Standards Based Grading: Pros and Cons
My school is trying out a new form of grading based on “Power Standards.” As opposed to the usual form most schools use, in which your final grade is based on the average score of tests, classwork, and sometimes homework, the power standards system produces 10 standards for each class that must be met; a certain calculus test, for example, might meet the standard for understand differentiating. If you pass that test, you meet the standard. You get about 3 or 4 chances to meet the standard, and your total amount of standards met over the amount possible determines your grade (so if I met all but one, my grade would be a 90%.) It’s a little more complicated than this, but that’s the gist of it.
Now, before I begin, let me explain; I’m just a student. I’m not in the district board, I wasn’t on any of the committees, so don’t take any of my opinions too seriously. This is merely what I have observed and how I feel about things.
Mediocrity is encouraged. Since achieving a standard only requires passing the test, a 70% is functionally identical to a 100%. In both situations, the student passes and meets the standard. There is no reason, other than from inside the student or from external forces like parental desires, to strive to achieve a better grade on tests.
Progress reports are nullified. In the beginning of the year, each student basically has a 0%; they have passed 0 of the standards, after all. So progress reports, checking grades, anything during the year that allows the student to check how they’re doing, is extremely difficult; if I’ve passed 3 of the standards halfway through the semester, should I have a 100% or a 30%? You could simply grade on the curve, but once again this means that there is no definable level to strive towards; if the students are merely ranked against each other, things can deteriorate very quickly.
What counts as something that can actually pass the standard is vague. Tests, of course, can be considered when looking at the standards, however many of my teachers are split over things like homework, quizzes, classwork, etc. What should count as a chance? Should the grade be only defined by tests? While this problem did exist in the earlier system, this new change has intensified it greatly because so much of this program is ambiguous. And while I’m all for allowing the teachers more leeway to teach their own way, not having a unified system can mean people get graded unfairly.
Non-textbook curriculum are enriched. Many of the power standards, especially in foreign languages, are for activities outside the class that provide further knowledge of the subject. In Spanish, for instance, there is a standard for doing things like watching plays in Spanish, or writing essays in the language. The fact that these activities don’t adhere to the textbook or yearly lesson plan means that students can accrue outside knowledge and become more familiar with the material.
The system is great for elective-type classes. In music classes, especially, grading can be difficult. Grading on performance can be shaky, and most instructors choose to grade on attendance to concerts. By utilizing the standards system, music classes can put forth basic goals that need to be attained to consider the instrument or skill learned. These are the few situations where I see power standards working well.
i can’t wait until college where I don’t have to worry about this crap