Standards-Based Grading: What Parents Need to Know
How is my child really doing? What are they good at? What can I help them with at home?
If you are like most parents, these are the main things you want to know about your child’s progress in school. You are not alone!! At TOPA, we have been working to create a more complete and concise way to communicate with parents their scholars’ strengths and areas where their child could use more support. We are extremely excited to implement standards-based grading this year as a way to allow parents and teachers the ability to dial in on the specific skills each child needs to learn at their grade level to give parents a more complete picture of how their child is really doing in class.
What is Standards-Based Grading?
Standards-based grading, sometimes called proficiency grading, is a method for teachers to measure how students are doing in meeting the learning goals for their grade level as determined by their state’s standards. Learning goals, sometimes called learning targets, objectives, or standards, are the academic skills your child should know or be able to do for his grade level by the end of the school year.
Standards-based report cards give a grade for each learning goal, so students receive multiple grades in each subject area. In 5th grade math, for example, you’ll see the subject broken into several categories, such as operations/algebraic thinking and fractions. Under each category, you’ll see a list of math skills your child should be able to do, as well as a grade showing how your child is doing.
How a child performs on academic tasks such as assignments and assessments are not the only factor contributing to their success in school. Work habits and behavior—what TOPA and the IB program call Approaches to Learning—are graded separately to take into account not only academics, but how each child navigates the skills they need to be successful in school. Behaviors such as completing tasks on time, going to class prepared, working cooperatively with others and contributing positively to class discussions are as equally important to building a child’s success in school as is how they do on a math test. This year, you will see how your child is progressing on these work habits, behaviors, or Approaches to Learning (ATLs) in addition to the typical subject specific grades. This ability to look at how your child achieves on academic tasks as well as work habits will allow you and your child’s teacher to provide more targeted and specific support exactly to any areas with which a child may be struggling, ultimately allowing a child to get back on track more quickly.
How Standards-Based Grades Differ From Traditional Letter Grades
Providing grades for academic proficiency and work habits gives parents more information about the areas in which their child needs to improve than the traditional letter grading system. The traditional grading system combines many elements—test scores, quizzes, completed homework, classroom participation, coming to school on time, extra credit—and averages the semester’s work into a percentage that correlates with a letter grade.
Miguel Boriss, an 8th grade science teacher in Bellingham, Wash., explains letter grades this way: “One student might bring home a B because she did all the work, turned in all her homework, and participated in class but didn’t quite understand the concepts. Another student might bring home a B because he aced all the tests and quizzes but didn’t do any of the homework and didn’t participate in class,” he says. “Each student earns the same grade but for very different reasons, and the grade doesn’t tell parents very much about what the student knows.”
Because standards-based report cards separate the two, you can see if your child needs help with an academic concept or can’t remember to turn in homework. Both should be addressed. An overarching goal in education these days is to develop students who not only master academic content but also demonstrate attributes for successful learning beyond school.
How Progress Is Measured
This year, TOPA will begin to use a four-part scale to denote levels of achievement with descriptors such as:
- Highly Proficient (4)
- Proficient (3)
- Partially Proficient (2)
- Minimally Proficient (1)
Approaches to Learning (Behaviors) will be graded using the following scale:
- Exceeds Grade Level Expectations (4)
- Meets Grade Level Expectations (3)
- Progressing Towards Grade Level Expectations (2)
- Far Below Grade Level Expectations (1)
While there will be standards (or learning targets) that scholars work on all year long, they will be graded each quarter on what they are expected to know by the end of the quarter. So, for example, if your scholar’s learning target is to learn her multiplication tables by the end of the year, her proficiency grade in the first quarter might be to have learned tables 1-3, in the second quarter to have mastered tables 1-6, and so on.
How Do You Know How Your Child Is Doing?
Keep in mind that a 3 or “proficient” isn’t the same as a B. It means your child has met state standards, and that’s good! (In fact, The new Common Core standards will be raising the academic bar.)
Also, even top students can earn a 2 or “approaching proficiency” grade, which can be a shock for some families. But it’s more important to know if your child is struggling with a concept than to see a slew of top grades because of stellar work habits. On the upside, early low scores aren’t averaged into the final grade—so once your child masters the concept, her final grade shows that. Along the way, TOPA recommends checking your school’s online reporting system and communicating with your child’s teachers before problems go too far. “The report card should never come as a surprise,” he says.
Level 4, or the top level, may be the trickiest to understand. If your child earned A’s on traditional report cards, she may have received them for meeting the teacher’s requirements, not necessarily for excelling at or going beyond grade level according to state standard. In the new system, 4’s may be harder to come by (and 3’s should be celebrated). However, earning 4’s should be achievable in the classroom, In each TOPA classroom, the teacher will offer opportunities for students to excel and reach level 4 when applicable. Communicating with your child’s teacher will be key to understanding their progress towards grade level standards.
The important thing is that your child is learning and making progress. Celebrate learning, and the grades will follow!