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.