September 30, 2019

Each year brings new ideas and strategies for teachers to implement, while still preparing lessons, grading papers, and keeping their classrooms in some semblance of order. Amid all of these challenges, a call to change grading policies can seem particularly unrealistic. One grading practice that is gaining popularity is Standards Based Grading (SBG), which involves measuring students’ proficiency on well-defined course objectives. SBG has been implemented at Lucy Wortham James Elementary one grade level at a time over the past few years, with fourth grade leading the way this year. Once fifth grade implements next year, LWJE students and parents should better understand the standards for each grade level. The following year, SBG will move across town to the middle school. In this article, I will share some of the key elements of SBG and why it is an important piece of the academic journey within the St. James R-I School District.   

 John Hattie, acclaimed education researcher, has reviewed over 120 meta-analysis studies. This means hundreds of pieces of research has been synthesized into one piece of research called Visible Learning. In that, Dr. Hattie, places an “effect size” on all things that can impact a student’s learning; boredom, lack of sleep, moving from school to school, reducing class size, health, homework, etc. In his work, he considers an effect size of 0.40 to be the hinge point; impacts that have an effect size of 0.40 or better should be worth considering. 

 The number one item is Collective Teacher Efficacy with an effect size of 1.57. Hattie defines it like this: Collective teacher efficacy (CTE) refers to a staff’s shared belief that through their collective action, they can positively influence student outcomes, including those who are disengaged and/or disadvantaged. This is the reason Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are so important to our district. 

 Number two on Hattie’s list is Self-Reported Grades (1.33). Self-reported grades are a big component of SBG. Think back with me to the days when we received only percentages and letter grades. A conversation with a parent might go like this. “How did you do on your English test?” “I got an 84.” “Well that’s a B isn’t it?” “Yes” “What do you need to do to get an A?” “I guess get three more questions right.” In some ways, it would be the equivalent of going in for one’s job evaluation and the supervisor saying you got an 84. What does that mean?

 The goal of SBG is to determine exactly what it is we want students to learn, and then help them understand how they are progressing toward that target. Example: students will understand how to properly use capital letters. After students are given an assessment (which are graded 1 – 3), they sit down with their teacher and discuss their score. So if they received a 2 because they forgot to capitalize proper nouns, but got all of the first letters of the sentence properly capitalized; they should be able to know that in order to get a 3, they need to work on recognizing what a proper noun is. Students monitor their progress through charting their work and learning from the teacher exactly what they need to do to become proficient for each standard.

 One of the things I love about SBG is the inherent growth mindset that comes from helping students understand when they haven’t mastered the skill YET and giving them the tools and support necessary to help them get to mastery. Helping students understand their learning journey not only leads to better student achievement, but it also fosters perseverance, a can-do attitude, and develops grit. These are many of the characteristics employers are looking for when recruiting quality employees.