Grading Systems

Single Grade/Course VS. Standards-Based Grading

Single Grade/Course

What is the typical grading system?

  • Students are given one grade per course, typically ranging from A-F.

  • An A typically ranges between 90% and 100%; a B equates to 80% to 89%; a C falls between 70% and 79%; a D squeaks by with 60% to 69%; and an F represents 59% and below. At times, students are also given a number percentage. The number percentage follows the same letter grade/percentages as listed.


  • Most see letter grades as a more objective way of grading. They are calculated using a mathematical equation, therefore they are more cut and dry.
  • Letter grades are easier for parents to understand and monitor. They can look at a quiz that may have a score of 8/10 and they know that is an 80%.
  • Teachers can better justify a grade through their grade book. It goes back to the basic mathematical equation; you can weigh assignments differently, but still use the same system.
  • Letter grades make it easy for parents to identify the general quality of their children’s classroom efforts.


  • Letter grades often assess more than just academic performance. Factors such as attendance, class participation and late assignments can have a sizable impact on a student’s final letter grade. Students who have high scores in these factors -- but struggle with class lessons -- may end up receiving the similar grades as their higher-performing classmates who struggle with attendance and class participation. As a result, traditional letter grades don’t always portray an accurate reading of a student’s purely academic abilities.

  • When students are rated solely on this scale, there is little or no recovering for a student who receives a zero (F) on one assignment.

Standard Based Grading

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What is Standard Based Grading?

  • A system of reporting student proficiency in a number of specific learning goals (or standards).

  • Calls for a clear identification of what students should know and be able to do. Increased clarity in terms of student learning goals quite naturally calls for increased accuracy in terms of assessment, grading and record keeping.

  • Measures a student's mastery of the essential standards for a class, or how well a student understands the material in class.

  • At the beginning of every unit, the teacher will break down the standards for the unit into smaller objectives and criteria using a detailed rubric.


Rubrics give a specific breakdown of the skills assessed on a given test or assignment. You can see a progression through a particular skill set when you compare two rubrics.

  • Growth Mindset - Teachers are able to use ongoing formative assessments as a way to guide classroom instruction. Students are able to practice their mastery of standards without the penalty of receiving a poor grade in the grade book. The process of reteaching creates an opportunity for both teachers and students to learn from their mistakes

  • Quality Curriculum and Assessments - Standards-based grading requires me to closely examine the actual standards of my content and evaluate the predetermined objectives. Without a clear set of measurable standards, there cannot be quality classroom instruction.

  • Clear Communication - Standards-based grading allows me to clearly communicate with students and parents where individuals are with their understanding of each concept. No longer are students able to hide behind weighted averages and positive academic behaviors such as attendance


Rubrics tend to feel they are more subjective than a letter grade. Rubrics can be difficult to understand.

  • Teaching Responsibility - "I like the overall goal. But I don't want children to always think they can re-do things so they don't try their best the first time" (anonymous parent). I've had many parents communicate a similar concern to me throughout the school year so far. Although some are grateful for reteaching and reassessment, others are worried that we are not preparing their children for the "real world." I communicate to these parents that we are trying to encourage students to value persistence and appreciate effort in order to reach higher levels of achievement, which will benefit them into adulthood.
  • More Time - All educators experience the need for more time in the school day, week, month, and year! Reteaching and reassessment opportunities have created additional work for classroom teachers. They are now grading assessments and subsequent reassessments which can take up a significant amount of time.
  • Remaking the Wheel - Although I feel more connected to my curriculum, it's because I find myself redesigning many formative and summative assessments. Some of the activities or projects that I'd previously used in my classroom had been passed on to me by veteran teachers. Upon closer examination, these resources were very well designed but did not effectively offer the opportunity for students to demonstrate proficiency of content standards. I believe that after this year, I will be able to reflect on and fine tune my new assessments without having to redesign entire curriculum units.

Grading System vs. Standards-Based Grading

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Interesting Thoughts

  • In a standards-based system, learners become accustomed to different stages of progress toward achieving the standards. The idea of "failing" or "not passing" is a foreign concept.

  • The famous quote, "What’s popular is not always right, and what’s right is not always popular," summarizes what has happened in most grade books for a century.

  • Why should students be penalized for a low grade or single missing assignment in the beginning of a semester when they have shown improvement over the course of the term?

  • Advocates of letter grades may argue that students have received letter grades -- without issue -- for a long time; "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" Many parents and guardians are familiar with the letter-grade system, and they may find alternate systems confusing.

  • For holistic views of assessment, letter grades can’t always serve as the best measurement tool for learners or parents interested in understanding the proficiency levels.

Questions and Answers

What about students who have an IEP? How will their progress be represented through standards-based grading?

Standards-based grading principles are equally as applicable and appropriate for students with disabilities as they are for their typical peers. IEP teams, inclusive of general educators, should determine what, if any, adaptations are needed for students to master grade-level expectations. Some students on an IEP have accommodations that support them with making progress to grade-level standards. These students will be instructed with these accommodations and then graded on the standards.

What about students who are English Language Learners? How will their progress be represented through standards-based grading?

Standards-based grading principles and tenets are equally as applicable and appropriate for students who are learning English as they are for their native English speaking peers. English Language Learners may have modified grade-level expectations for any oral language and/or communication standard within various content areas. This includes all Reading, Writing and Communicating Standards, as well as any communication standards within other content areas. The modification within these standards should be adjusted based on the student’s current placement along the language acquisition continuum.

What about homework? I’ve heard it doesn’t “count” in standards-based grading. How do I make sure my student understands the importance of homework if it isn’t part of the final grade?

Homework is practice. Therefore, let's re-think the question to be, "Does practice count?" Practice is extremely important and valuable as it prepares you to perform.

How are we going to teach our kids that in the real world or on tests such as CSAP, ACT, etc., that they must do their best the first time or on a continuous basis?

Our goal is student learning. We all know students learn at different rates, and students have issues that may affect their testing ability on a given day. Many real life final tests such as driver’s license, ACT, SAT, bar exam, MCATS, Olympics, etc. offer multiple opportunities for mastery with no penalty for number of attempts. There are still deadlines within units and some of the practice work is time bound. There are indeed cut off times for assignments per teacher discretion when late work will simply not be accepted because the unit is over.

Research Articles

Research Videos

Rick Wormeli: Standards-Based Grading
Standards Based Grading
Standards Based Grading and the Game of School: Craig Messerman at TEDxMCPSTeachers