Top 5 standards-based grading articles (2019)

In the past, I curated and recommended lists of standards-based grading books and articles for practitioners and fellow researchers to read. A bulleted list of links to these lists is below.

A year has passed, therefore it was once again time to sift through the research and commentary from the past twelve months. Without further ado, I present to you the top five (5) articles written in the area of standards-based grading practices (in alphabetical order by lead author’s last name).

  1. Battistone, W., Buckmiller, T., & Peters, R. (2019). Assessing assessment literacy: Are new teachers prepared to assume jobs in school districts engaging in grading and assessment reform efforts? Studies in Educational Evaluation, 62, 10-17 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stueduc.2019.04.009

    As school leaders embark upon grading shifts, they may question whether or not new teachers are prepared to engage in this type of work. This study suggests teacher education training on assessment is inconsistent at best with several corresponding implications for educators.
  2. Feldman, J. (2019). Beyond standards-based grading: Why equity must be part of grading reform. Kappan, 100(8), 52-55. [Available online]

    Joe Feldman lays out a clear argument for traditional grading as a means of perpetuating inequity. Beyond the typical psychometric, social, and logical arguments for standards-based grading, Feldman incorporates a number of helpful examples of how institutional grading bias can and should be overcome in order to create a more equitable learning environment for all students.
  3. Knight, M. & Cooper, R. (2019). Taking on a new grading system: The interconnected effects of standards-based grading on teaching, learning, assessment, and student behavior. NASSP Bulletin, 103(1), 65-92. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192636519826709

    One often overlooked reason for implementing standards-based grading is how it benefits teachers’ instructional practices. Teachers interviewed in this study report a number of benefits including a more coherent focus in their teaching, and a sense of more purposeful instruction that is more conducive to student needs while enhancing student growth mind-set and ownership.
  4. Guskey, T. R. & Link, L. (2019). The forgotten element of instructional leadership: Grading. Educational Leadership, 76(6).  [Available online]

    Many school leaders may not consider shifts in grading because they lack training on effective grading practices and/or teacher evaluation systems do not often prioritize grading. The authors suggest school leaders study effective grading policies and practices, promote teacher collaboration focused on grading, and clarify the purpose of grading throughout the school. I highly recommend all school leaders take the time to read this article in 2020.
  5. Townsley, M., Buckmiller, T., & Cooper, R. (2019). Anticipating a second wave of standards-based grading implementation and understanding the potential barriers: Perceptions of high school principals. NASSP Bulletin, 103(4), 281-299. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192636519882084

    Full disclosure: This was one of several articles I authored or co-authored on grading in 2019, but it was my favorite one, so I could not leave it off the list!
    Our research followed up on a study from 2014 to identify the challenges secondary school leaders experience when changing the currency of the classroom from points to learning. The results indicated that the game is changing and a new wave of SBG implementation is on the horizon.

What articles would you add to this list from 2019?

Top 5 Standards-Based Grading Books (2016-2018)

In early 2016, I listed what I thought were the top ten books written about effective grading practices. Many books have been written about standards-based grading in the last three years, however I wanted to highlight five that have impacted me the most.

Here we go!

  1. O’Connor, K. (2018). How to grade for learning, K-12 (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
    Ken O’Connor has written a fourth edition to what may be the most widely read book on effective grading practices, which is why the third edition was noted on my initial top ten list. Beyond the theory behind each of the grading guidelines are implementation examples from schools across the world.
  2. Rinkema, E. A. & Williams, S. (2018). The standards-based classroom: Make learning the goal. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
    This book focuses on more than just grading practices. By looking at curriculum, instruction, and assessment, educators can envision a classroom-wide shift to more effective grading practices. I admit that as a teacher I often over-emphasized feedback and grade book revisions at the expense of designing effective instruction. Rinkema and Williams provide a realistic and useful blueprint, one I wish would have been available ten years ago.
  3. Wormeli, R. (2018). Fair isn’t always equal (2nd ed.). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
    The first edition was on the initial top ten book list as well. While much of the content is updated, the main message is still the same: transitioning to more equitable grading process is just as much (or more) about mindset than it is classroom moves. I recommend this book for any teacher or group of educators who would like engage in thinking more deeply about the “why” behind standards-based grading.
  4. Schimmer, T. (2016). Grading from the inside out: Bringing accuracy to student assessment through a standards-based mindset. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
    Not too long after posting the initial top ten book list in January 2016, this book by Tom Schimmer came out. A few months later, I secured a copy and was especially enamored by the chapters entitled, “Five myths of standards-based grading” and “How to repurpose homework.” This is on my highly recommend list for those working towards standards-based grading practices.
  5. Schimmer, T., Hillman, G., & Stalets, M. (2018). Standards-based learning in action: Moving from theory to practice. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
    Speaking of Tom Schimmer, this book written with Garnet Hillman and Mandy Stalets is worth buying, too. Each chapter includes underlying research, a plan for action, and talking points to be used with parents. Whether the reader is looking for perspectives on redos and retakes or effective feedback, this book provides helpful guidance.

