ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Transitioning to Standards-Based Learning

Cathy Vatterott began her ASCD Conference on Teaching and Learning session, "Not Your Mother's Gradebook: Transitioning to Standards-Based Learning," by asking participants to think about the reasons that conventional tests may not be the best method to assess student learning.

Participants shared that

  • Tests can be rigid, covering only specific goals and objectives as taught in a particular textbook.
  • Tests lack formative assessment.
  • Some students are not good test takers. Some children will do poorly no matter whether it is a commercial test or a teacher-made test.
  • Some tests are timed, and some students do not do well in a timed situation.

Next, Vattertott asked attendees to answer this question: On a typical high school geometry test, what are you teaching for?

  • Are you testing to discover whether or not students have mastered the application of geometric formulas? Or are you testing to discover if students have mastered a set of geometric formulas?
  • Are you testing critical-thinking skills?
  • Are you testing neatness?
  • Are you testing whether or not students are highly motivated and help other math students?

Currently, some school districts are redesigning and replacing old report cards. Why? Because a subject grade may include neatness, citizenship, effort, and so forth.

Session participants noted that some teachers reward good attitude and effort. Giving credit for topics that are not part of the subject inflates grades and causes resentment from other students or families. With standards-based grading, extra items like manners, effort, citizenship, and the like are evaluated in their own document, not combined with regular subjects.

Standards-based grading is a more accurate reflection of how a student is doing in a specific subject. Specifically, the assessment should be planned and designed to the student's specific level of mastery, and it reflects back to the original purpose stated in the lesson.

Standards-based grading asks, "Is the grade an accurate reflection of the desired learning?" And it requires educators to determine whether they want to reward working or learning.

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