Top 10 standards-based grading articles

Every once in a while, I receive an email from an educator or parent interested in standards-based grading (SBG) and he/she asks for an introductory reading list.  I typically attach several of my favorites and then link to an ongoing list of articles curated during the past several years for further reading. Earlier this week, a professional acquaintance suggested I share a top ten standards-based grading articles list. Challenge accepted!

Without further ado, here is my top ten standards-based grading articles¹.

  1. Scriffiny, P.L. (2008). Seven reasons for standards-based grading. Educational Leadership, 66(2), 70-74 [Available online]
    Patricia Scriffiny is a math teacher who mixes in the “why” of standards-based grading with a few of her own classroom examples.  Any school or department considering the shift to SBG could use this article as a conversation starter.
  2. Peters, R. & Buckmiller, T. (2014). Our grades were broken: Overcoming barriers and challenges to implementing standards-based grading. Journal of Educational Leadership in Action, 2(2). [Available online]
    Two Drake University researchers interviewed a number of building and district administrators in order to describe the ups and downs of implementing SBG systemwide.  Barriers in the process included: student information and grading systems, parents/community members, the tradition of grading and fear of the unknown, and the implementation dip.  I’ll let you read the rest!
  3. Winger, T. (2005). Grading to communicate. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 61-65. [Available online]
    In the summer workshops I’ve facilitated, Winger’s article is almost always a hit.  Tony is a practicing educator who mixes in thought provoking questions with his own classroom reality.  Questions such as “do grades interfere with learning?” and “do grades provide accurate feedback?” are bound to stir up some heated conversations amongst educators at all grade levels.
  4. Erickson, J.A. (2011). A call to action: Transforming grading practices. Principal Leadership, 12(1), 42-46. [pdf]
    Jeffrey Erickson is a practicing school administrator who writes about his experiences changing grading practices in a suburban high school. While his ideas don’t quite meet my personal idea of standards-based grading (e.g. homework still counts towards a small percentage of the final grade), I believe his ideas are on the right track and worth sharing with others.
  5. Clymer, J.B., & Wiliam, D. (2006). Improving the way we grade science. Educational Leadership, 64(4), 36-42. [Available online]
    Looking for a practical view into a standards-based grading classroom?  This is it!  Eighth grade science teacher Jacqueline Clymer shares a sample grade book and a summary of student reaction to standards-based grading in the classroom.  The obvious target audience is science teachers who want to “see” SBG in action.
  6. Jung, L., & Guskey, T.R. (2011). Fair & accurate grading for exceptional learners. Principal Leadership, 12(3), 32-37. [pdf]
    Hold on…what about students with special needs?!  University of Kentucky researchers LeeAnn Jung and Thomas Guskey team up to communicate, “standards-based grading is the most accurate method to assess students’ abilities.”  Students with IEPs and English language learners may need modifications or accommodations and this article describes how to fairly do so in a standards-based grading setting.
  7. Iamarino, D. (2014). The benefits of standards-based grading: A critical evaluation of modern grading practices. Current Issues in Education, 17(2). [Available online]
    In this peer-reviewed article, the author examines the literature to evaluate various grading practices before concluding “modern grading practices are rife
    with complexity and contradiction. They are remnants of archaic conventions, and hybrids of newer methodologies not yet tried by time and application” (p. 9).  I wouldn’t recommend this piece as a first read, but rather for educators with a more philosophical or theoretical bend.
  8. Wormeli, R. (2011). Redos and retakes done right. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 22-26.
    Reassessments are one of the most hotly contested aspects of standards-based grading from the perspective of teachers and parents.  Wormeli’s article describes compelling reasons reassessments make sense while providing teachers a list of practical strategies to try out in their classrooms.
  9. Guskey, T.R. (2013). The case against percentage grades. Educational Leadership, 71(1), 68-72.
    This article alone is worth the price of purchasing the September 2013 issue of Educational Leadership.  Dr. Guskey briefly describes the history of grading and goes on to differentiate percentage grades from percentage correct.  Not sure why a 4 or 5 point scale is more accurate and appropriate when compared to a 100 point scale?  This is your go-to source.
  10. Vatterott, C. (2011). Making homework central to learning. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 60-64.
    Any meaningful conversation about grading practices involves the purpose of homework.  Dr. Cathy Vatterott is often coined “The Homework Lady.” This article provides schools a framework to consider in order to unify educators around the purpose and emphasis of homework within standards-based grading.