What book(s) from 2016, 2017, or 2018 would you add to this list?

Top 5 pitfalls to avoid in a standards-based grading system shift

Are you thinking about making the shift to standards-based grading in your building or district?  Based upon hundreds of phone calls, consultations, workshops and emails, here’s a list of five pitfalls I have observed that school leaders should avoid.

  1. Use exceeds as a descriptor in the grade book at the secondary level.
    Nothing frustrates Sally and her parents more than realizing the teacher taught the class how to learn the concept in class, but in order to get the highest mark in the grade book, Sally must come up with some type of application or knowledge beyond what was taught on the assessment.  Instead, consider removing “exceeds” and replacing it with “understands the standards” for the top indicator.
  2. Fail to communicate the standards-based grading shift.
    Traditional grading has been around for over one hundred years, so there’s reason to believe a shift to something new or different will require communicating a solid rationale and plan, repeated multiple times in multiple mediums.  Of McRel’s twenty-one leadership responsibilities, communication is one that takes a hit during second order change (and yes, standards-based grading is likely a second order change for many teachers, parents and students in your district).  Tell ’em. Tell ’em what you told ’em. And tell ’em again.
  3. Do not report practice in the online grade book at the secondary level.
    We know that reporting academics separate from work habits is a cornerstone of standards-based grading/reporting.  At the secondary level, the standards (rather than quiz and test numbers) are often reported through an online grade book , leaving little, if any room to document work habits.  Whether it’s retrofitting a grade book designed for traditional grading practices, or using a grade book more in tune with standards-based grading practices, it only makes sense to continue reporting levels of homework completion to parents, despite these assignments not counting towards the final academic grade calculation.
  4. Forget to tell stakeholders what is staying the same during the shift in grading practices.
    If your middle school is switching to a standards-based report card, be sure to let parents know you will continue to host parent-teacher conferences twice per year.  If your high school is shifting to a standards-based grade book, parents will want to know final course grades are still reported on the transcript, and that grade point average will be communicated with university admissions offices.  In addition to communicating what’s changing, don’t forget to let them know what will remain the same.
  5. Inconsistent implementation
    During the first year of standards-based grading implementation, we surveyed parents and students to find out their perception of this change.  Frustrated Roger = Frustrated Roger’s mom and dad, and one of the biggest sources of this angst was inconsistent implementation.  While we had an agreed upon purpose of grading and board-approved grading guidelines, we relied on (often inconsistent) institutional knowledge rather than a documented tight and loose implementation guide for our teachers to operationalize the tenets of SBG.  Somewhere between “every teacher for his/her own” and a lockstep approach is usually a good place to land.  Ensuring teachers are supported to implement agreed upon standards-based grading non-negotiables, will help students and parents adapt more quickly to the change, because they’re seeing it in multiple courses and/or grade levels.

What other pitfalls would you add to this list?

Recommended reading:

Frankin, A., Buckmiller, T., & Kruse, J. (2016). Vocal and vehement: Understanding parents’ aversion to standards-based grading. International Journal of Social Science Studies, 4(11), 19-29. [Available online]

Peters, R., Kruse, J., Buckmiller, T., & Townsley, M. (2017) “It’s just not fair!” Making sense of secondary students’ resistance to a standards-based grading initiative in the midwestern United States. American Secondary Education, 45(3), 9-28.

Peters, R. & Buckmiller, T. (2014). Our grades were broken: Overcoming barriers and challenges to implementing standards-based grading. Journal of Educational Leadership in Action2(2), [Available online]

Swan, G.M., Guskey, T.R., & Jung, L.A. (2014). Parents and teachers’ perceptions of standards-based and traditional report cards. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 26(3), 289-299.

Urich, L.J. (2012). Implementation of standards-based grading at the middle school level (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/etd/12492