My standards based grading policy – No seriously, there are no numbers.

So after many hours of reading (see blogroll), discussing, thinking, editing, thinking more, trying, rethinking, reediting, and setting up ActiveGrade…I think I am finally comfortable with the grading system I plan on using this year…and seriously, there are no numbers…anywhere.  Below are the details in FAQ form

So what are your ‘grading policies’?

They are outlined in the document below.

Cool, so what are the learning goals for your classes and how will students keep track of them?

You can see these on another post I did here.  After an assessment, students will write down their score for each goal so they know what they have to continue to work on.

What grading software are you using?

ActiveGrade – This software is standards based grading oriented, easy to use for teachers and students, and the staff is very responsive and helpful.

What I see:

What a student/parent sees:

Okay, but most teachers are required to use their school’s grading software…are you still going to use yours?

Our school’s grading software (eSIS) is pretty traditional in that the grade book lists assignments at top and point values below, then the software calculates a grade based on how the grading scale is defined (90%=A 80%=B, etc.). I am still going to enter grades into eSIS, but only twice a trimester – once for a progress report grade, and once for a final trimester grade.  I will look at a student’s progress using ActiveGrade and how many of the goals they’ve mastered, then enter a single percentage according to the scale I’ve defined in the policies document above.

Seems legit…how are you going to communicate this stuff to parents?

I’ll be giving them the policies document above and also discussing it with them via a powerpoint on parent’s night.  You can see it below.  It’s modified from versions done by teacher/bloggers John Burk and Frank Noschese.  Thanks for sharing gentlemen.

I thought numbers helped break down things really specifically for students…what’s with the ‘no numbers’ philosophy?

I believe a grade should only communicate what a student understands or can do.  Behind every number (or ‘point’) in a grading system there should be some sort of information telling us what those points communicate about what a student understands or can do.  I believe that it is actually easier to get at this information if we uncover it from this ‘pile of points’.  It’s not the points that help a student see their level of understanding, it’s the underlying information.  Focusing on this information (outlined above: starting, progressing, mastery) with respect to a learning goal, and getting specific feedback about it will help students improve at what they’re trying to do.  Points aren’t bad, we just don’t really need them. That’s why there are no numbers in my grading system.

You could also check out an earlier post  about why I’m moving from points to standards.



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13 responses to “My standards based grading policy – No seriously, there are no numbers.

  1. I really like the use of M, P, S, N. It’s just enough to force students to think when they a see grade, as opposed to having an automatic response to the more obviously ordered values A, B, C. When I started my SBG, I used A, B+, B and C (a direct correspondence to your levels) and found myself changing to A, B+, B and N – because the ‘N’ is so much clearer – as well as being non judgmental. It doesn’t say ‘you can’t do it’ – it says ‘you didn’t show me’ – a very big difference. I’ll be changing to M, P, S, N next year!

    • Sam

      I originally had the ‘progressing’ level as ‘developing’ and the ‘starting’ level as ‘beginning’…but didn’t want to be writing D’s or B’s on work. I resorted to searching synonyms of the terms that had similar meaning but without the letter grade baggage 🙂 This is the same reason I avoided numbers. I didn’t want students trying to think in terms of averages or adding scores or anything like that. I know students could probably see past this if I explained it to them, but I think this small change will drive the point home.

      I hope it makes them think about what the letter means, instead of, like you said, passing an automatic judgement like “I did good” or “I did bad”. Although they still may start to feel this when they see an M or a S, they’ll know it is only a tentative measure for a single goal, not a an all-encompassing percentage of correctness on quiz 2.

      …what happens when more teachers start using MPSN and the letters start to carry their own baggage!? Thanks for your response.

