Standards-based grading (SBG) is a popular and new grading strategy whose use has expanded in the district over the past few years. SBG aims to assess students solely on whether they have acquired identified skills or knowledge and doesn’t take into consideration outside factors such as homework, attendance, or deadlines. In theory, this allows maximum flexibility for students by letting students meet the goal using the learning strategies that work best for them.
While SBG has always been an optional tool for teachers, the previous district administration encouraged teachers to implement it in their courses. Many Tam students have experienced SBG in some form in recent years, often in the form of proficiency scales that teachers use to assess the skills and/or knowledge on a scale from 1-4.
Now that we have a new district administration, it is appropriate to revisit SBG’s implementation at Tam. Students have found that the differences between SBG and traditional grading are most pronounced in the areas of homework and retaking tests.
The very flexibility that makes SBG a valuable tool also has its drawbacks. In homework-optional classes, less disciplined students can find themselves struggling to learn all of the material the night before a test, or not studying at all because they know they ’re able to retake tests.
While many students and teachers point to the lack of daily deadlines in college as a reason to decrease them in high school, study habits and a work ethic are required in “real life” whether that means college or the workforce. High school is not college. Students need to learn study skills and frequent, graded homework that is enforced by deadlines is what many students need.
However, not requiring daily homework can also be a boon to students. It dramatically reduces students’ workloads. And less homework can improve students’ engagement and work ethic when they do need to complete assignments.
The open policy of retakes are also a consideration when looking at the effectiveness of SBG. Theoretically, under SBG, students should be able to retake a test or quiz an infinite number of times until they can show proficiency. Retakes do provide an impetus for teachers and students to revisit material so students don’t move on from a concept without understanding it. However, retakes take time, both the time required for the student to retake the test outside of class, and the time required for teachers to create new tests and oversee retakes. There is a finite amount of time in a school year, so a student can’t retake every test. In addition, in some subjects such as math, more than one retake is not feasible because concepts build on each successive concept. Besides the logistical challenges, retakes are have been used by students as a way to game the system and not work to learn material before the test. Because they know that they can retake the test as many times as they want, some students have reported taking a test to figure out the bare minimum required to pass the test without fully learning the topic.
There are, however, some specific policies teachers might put into place to limit students taking advantage of SBG, such as limits on retakes or requiring students to complete test corrections before retaking a test. At the same time, students need to buy into the system and respect the flexibility and responsibility it gives them. If there is a problem in a SBG classroom, and learning is suffering, teachers have the right to reimplement various structures such as daily graded homework. In education there is no single system that fits every students. In a perfect world every student should have a tailored learning plan. While we lack the resources to truly customize learning, teachers should operate from a position of flexibility, even going as far as having a different assessment systems for each student.