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Traditional Grading vs. Standard’s Based Grading

January 30, 2018

From the Principal

Recently I have spoken to a number of our parents about our reporting of student achievement on Middle School report cards and felt the need to get some clarity for all in this area.  This year, as well as last year we are reporting using the traditional approach AND we include attention to the standards the students are working on.  This has created some confusion and the purpose of this memo is to shed some light on that and perhaps put some minds at ease.

Traditional Grading

This style of reporting should not need too much explanation as it is the “way we have always done it”.  Simplistically, it takes into account everything a student does over a 10 week card marking, establishes a weighting scale for different kinds of work and generates a percentage that can then be converted to a letter grade convention.  Not all the pieces in this evaluation system directly indicate a sense of proficiency toward skill sets that are to learned, they are practice pieces and not meant to be used this way.  All homework, most classwork, and some other “graded” materials fall into this category and are not used to determine mastery of the subject – these are just assignments that students are responsible to do on the way toward mastery.

In this system of evaluation we use artifacts like tests, quizzes, papers, projects, presentations, and the like to “witness” proficiency.  A student needs to show the teacher that he/she knows the material, concepts, skills, and competencies that are being evaluated.  This gives the teacher data to support what each individual students level of mastery is for the material that was taught, this is why many of these assignments are confined to the classroom.  These evaluations are used to determine what a student has actually learned through the process.

Taken together we get a picture of what a child does and what a child knows, and this is reflected in a grade on a report card.  Over the years, there has been such an attention to getting “good grades” that for students and parents alike the question of what can I DO to raise my grade arises.  Is there extra credit available, can I DO an extra project?  This attention is not on what can I LEARN to improve and therein lies the problem with this sort of approach.  We continued to report in this fashion because with all the changes and innovations that our new Middle School has to offer, we felt that changing a system of reporting that you had become accustomed to would simply be too much to ask.  So, on our Middle School report card you get both.

Standards Based Grading

This system of reporting focuses on what students know and their performance mastery in a given subject area.  Specific tasks, skills, and proficiencies are established and students through instruction and practice move to mastery.  These skill sets are known as standards and they provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.  Standards are meant to challenge students to a higher level of thinking.  There has been a great deal of focus on memorization, attending to simple fact based answers and the like; with a standards focus we will move beyond that.  Some examples of these thinking skills are comparing and contrasting, analyzing, synthesizing information, and creating meaning that goes beyond what is taught in school.  This is a fundamental difference in the way which we have taught and assessed children in the past.

Like the traditional grading approach this system of evaluation uses artifacts like tests, quizzes, papers, projects, presentations, and the like to “witness” proficiency.  A student is challenged to show that they know the material, concepts, skills, and competencies that are being evaluated.  Processing skills are evaluated and children are encouraged to think for themselves and not just repeat what they are told or sets of facts read from text.  This level of proof must be individual and sustaining in nature and stands alone from any methods the student would have used to gain proficiency.  In other words, this tells us what the student knows or has actually learned from the experience.

Subsequently, the standards approach is result oriented and the reporting does not need to take into account the practice work that a student puts into place to reach mastery.  The goal is mastery and students continue to practice for as long as they need till that level is reached.  Mastery is determined by at least 80% consistency in evaluative measures for any given standard.  Meeting standards will result in an A or a B grade based on the level of demonstrated proficiency.  Students who are still working toward mastery receive an N, reflecting that they have not yet reached mastery.  Individual standards are scored with a numerical determination informing both parent and student on areas that need further focus and improvement.


At Huron, we strive to be innovative and provide what we feel is best for our students.  Standards based reporting is not new, but the adoption of these principles is gaining momentum as school look at positioning their students for the future.  This whole shift in focus and expectations is being put into place to make every child who attends an American school college ready when they graduate.  These “new” expectations begin in Kindergarten and move throughout the system through High School.  As a result we must now look at the knowledge that children attain throughout their elementary and middle school levels differently.

It’s not enough to know how to read if you don’t gain an understanding of what it is you read.  Likewise, you can learn about the Pythagorean Theorem, but if do not know how to use it in a practical application what good is the learning.  Students need to learn how to think, how to communicate, how to ask questions.  Moving toward result based reporting through mastery of standards is a practical pathway to help our students to higher levels of leaning.

We have already begun the movement toward greater expectations for our students as standard based reporting is already in place for our Kindergarten through 3rd grade students.  We have a mixed “hybrid” of standards and traditional grading currently in place in our middle school.  Our School Improvement Team has set a timeline where over the next two years 4th and 5th grade will move toward standards and at that time we will be reporting to you schoolwide from a results oriented track.  Over time there will be less and less attention on the completion of homework and practice worksheets that are exercises that students do and are the pathways used to reach mastery.  Student’s report cards will be a true reflection of what they know and what they need to keep working on.  They will inform students, parents, and teachers on what additional instruction and practice is necessary, so that all students can learn at a high level.

The biggest challenge over the next few years will be for our middle school families as we move closer and closer to truly reporting from a standards based platform.  We will be focused on what students know so they have the prerequisite knowledge necessary for high school and beyond.  Our students will be uniquely postured for success regardless of the choice you make for their High School education as they will begin to see the correlation between the work they do and the knowledge they gain.

If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to contact me.

Respectfully yours,
Mark S. Talbot