Over the past three to five years, the shift in education towards student-centered and personalized learning has rocked the world of teaching.  I don’t think any good teacher would argue with the concept that giving students the freedom and ownership to express their proficiency in a method of their choosing can be a powerful tool in measuring the outcomes of student learning.  If you haven’t seen this done (or, more importantly, done well), watch the video below on how students in the Pathways program at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales, Wisconsin, are assessed on their learning.

I watch this video and two thoughts immediately come to mind.  “That’s so awesome for those kids!” and “What a nightmare for that teacher!”  (Don’t tell me you didn’t have the same thoughts…)  While assessing students on individualized assessment models is no doubt best practice in this age of education, it often leaves a classroom teacher scratching her head as to how in the world they are going to grade such wide ranging assessments.  Because the truth is that if you tried using your traditional grading methods to grade these very untraditional assessments, you’ll end up frustrated with inaccurate scores.  

So, if traditional grading is out the window, what is the alternative?  To come up with an individual rubric for each individualized assessment?  AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT!  And not only do we not have time for that, but it really isn’t a fair process for assessing.  No matter the choice of output, the metric of assessing by the teacher should be the same, and that is why standards-based grading is critical to the success of students and the accuracy of educators.  

When I first began looking at standards-based grading in my classroom, I had quite a few challenges to overcome.  Most importantly, my district, school, and the community I taught in were not even really discussing standards-based grading yet.  If I sent home a grade of “3.6 on RL.2,” I cannot even IMAGINE the kind of parent response I would have gotten.  But I truly believed in the value of standards-based grading for my students and so, like many teachers, I began utilizing a scale of student learning.  It is important to note that some education theories and scholars will advocate not having a 0 on the scale.  But I live in a real world with real students and we all know that there are those sweet angels in our desks that refuse to submit, demonstrate, or produce anything related to their learning.  Because of this, I did use a 0 on my standard-based grading charts.  But, to each their own…

When I first began using standards-based grading, I didn’t use it for every assignment.  I started with only on summative assessments because it was clear – the child either mastered the standard or they didn’t.  Then, I became braver and started using it on formative assessments.  Usually, these were activities done in class and not worksheets or homework that were more traditional in nature.  As my students worked in groups on standards-aligned activities, I assessed them not with a percentage, but with a scale score tied to a specific standard.

Before I developed ClassMax, this scale score was done on a clipboard using a blank excel sheet that I printed out for each class period.  But as I started forming ideas for what a teacher-friendly classroom management tool might look like, my goal was to eliminate any clipboards I was carrying around and replace them with ONE digital tool that could track everything in one place – and I started with my standards-based grading.

With ClassMax, dipping your toe into the standards-based grading pool is a little less intimidating and a whole lot more time efficient.  I didn’t need all these rubrics and matrixes for assessing.  I needed a deconstructed standard and a clear understanding of what I would expect to see at each level of the proficiency scale.  This is where the work of my PLC really became invaluable.  Together with my team, we broke down our most commonly state-assessed standards into proficiency scales, showing what skills we expected to see at each level on the standard and even what language we expected to hear in our students at each level.  Not only did this normalize our assessing across our grade level, but it gave me more confidence in my ability to assess on standards mastery.

(TEACHER TIP:  Got a sucky PLC?  Join someone else’s!  You don’t have to teach the same grade level or even the same subject area to get a wealth of knowledge out of a PLC.  Ask a teacher friend if you can sit in on their PLC meetings, either to soak up information or to participate.)

On assessment days, I would load the standards I was assessing into my ClassMax dashboard and then – armed with my tablet, laptop, or phone – I would begin circling the room as my students worked, marking progress as I cruised.

When it came time to put grades into my grade book, I ran the report on the student and put in the corresponding grade.  I tended to go high on my standards-based grading (mostly to keep parents off my back, if I’m honest…), so if a student scored a 4, I put in a 100%.  If they scored a 3, I put in a 90%… and so on.

With standards-based grading, the rubric is simply the standard language itself.  So, no matter how your students choose to demonstrate their understanding, they are all assessed by the same metric – to what extent have they shown mastery of the standard?

Standards-based grading isn’t for everyone.  But if you’ve been considering it, I encourage you to give it a try.  It gives your students a more personalized learning experience and it expresses a very clear depiction of student learning.  Add with that the ease of collecting scores and data with ClassMax, and you’ve created a classroom environment that encourages students learning through engagement and doesn’t overwork the teacher in the process.  Everybody wins!

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