Partner with us to implement the EL Education K-8 Language Arts Curriculum

Why Use a Standards-Based Grading System?

A parent, a student, a teacher, and the principal from Casco Bay High School in Portland, ME, discuss how standards-based grading works and the benefits of the system.

This video is one of 27 videos that accompany EL Education's book, Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools through Student-Engaged Assessment.


- [Derek] Standards-based grading is an effort to make clear what it is that all kids need to know and be able to do in each course, and then making sure that you line up all the assessments in that class to those standards so that it’s really clear what the learning targets, the experiential learning term, where kids are aiming when they’re learning, and for parents and students to be clear what it is they should know and be able to do by the time a course ends.

- I describe standards-based grading as, we’ll use again, one, two, three, or exceeds grade. You have to meet on each and every standard and, if you do that, then you pass the class.

- The story I always use is the bicycle. That’s how I always describe it. It’s that you’re learning how to ride a bike. You’re going to fall off the bike 16,000 times. And then you start putting your foot out and then popping wheelies. If I average in every time you fell off the bike, sorry, you fail bike riding, because you fell off a lot.

- I was wondering if somebody could maybe give me a specific example of one of the objectives, how the standards-based grading is aligned with an objective.

- Let’s start with something we’ve done in class.

- In English, we have learning targets for each class with a short-term and a long-term goal. Those goals are in direct correlation with the standards. In English, we had to do topic sentences.

- I think the topic sentence piece is this subcategory of short-term target helping you move toward reaching the standard, which is quality writing. Then, in the grade book, there are lots of attempts at hitting this quality writing. What we’re looking for is a trend. You can have multiple twos if then we see you have begun to ride the bike. We start to see the threes appear. And there’s enough consistency there with the threes that now you get a three overall on that standard.

- I think this system ensures that “eh” is not enough, that you have to do quality work. I think it helps instill in students what it means to do quality work, both the process, the how, what we call habits of work, and the level of excellence, the level of performance.

- I was just going to add that then that means you’re not “passing” if any of the skills we’ve decided are important that you haven’t mastered yet.

- You have to meet on each and every standard.

- And you can’t just learn the things you’re good at.

- Exactly.

- [Lori] Have the things you’re good at pull you up for the things you don’t know as well, right?

- [Michael] Yeah. It’s a lot harder than other schools, but you learn everything. You can’t just pass by with a 78 and not know half the material, which was really hard for me, because in middle school, that’s what I had to do. I passed by with a B-, and when I came to Casco, and we had physics, I didn’t know half the material we were supposed to know in middle school, because that was the half I didn’t do well on.

- I think that absolutely helps kids when they get to college feel more prepared, that they know what it takes to do quality work, and that a C and D just doesn’t exist in our system. You can’t try and skate by, because we’re going to say do it again.

Read More

Created By

EL Education

Resource Downloads

Please log in to access the downloadable resources.



Grade Level