For the past year and a half, my principal and I have often engaged in conversation about grades and grading practices. As this school year started, I wanted to find a way to attempt a standards-based grading system in order to get a more detailed description of how my students were performing. After using the system for two weeks, I’ve seen the holes in the current system we use and am very happy that I started doing it. So, what do I do?

First, I grade each part of my assessment in terms of what my learning targets were for the week. For example, one of my learning targets this week was: “I can simplify exponents with the same base.” So, the first two questions of my assessment covered this target and were each scored out of two points. One point if the students knew to add the exponents and one point if the students knew they could only add the exponents for the same bases. I then continued this practice for each of my targets this week. Finally, I grade each target separately and then total it up to give students a letter grade because, let’s face it, that’s what most parents want.

Speaking of parents, I share this standards-based grading system through a “report card” with parents each week using the Google Sheets script autoCrat. This is a mail-merge script that allows me to send each parent and student their grade along with how they did on each skill. I put all of the information in a Google Sheet and, after running the script, each student gets something that looks similar to the following:

I used this as an example because it was a standards-based report card similar to this that drove a great email exchange between a parent and I. The parent was worried about her daughter because she usually got A’s and B’s and she wasn’t sure what was going on with the daughter. What I find funny is that her daughter was still getting a B, but the word “emerging” had her confused. She didn’t know how her daughter was still getting a good grade when she didn’t know how to do two of the skills on my assessment. I pointed out that she knew how to do three of the skills really well, one pretty good, but two she needed to work on. Before, the mother would have seen a B and been happy. Now, she realized her daughter needed to work on two skills.

Another parent emailed me, thanking me for sending her this detailed report because it gave her some relief after talking to her daughter.

Her daughter had told her that she bombed her quiz and was worried about her grade. In reality, she knew three of our five skills really well, one she did ok on, and one she needs to work on. The reason she thought she bombed her quiz is because she earned a C+. The last target involving the distributive property and combining like terms held more weight than the rest of the questions, skewing her grade. When the mother emailed me she said, “So it really wasn’t terrible after all was it? She just needs to work on one skill and maybe get a little better on another?” That’s exactly right. Before, her and her daughter would have had no idea that she knows how to do three things really well.

Although it has been extra work for me, I’m really glad I started using this system for grading in my class. The students, parents, and I are getting higher-quality feedback than we did before. I’m also thinking of linking each target to a Khan Academy video in order to give students a means of learning the material in a different way before they retake their assessment.