By Patrick McGing

I am not sure when I first came across Standard Based Grading (SBG) or heard about the idea/theory of it but at this point in my educational career (this is my 5th year teaching) I have fully bought into the idea behind it. I have drunk the kool-aid and continue to drink it. Therefore, I am going to look at my own understanding of SBG and what conflicts and challenges I currently have.

A specific question has come up multiple times now that has solidified my belief in SBG, “If you have a B in the class, can you tell me what you have learned in that class?” The majority of students cannot explain what they have learned in that course. Maybe they list a random activity that was done but that just means that they completed the activity; did they actually retain any information? Maybe? Yes? Probably something, but what? The same students will not list a specific skill they have gained.

Student reflecting on the standards covered in a project

As a Career and Technical Education instructor, a majority of our curriculum is whether you know how to complete a task or not using a skill and can you use that skill and apply it in a different manner. Thus, the amount of points something is worth is the last thing on my mind; but it is the first thing on students minds. How do I shift student’s focus on the skills they are building and self-assessing those skills and not the question of, “How many points is this worth?” and “When is it due?”

Student’s hand-drawn circuit of a display showing her date of birth

These questions make me cringe.   In my – so far short trial of SBG – I have found a few very positive things and still have many questions and challenges.


  • Students understand the purpose of activities when tied to a specific standard or skill
  • Students strive to earn a 4/4 on each standard – demonstrating mastery of that standard
  • Students can be reassessed in many different ways – written questions, verbal discussion/explanation, or additional practice 
  • Quizzes are very focused on standards and do not include “filler” 
  • Students actually review quizzes rather than throwing them out
  • Students do not play the points game to get an “A”
  • It is much more difficult to demonstrate “A” or mastery of a standard
  • Students can list standards and skills they have mastered and learned

  • Explaining procedures to students 
  • Providing consistent feedback to students
  • Developing reassessments that show growth of student’s understanding
  • How many standards?
  • Scale: 1 – 4 or 2 – 4? Or something different
  • How to track students through the process 
  • How to translate SBG into a typical A – F gradebook
  • Can students still list or explain a standard 3 weeks from now?

Things that still need to be done: 
  • Better communication with parents
    • Written
    • Verbal
  • Alignment of all standards with: 
    • Activities
    • Assessments 
  • Rubrics developed for all standards 
    • Does a rubric for each standard even need to be made? Does a generic work? 

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