Five Myths of Standards-Based Grading

By Kristine Tesoriero

Middle School/High School Curriculum & Professional Learning Coordinator

Assessment Consultant, Tom Schimmer helps us address common misinterpretations that sometimes get in the way of sound assessment practices

unknownThis week we welcomed assessment consultant, Tom Schimmer, to ISB. Tom will spend time with teams of teachers across the middle school and high school to engage in professional learning around Standards-Based Grading. In his latest book, Grading from the Inside Out, Tom addresses some of the myths of standards based grading as a way of acknowledging real concerns of teachers as they try to implement sound assessment practices.  Here is what he has to say about five common myths.
Myth #1- Standards-Based Grading Makes It Easier For Students

Tom Schimmer explains the importance of why we assess, what we assess, and how we assess.

Rather than accumulating a certain number of points within a reporting period or using an average of all grades earned within a time period, in a standards-based classroom students are measured on their level of proficiency towards the meeting of subject-specific standards. Since learning is viewed as a progression, standards-based grading promotes continual growth and sets the expectation that learning is never finished. Tom says, “If anything, passing has become more rigorous as teachers look beyond the numbers to identify the specific areas of strength and weakness as they relate to the standards of learning within each subject.”
Myth #2- Standards-Based Grading Is More Work For The Teacher
It is different work, not more work. Tom says, “Until the new practices become habit, they will feel forced, artificial, and like more work, especially for teachers with many years of established traditional grading practices under their belt.” He suggest that to manage the shift to new practices, teachers need a “replacement routine” for the traditional approaches to assessment.
Here are some of the ways in which standards-based grading may actually become more efficient than traditional assessment practices:
-teachers move away from grading everything, in favor of providing feedback to students through more formative assessments (not graded)
-teachers can teach student how to self-assess and peer-assess during the formative assessment process
-rather than spending time considering how teachers assign points consistently, the focus is on providing useful and specific feedback that students can use to make improvements
-rather than grading substandard work, teachers ask students to try again, or seek assistance if they turn in assignments that are not ready for summative grading
Myth #3- There Is Only One Way To Implement Standards-Based Grading
This week Tom has been discussing the idea that assessment is both clinical and artistic. The only non-negotiable to standards-based grading is that grades are based on the level of learning that students are achieving.  The artistic side of assessment indicates that while there are some general ways we see schools implement standards-based grading, there are also some nuances to the process and that we have flexibility in how we do this. The ultimate goal is to “accurately report student proficiency while maintaining students’ confidence in their continual growth”. This does require consistency among teams of teachers, but the decisions you make to achieve this goal can be different depending on the context.
Myth #4-Students Are No Longer Held Accountable
How do you define accountability? How do your colleagues define it? Tom says that In standards-based classrooms accountability is redefined, not eliminated. At ISB we used the Student as a Learner criteria to report on how students demonstrate responsibility, attitudes, and collaboration in our classrooms. In a standards-based environment, students are still held accountable for these behaviors and since they are reported separately from academic proficiency, these attributes stand out and are actually highlighted for students and parents.
Myth #5- Students Will Be Unprepared For The Real World
A common misunderstanding about standards-based grading is that students will not be prepared for the “real world” because of the concern about student accountability, the allowance of “retests” and the worry about how standards-based report cards will be interpreted by colleges. In chapter three of his book, Tom says that, “If educators aren’t careful, their depictions (of the “real world”) become more a threat of an unknowable future than a real guide to life after high school-more illusion than reality.” This quote is supported by examples from the “real world” that are standards based and work environments where constructive feedback is used to support the growth of employees.
Just as we teach and provide opportunities for students to practice the skills that are important to the content they learn in their classes, we must also intentionally teach students the attitudes and habits they will need in life beyond high school. The focus on Student as a Learner allows teachers to assess and report out on these habits. Tom makes the following points about this common misinterpretation of standards-based grading:
-in standards-based grading deadlines DO matter
-in the “real world” we are not penalized for what we previously did not know
-“..the granular nature of standards-based grading and the separation of important attributes could result in students being more prepared, as they would have a clearer picture of both their academic proficiency and their behavioral readiness.”
-some universities (some prestigious ones too!) are rethinking their grading policies to move away from traditional grading
While these myths represent real concerns about standards-based grading, Tom Schimmer is helping our learning community to address these concerns head-on. He is helping us to engage in meaningful conversation about how we implement sound assessment practices.
Tom Schimmer address myth #4   with high school teachers.
Tom Schimmer address myth #4 with high school teachers.

For more resources from Tom Schimmer you can visit his website: and follow him on Twitter: ‎@TomSchimmer

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