What articles would you add to this list?

¹Articles must describe the why and/or how of effective grading practices, and priority was given to articles available publicly online.

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A few steps to move beyond initiative fatigue

PK-12 education is funded as a social service, yet we’re expected to produce Cadillac-like results.

Think about that for a moment.  When a primary breadwinner loses his/her job in the United States, unemployment is a benefit intended to assist, but not fully replace, the financial needs of the household.  Social security was never intended to serve as an individual’s sole retirement.  City parks are available for families without their own green space to enjoy.  All of these social services were created to supplement, not supplant.

It should not be a surprise state departments of education, school boards and local administrative cabinets frequently add to the list of school initiatives in order to meet the public’s growing expectations.  Yet, time and financial resources often remain stagnant.

“The Law of Initiative Fatigue states that when the number of initiatives increases while time, resources, and emotional energy are constant, then each new initiative—no matter how well conceived or well intentioned—will receive fewer minutes, dollars, and ounces of emotional energy than its predecessors.” (Reeves, 2010, p. 27)

As an exercise, write down the list of initiatives and programs started in your local school building or district during the past five years.  Next, write down a list of initiatives and programs discontinued during the past five years due to careful evaluation.²  Which list was longer?

Odds are the tally of new initiatives and programs is at least double the length when compared to the discontinued list.

“…Teachers who had 80 or more hours of professional development in inquiry-based science during the previous year were significantly more likely to use this type of science instruction than teachers who had experienced fewer hours…The three studies of professional development lasting 14 or fewer hours showed no effects on student learning, whereas other studies of programs offering more than 14 hours of sustained teacher learning opportunities showed significant positive effects. The largest effects were found for programs offering between 30 and 100 hours spread out over 6–12 months.”
(Darling-Hammond & Richardson, 2009, p. 49)

The number of initiatives continues to grow and as the aforementioned research synthesis describes, more effective professional learning requires a commitment over multiple days.  Where will schools find the time? Why does it seem like schools are always starting something new?


Original image used from under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license



  • school systems have more on their plate than ever before, and
  • effective professional learning requires a long-term commitment, and
  • the Law of Initiative Fatigue suggests time, resources, and emotional energy are constant…

…what are some next possible steps?

An Initiative Management Framework¹

Rather than thinking only about the new initiatives to start for the upcoming semester or school year, I would like to encourage school leaders to consider a framework based upon the Iowa Professional Development Model and some of Doug Reeves’ work.  Here are the steps, followed by a more detailed description of each one.

  1. Establish a professional development leadership team.
  2. Curate an initiative inventory.
  3. Conduct an initiative audit.
  4. Commit to monitoring no more than six initiatives, at least annually.

Step 1: Establish a professional development leadership team.

The Iowa Professional Development Model Technical Guide describes several purposes of this leadership team:

  • To help organize and support various professional development functions
  • To engage in participative decision making – a democratic decision making process for keeping teachers involved and informed.
  • To help principals sustain a focus on instruction and keep professional development functions going.
  • ‰To distribute leadership and responsibility up and down the organization.

