Standards-Based Grading: An Unorthodox Approach to Learning

By: Maya Mischler (282) and Margaretta Maguire (282)

A new grading system has begun to take root at Central High School. Instead of averaging a student’s grades throughout the quarter, standards-based grading (SBG) ensures that a student’s most recent grade replaces the one before it. Emphasizing holistic improvement and growth, we spoke with Mr. Palazzolo and Ms. Date, who have implemented SBG into their history classes this year. 

“De-emphasize high-stakes grades,” says Mr. Palazzolo when asked about the purpose of SBG. “I think at Central grades often feel very high stakes every time and so when you do standards-based grading, what happens is the grade is no longer high stakes because the next submission you can improve and it would entirely replace it, or you have resubmission opportunities, you can revise and you improve, and those improvements replace those previous grades, and so no one assessment feels high stakes anymore.” In accordance with Joe Feldman´s Grading for Equity, read by many of Central’s history teachers over the summer, Mr. Palazzolo regards SBG as an “opportunity to demonstrate growth and for your grade to represent where you arrive at as opposed to where you start.” SBG encourages students to focus on authentic learning and growth without the pressure of looming deadlines and irreplaceable grades. 

Ms. Date not only agreed that standards-based grading has reduced the constant turnover of work and grading for both students and teachers, but that this system enables her to give more thoughtful and cohesive feedback for her students. When comparing standards-based grading to traditional school systems, Ms. Date maintains that SBG has reduced the excessive stream of work on the part of teachers prone to entering completion grades, and students subjected to redundant assignments. Although she still assigns a rigorous workload, all assignments contribute to a few core skills the class is honing, as each is completed with expectation of teacher feedback beyond a numerical grade. Within the classroom, student values change metacognitively given the opportunity to refine certain skills at times most advantageous to their learning. SBG provides actual documentation of student performance and growth, as meaningful grades represent the most recent level a student has reached at the end of each quarter.  Grounded in a dated world of competition and rigid protocol, Ms. Date speaks to the struggle of weighing the significance of grades and developing metrics of student success in school systems built on averages. 

Teachers aren’t the only ones pleased with standards-based grading: “I feel that this system is more inclusive and can support more students, as well as support more growth than just typical grading does,” reflects Ms. Date’s student, Laila Johnson (282). Another student, Tatiana Williams-Martin (282), adds that “even with resubmitting, it doesn’t really make sense to submit if you’re only resubmitting for a grade because your grade is going to change anyway.” SBG inspires students to reevaluate the intent behind their efforts and foster personal scholarship above academic achievement. 

The unprecedented nature of SBG, however, poses some uncertainty. One such concern is if the final grades in the gradebook are indicative of the progress made in a whole quarter. Evelyn Feldman (282), a student of Ms. Date, laments, “I didn’t do the best on my last assignment that I could have, I ended up with a lower grade than what I had on a previous assignment by like 7 or 8 points.” For some, a singular grade that bears the weight of their cumulative learning is a problematic aspect to this disputed approach to learning. Perhaps the experiences of a greater student body might verify if SBG is a worthwhile endeavor for both staff and students. An unconventional means of advancing the current education system, standards-based grading is an exciting prospect for Central’s academic future.  


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