• Canyon Valley School

    Standards - Based Grading

    Frequently Asked Questions


    “Setting specific goals for student achievement and then tracking progress regarding those goals is one of the most powerful actions a teacher, school, or district can take.” -Robert Marzano


    Q. What is the difference between traditional grading practices with letter grades and our current Standards-Based Grading system?

    A. Standards-based grading is a different way of reporting on a student’s learning in a more detailed, accurate and objective way, by no longer using averages. Students are expected to demonstrate mastery of each standard by the end of a grading period or the end of the year, as shown on the report card by a progress descriptor of ‘Proficient’.


    Traditional Grading System

    Standards-Based Grading System

    1. Students focus on the grades. They may not know what the learning targets are, but that they need to get a certain percentage right on a test.

    2. A grade is given for the assessment (quiz, test, homework, project, assignment, etc.) not the standard. One grade is given, although multiple standards may be measured.

    3. Final grades include an uncertain mix of assessment, achievement, effort, and behavior. There may be late penalties and extra credit, which also average into the final grade.

    4. Many things go in the grade book - regardless of purpose (bringing back a signed permission slip, etc.)

    5. Every score is included in a final grade, no matter when it was collected. The average is reported based on all work, not the student’s best work or final evidence of learning.

    6. Several students may have the same average obtained in different ways, but they do not have similar levels of mastery.

    1. Students focus on learning targets (curriculum standards) and what they need to know and be able to do to demonstrate they have mastered them.

    2. One rating is attached directly to each of the standards being measured rather than to the overall assignment or assessment.

    3. Effort and behavior are reported separately. Students may redo assignments and retake assessments within reason after extra practice.

    4. Students are given an assessment to demonstrate mastery when the teacher expects they should be ready. Tests, quizzes, projects, and performance tasks are used for grading purposes.

    5. The most recent work that gives evidence of learning is reported on the report card, instead of averaging over time.

    6. Progress descriptor reports are more personalized and show what each individual student knows and can do.

    Adapted from O’Connor K (2002). How to Grade for Learning: Linking grades to standards (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.


    Q. Why did Canyon Valley switch to a grading system with Standards-Based Report Cards? Letter grades, points, and averages have been used for a long time. What is the reasoning behind the change?

    A. The purpose of any report card is to provide information on exactly what students know, understand and can do at a given moment in time. Research shows that traditional grading systems are ineffective in accurately portraying student learning and growth over time. There is little evidence to support that letter grades and percentages are accurate measures of learning. Canyon Valley School is trying to do a better job of measuring and reporting out student progress. The standards specifically say what knowledge and skills students should be learning. The report card shows a score (1-4) for each standard, which communicates the level of learning at that time in more detail. We are more closely matching curriculum standards with what is reported to parents and students.


    Q. What do you mean by standards-based?

    A. Standards are statements of critical content and skills that students will be learning. They come from the Arizona Curriculum Frameworks. The learning goals that Canyon Valley has identified as most essential to a particular grade level, content area, or course are called Priority Standards. Other standards may also be taught, but specific progress toward each of the individual Content-Standards and/or Learning Target is what is reported on the report card.


    Q. Do the students have a deep understanding of the standards on which they are being assessed? Do they know what they are supposed to be learning?

    A. It is the teachers’ responsibility to ensure that curriculum standards are communicated in “student friendly” language and students know them. Students need to know what they are expected to learn and how they can demonstrate that they learned it. In Canyon Valley, teachers are beginning to involve students in developing a learning path and in choosing how they can best show what they have learned.


    Q. How do teachers know if a student has mastered a standard?

    A. They create authentic measures of the learning expectations of the standard. Teachers may use written assignments, projects, performance tasks, interviews and conferences, or traditional tests and quizzes that directly assess the standard. Students may show mastery in a variety of ways, depending on the standard.


