Standards-Based Grading Has Benefits, Drawbacks

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Standards-based grading leaves traditional letter grades behind and assesses students on a scale of 1 to 5. There are a lot of benefits to standards-based grading, but some students feel stressed out a single summative significantly drops their overall grade. Other students worry if they will be prepared for college.

Daniela Vargas, Staff Writer

Round Lake High School Sophomore Jason Galindo was doing well with a B+ in his world history class, until he had to take a summative, and then his grade crumbled down to a D. “With the grading system now, if you do proficient on almost every one of your summatives, but manage to score a one or two on a summative, your class grade drops significantly,” Jason Galindo stated.

RLHS has adopted a new grading system and it has affected students and teachers, alike. Of course, all new policies and initiatives take a little getting used to, and some people are not very happy with some aspects of standards-based grading. Administration is working hard to look into these problems and hopes that standards-based grading will deliver fair and accurate reports of students’ grades.

The standards-based grading system process started about five to six years back. “The change to standards-based grading is part of the work of aligning learning at RLHS to standards and helping students improve their learning,” said Dr. Susan Center, assistant principal of curriculum and instruction.

According to Dr. Center, with the standards-based grading system, grades are calculated solely based on the assessments students complete. The assessments are based on standards determined by each subject. These standards reflect specific skills students should master before graduating. Standards-based grading is to help provide students, teachers, and parents with a better understanding of where students are successful and where they are struggling. Formatives give a clear representation of what students have yet to work on and what they have exceeded in throughout the lesson, so teachers can tweak their lessons and activities. If all students are doing really well in one particular skill, there is no sense in boring them by going over it again. But teachers can take time in class to make sure students understand a skill they all seem to be having trouble with. Formatives are not given a grade because there should be no penalty for trying. On the other hand, summatives are the final test to see if students have achieved in learning the course successfully. Not to mention, homework is not worth a grade either and the lack of deadlines only makes the students feel lazier to finish their work on time. Teachers say everything that the students learn in high school is to help prepare them for college, but is the transition with the new grading system really helping the students of RLHS and other high schools across the nation?

Studies that look at students’ college readiness don’t paint such a great picture. In a 2015 study by the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), only 37 percent of U.S high school seniors are prepared for college coursework.

Students and teachers both worry about how prepared students will be for real world expectations when there are no repercussions for missing deadlines or for failure to do homework.  “Our students have learned that homework is not important, formative assessments are a waste of time, enrichment is busy work and punishment for doing well, and that they can retake tests,” said one concerned teacher. “None of this is how college works. Our students are not learning the skills necessary to be successful in college involving study habits, deadlines, and working hard.”

Dr. Center states that standards-based grading benefits the students by having a clear understanding of the knowledge and skills expected to master from each course, however, not all staff and students feel like standards-based grading is beneficial.

“I feel like[people’s reactions are mixed] between how people feel towards the new grading system,” said Sophomore Angel Frutos. “Some might feel like it’s pushing them way too hard to do better since it’s difficult to earn a 5, but others see it as encouragement to exceed expectations instead of settling with just a 4.”  Jason Galindo also added, “ I feel pressured. Definitely pressured since if you don’t do well on one of your summatives, you have the stress of needing to get a better score on the retest. It pushes you to try your best, but the pressure isn’t healthy for any of us.”

Not only is the new grading system stressful to the students, it is also stressful to staff as well, considering they have to individually grade each category of a student’s performance. Although the majority of students feel like the new grading system has been nothing but stress, there was a quarter of students interviewed who felt like standards-based grading is benefiting them since everything is divided into standards to pinpoint their areas of strength and weaknesses.

But as Dr. Center states, there should be multiple safeguards built into the system to assist students in achieving better scores, such as additional guidance and retesting since teachers provide specific learning information on each standard and categorize the performance. Although the grading system has its imperfections, Dr. Center and RLHS are working on improving standards-based grading for parents, students and staff.