This team should involve teachers and administrators.  When leadership teams already exit, I have found it helpful to create a visual describing how various teams or committees across the district should interact and be related to each other.

administrator and teacher leadership team involvement

sample visual illustrating teacher and administrator involvement on leadership teams


Our “district leadership team” serves as our primary professional development leadership team.  This team is comprised of at least two teachers from each building as well as building and district administrators.  The primary purpose of meeting four to six times per year for is to plan and monitor our district-wide professional learning activities.  For the past several years, we’ve annually re-evaluated a multiple year outline of where we see ourselves going to keep our eyes and minds simultaneously focused on short and long-term outcomes.  As the central office administrator overseeing this team, I often come to the meetings with professional learning outcomes and/or a skeleton written in pencil.  I’ve found it is more efficient for teachers we’re pulling out of their classrooms to critique my plans than start from scratch during the meeting.  The team is asked to evaluate and revise my initial plan against our collective vision and the practical needs of their classroom colleagues.  Sometimes, the team rubber stamps my ideas, however we’ve also started over a time or two after throwing out my first draft entirely.  I believe our teachers on this committee feel empowered as a result of this process.  Our final plans are created and vetted by multiple brains and that’s a good thing.

Hold on…”but we already have leadership teams in our school!!”  Now is the time to ask a few questions:

  1. How often do these teams meet and for what purpose?
  2. What influence do these teams have on the planning and monitoring or professional learning activities?
  3. Has this team ever conducted an initiative inventory and audit?

Step 2: Curate an initiative inventory

This step in the framework is important to get right.

  1. A group of administrators lists the initiatives started during the past five years.
  2. Ask a group of teachers (on the PD leadership team or a focus group) to list the initiatives started during the past five years.
  3. Compare lists for the purpose of agreeing on a common initiative inventory.

The first two components of this step can be completed synchronously or asynchronously, however I believe it is important individual teachers and administrators create their lists separately, so that an honest assessment takes place.  In my experience, administrators tend to create shorter lists than teachers.  Particularly in schools with frequent or recent staff and/or administrator turnover, step three can be an interesting conversation, because it can help teachers and administrators clarify what they both agree are expectations at the moment.  That is, until the next step of the process!

Step 3: Conduct an initiative audit

Now that the professional development leadership team has an agreed upon list of the initiatives started during the past five years, it is time to narrow the list to a more manageable list of six or fewer priorities (Reeves).  At this point in the process, the team may need some additional information about each initiative such as how it should be presented to the staff and how it should be monitored over time.  This may significantly differ from previous practice due to limited resource constraints!

For each initiative listed on the inventory…

  1. List the number of hours of teacher professional learning time allocated for theory, demonstration, practice and collaboration (Iowa Professional Development Model).
  2. Identify monitoring/implementation data (teacher perceptions from surveys, walkthroughs, teacher artifacts, etc.)
  3. Create a hypothetical year-long goal (i.e. “100% of teachers will create a project-based unit this year”)
  4. Identify monitoring criteria, a.k.a. evidence of successful goal completion.
  5. Consider the number of hours needed to implement the goal.

The final part of this step is for teachers and administrators to create a prioritized list of initiatives based on 4 & 5.  It is important to point out administrators should have the final authority to utilize the prioritized lists to narrow down a final tally of no more than six (6) initiatives.  This final “plan on page” must have the stamp of approval from the appropriate personnel who delegate limited financial and time resources throughout the building or district.

2011 Solon District Goals (1)

sample list of district priorities


Step 4: Commit to monitoring no more than six initiatives, at least annually

One of the best ways I can think of to promote transparency and build trust in a school is via publicly monitoring (and following through with) a small number of building or district priorities.  Some initiatives may take multiple years.  What does the administration expect of its staff during the year?  Communicate it!  Check up on it!  Celebrate it!

sample initiative monitoring form

sample initiative monitoring form



The purpose of this initiative management framework is to help schools consider one way to clearly communicate and support their most important priorities.  The steps are relatively straight forward. I’d love to receive your feedback if you use all or part of it in your local context.

  • What are the biggest barriers you see in implementing this framework?
  • If an outsider walked into your school/district today, how confident are you teachers would be able to recite the goals/priorities for the year?


¹I acknowledge this framework is not something entirely new or original.  My hope is that at least one school or district will consider the ideas presented in this framework for the purpose of reducing the number of concurrent initiatives/programs.  I strongly believe appropriate and meaningful teacher involvement throughout the process is essential to understanding all perspectives within an educational system.

