Standards-Based grading is a method of grading that focuses on mastery of a skill/standard rather than the accumulation of scores in a content area.
The new Standards-Based grading system currently used throughout the U.S. education system is significantly different from the letter-grade system that most parents grew up with.
This system is designed to allow high-achieving students to progress more rapidly through the curriculum, and ensure that all students reach a certain lower bound of proficiency. Each student’s level of achievement can be measured, and the over-all degree of learning advancement attained by the entire class can also be more accurately determined.
Basic Overview of the Proficiency-Based Grading System
1. Grades have a clear translation
Under the older letter-based grading method, there is a lack of consistency in what level of achievement a particular letter-grade represents, and where the cut-off is between different grades. Grading has a large subjective element, and varies between different subjects.
Proficiency-based grading eliminates this ambiguity by setting specific lower bounds on achievement. Students do not progress through the curriculum until they have demonstrated proficiency in the subject-area, based on concrete criteria. This allows a teacher to determine what level of material is appropriate for each student, and which students need extra instruction or remedial teaching in order to excel. Each grade is a descriptive qualification that helps to identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses.
2. Grading Criteria Are Constantly Evaluated
Proficiency-based grading takes the guesswork out of assigning different weights to homework and tests. Standards of proficiency create concrete targets toward which assignments can be geared, so that teachers can focus on teaching toward specific learning objectives and assessing each student’s level of proficiency.
Benefits of Proficiency-Based Grading
1. Curriculum Structure Aids Students at All Levels
The re-structuring of curricula benefits gifted students by allowing and encouraging them to progress at their own faster pace, and creates the space for them to do so. At the same time, slower learners are not penalized for taking a longer time to finish assignments and meet course requirements. Adjusted assignments and evaluations do not call for grading modifications.
2. Proficiency-based grading reveals substantive quality
When students are required to meet certain standards in the classroom, they learn to evaluate their own skill levels and growth. When students continuously revise their own performance levels, they attain higher levels of self-sufficiency and self-worth.
3. Standards-Based Grading Triggers Additional Educational Reforms
When grading and achievement standards are clearly defined, school curricula are often re-evaluated and revised. The needs of students at all learning levels are addressed, and parents can more easily comprehend the deficiencies, progress, achievements or pronounced advancements of their children. Parents appreciate opportunities for students to retest when ready, and slower achievers show strong improvement over time and often begin to excel.