Standards-Based Learning and Grading Update (06/10/24)

Standards Based Learning

As we wrap up this school year, we wanted to provide our secondary families with an update regarding our work this semester regarding Standards-Based Grading. This work was a collaboration between teachers, students, and parents to find solutions to improve the execution of Standards-Based Grading.

The Process:

  • Problems Identified from school surveys and focus groups
  • Student, teacher, and parent task force groups were formed
  • Ideas formulated
  • Solutions tested in sandbox
  • Feedback received from pilot groups

Main Challenges:

  • Lack of user-friendly, timely, consistent feedback on assignments
  • Inconsistent practices between teachers
  • Students not completing work in a timely manner


The teachers who were part of the SBL Subcommittee began brainstorming potential solutions in sandbox accounts throughout the spring semester. We also invited parents and students to the sandbox accounts to gather feedback. The feedback from parents, students, and staff was very positive and the following decisions were made:

  • Improved Learning Management System Capabilities: Great news. After two years of requests, Canvas updated its software capabilities, providing us the ability to enter grades in one platform (Canvas) instead of two platforms (Canvas and Mastery Connect) and also providing us the ability to report “live-time” numerical grades and GPA without manual calculations. Here is a video and a learning guide that outlines the new Canvas feature and will show you how grades will be reported. Here are a few highlights:
    • Each course will have an overall average reported as a letter grade at the top of the Canvas page.
    • Middle school grades will be averaged by categories at the bottom of the Canvas gradebook page. There will also be an overall average for the class that will help parents to determine a student’s progress in that class, however grades for middle school will be reported as the standard category.
    • High school grades will be averaged by category but will be reported as an overall average. This shows students which category they might be struggling with, but the overall grade for the course will be an average of all of the Demonstration of Knowledge assignments regardless of their category.
  • Increased Teacher Consistency: A group of teachers and administrators are working together in June to prepare baseline expectations for teacher gradebooks, feedback, and communication that all will be trained in prior to the start of next school year.
  • Grading Deadlines and Expectations: Retakes and redo assignments/assessments will increase clarity and consistency campus-wide. After feedback is provided on the final Demonstration of Knowledge assignment for the unit, teachers will post an announcement on Canvas with the unit closing date. This will give students two weeks to submit any corrections or resubmissions.
  • In Canvas, grades will be reported as 4,3,2,1, which will be converted to a letter grade on the report card for grades 6-12. Middle school will have one letter grade for each grading category, and high school will have one overall letter grade for the course (see learning guide or video).

Our SBL Subcommittee will continue to work on making improvements to grading and the transparency of grades. We value your feedback and hope that this change brings transparency and clarity to the gradebook.

Rationale for Standards-Based Learning and Grading:

Standards-based grading offers a more precise and equitable way to measure student learning, emphasizing mastery and continuous improvement. By providing clear, detailed feedback and focusing on individual learning goals, SBG helps to create a more supportive and effective educational environment.

  • Increases Student Preparedness:
    • Personalized Learning: SBG aligns student work with where students are at in their learning in relation to each standard.
    • Preparation for Future Learning: It ensures that students are prepared for the next chapter in their education instead of matriculating students forward without clear knowledge of where they are at in relation to educational standards.
  • Focuses on Mastery:
    • Emphasis on Learning: SBG shifts the focus from earning grades to mastering content.
    • Continuous Improvement: Students can retake assessments or rework assignments to demonstrate improved understanding, promoting a growth mindset.
    • Teaches what quality work looks like: Grades are established based on the student’s ability to turn in quality work that meets benchmark standards instead of simply turning in work for completion grades. Teachers design and grade assignments in such a way that students receive feedback on the quality of their work in relation to the clearly articulated expectations.
    • Targeted Feedback: Teachers provide specific feedback on which standards students have mastered and where they need more work, helping to identify and address learning gaps.
    • Reduces meaningless work: The focus of teaching and learning is on mastery not on the endless completion of work which allows teachers to tailor the work for each student with the goal of mastery instead of meaningless transactional work.
  • Provides Clarity and Transparency:
    • Specific Learning Goals: SBG breaks down the curriculum into specific standards or learning goals, making it clear what students need to know and be able to do.
    • Clear Criteria: It provides clear criteria for each level of performance, helping students understand what is expected of them.
  • Additional Accountability:
    • Teacher Accountability: Teachers are held accountable for ensuring that students meet specific standards, which can improve the quality of instruction.
    • Student Accountability: Students are accountable for their own learning, knowing that they need to demonstrate mastery of each standard.
  • Informs Instructional Decisions:
    • Data-Driven: The detailed information on student performance allows teachers to tailor instruction to meet individual needs, differentiating their teaching strategies to support all learners effectively.
  • Enhances Communication:
    • Better Parent and Student Understanding: Parents and students receive detailed reports on progress towards specific standards, facilitating better communication about academic performance and areas for improvement.
    • Alignment with Curriculum and Instruction: SBG aligns grading with curriculum standards and instructional practices, ensuring consistency and coherence in the education system.
  • Increases Motivation and Engagement:
    • Motivation: SBG encourages students to focus on learning rather than merely striving for high grades, fostering a higher level of motivation for learning.
    • Engagement: Knowing what is expected and receiving clear feedback can increase student engagement and effort.
  • Consistent with Best Practice:
  • The field of education is moving towards this type of grading system due to the increased ability of teachers to personalize learning based on student needs and performance. The traditional grading system has not evolved in over 100 years, and it is time to incorporate a grading system that is focused on individual student learning.