²Reeves, 2006

Doctoral program: 18 month update

Nearly 18 months ago, I started a third graduate program and about six months ago, I shared an update on this latest academic pursuit.   So far, I’ve completed five semesters of coursework, a combination of research methodology, core doctoral classes and now dissertation research hours.

semester countdown


The past two semesters have involved completing two courses in a three course dissertation mentoring sequence.  If I understand the “typical” doctoral program correctly, the mentoring courses are fairly unique to our University of West Georgia Ed.D. program.  The dissertation brainstorming and writing is scaffolded across several semesters rather than waiting until all core coursework has been completed.  In Dissertation Mentoring I, the focus was understanding the dissertation process and beginning to develop ideas for our problem statements.  Dissertation Mentoring II built upon the problem statements and the ended with writing a draft of chapter two, the literature review (more about that in the next paragraph).  Throughout these two semesters, we’ve started to communicate with our dissertation committees including one-on-one virtual methodologist consultations.  I spent the first three semesters of the program preparing myself for a study along the lines of rural central office leadership, but due to the qualitative nature of the likely research questions and my background teaching high school statistics (very quantitative), I realized (through some very wise counsel from my chair) it made more sense to pursue a topic with more quantitative questions.  I’ve “settled” on a topic that will look at high school math and/or ELA grades based on standards and any correlations they might have with college readiness measures.  More to come about this topic after my committee has a chance to weigh in on it.

The days starting with Thanksgiving “break” through finals week (last week) were incredibly stressful.  As a person who generally needs seven hours of sleep each night, burning the candle at both ends with five hours or less of rest did not have a positive impact on my body.  Thankfully, all assignments were completed on time and I was pleased overall to look back on the 26 page literature review draft.  In speaking with others who have completed doctoral coursework while working full-time, I am guessing this type of schedule will rear its head in the future, too!

Cohort Camaraderie

Here’s where I give a big shout out to Bipul and Steve for the support they’ve provided during the past several semesters.  Beginning in qualitative research methods, the three of us have completed a number of group projects together.  I think we have a three-way text messaging thread with hundreds, perhaps thousands of messages, celebrations, fears, questions about assignments and S.O.S. pleas.  I honestly don’t know how I could have survived the program so far without these two “critical friends.”  Each of them has provided meaningful feedback on drafts of problem statements and literature reviews.  Despite our timezone differences, it has not been uncommon for the three of us to begin texting after one person’s supper and sign off well past another person’s midnight.  Through desperation phone calls and celebratory emails, Bipul and Steve have been there to experience the ups and downs of balancing graduate coursework deadlines with full-time jobs and family illnesses.

Looking ahead to the final four semesters

With a bit of perseverance, I am aiming to defend a dissertation in the spring of 2017.  Working backwards, I’ve established the following timeline:

  • January/February 2016: Submit draft literature review (chapter 2) for review.
  • April/May 2016: Revise literature review.  Complete draft of methodology (chapter 3).
  • June/July 2016: Defend dissertation proposal (draft of chapters 1-3).
  • Fall 2016: Collect and analyze data.
  • Winter 2016: Write results and discussion (chapters 4-5) and receive feedback from committee.
  • Spring 2017: Continue revising chapters based on committee input.  Defend dissertation
  • Late April 2017: Graduate!

This is admittedly an ambitious goal!  I will have fewer volunteer commitments during the upcoming year and the course load each semester appears to be favorable in order to spend a considerable amount of time working on the dissertation chapters.  The program director has assured our cohort an extra semester or two to complete the program is very feasible, depending on the time it takes to collect and analyze our data.  Outside the scope of this doctoral program, I have been working on several studies with faculty in higher education and am realizing it takes a significant amount of time to write-up a quality study.

This coming semester, I will be taking Dissertation Mentoring III along with research hours.  In conversations with my family, I am planning to treat the dissertation like a part-time job, scheduling hours each week to “work” at the local library through writing and reading.  The final three semesters will include one course and research hours.  With some careful planning, I would like to continue scheduling weekly time to work on the dissertation in order to meet the aforementioned timeline.

Look for another update in a semester or two!