    Q. How does a teacher decide what mastery looks like?

    A. Teachers of the same grade level and across grade levels engage in conversations about what constitutes mastery. Teachers work in teams to define exactly what students need to know, understand and do to show mastery. They clearly explain what constitutes mastery on Proficiency Scale guides, which they use to assess student work and provide feedback for improvement.


    Q. What is a Proficiency Scale?

    A. Teachers create a rubric or rating guide called a Proficiency Scale. For each and every standard, teachers define exactly what students must demonstrate through their work and classroom performance, which shows their progress in what they know, understand, and can do at different levels (Progress descriptors 0-4).


    Q. What is a Progress Descriptor?

    A. These are words that describe the scores 0-4 that students receive on assignments, tests, and on the Report Card attached to each standard. (0=unable to assess 1= Beginning 2 = Approaching 3= Proficient 4 = Exceeding). Note that these are similar to descriptors that are now used to report levels of achievement on the ACTs.


    Q. How do students know what scores they can earn on an assignment?

    A. The teacher will clearly communicate the focus and level of learning that is taking place and being assessed. Some assessments, projects, or assignments may give students the opportunity to extend learning beyond the standards if they are ready to do so. It is important to note that we want students to focus on their growth and learning and feedback for improvement, rather than on the scores.


    Q. How do students know if they are on track? How do students know where they stand without letter grades?

    A. Progress descriptors (0-4) and specific feedback tell students where they are on a continuum of learning. Teachers give both verbal and written feedback to students to help them know where they stand. Feedback is often given on a rubric attached to an assignment or assessment. We know that specific feedback is important to communicate the steps necessary for improvement and growth, especially if a student is working at a level below mastery. Teachers also share their proficiency scales and examples of work at each level so students can compare their performance to the scale and exemplars and know where they stand.


    Q. If my student earns all 3’s does that mean they are “just average?”

    A. No. We are moving away from using “average” to define student learning. A score of 3 means they have met the learning goals and are right where they should be. There is no “average” in a standards-based system. You’ve met the standard or you haven’t. We report on what level of learning has occurred. This system does not identify “good students” vs “bad students,” nor does it compare them to one another.


    Q. My student says he/she can only earn a 3 so why try any harder?

    A. A score of 3 is what students should be striving for first. There may be some occasions when a teacher will say they are assessing only at the mastery level of 3 - in this case your student may be right. The focus for the teacher at that moment is mastery level. At another time there may be a chance to show that they can extend learning beyond the standard. This can be initiated by the teacher or the student.


    Q. My student thinks earning a 2 is bad. Is it?

    A. No, and we could use your help in changing that mindset! Earning a 2 means your student is working toward mastery and is not there YET. They may just need a little extra support now and then, or they may be working on building blocks to get them to mastery level. Encourage them to keep learning!


    Q. What if my student’s report card has mostly 1s and 2s? Should I be worried?

    A. In this case, it is likely you have already been in contact with the teachers and we have put supports in place for your student. Your student may be working with specialists. If teachers have concerns about your student’s learning, they will reach out. If you have concerns at any time, please reach out to us!


    Q. How do you push students to demonstrate learning that extends learning beyond a standard?

    A. We encourage all students to have a growth mindset. No matter their level of learning, they can always go deeper and achieve at a higher level. Students should ask themselves, “How can I continue to learn more?” We communicate this message every day. At home, you can help your student answer the questions, “Where are you in relation to the standard?” “Where are you going from here?” and “How will you get there?”


    Q. How would my student earn a score of 4 on a standard?

    A. It depends on the standard. It could be by demonstrating additional content knowledge. It could be by demonstrating the ability to apply a skill in a more complicated situation. It could be that your student takes the initiative to show deeper learning or make a connection to another discipline. It could be encouraged by the teacher who provides specific opportunities to extend the learning.


    Q. Can students always have an opportunity to demonstrate extended learning and earn a 4 by the end of the term or the end of the year?

    A. There will likely be opportunities for students to extend learning during the year. It is important to note that this is more appropriate and applicable to some standards than others.


