiplication functions on numbers higher than 10. Some students may be able to demonstrate the relationship between multiplication and division and use that relationship to explain that division by zero is not possible which is actually a learning goal for the fourth grade. In a points based system the grade information from this example provided to students and parents would not be able to discriminate these differences. This is an ongoing process, it is our expectation that the students will increasingly be given opportunities to develop and demonstrate higher levels of thinking and understanding. Box Elder School District has never been able to report when students can demonstrate advanced proficiency

Why can't teachers simply enter points and have those points converted to a rubric score?
Standards based grading is designed to correct many of the problems caused by the traditional point based system including the mathematical problems that arise with giving zeros, and averaging across a grading period. If points are assigned an assumption is being made that each question is of equal value or level of difficulty or in other words that the skills needed to answer the questions are the same for each question. When this is done it contradicts the intent of standards based grading of providing information of how each student is performing against content standards.

"When we simply add up points for correct responses and divide by the total number of possible points we are not evaluating student learning because no judgment is involved."
Marzano, R.J. (2006). Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development

How is Pinnacle related to standards based grading?
Pinnacle is a software package that is used by teachers to maintain proficiency, grade, behavior and attendance data. This product can also send automated emails to parents regarding their children's attendance and academic standing including assignment and objective data. A committee of educators, after reviewing several different products, chose the Pinnacle suite during the spring of 2008 because the previous electronic Gradebook was not capable of reporting at the standard level.

Standards based grading is an educational process that involves lesson development, instructional practice, remediation, extension activities, assessment, and evaluation.

How are students with disabilities or English language learning needs affected by standards based grading?
Students with an IEP, 504, or English Language Learning needs will continue to receive the accommodations they are eligible to receive and they will continue to receive appropriate support and/or interventions. Teachers will report how they are performing as measured against content standards, when those standards are not aligned with the grade level they are assigned, parents will be notified that the student proficiency report is for a standard other than that of the assigned grade. All students benefit from having well developed lesson plans, quality instruction, and assessment that informs instruction and provides meaningful accurate feedback regarding their learning

What is a rubric and why are teachers being asked to use them to evaluate their students?
Rubrics are measurement tools designed to clearly articulate the learning goals for a given educational activity (view rubric). When appropriate the students should be able to see these rubrics prior to the completion of an assignment or assessment or in other words the criteria being measured by the learning activity. Rubrics or simplified scoring scales, when used correctly, have been proven to be more reliable than the traditional grading system of assigning points to individual questions. In a study conducted by Robert Marzano, the reliability coefficient using a point based system was .294 whereas the reliability coefficient using a simplified scale was .719. The direct writing assessment which is a state required assessment uses a rubric to evaluate student work. By the beginning of the 2009 school year we expect to have specific rubrics written for every standard in language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. Marzano, R.J. (2002a). A comparison of selected methods of scoring classroom assessments. Applied Measurement in Education, 15(3), 249-268

How does standards based grading effect student motivation?
When students can clearly see the learning goals/purpose for each activity and connect the outcome of those activities to attributes that are within their control, motivation will improve. In other words, when students can see that the level and amount of work they contribute to a learning activity is directly related to the outcome, they will be empowered and encouraged to work hard. When gifted students are given opportunities to demonstrate advanced understanding and knowledge and have that information reported as being advanced beyond those students who have demonstrated grade level proficiency we expect their motivation to increase. When teachers are able to identify specific skills that students are lacking and provide targeted interventions to quickly remediate those skills and help children reach a level of proficiency on those content standards, their motivation will increase. However, students who are motivated by academic competition with their peers may become frustrated or less motivated when they are measured against a standard rather than a peer

Will our high schools ever stop giving traditional grades?
Grade point averages, academic ranking, and traditional grades are required by most post-secondary institutions and scholarship organizations. Box Elder School District will continue to issue traditional grades for middle and high school students

Will student success continue to be recognized?
Yes, schools will continue to recognize students for academic achievement and good citizenship (life skills). Recognizing students who demonstrate success is highly valued by educators. Schools spend significant amounts of money and time each year to provide recognition to their students. For specific information regarding recognition opportunities at each school contact the principal (put a link to administrators)

Thoughts about grading and reporting
"A single grade is a 'naked score,' which is presented without any context or reference to a well-founded set of criteria." Grant Wiggins

There are inconsistencies between instructional and grading practices. "Teachers are encouraged-even required to provide opportunities for students to engage in complex thinking, problem solving, and performance-based activities and to assess them using measures that tap a broad range of abilities and knowledge. Yet, all of this information is recorded as a single grade." Elise Trumbell

There are basic problems with averaging. "When scores or grades on a disparate group of performances are averaged, it supports the notion that every performance is of equal value, when the dimensions of performance are complex and diverseā€¦.Averaging over time does not make sense, either, since one should not include earlier grades to get a picture of how a student is currently doing." Elise Trumbell

"...low grades usually cause students to withdraw from learning. To protect their self-image, many students regard the low grade as irrelevant and meaningless. Other students may blame themselves for the low mark, but feel helpless to improve." Thomas Gusky

"Generally speaking, it has been difficult for parents (and students) to 'make meaning' from the information provided either on a report card or a test report, largely because the information is provided in a kind of code and is not given with reference to standards. Context is everything." Elise Trumbell

"There is a need to think of the report card as a mere cover page or 'executive summary' supported by documentation to justify and amplify the meaning of the grade given." Grant Wiggins