Standards Bases Grading: An Opinion

Megan Middaugh

A new form of grading is starting to settle into our schooling. Enthusiasts of this style think it is a fair replacement for the traditional grading scale that we use today, but is it really? People who approve of standards based grading claim it is a better way to track students progress and give them a more holistic review of their abilities. The goal of standards based grading is to create fewer and more challenging standards that students can master to show progress in their classes. The goal of these standards is to give students a clear idea of where they stand in regards to what they have learned, and for teachers to gauge this standing and be able to help students specifically with what standards they fail to meet. 

However, while standards based grading claims it is a fairer scale to place students on, I completely disagree. In all honesty, standards based grading is really just comparing students on an even smaller scale than what they are already compared on. I understand that the standards based grading makes it easier for teachers to gauge where a student is at in their class, but a grading system should not be put in place for teachers’ benefits. It should benefit the students. In addition, creating these standards could lower the incentive to teach anything but the standards in the future. 

Also, I can personally attest to the fact that having these standards creates a whole lot less incentive within students. Personally, once I have reached a standard I have no desire to better myself and try and get more out of that specific lesson. In my opinion, receiving a 98% is completely different than receiving 92% and allows so much more room for improvement and gives so much more incentive to try and learn more. When the only thing you can receive is a 1-4, with a 4 being advanced even though it’s equal to 100%, students lose that room for improvement. While I understand that whether you receive a 98% or 92%, it’s an A on the transcript, but I believe the percent still creates incentives for students to be better.  

On top of this broader and less defining grading scale, these “standards” create biased grading. Who determines the difference between a 3 and a 4, and why does meeting the standard result in what is equivalent to a 90%? Under our current grading system it is often made crystal clear why you lose one or two points on an assignment and how you could get those few points back, although when grading essays might be just as messy under both systems. With standards based only having a 1 through 4 scale, it can be more confusing and difficult to understand how to move back up the broader scale. Teachers should be there to help students achieve the grades they want, not the ones determining the grades students receive. 

 As of right now we are all transitioning into being in a full standards based system. With that, comes confusion to both teachers and students. For example, in one of my classes a teacher is grading their students on behavior, such as respect. While behavior based assessment is a part of standards based grading, it is meant to be an indicator to teachers and parents of what a student needs help with rather than an actual grade in the grade book. Including this grade is unfair to students as school should be focused on academics and not behavior based grades. This teacher is misinforming students of what standards based grading actually is and both students and teachers should be educated about the actual ideals of standards based grading before its implementation.

When it really comes down to it, standards based grading just makes me sad and a little bit mad that my academic success is being infringed upon. Here at Fargo North, for example, our English department has really taken a liking to this grading system and has started to implement it into their classes. In my opinion, your high school English education is one of the most important parts of your high school curriculum as it should teach you the building blocks of good essay writing along with the ability to communicate effectively through writing, which are necessary skills for college and the workforce. However, with these standards, I’ve experienced that teachers no longer give constructive feedback when it comes to essays and instead focus on indicating what standards you did or did not meet. For example, the one essay I wrote for my English class this year and actually received feedback on, was filled with random marks that the teacher informed us stood for standards we did or did not meet, but gave no depth to what could actually be improved. It hurts me to say that I have learned more about essay writing through my AP social study classes with LEQs and DBQs and the clear thesis expectations than from my English classes. 

While I recognize that our grading system we have now is by no means perfect, and the “perfect” grading system has yet to be found, I feel as though standards based grading is a step back rather than a step forward. While there are some aspects of standards based grading I can get behind and understand, I feel like no district should rush into this form of grading and instead find a better compromise between what we have now and some of the ideals of standards based learning. For example, standards based are great in elementary education to get children’s education off to a good start. Knowing what students struggle and succeed with at a young age helps them with later education. 

However, considering Fargo Public Schools is not a standards based grading district at the high school yet I do not think teachers should be grading us on a standards based scale. I understand that teachers need to learn to adjust to this grading scale, but until it is officially implemented, no standards based scale grading should count towards our actual grade in the gradebook.

 I encourage everyone to go and educate themselves about standards based grading. I learned a lot through writing this article and found some aspects of the system that surprised me and I could agree with. While I by no means support the standards based grading system I think everyone from students to educators to parents should be informed about what change this new system would bring.