Over the past few decades, leading educators have expressed a growing urgency to transform traditional grading and reporting practices. With student achievement hanging in the balance, today’s educators are working to fix the broken cultural paradigm of school grading which sorts, selects and compares kids based on a conglomeration of points, percentages, zeroes and extra credit. In place of the oddly lopsided bell curve which serves only a select few, educators today are advocating for a standards-based approach to reporting student progress.
Put simply, students need to be given clearly articulated learning goals and then empowered to achieve them.
There are several factors accelerating the transition to Standards-Based Grading (SBG) in Iowa, not the least of which is a growing adherence to the Iowa Core. With implementation of the Iowa Core expected for all districts, teachers are finding that close monitoring of student progress on the Iowa Core standards is essential to guaranteed learning outcomes.
Many districts have also found SBG to be a logical outcome of the work of Professional Learning Communities (PLC). A PLC thrives when teachers participate in rich conversations and professional dialogue about course standards and common assessments as a measure of student achievement. Teachers naturally want to begin reporting on those same standards for students and parents as well. A single mark (or grade) to represent all of math or literacy or science seems inadequate in light of the complex curriculum work being done in our highly functioning PLC structures.
For instance, Sioux City’s well established PLC structures provide the distributed leadership which is an essential factor for SBG. More than any other variable, teacher leadership provides the momentum needed to deeply embed a robust SBG system of practice. A healthy, high-functioning PLC platform creates an environment that embraces a cycle of continuous improvement and collective effort toward the common goal of student achievement. Since teachers are the front-line curriculum implementers, it only makes sense that they should take the lead as the curriculum designers as well.
Lastly, student information systems (SIS) like Infinite Campus are finally progressing to the point that they can provide teachers with a framework for reporting at the standard level to parents and students. While still inadequate from a progressive ideal, today’s SIS do allow teachers to enter assessments and classroom activities organized by standard (instead of the traditional categories of daily work, quizzes, tests or labs). Now that assessments can be grouped by learning standards it is much easier to monitor a student’s progress toward mastery of course content. Grades can be a dynamic reflection of ongoing progress, rather than a stagnant report of past performance.
It’s not a difficult stretch to see that the combination of meaningful course standards with closely aligned assessments and a robust Student Information System are the essential reagents in the SBG equation.