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Understandably, there are many questions related to a grading system that parents did not have when they were in school. To help our community get their questions answered we have provided answers to common questions.

Answer: Standards-based grading is an approach to assessing and reporting student performance that focuses on their mastery of specific learning standards. Instead of traditional letter grades, students receive feedback on their progress toward meeting established benchmarks for knowledge and skills.

Answer: Traditional grading often combines various elements like test scores, homework completion, and classroom behavior into a single grade. SBG, on the other hand, separates academic achievement from other factors, providing a more accurate reflection of a student’s understanding of specific standards. It emphasizes mastery of content over time rather than a cumulative score.

Answer: In SBG, grades typically represent levels of proficiency in relation to specific standards. These marks indicate how well a student understands the material rather than just how many points they’ve accumulated. For example:

4 Exceeds the standard.

3 Meets the standard.

2 Approaching the standard.

1 Beginning to understand the standard.

Answer: SBG emphasizes mastery of essential skills and knowledge, which is crucial for college and career readiness. By focusing on what students actually know and can do, SBG helps develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-assessment skills. These competencies are highly valued in higher education and the workforce.

Answer: Many colleges and universities are becoming familiar with standards-based grading and recognize its value. High schools often translate SBG marks into traditional grades for transcripts, ensuring that students are not disadvantaged in the college admissions process. Additionally, the detailed feedback from SBG can help students present a clear picture of their strengths and achievements.

Answer: SBG can enhance motivation and self-esteem by focusing on individual progress and growth. Students are encouraged to improve and master each standard at their own pace, which fosters a growth mindset and reduces the stress associated with traditional letter grades. The clear feedback helps students understand their strengths and areas for improvement.

Answer: In SBG, academic grades are based solely on mastery of the standards. Homework and class participation are often assessed separately as part of learning behaviors or work habits. This distinction ensures that grades reflect actual learning and understanding of the content.

Answer: SBG allows for reassessment and multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding. If a student doesn’t perform well initially, they can receive additional instruction and practice before being reassessed. This approach helps ensure that grades reflect the most current and accurate understanding of the material.

Answer: You can support your child by:

  • Understanding the Standards: Familiarize yourself with the learning standards and what your child is expected to know and do.
  • Monitoring Progress: Regularly review the feedback and reports provided by teachers to stay informed about your child’s progress.
  • Encouraging a Growth Mindset: Encourage your child to view challenges as opportunities for growth and to persevere through difficult tasks.
  • Communicating with Teachers: Stay in touch with your child’s teachers to understand their progress and how you can support their learning at home.

Answer: SBG is designed to be flexible and supportive of diverse learning needs. It allows for differentiated instruction and multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery, accommodating various learning styles and paces. Teachers can provide targeted interventions and support to help all students achieve proficiency in the standards.

If you have questions about standards-based grading we encourage you to email your questions to one of our school directors at the following email address and they will get back to you.

Thank you for your partnership with STEM School Highlands Ranch. Our aim is to be the very best K-12 STEM School in America, and the only way that is possible is through consistent collaboration with our parents.

In partnership,

LynAnn Kovalesky, Executive Director

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