    Q. How do I know if my student is being appropriately challenged?

    A. A change in our reporting method does not mean lowered expectations. Teachers continue to differentiate and provide opportunities for students to learn at high levels. Personalization is our common practice, and we are continuing to develop more and more personalized pathways for enrichment and acceleration of students who are ready for greater challenges. If you have questions, please contact your student’s teacher.


    Q. If a student earns a 3 or 4 earlier in the year, can they then earn a 2 later in the year on the same standard?

    A. Yes, in some cases. An asterisk will be noted on standards that are graded all year long and are based on grading period benchmarks. In these cases the content is unique to each grading period or the standard represents a skill that builds as the year goes on. For these standards, we want to be able to report that students are where they are expected to be for that grading period by reporting the appropriate score. When the content or skill level becomes more challenging during the next grading period it is possible that the rating could be different.


    Q. What happens if the report card shows a 2 on a standard at the end of a Grading period? Does the student just move on without additional instruction or learning opportunities?

    A. We know that students learn at different rates and some take longer than others to learn. If a student earns

    a 2, it just means they are not quite there YET. They may know the content and can perform the skill, but need a little bit of support. The class may move on to study a different topic, but generally there will be an additional opportunity for reteaching, redoing assignments, and/or retaking assessments to demonstrate growth later on. The Standards-Based Report card is a living document, therefore the teacher may change

    the score on the next report card if the student demonstrates mastery later in the year. Look for a comment in the Comment Section to explain that


    Q. What happens if the report card shows a 1 or 2 on a standard at the end of the year? Then what?

    A. Depending upon the standard and how many are scored as 2, the student may be asked to take a summer school class, attend summer tutoring, or complete summer work of some sort. Teachers will always be in ongoing communication with parents of a student early in the year if we anticipate this might be the case. It is important to note that some students may be working on modified entry level standards, or a subset of standards below grade level and therefore they may be seeing 2s on their report card to accurately report level of learning.


    Q. It seems like sometimes work of different quality can earn the same rating, why is that? My student sees others earning the same score and their work is not as “good.”

    A. Different students may show learning and mastery of standards in different ways. Effort and quality of work are reported separately from mastery of content and skills. Messy work can potentially still be accurate work. Some students may need improvement in areas of Transferable Skills and teachers report that.


    Q. How do you motivate students to learn with standards-based grading?

    A. Research shows that motivation for learning comes more often from relationships, tapping into interests, passions and purpose, and just the right level of challenge. While some students feel rewarded by and work for grades, we don’t believe grades alone motivate students to learn. We want our students to focus more on WHAT they have learned than on the grade, and we can work together to do that. Traditional grades represent an end point and we wish to encourage continuous learning.


    Q. You want students to focus more on learning and less on grades. Does less focus on grades mean the curriculum is less rigorous or that expectations for students are lower?

    A. Quite the opposite! This system puts a clear focus on what students must know, understand and do. Our teachers have engaged in deep discussions about what they will accept for mastery of a standard. These conversations have made our expectations more explicit. We expect all students to master or exceed the standards, given quality instruction and learning opportunities. Lessons and assessments are more targeted and focused than ever, and it actually raises the bar for students. We have not changed our curriculum or our high expectations, we have simply changed the way we report out to students and parents.


    Q. Why aren’t effort, attendance, participation, organization, preparation, and quality of work rewarded?

    A. They are! This is a common misconception of Standards-Based Grading. These important components are still a part of the system, however they are reported on separately. Transferable Skills ratings of E (Exemplary), S (Satisfactory), N (Needs Improvement), and C (Area of Concern) provide feedback on behaviors that support learning at a high level.


    Q. How do the number scores (0-4) correspond to letter grades?

    A. They don’t! This is hard to understand, but please do not compare them. This is like comparing apples and oranges. Letter grades are based on points or percentages and average performance over time. In standards-based, scores report explicit level of mastery on a learning standard at a specific moment in time.


    Q. Without a letter grade, how do I know how my student is really doing? How do I know if he/she needs extra help and I should be concerned?

