Standards-Based Grading FAQ

This year, Marshall’s 8th grade science classes will use a version of Standards-Based Grading to report academic grades. While each individual teacher maintains their own policies and expectations, the following handout provides answers to the most frequently asked questions.

What is standards-based grading?

Standards-based grading measures your student’s mastery of the essential standards, or Performance Expectations (PE), or how well your student understands the content in class. At the beginning of every unit, the teacher will break down the standards for the unit into smaller objectives. During the unit, the student is assessed to see if they truly know the material using a variety of assessments, such as traditional pencil-and-paper tests, projects, discussions, or investigations. The class grade will be based on all of the evidence the teacher collects that demonstrates mastery.


Why is the Science Department changing to standards-based grading?

The goal of this approach is to report grades that are accurate, consistent, meaningful, and supportive of learning. Additionally, this method attempts to provide the teacher, student, and parent as accurate a picture as possible of the student’s learning and to encourage a dialogue about how the student can master the material for the class. In particular, because learning is a process that takes place over time, each assessment will provide feedback for the student about what to focus on next, and the student may often be allowed to revise assignments or retake assessments. If the new assessment shows a higher level of mastery, that new score replaces the old one.


How is standards-based grading different from traditional grading?

In a traditional 100-point grading system, a student’s grade is typically based on all work, including classwork, homework, projects, and tests. These scores are often arranged in the grade book based on the type of assignment, with varying amounts of points. Standards-based grading does not separate out assignments. All of the work a student does is used to assess the student’s mastery of a particular PE, however, not all work will be graded. Graded assignments will be entered in the gradebook using a 4.0 scale within its corresponding PE. The overall class grade is an average of each individual PE score.


What do the scores on the 4.0 scale mean?

  • 4.0: The student demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the material by completing advanced and/or original applications of the material.
  • 3.0: The student has mastered the complex, targeted knowledge and skills for the class
  • 2.0: The student understands the foundational material that supports the targeted learning, but is still working to master the complex material for the class.
  • 1.0: The student is able to demonstrate an understanding of the foundational material for the class with help from the teacher, but still struggles when working independently.
  • 0: Even with assistance from the teacher, the student shows no understanding of the material.

Intermediate scores of 0.5, 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5 may be used to show that a student has shown partial mastery at a level. For example, a score of 2.5 shows that a student has mastered all of the foundational material at the 2.0 level but has only shown partial mastery of the complex learning at the 3.0 level.

What is the grade scale for standards-based grading?

The 4.0 scale will be converted to a letter grade using the grading scale shown below.

A:  3.75 – 4.00

A-:  3.50 – 3.74

B+:  3.25 – 3.49

B:  3.00 – 3.24

B-:  2.75 – 2.99

C+:  2.50 – 2.74

C:  2.00 – 2.49

C-:  1.75 – 1.99

D+:  1.50 – 1.74

D:  1.25 – 1.49

D-:  1.00 – 1.24

F:  0.00 – 0.99

This conversion scale sets clear expectations for student learning. In order to pass a class, a student must, with help, show an understanding all of the foundational skills taught in a class. The C range shows that the student understands all of the foundational skills without help, and the B range requires a student to master all of the complex, targeted knowledge in the class. Finally, to receive an A, the student must show an in-depth, advanced understanding of the material.


If the letter grades are the same for traditional and standards-based grading, why do the percentages look different in PowerSchool?

PowerSchool has certain limitations, and teachers have to work within those limitations. When you check your student’s grades in PowerSchool, you will see your student’s letter grade and a percent for each class. The letter grade is the same for both the traditional and standards-based scale, but due to PowerSchool’s limitations, the percentages will look different. The chart below that shows the alignment between the different scales.


How will my student be assessed?

Your student’s learning will be assessed using a variety of formative and summative assessments. These tools will include formal assessments such as traditional paper-and-pencil tests, projects, written work, lab investigations, or verbal assessments, but they may also include informal assessments such as classroom discussions or teacher observations. Essentially, everything that a student does in a standards-based class provides the teacher with evidence of the student’s learning.

What can my student do to raise their grade?

The goal is on ensuring that students master the essential standards for the class, so students may be provided with opportunities to do so. Your student should meet with their teacher to determine which standard(s) need improvement and to create a plan on how to relearn the material and be reassessed. If your student demonstrates a higher level of mastery on the assessment, then the grade for that standard will be increased and your student’s grade will increase. Again, the focus is on improving your student’s mastery of the material, so extra credit is not accepted.

Why should my student do homework if it isn’t included in the grade?

Some students feel that in a standards-based class they don’t have to worry about anything except their final unit test. This is incorrect. It is important for students to understand that they are being assessed every day by their teachers, and that everything they do in class lets their teacher assess their knowledge and helps prepare the students for the assessments. Just as an NFL team would never expect to win the Superbowl without hours upon hours of practicing, students need practice to prepare them for success.

Student work is also analyzed by teachers to determine growth and improvement towards mastery of a specific skill or content. Every teacher has the responsibility of taking all the work a student does into account when assigning a grade to a student’s work for a semester. So, if a student chooses to not do an assignment, not only are they missing an opportunity to practice a skill, they also miss an opportunity to display mastery of a standard to their teacher.


Why does it take a long time to see grades?

Because standards-based grading focuses on assessments, your student’s overall class grade may not be updated as frequently as it was when every assignment impacted the grade. This shift is especially noticeable at the beginning of the semester when it may take several weeks for the class to complete the first assessment and for your student to be given a grade. However, while the overall grade may not change as frequently, the teachers are still monitoring other assignments, such as in-class work, that provide important feedback. Please encourage your student to talk regularly with their teacher about their class grade/


Are non-academic factors, such as effort, attitude, participation, and behavior part of the class grade? These factors have always been and will continue to be an important part of your student’s success. However, these factors will be measured separately and reported via citizenship grading. Standards-based grading measures how well a student understands a standard, not whether this student completed the assessment on time or with great effort. However, completing work on time and with great effort almost always leads to a deeper understanding, and thus, a higher class grade.


How can I get more information?

If you have questions or concerns about your student’s grade in a class, or if you would like more information on standards-based grading, please contact the teacher of that class for more information.


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