Making the move to standards-based grading: How we did it & what we learned

Here are some tips, tricks, and benefits from a district that has successfully switched to standards-based grading

Traditional letter grades have been around since the beginning of the 20th century. Today’s parents received As, Bs, and Cs from their teachers when they were in school, and most parents expect to see similar letters on their child’s report card.

Yet, for years my district—Alpine (UT) School District—struggled to justify our traditional grading model. We felt as though letter grades were losing meaning and leading to less personalized instruction. As someone who taught for many years, I watched traditional grading struggle to tell students, parents, and teachers the whole story. Simply put, it didn’t guide instruction.

We knew our grading style needed to change, and standards-based grading (SBG) fit what we were looking for. Still, with more than 80,000 students, a transition to SBG required complete buy-in and careful planning. Making the switch on such a large scale was uncomfortable, but well worth the results we are seeing. Throughout our switch to SBG, I compiled a list of tips, tricks, and benefits we discovered that might be useful for any other districts looking to make a similar change to their grading scale.

Creating buy-in
Changing to SBG can seem like a daunting task, especially when the first impressions of so many parents, teachers, and students are at risk. Taking this into account, we hired a marketing firm to ease concerns and communicate the benefits of SBG. The marketing firm made a video that we sent to every parent in the district about the move to SBG. In doing so, parents knew the changes to expect, why we were making the switch, and the benefits that would come with switching.

To help create faculty buy-in, we made sure our essential standards were firm. Teachers, principals, coaches, and curriculum directors met to ensure we were on the same page district-wide.

To strengthen our communication, teachers used our parent portal to communicate the different aspects of SBG. In their messages, they reaffirmed to parents that if their student receives a 3, which is standard mastery, that it is worth celebrating.

The takeaway: First impressions mean everything. If you decide to make the switch to SBG (or any other grading scale), prioritize the needs of your stakeholders. While not every district can invest in a marketing firm to help ease buy-in, it’s important to find ways to relate to the people who will be using SBG most: teachers, parents, and students. Start with the benefits and set realistic expectations for how long it will take to get everyone up to speed. Our teachers took on this task with passion, as we have amazing educators who are willing to do what is best for their students.

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