      • Last year I ranked my students on a 1-4 scale, which could’ve easily been a MPSN scale. I think Sam has a valid concern, but I wouldn’t worry at this point. My students had a tendency to get a test/quiz back and just look for “4,3,3,4,3… yess” or “2,3,1,1,2… aww” (and you can translate the numbers directly into MPSN letters in this case) and they’d quickly glance whether they did “good or bad” without reflecting deeply on which objectives they did “bad” in.

        Even though the MPSN system carries the same risk, I consider it a big step above a single percentage or single letter grade. You know your students better and only you trying this out will be able to tell how effective it is with *your* students. Sure, *maybe* MPSN will start to carry baggage like they did for my students, but even if they do… you’ll cross that bridge when you get there. :oP

        Since I had that problem last year, I began trying to minimize the steps between the ranking and the specific feedback. I used to have the written-out objectives on one sheet (that students were supposed to keep with them… yeah right — at my school, anyway) and they see their score on the actual assessment. *Then*, they’re supposed to look at the score on the assessment and match it to the objective on the sheet. So it’s like “I got a 2 on CV5. What’s CV5? Let’s see the objective sheet… oh, CV5 is ‘calculate the average velocity of an object, given displacement and time’ (or whatever). That means I need to improve on calculating the average (etc.)…” That’s actually asking a lot. So what I started doing was printing the written-out objectives at the top of each assessment and putting the scores right next to them. Did the students connect their feedback more directly to what they had to do to improve? I don’t know. However, it at least made it easier for me to direct them to that information. Instead of “Oh, you got a 1 on this objective. What does that mean? Well, take out your objective sheet. … The paper you got last week… the table… with CV1, CV2… yeah, that thing… you what?… oh, I have extra ones in that bin…”… it’s much easier to just point to the same paper “You got a 1 on this objective… so what does that mean? Well it says right here next to it.. it means you need to improve in ‘Tell the difference between speed and velocity’.”

        *Ideally*, all my feedback would be just written-out sentences, making it impossible for students to read the feedback and *not* see the meaning of it. However, you can see that would get tedious. I’ll try to strike some sort of balance with some sorta checklisty thing or something. It may also include non-standards related feedback, such as making algebraic mistakes, showing neat work, etc. Maybe feedback that benefits them but is not part of their grade. Still working this out in my head…

  2. Sam

    Some really interesting points. Based on your experiences in trying this, I think I should definitely somehow attach the assessed goals to the assessment so students have them right in front of them. Kelly O’Shea has a nice score sheet she gives out with her assessments that has the goals on it. Check out her post on it at

    A couple of ideas to address the students not reading the goals…

    One thing we could ask students to do is to describe which part of the problem is an assessment of CV5. For example “How does part B show that you can ‘Find the average velocity from a position vs. time graph.’?” or “Which part of problem 2 is assessing goal CV5? How?” This would force them to think about what CV5 is. Although students would have to believe this is a worthwhile task…

    Another thing we could try is to give the assessment back with ONLY written feedback on it and give students time to discuss this feedback with their classmates and/or make them write some sort of reflection on it. This would force them to address the feedback without getting the score. The score could be given later in the period, or students could even be given a chance to correct things, and then that could be scored.

    • Hm, thanks for the suggestions! I wonder what would happen if we first had the students try to score themselves on each objective. Like how predicting what will happen in a demo draws more of their attention to the demo, maybe this will draw more of their attention to the objective. Also simple and quick to implement.

      • And it allows them to evaluate their own learning, as well as shows us how they would evaluate their own learning. Feedback for all.

  3. Sam

    Having students put on their ‘SBG glasses’ and scoring an assessment is great way to get them thinking about the goals. Tony Borash says in his post ( that doing this really changed the way students viewed the grading system. I think I’m going to try this early on to get students thinking this way.

    • Sam-
      1st, thanks for the shout-out. 2nd, going through that process with the class, so many students said things like, “I wish we had done this sooner [as it wasn’t until winter that I even thought to try this]- everything about this grading makes so much more sense now.” I also noticed that students’ questions about their own growth improved greatly after trying this out.

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