“Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” John Dewey

    Hall Middle School employs a system of feedback and grading that is based on reporting student progress on specific standards instead of overall points/percentages in the form of a letter grade. As a school staff, we are committed to cohesive feedback practices that support every learner’s growth and instill a greater sense of relevance and meaning to the process of learning. Hall began this practice in the fall of 2019 after a two-year process of study, along with fellow Redwood High feeder Del Mar Middle School. 

    What is the purpose of standards-based reporting (SBR)?

    The purpose of standards-based-reporting is to accurately represent students’ abilities and understanding based on clearly defined criteria that align with academic and behavioral standards shared across the school. Since standards are written to be addressed over the course of an entire school year, SBR reports on student growth over time instead of on a simple average of all points accrued.

    How does standards-based grading differ from traditional A-F grading?

    A standards-based reporting system measures a student’s proficiency in grade-level standards by prioritizing the most recent, consistent level of performance. A student who may struggle at the beginning of a grading period when first encountering new material is still able to demonstrate proficiency in key content/concepts by the end of a grading period and have that reflected on the report card. In a traditional grading system, a student’s performance for an entire trimester is averaged together. Early quiz scores that are low are averaged together with more proficient performance later in the course, resulting in a lower overall grade than current performance indicates.

    Why does Hall Middle School use standards-based reporting?

    We want our students to focus on learning and growth, not points and percentages. We want our students to see learning as a continuous process guided by rich feedback, not a process of gaining/losing points. We want every parent to know the specific standards their child is learning and to see growth over time. Other reasons for standards-based-grading include:

    • Traditional grading combines all points earned into one percentage/letter grade, which does not communicate nuanced information on proficiency in specific academic and behavioral standards.
    • Students will be able to explain what they learned or did not learn rather than recite a letter grade or percentage. (e.g. “I can describe the process of cell division by mitosis.”)
    • Standards-based grading provides accurate and meaningful feedback to student, teachers, and parents.
    • Standards-based reporting helps teachers and students focus and adjust instruction and learning.
    • Standards-based reporting emphasizes most recent evidence and trends of students learning.

    What does ALMA look like?

    Our report card will list progress on specific content standards for each class, feedback on Habits of Learning, and written comments from the teacher. Standards-based-grading separates academic performance from work habits in order to provide parents a more accurate view of a student’s progress in both academic and behavioral areas. Variables such as effort, participation, collaboration, cooperation and attitude are reported separately instead of being combined with academic performance.

    How is mastery level determined?

    Students are given feedback on their understanding of a standard using the following designations: Emerging, Approaching, Proficient. Students receive lots of specific feedback from teachers on assignments, assessments and projects; they record those comments in a number of ways, including in their Alma gradebook (which parents can view for their child/ren) and on the trimester report card. 

    Mastery levels

    Where else in the area is standards-based reporting and grading being implemented?

    It is important to note that our elementary schools have been utilizing a similar grading system for several years, so SBR will be familiar to the majority of our families. A growing number of schools are creating report cards that reflect student proficiency on specific standards, including Ross School and Del Mar Middle School (both feeders to Redwood). Branson High School is a part of a nationwide consortium looking to end A-F grading in high school. Numerous teachers in the Tamalpais Union High School District embed standards-based grading practices into their classrooms.

    How does standards-based grading prepare students for high school, college, and careers?

    By giving students ownership of their learning, standards-based reporting gives students a more meaningful, personalized learning experience. Standards-based reporting teaches students the self-advocacy skills necessary to succeed in college and/or career settings. It aligns with how students will get feedback on job performance in their future careers. Based upon work done by Marzano, Guskey, Pickering, Reeves, Popham, Wiggins, Stiggins, O’Connor, and Brookhart, standards-based grading has increased student achievement. Research on standards-based grading has shown that students learn the content on a deeper level and perform better in college when exposed to effective standards-based instruction and feedback practices.

    Comparing Traditional Grading and Standards-Based Grading

    Traditional Grading

    Standards-Based Grading

    Final grades are an average of performance, effort, homework completion, and other criteria developed by the teacher. As a result, what final grades communicate might be unclear and will likely vary from teacher to teacher. 

    Final grades describe a student’s progress toward specific course standards (or learning targets). The specificity enables students and families to clearly identify strengths and areas for improvement. 

    Grades are viewed as rewards or punishment for overall school performance.

    Grades are viewed as a tool for communicating student progress toward specific course standards (or learning targets).

    Work habits, such as homework completion or on-task behavior, are averaged in with course grades. This practice can raise or lower grades without clarity as to why.

    Habits of work (or habits of learning) are reported and graded separately and are evidence and skill-based. They are viewed as equally important as academic grades.

    Grading is something done by teachers to students and is generally not well understood by students. 

    Students play an active role in understanding learning targets, tracking their progress, identifying next steps, and communicating their progress.

    Source: Adapted from the Family Grading Guide at Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine.

    Resources and Articles

    The Case Against Grades.” Alfie Kohn

    Time for Change After 120 Years of A-F Grading.” Eric Saibel

    Why Grades Are Not Paramount to Achievement.” Ashley Lamb-Sinclair

    Standards Based Grading and Reporting Will Improve Education.” Thomas Guskey and Marco Muñoz

    The Unintended Consequence of Grades.” Lori Soskil

    Will Letter Grades Survive?” Laura McKenna

    What Going Gradeless Taught Me About Doing the ‘Actual Work.’” Aaron Blackwelder

    Standards Based Grading and Reporting Handbook - Renton School District (WA)

    Grades, College Admission, and Competency-Based Education - Competency Works - Chris Sturgis