What Students Think About Standards Based Grading

I started standards based grading for the last quarter of this school year.  My students had to adjust part way through the year to the new system as well as a new achievement (progress) report.  I started standards based grading to help students focus on learning and not on chasing a number grade.  Here are the responses of my students after one quarter of standards based grading (the survey was anonymous to ensure students were honest)  The survey results are from my 2 freshman algebra classes and there are a few responses from my senior statistics class.

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From these results you can see that the majority of students are choosing standards based grading.  Even though students have a clearer picture of their understanding and are more focused with learning through standards based grading, they still want traditional grades.  I believe the reason for this is because they are comfortable with traditional grades and are more concerned with the grade than their learning.  It is not the student’s fault that they are more concerned about grades that learning, but clearly these results are showing one of the problems with traditional grades.

As a teacher I have learned that I need to create a classroom that focuses on learning and helps students have a desire to learn

Students Describe Their Overall Experience with SBG

“It is good that it describes each topic but I like seeing an actual grade”

“It was easier to know what I need to improve”

“It showed me all areas that I needed to get better that way I knew what questions to ask or what come in for in the morning”

“I like Standards Based Grading, I feel like it makes me learn better. However, it lowered my grades and makes it more challenging to make a higher grade.”

“I like it because I can see what I understand and what I don’t, but with regular grading my grade is higher”


Overall students enjoyed and benefitted from using standards based grading.  There was some confusion that came from changing to SBG in the last quarter.  The change was hard for some students to understand, but with using SBG all year student will have more than a 9 week experience.  You will notice that students still want a grade and are concerned with the grade instead of learning.  I do think that standards based grading is a step in the right direction to help students focus on learning and understanding.

What Method Students Prefer and WHY


  • I can make a higher grade
  • I’m use to it
  • just because it’s easier to get an A
  • easier to get a 100
  • I know my grade in the class
  • it shows me the missing assignments and what I need help on and directly shows me my grade in the class
  • it show me what my grade is and we have some what more grades


  • it’s easier to know what you need to try better on
  • it shows students what they need to practice more
  • I can see my strong point and my weak ones
  • Helps me focus on what I need to learn
  • I can see what I need to work on instead of just thinking about one number

The student responses here are very telling. There is a dramatic difference in the focus of students based on the “grading” method that they prefer.  As you can see the students that prefer traditional grading are looking for comfort, easy grades, and higher grades. The focus of each of these students is on a grade! In direct contract, students that prefer standards based grading are focused on effort and learning.The student responses clearly show that changing how student achievement is assessed and reported can help students focus on learning.  As educators, with support, we have the power to make this change and ultimately create a culture of learning for our students.  Many people know that our students are leaving high school unprepared for careers and college as they are looking for easy and not practice and work. [check out my post on the problems with traditional grading here]

Students Define an A

One of the issues with standards based grading for this quarter was determining the final grade [check out this post for more on calculating a final grade]. Many students said that is was harder to earn an A on standards based grading than traditional grading.  I then decided it would be beneficial to have students describe what an A means.  Here are their thoughts:

“The person understands perfectly and could teach some one what they are working on”

“An a means you understand the subject so well hat you could teach it”

“Complete understanding of topic”


“Knowing the material enough to answer almost all questions correctly.”

“Putting forth effort and paying attention”

As you can see here my students have different ideas for classifying an A.  This comes from 8 years of experience in school and the different teachers they have had. I think many educators would agree that an A is more than passing and putting forth effort.  I believe that some of my students (the first 2) are spot on in their definition of an A.  An A is for a student that understands the content at a deeper level and has retained the content over time.  There is much more that can be said about the definition of an A, B, C, D, or F in our current grading system and how it relates to standards based grading and student achievement.  There is simply too much to include in this post so look forward to a post coming soon about the definition of each “grade.”


6 thoughts on “What Students Think About Standards Based Grading

  1. As a parent who really believes in and understands standards based education and formative assessment, I don’t understand why it must be “either” grades which students understand “or” strong formative assessment / standards based learning.

    I believe we should consider using a 6 to 10 scale which would more easily translate to the percentage world….that quite frankly is probably not going to change in the next decade, especially for current secondary students.

    I believe their should be a “risk free” formative learning period in which kids are assessed non-quantativly – Successuful, Progressing, Not Progressing.

    Then students challenge the standards for a formative grade….

    Then the students have a summative assessment.

    Mastery at the summative level should result in upward grade adjustments of previous formative assessments.

    Rechallenging components should be open until the end of the term.

    The only assessment that can’t be re-taken would be the final….and if they proved higher mastery on the final….all previous scores are adjusted upward.

    Students can be made responsible for requesting grade adjustments.


    1. To me, this gives full incentive to keep working, and for getting that A to be within reach of many.

      In the end, everyone wins and students are empowered.

      This is exactly what the ACT is all about.


    2. Patty,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to this post.

      In my current situation my student had a hard time understanding standards based grading. Many parents struggled as well as it was a new system. I believe that over time and with an appropriate explanation prior to implementation that both parents and student will understand standards based grading.

      My hesitation in using a 6-10 point scale is that students and parents will still focus the grade instead of learning. This is what I ran into this semester. The grade should be a reflection of student understanding and not just “points” that students chase after. I would like to calculate the final grade using a logic scale. There is more about this in my post on calculating final grades:

      I agree that students should have multiple opportunities on formative assessments before they take a summative assessment. Students will be aware of their understanding prior to taking the summative assessment. I also plan to have each summative assessment as a cumulative assessment so that students have the opportunity to continue to demonstrate growth and mastery of the standards.


  2. Kristin,
    Those are some very interesting responses from the students. Your experiment with SBG has my attention–mostly because I’m standing at the edge of the cliff wondering whether to take the leap.
    When I envision calculating grades for SBG, I think about putting each of my standards as an assignment in the grade book (out of 5) and then putting in scores for the students as I assess those standards. Rather than one all-encompassing test grade, it would be broken down based on specific objectives. Based on the students’ confusion surrounding grades, it doesn’t sound like that’s what you are doing. How are you doing it differently?


    1. Andrew,
      What you have said is exactly what I am doing. The confusion from some students was a result of not have a number grade out of 100 on their test or progress report. Many students receive their validation and how well they are doing from the number grade that they earn. Each assessment assessed multiple standard and therefore the students received multiple “grades” for each standard. My students struggled with understanding what some of the standards meant and the corresponding problems. There are many reasons for this confusion including student’s perspective on math as a list of rule and not concepts, lack of effort, failure on my part to clearly state the standard as we reviewed. Another challenge in my class specifically was that we spent 5 weeks reviewing old material that we moved through quickly. This made is challenging for students to understand some of the standards.


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