Standards Based Grading

Can we do better than alphabet soup?

Kristi Jenkins, NBCT, Somerset High School

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A tradition rich high school looks at the future of grades

Somerset High School's history of academic excellence has brought the Briar Jumpers to a critical juncture as we face, along with the rest of the nation, how to prepare a new generation of learners for a world that we cannot begin to imagine.

The Common Core has revolutionized the way we approach presenting information, fostering learning, and assessing mastery. We have embraced 21st Century learning, but we are reliant on a 19th Century grade card.

What was the impetus for this research?

My English IV class wrote responses about grade inflation. Their critical look at the grades, GPAs, expectations -- their own, their peers', and their instructors' -- was the foundation for this research.
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What do students say about their grades?

With the prevelance of Common Core and emphasis on standards-driven curriculum, the discussion on how to best represent the mastery of standards with grades is happening across the country. There is more research on SBG in elementary and middle school than high school, but there is research out there.

SBD or A,B,C? Which means more to students? To teachers?

I created a standards based grade sheet to assess writing and used it instead of the more traditional writing rubrics I've relied on in the past. Grade sheets and rubrics save a little time, but there is no substitute for specific, meaningful comments from the assessor. Sure, it saves me some time to be able to mark a box indicating weak mechanics or ineffective transitions, but I wrote lots of comments in addition to marking the standards sheet.

We Need More Meaningful Indicators of Knowledge and Skills

These seniors have endured the application process for admission and for scholarship assistance, and they know the value of GPA, class rank, and weighted courses. They address the value of having a more consistent way students' knowledge and abilities from school to school, district to district, and state to state.
Discussion participants are seated from the left: Austin Coomer, Lorraine Belcher, Matt Floyd, Jarred Murray, Devin Cowan , Shawn Holloway, Melinda Farris, and Amina Nadim.
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Hurdles to Overcome

Given a copy of our grade card, the Infinite Campus grade summary report, and the grade report I created listing the standards to be marked mastered or not mastered, they discuss the complications they see in utilizing the Standards Based Grade report.

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Most of the research on Standards Based Grading is centered on elementary and middle schools. The most significant issue I found when looking at high schools using SBG is the use of some sort of conversion to a letter/numerical grade. I see why they have to convert standards mastery to an A, B, C, or D. I understand the need for a student to have a 2.76 or 3.9 on a transcript for scholarships and class rank, but it brings a new set of questions. If you are just indicating that 82% of the standards are mastered equals a B, what have you gained?

I have taught English III and IV at Somerset High School since graduating from Eastern Kentucky University in 1990. Along with my department members, I attended NCTE in Louisville early in my career, and it changed the course of my professional life. I loved Kentucky's writing portfolio. Was it perfect? No. Could we have made it more manageable and more effective for students? Sure. Were we empowering our students to tell their stories and think creatively and insightfully? Absolutely. Were we producing proficient writers? Yes, we were. Following a particularly successful year with my seniors, a colleague and I wrote a proposal to present in Denver at NCTE. National Board Certification followed. It was the easily the most challenging thing I've ever done professionally, but it was an invaluable experience. Currently, I am advocating that great literature makes students think, and if you produce thinkers, assessment takes care of itself. The canon and Common Core can and should coexist.