Standards-Based Learning at STEM

The Need for Change

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was signed into law on January 8, 2002. This act brought about a new criterion-referenced era of education in the United States.

Criterion-referenced teaching and learning measures an individual students’ performance against a set of academic standards and indicated an individual student’s level of proficiency in relation to specific standards.

Following NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed in 2015. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this act “requires -for the first time- that all students in America be taught high academic standards that will prepare them to succeed in college and careers.”

To meet ESSA requirements, states must define high levels of performance in academic standards and implement systems that clearly track student performance and achievement. A systematic way for schools to meet these requirements is to implement standards-based learning and reporting.

Why Are We Changing From the Traditional Grading System?

STEM School Highlands Ranch is moving towards Standards-Based Learning and Reporting to measure and communicate students’ learning and academic growth and achievement with greater accuracy. By switching we are able to provide clearer feedback to students based on specific learning goals.

In a traditional hundred-point grading system, grades are generated from the work assigned to students. These scores often include points for extra credit or deductions for behavior, such as turning work in late, and are an average of all of these things. This system does not take into account the learning process and doesn’t accurately show what a student can do. There are also biases within this system since teachers apply points differently. Students often do not know what a grade means and grade meanings can vary from class to class. Earning points becomes the motivating factor for students, causing them to chase points instead of knowledge.

Standards-Based Learning focuses on the mastery of essential content.

How Will Standards-Based Learning be different?

Standards-Based Learning is designed to communicate a student’s learning and knowledge of content and skills by clearly communicating a student’s mastery of a series of critical concepts.

Critical concepts are defined for each course and are the big ideas that are essential to mastering a course. These concepts are laid out in the form of proficiency scales which clearly define what students should know and be able to do. A student’s final score will not be an average of all the scores, but instead the student’s current level of understanding.

Learn more about SBL at STEM

What is SBL?

Standards-based education in Colorado is defined as an ongoing teaching/learning cycle that ensures all students learn and master Colorado’s Academic Standards and associated concepts and skills.

In this continuous process of teaching/learning, student achievement is frequently measured through a variety of formats and assessment practices, and students are provided multiple opportunities to learn until they reach mastery. Regardless of the content area, course, level, or revisions in standards, this teaching and learning cycle remains constant.

Being standards-based means that every teacher, in every classroom, every day, through this continuous teaching/learning cycle, ensures students learn all standards and associated concepts and skills to mastery.



Students receive a letter grade that represents a general idea of where they are in their learning.
Students receive a proficiency scale score in reference to each standard that has been taught
Teachers using individual ways, such as averaging or total points, to arrive at a final grade
Consistent grading practices
Academics and behavior mixed together into a grade
Academic and behavior reported separately
Grade books that track assignments
Grade books that track progress toward standards
100 point scale that emphasizes points
Four-point scale that defines levels of learning, growth and knowledge

What are the Advantages of Standards-Based Learning?

  • It allows students, teachers, and parents to track the student’s progress toward each standard.
  • It more accurately represents students’ knowledge and skills related to each standard.
  • It provides multiple opportunities for the student to show what they know.
  • It offers students opportunities to learn from mistakes made during the learning process and correct for understanding.
  • It provides increased consistency in grading policies and criteria across teachers and the school.
  • It ensures that every student has a chance to meet the standard, knowing that it may take longer for some students.
  • It provides accurate and specific information to all stakeholders in student learning.

What are the Main Differences from Traditional Grading?

  • Standards-Based Learning and reporting focuses on a student’s performance toward meeting grade-level standards rather than an accumulation of points.
  • Non-academic behaviors are reported separately.
  • Grades are determined by each student’s ability to meet the priority standards, not on how he or she compares to other students in the class. All students are given a chance to meet or exceed the standard.

Implementing SBL at STEM

Phase One


Teachers are meeting in grade levels and departments to prioritize our standards. Part of the prioritization is vertically aligning those standards to other grade levels. Once teachers have prioritized the standard we will vertically align those standards within grade levels/departments and begin to categorize them. This will help align departments and allow for teachers to focus on the critical concepts for each course or grade level.

Phase Two

Starts in August

Teachers, in (grade levels/departments) will develop proficiency scales based on the prioritized standards. These proficiency scales will be used in the classrooms for students to track their learning. Proficiency scales will communicate the standards that are being taught, the learning progression that is built into each instructional unit and will provide areas where students are having success and areas where they need more development.

Phase Three

In Development

Instruction and Feedback using proficiency scales. More information to come.

Phase Three

In Development

Assessment using Proficiency Scales. More information to come.

It is important to point out that we are still developing what Standards-Based Learning means for STEM. Our subcommittee (made up of teachers, administrators, and counselors) is meeting weekly to provide a framework for school-wide needs. We will continue to update this page as we work through this process.

On Wednesday, March 23, 2022, Michelle Gasser, Director of Professional Development, along with members of the SBL Subcommittee will hold a Zoom session for Parents on Standards-Based Learning.

The Webinar will focus on our implementation of SBL for next year. We will answer the following questions:

  1. What is Standards-Based Learning?
  2. Why are we making the switch?
  3. What does this mean for my student?
  4. How will grades be reported when we implement SBL?
  5. What does SBL mean for college acceptance?

On Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, Michelle Gasser, Director of Professional Development, along with members of the SBL Subcommittee held a Student Information Session in the High School Commons on Standards-Based Learning.

Will students be able to procrastinate with turning in their assignments if not all assignments are graded?

In short, yes. However students will need the content covered to do well on the assessment pieces that are used for data collection. If a student does not do well on a data collection item they will need to work with the teacher to determine the resubmission requirements. Some of the requirements could be that prior to being given the opportunity to resubmit, the student must complete all of the classwork that they did not submit.

When you say "practice", would it ever be possible that a teacher expects the student to "practice" on their own i.e. the student has to do self study separate from assignments from the teacher?

In terms of this question, practice refers to when a teacher presents a new topic or standard students should have the opportunity to “practice” that standard and receive feedback on that standard, prior to being assessed. There will still be homework opportunities for students to practice at home, however, no class should be introducing new content that students would need to learn on their own, without the teacher introducing that standard first.

Will students be able to collaborate if they are at different levels?

Yes. Students currently are at different levels and are collaborating. This will not change with SBL.

Since AP classes follow a nationally recognized standard set by the College Board, will AP classes NOT be graded using SBL?

AP and CE courses will follow their standards and will not follow standards-based learning.

How many times does a student have to reach a standard?

In order for data to be valid, there need to be multiple data points. The teacher will determine how many data points a standard requires. For a more complex standard, there might need to be quite a few data points that are needed versus with a simpler data point.

Is standards based learning able to be incorporated into problem based learning, and is STEM planning on doing this?

Yes. PBL and SBL go hand in hand. When you look at proficiency scales, the level 2.0 sections are really a majority of your direct instruction that you will need to be successful at the standard. This is the foundational knowledge piece. A 3.0 and a 4.0 are where you begin to see Problem Based Learning. This is where the level of complexity is higher and students are being asked to apply their knowledge in various different ways.

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