ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Setting the Standard for Standards-Based Grading

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Matt Swift

At ASCD's Fall Conference in October, educator Mary McDonough used a variety of techniques while explaining the importance of formative assessment in standard-based grading. During her session, "Formative Assessment: Linchpin for Standards-Based Grading," McDonough had attendees share their own experiences and discuss the topic amongst themselves and presented a slide show with everything from detailed instructions to cartoons that related to her presentation. The discussion was lively, and the audience was engaged with the large amount of information they were receiving, but it all came down to one important point:

"It's good for learning," said McDonough of using formative assessment and standards-based grading. "And it's good for the students."

Standards-based grading is the practice of grading students not with the traditional "A-B-C" grading scale, but by assessing their efforts, grasp of the knowledge, and progression, among other factors. This approach is becoming increasingly popular in classrooms around the country. Properly assessing students is a key component to ensuring their grades are reflected properly. The attendees were able to see and hear examples of how to do this the correct way.

"Share what you think about formative assessment," McDonough asked her audience in the beginning of her session. While the crowd talked to one another, McDonough had them look at various drawings featuring people juggling, dancing, thinking, and doing other similar things and told the audience to find which one they best relate to. She said educators' mind-sets are critical to proper assessment.

She gave examples of standards-based grading forms and reports so that the audience could get a better grasp of the concept. One of the forms showed an example of a teacher giving her initial assessment of a student (a rating of two minus). The student set a goal of getting to a three within a month. Throughout the year, then, the student and educator follow the goals and progress, giving the student the incentive to keep improving.

Teachers should offer encouragement and praise for the students' efforts because many students will begin to think that if they fail once, they are not going to be able to learn later on. If students get into this mind-set, then it could ruin their incentive to learn. This is one of the problems this type of grading addresses because students do not receive "failing" grades. One audience member noted that she's seen students who think they are C students, and it sets them back for the rest of their academic careers.

Toward the end of the session, McDonough allowed her audience members to ask questions, share their own experiences, or express concerns. One teacher talked about rewarding her successful students, another one worried about grading multiple subjects, and one talked about her "low-budget" method of assessing using a whiteboard.

Although this type of grading has benefits, the audience's comments illustrated that many questions still surround the method. But McDonough's detailed explanations helped clear up many of the questions audience members had when they walked into the session. They walked out with a better understanding of how to properly apply formative assessment when using standards-based grading.

Watch the archive of McDonough's presentation below. At the beginning of this video, ASCD’s Ann Cunningham-Morris discusses teacher leadership with author Baruti Kafele and the role of teacher leaders in the future of education with ASCD Executive Director and CEO Dr. Gene R. Carter.

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