Standards-Based Grading Implementation for School Leaders: FAQ and Resources

Last Updated: January 19, 2021

Step 1: Purpose

Q1: What should our first step be as a school when changing our grading practices?
A1: Thomas Guskey (2020) says a common mistake schools make in grading reform is focusing on how before why.  Therefore, the first step for school leaders is to clarify the purpose of grading in your school/district by creating consensus around a grading purpose statement.  While not required, it may make sense to utilize a guiding coalition (i.e. building leadership team, grading task force, etc.) to determine this grading purpose statement.

A1: Suggested resources:

  • Article: “Starting the Conversation about Grading” by Brookhart (2011)
  • Reproducibles: from chapter 5 in Making Grades Matter: Standards-Based Grading in a Secondary PLC at Work by Townsley & Wear (2020)
  • Book: The School Leader’s Guide to Grading by O’Connor (2012)

Step 2: Principles

Q2: After we have a grading purpose statement, what is our next step?
A2: Develop 3-5 grading principles (guidelines) in support of the purpose statement.

A2: Examples

Q3: What resources are available for staff to understand why grading practices should change?
A3: Suggested books:

  • A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades (2nd edition) by O’Connor (2011)
  • Fair isn’t Always Equal (2nd Edition) by Wormeli (2018)
  • Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman (2019)
  • On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting by Guskey (2015)
  • Rethinking Grading: Meaningful Assessment for Standards-based Learning by Vatterott (2015)

A3: Suggested articles forthcoming

Step 3: Pilot

Q4: What resources are available for staff to understand how to change grading practices?
A4: Suggested books:

  • How to Grade for Learning (4th Edition) by O’Connor (2017)
  • Making Grades Matter: Standards-Based Grading in a Secondary PLC at Work by Townsley & Wear (2020)
  • Standards-Based Learning in Action: Moving from Theory to Practice by Schimmer, Hillman & Stalets (2018)
  • The Standards-Based Classroom: Make Learning the Goal by Rinkema & Williams (2018) [For a deep dive into a concept-based rather than content-based approach]

A4: Suggested articles forthcoming

Q5: What are some of the other “lessons learned” from schools that have previously implemented standards-based grading?
A5: Based upon the perspectives of teachers, administrators and parents stemming from published research studies, school leaders might anticipate… 

  • going slow to go fast, 
  • a “bell curve” of buy-in, 
  • providing frequent just-in-time professional learning for teachers (assessment literacy & grading)
  • and overcoming stakeholders’ fear of the unknown. 

A5: Suggested articles:

  • Article: “Losing As and Fs: What works for schools implementing standards-based grading? by Townsley & Buckmiller (2020)
  • Article: “Making change stick: A case study of one high school’s journey towards standards-based grading” by Townsley & Knight (2020)
  • Article: “Anticipating a second wave of standards-based grading Implementation and understanding the potential barriers: Perceptions of high school principals” by Townsley, Buckmiller & Cooper (2019)
  • Article: “Considering standards-based grading: Challenges for secondary school leaders” by Townsley (2019)
  • Article: “Vocal and vehement: Understanding parents’ aversion to standards-based grading” by Frankin, Buckmiller & Kruse (2016)
  • Article: “Our grades were broken”: Overcoming barriers and challenges to implementing standards-based grading” by Peters & Buckmiller (2014)
  • Article: “It’s just not fair!” Making sense of secondary students’ resistance to a standards-based grading initiative in the midwestern United States” by Peters, Kruse, Buckmiller & Townsley (2017)