Standards-Based Grading: What Is It and How Can It Help My Students?

May 28, 2019

Brooke McGuire

Ed.D. in Leadership


Standards-based grading (SBG) has started to make inroads in education, especially in elementary schools. It challenges traditional grading practices by evaluating students using a three- or four-point scale on their mastery of grade-level standards, placing greater emphasis on recent scores to demonstrate current understanding.

Using SBG to evaluate students has many advantages over traditional grading systems, but it’s also not perfect for every situation.


It can standardize your grading.

In traditional grading models, situations arise that are hard for teachers to account for and these may lead them to start grading subjectively. Imagine a student assigned to write a five-paragraph essay who only turns in one well-written paragraph. What score does she deserve? A zero because that wasn’t the assignment? Full credit because she clearly knows how to write in a way that conveys her point? Or should she get 20% because she technically completed one-fifth of the assignment?

Without a painstakingly detailed rubric, percentage-based grading makes it tough to know what to do. Teachers can slip into grading effort, responsibility and behaviors as opposed to grading the content. SBG lets teachers focus on evaluating what’s most important for every piece of student work.

It’s easier to communicate goals with parents and students.

SBG allows students to easily track their progression toward the grade’s learning targets. For parents, SBG makes a lot of sense. Their students must understand certain skills to move on, and the grades directly reflect their current level of mastery.

It’s more motivating for students.

Goals that students work toward in SBG are established naturally. When students have a clear idea of what they are being evaluated against, they are more satisfied working towards it.


It takes time to get used to.

Change is always hard, and SBG requires a significant shift in thinking. Students and parents are used to traditional methods of grading, so transferring from percentages to a four-point scale will take time and patient explanation.

It can be overwhelming for students who are behind.

When students are significantly behind grade level, identifying their current ability levels may be overwhelming and discouraging. In these situations, teachers need to help students develop a growth mindset so they can persevere through the work hard.

It’s also hard work for teachers.

To implement SBG, lots of work must be done on the front end. Vertically aligned learning targets need to be established. Common assessments may need to be developed. A whole new perspective to evaluation needs to be accepted. After making these changes, however, many teachers find SBG to be one of the most accurate ways to evaluate student learning.

Discuss different grading techniques and other teaching strategies with fellow education professionals when you enroll at American College of Education. Explore all our graduate-level programs in the field of education.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Brooke McGuire
Brooke McGuire, Ed.D. in Leadership

Brooke has taught in a variety of settings, working everything from a service-learning summer program geared toward incoming first graders to a high school program for struggling readers. She's currently the director of teaching and learning at her district.

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