Standards Based Grading

The school year is starting in just under two weeks, and I am preparing to make a major change in the way I grade.  I have always used a typical point system for grading.  However, I have never been completely satisfied with this system because:

  1. students often don’t get the grade that I feel they deserve
  2. students fixate on getting a certain grade, which can lead to cheating
  3. students have very little incentive to try to fix their mistakes since grades are locked in
  4. even if a student demonstrates to me later in the term that they understand something they previously received a poor grade on, I can’t give them any credit for it
  5. determining cutoffs for letter grades at the end of the term feels very arbitrary

So this Fall I am going to try Standards Based Grading in my calculus-based introductory Electricity & Magnetism class.  The basic idea of Standards Based Grading (SBG) is that your gradebook is organized by standards, or learning objectives (i.e. The student can determine the range of a projectile), rather than by assessment (i.e. Quiz 1).  My choice to use SBG was inspired by Kelly O’Shea, Frank Noschese, Shawn Cornally, Andy Rundquist, Jason Buell, Dan Meyer, and others that I’m sure I’m forgetting at the moment.   These blogs combined contain a huge archive of excellent information on SBG, so rather than rehash all of that, I will just walk through my process and the challenges I encountered.

The first thing that I did was come up with a list of standards (objectives), which turned out to be easy because the course’s textbook (Matter & Interactions) has a list of key ideas that translates very well to learning objectives (about 5-7 per chapter).  When I tried to come up with questions, though, I encountered a problem.  Let’s say I want to see if students can use the electric field concept in combination with Newton’s 2nd Law and kinematics to describe the motion of a charged particle.  How does that work when my learning objectives only include material from electricity and magnetism?  My idea, again inspired by many other blogs, was to create different levels of objectives.

C objectives: These are the simplest ideas, often involving identification, simple sketches, or basic arithmetic.

B objectives: These are slightly more involved ideas, often requiring calculus, vector algebra, or a process that involves multiple steps.

A objectives: These are not separate ideas but rather require the students to identify and use multiple objectives together.  This is where I can spiral back to mechanics, for example.

A student’s letter grade is calculated by doing 2*(normalized C score)+(normalized B score)+(normalized A score) and then converting that to a letter grade using the typical 4.0 scale.

The next challenge is to figure out how to perform assessments and design questions.


4 thoughts on “Standards Based Grading

  1. […] to translate a word problem; I am just going to relegate those things primarily to the higher level “A” objectives (whereas the example question I was referring to would be a “B” objective).  This way, a […]


  2. […] “A”, “B”, and “C” categories for my standards were largely irrelevant.  I felt like the different categories were clever because each category […]


  3. […] just finished my first full year of using Standards Based Grading, and the results were mixed.  I still can’t imagine going back to a completely traditional […]


  4. […] and now there are whiteboards in every physics classroom in the building.  My experiment with Standards-Based Grading has piqued the interest of some of my colleagues as […]


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