Grading: A historical perspective

Starch (1913):

The adoption of a uniform scale of grades as well as a uniform standard in the frequency with which the different grades are assigned is a pressing need among colleges and secondary schools. (p. 636)

Several years later at John Marshall High School:

Our system requires (1) that the mark which is given for scholarship be based on achievement alone; (2) that a uniform distribution be arranged for the school; (3) that in each subject the pupils be grouped so as to approximate this distribution; (4) that marks assigned will approximate the distribution; (5) that ability tests will be given to all pupils to determine their probable learning rates
(Dustin, 1926, p. 29)

On page 30, the results from John Marshall are described:

We regarded failure of 2 percent of the class too low and one of 12 percent too high.

How have things changed, if at all, nearly 100 years later?  You can be the judge.

Works Cited

Dustin, C. R. (1926). A scheme of objective marking. Educational Research Bulletin, 5(2), 28-31+40-41.

Starch, D. (1913). Reliability and distribution of grades. Science, 38(983), 630-636.


Subbing in 2nd grade (thank you, elementary teachers)

I subbed for a while in 2nd grade for a while this afternoon. A few quick take-aways:

  1. It was different than subbing in Kindergarten and preschool (last year’s doses of classroom reality) and a lot different than teaching high school students (six years of trying to get better).
  2. Flat Stanley is a humorous book.
  3. The end-of-day routine ensuring students get on the right bus, picked up by parents, etc. may be the most stressful part of the day.

Thanks again and again to elementary teachers. Y’all have a challenging job.

Christmas gift exchange

Three siblings and their spouses annually draw names for a Christmas exchange.  How many different possibilities are there? (Perhaps it’s not obvious, but married couples would not ever be asked to but a gift for each other in the exchange).

Another way of thinking about this scenario: after how many years are we guaranteed to repeat a previous year’s drawing?

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Fact checking “Common Core Math” news stories

Here it is.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.51.06 AM
Yet another, “Oh my goodness…can you believe the Common Core is doing this to our kids and families?” news story.  After a friend shared this article with me in jest, I thought to myself, “I am a curriculum director, former math teacher and relatively informed educator, do the Common Core standards really prescribe this type of math writing?”

So, I decided to download the Common Core math standards.

I searched for the phrase “check” and did not see any references to the standards prescribing how to write checks.  Next, the news story referred to an elementary school, so I read every math standard for grades K-5 (that’s roughly 30 pages of the standards document).  I looked specifically for phrases suggesting how students should write, add or count.  Here are a few that stood out:

  • Count to 100 by ones and by tens. (K.CC.1)
  • Write numbers from 0 to 20. Represent a number of objects with a written numeral 0-20 (with 0 representing a count of no objects) (K.CC.3)
  • Count to 120, starting at any number less than 120. In this range, read and write numerals and represent a number of objects with a written numeral. (1.NBT.1)
  • Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies.2 By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers. (2.OA.2)

…and I eventually came across this one:

Read and write numbers to 1000 using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form (2.NBT.3)

As you can see, it is evident the Common Core standards do not dictate Xs and Os in place of numbers.  Perhaps a math textbook publisher suggested this strategy, however it is clear after reading the standards this type of writing is not a required instructional approach.

As I’ve blogged previously, there’s no such thing as the Common Core police.  Until educators begin to discern the differences between the intent of the standards and textbook publishers who freely and with absolutely no regulation stamp “Common Core aligned” on their materials, we’ll continue to see more of these types of uninformed news stories.

Please consider printing this post to hang in your local teachers’ lounge and/or sharing it with friends on social media.  Let’s help each other fact check Common Core news stories! 

There’s Still Time to Learn the Standards: A New Look at Grading

Agree or disagree with the following statement?

Students learn at different rates and different paces.

As an educational deeply entrenched in thinking through effective grading practices, I have asked the statement above to 1,000+ teachers and administrators. To date, not a single practitioner has argued with the premise students (and adults!) learn at different rates. Yet, in secondary schools across the country, students are penalized for learning slower than their peers:


Continue reading this original post I authored for the ASCD InService blog