Standards-based grade system: A viable replacement for points

The benefits that standards grading on a one to four system holds, and replacing our current system of percentages and letters students are scored on.


Addison Delgado

What’s the standard? Currently, standards are already a norm in some classrooms. Kati Tilley instructs her students as they work. Tilley implemented standards grading around ten years ago in replacement of points. “One of the hurdles is getting students to understand the skill you’re trying to teach them, and making sure they understand how they’re assessed,” Tilley said.

Percentage-based grades have been a part of Lake Stevens School District since its founding with a scale of grades of one hundred to zero percent and a letter corresponding. But some teachers have chosen to grade on a one to four scale and not percentages. A system referred to as standards-based grading.

Standards-based grading is grading based on a set of standards set by the state and determined by a teacher and course. Standards are designed to evaluate how well a student is understanding a concept and give a number grade from one to four based on student work. But currently, in the grade book these standards still have to be translated into percentages, as a percentage system is still the norm for a majority of teachers.

Standards-based grading should be implemented in more classes in our schools. Standards are flexible, allowing teachers to have a better understanding of where students are struggling in a subject and how well students are grasping the material. Essentially, standards give more students fair chances to succeed academically.

Without a doubt, grades are a priority in school, especially for those striving to be accepted into college. Students complete assignments to get the best score and keep grades up; instead of actually learning material, they go through the motions to make sure they understand a subject. Currently, there are a few teachers who grade with standards, a majority of whom are English and history teachers.

ELA teacher Kati Tilley is one of the teachers who chose to switch to standards. Standards allow educators to communicate what exact skills they want students to be able to do and give a more fair assessment.

“I had too many examples of students completing assignments simply just to try and get the points and not actually to learn the material within the assignments,” Tilley said.

Standards allow students to learn, instead of solely doing assignments to receive points and keep grades up.

“I’ve had some students that were historically unsuccessful, “become successful” because they felt that freedom, they didn’t feel like they were. They were up against the system that didn’t work for them,” social studies teacher Joel Kesler said.

Kesler also grades with standards, and this is the first full year that he is grading this way.

Standards allow students the freedom to have more opportunities to get better grades in school, instead of being stuck with low grades. One poor performance on a test and a student’s grade can drop drastically. Currently, the baseline for an F is fifty percent. Students can complete an assignment or an assessment, but do poorly and receive minuscule credit. Which might not be an accurate reflection of how well they might have understood the subject.

“I do think I’m more thorough with my assignments with standard grading because I know it’s one number away from being a much lower grade than, say, a geometry assignment. When I miss one problem, I’m still gonna get like a 96%, and it’ll still be okay,” sophomore Madeline Tack said.

The main focus of standards-based grading is creating a measurement of how much a student learns in a semester or a year, instead of how well a student can complete assignments for points.

Receiving a three in standards-based grading could bring a grade down to a low A or B, but standards allow growth. Standards are created for the success of students and for teachers to understand where students are struggling. And instead of speeding through assignments for points, students must be more thorough with their work. Which in return, it allows teachers to understand where their students need assistance in their learning.

Students are able to fully grasp concepts, apply them, and standards are overall a better representation of their understanding.

Standards grading does present challenges for both staff and the student body. Would standards even work in every subject? Wouldn’t standards be too difficult to implement school-wide for both teachers and students?

It would be difficult to implement a system like that. It would take time, and it would take a lot of work for both students and teachers. Not every teacher and student would be willing to make the change, and it would require cooperation.

But, the benefits of standards could be worth it for both staff and the student body. Standards allow for more freedoms for the benefit of students and allow them to have more opportunities to succeed in school – which is the whole point of getting an education – to learn more.

With science and math classes, standards are possible. Teachers can evaluate what they want their students to be able to know and understand with each individual unit or lesson in their classes. That’s the best part about standards- they’re flexible.

Another challenge that teachers using standards to grade still face is the issue of inputting grades into the grade book. Standards must be converted to percentages and given letter grades to be sent out for progress reports.

A compromise must be created- standards should, and can be decided by each teacher. Each teacher controls what happens in their classroom, and how they grade, and how to set up standards.

The grading system in Skyward would also have to be changed to reflect standards-based grading. Instead of percentages, the grade book would have to show a one, two, three or four, instead of zero to hundred percent. Report cards and progress reports must reflect this change as well and show a one to four instead of a letter and a percent.

Or, in place of changing solely to standards, adjusting the baseline for normal letter grades; A zero for an F instead of a fifty percent or lower.

Standards, overall provide freedom: both for students and teachers alike. Our whole world is always changing; new ideas, new technology, with COVID, everybody’s lives changed dramatically.

It could be time for a new grading system, too. For the betterment of our student body, our staff, our school district- and our education.