    A. Read the comments and feedback from the teacher on student work and report cards. Attend parent conferences or ask to meet with the team. If your student is consistently receiving a score lower than expected, contact the teacher. Canyon Valley School teachers routinely meet with parents. Please contact the teacher to set up an appointment for a meeting.


    Q. Will we get a Progress Report midway through the grading period?

    A. Yes. Midterm progress reports will be issued and parents will also have the opportunity to schedule afternoon or evening conferences in early November.


    Q. I feel like it’s difficult to get a grasp on how my student is doing in a class. With Infinite Campus it’s difficult to know if students are doing what they need to, or is struggling, etc. And my student doesn’t seem to know when I ask. Can you give us suggestions on what to do?

    A. Canyon Valley School students are just beginning to develop independence and take ownership of their learning. Encourage your student to pay attention to what the learning target is in class and the feedback from the teacher. If you truly feel like you are in the dark, this is a good time to email the teacher. Most problems like this can be resolved with parent-teacher communication. Pay close attention to the symbols in Infinite Campus that tell whether assignments have been completed or are missing and look for comments.


    Q. How do I know if my student is actually learning what he/she should be learning and is where he/she should be?

      A. We measure learning against specific standards. Teachers collect evidence of student learning over time. If that evidence shows mastery of a standard, then the score is a 3, and a student is learning exactly as we expect them to learn. Any student who earns scores of 3 or 4 consistently is exactly where they should be. Note - there may be times when a 2 means a student is exactly where they should be on a learning continuum as well. Look at the comments and feedback from the teacher and contact the teacher if you are unsure.

    Q. What happens when my student goes to another school?

    A. We hope all students will stay in the Canyon Valley and Gilbert Public Schools. However, should your student transfer to another school, their course grades will be reflected on their transcripts as a traditional A-F letter grades.


    Q. How will this have an impact on our student?

    A. Quality assessment practices, aligned curriculum, increased rigor, descriptive feedback, clearly articulated standards, and assessment for learning will only benefit your student. In fact, we think this practice will develop increased independence and ownership of learning over time. We hope this will reduce performance anxiety and shift the focus to the process of lifelong learning.


    Q. Does this kind of grading help students be prepared for college?

    A. Identifying one's strengths and weaknesses as a learner, being self-motivated and taking ownership to meet course objectives, setting goals, developing strong study habits, and mastering course standards are all aspects of this system that will help students be successful if they choose to go to college. Other important skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creative problem solving will benefit all students, regardless of their post-secondary path.


    Resources to learn more about Proficiency-Based Grading


    Standards-Based Grading Articles, Literature, and Research

    Anderson, J. (2017) One School’s Strategy to Raise Empathetic and Self-motivated Citizens: Ditch Grades


    Bostic, K. (2012) Standards based grading in the middle school, International Review of Social Sciences and Humanities

    Durm, M. (1993) An A is not an A is not an A: A history of grading. The Educational Forum Erickson, J.A. (2011) A call to action: Transforming grading practices. Principal Leadership Erickson, J.A. (2011) How grading reform changed our school. Educational Leadership Guskey, T.R. (1994) Making the grade: what benefits students?. Educational Leadership

    Marzano, R.J., & Heflebower, T. (2011) Grades that show what students know. Educational Leadership

    O’Connor, K. (2017) A case for standards-based grading and reporting. School Administrator

    Reeves, D., Jung, L. A., & O’Connor, K. (2017) What’s worth fighting against in grading? Educational Leadership

    Wormeli, R. (2017) We have to prepare students for the next level, don’t we? Association for Middle Level Education Magazine

    Articles related to Standards-based Grading and Higher Education

    NESSC ( 2017) How Colleges View Proficiency Based Transcripts. NESSC Briefing NO16 College Admissions Know More\

    Sturgis, C. (2018) Grades, College Admission, and Competency Based Education. CompetencyWorks

    Buckmiller, T., & Peters, R.. (2018). Getting a fair shot?. School Administrator