Teaching Students About Standards-Based Assessment Through Play

One of the hot topics being discussed in the physical education world right now is standards-based assessment (SBA) and instruction. SBA is a grading system that assesses what a student knows, understands, and can do in relation to each of the National Standards for K-12 Physical Education…or grade-level outcomes…or standards that your state or district or province has established. In a standards-based grading system, students’ grades are consistent, accurate, meaningful, and supportive of learning.

I use a SBA system to give grades meaning and give students real feedback on what they have learned. I want everyone (my students, their parents, and myself) to know where the students are successful and where they need to improve. A standards-based grade provides an accurate picture of student performance, while a traditional letter-grade system is too simple and does not tell us enough.

At the school where I currently teach, I am the only physical educator who uses SBA. Some of the teachers in other subject areas use SBA, too, and we have worked as a group to use somewhat consistent performance standards. Explaining how SBA works can be difficult at times, especially in PE. The students at my school take physical education for three quarters of the school year and health for one quarter. There is a chance that when they return to PE they will have a different teacher. This means that some of my students may not understand what SBA is when they enter the gym for my class at the beginning of each quarter.

So, how do I teach my students about my grading system without losing activity time? We play games! In one 45-minute class period my students can change their clothes for class, play both games, and have quality class discussions about SBA.

Note: I cannot take credit for the creation of these games. Jodi Larson (@jsl1021) shared them with me, and Bart Jones (@exercys) and Adam Metcalf (@MrMetcalfPE) helped me make a connection between the games and SBA.


Four Corner Rock, Paper, Scissors (This game represents a traditional grading system.)

  • Place a cone in each corner of the playing area.
  • Divide the class into four groups. Assign each group a home cone, but emphasize that students at the same home cone are not teammates.
  • When the game begins, each student finds another student (at their home cone) to play RPS against. (“Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shoot.”)
  • Winners quickly move to the next cone to find a new opponent.
  • Non-winners stay at their cone and find a new opponent to play.
  • Once a player moves all the way around and returns to their original home cone, they earn one point. (Tell the students to keep track of their points in their head.)
  • Play the game for the length of one song.

Class Discussion:  

Teacher: “Raise your hand if you earned at least one point. Two? Three? Four?” (Keep asking until you determine the highest number.)

Teacher: “What if I told you that [Student] gets a 100% today and that everyone else gets an F?”

Students: “That’s not fair!” “Rock, Paper, Scissors is a game of luck!” “You didn’t tell us that you were giving us a grade!”

Teacher: “You’re right. That wouldn’t be fair. I just compared you to your peers and I didn’t tell you that you were being assessed. The good news is that I won’t ever grade you like that. Four Corner RPS represents a traditional grading system. In that type of system, students in PE are graded for dressing out in their PE clothes, performing well on fitness tests, and for how hard they work in class. Let me give you a PE example:

You enter the gym and your PE teacher hands you a basketball. She asks you to stand on the free throw line (but she hasn’t told you where that line is) and asks you to shoot the ball properly (even though she hasn’t told you how to hold the ball either) into the hoop. Then she says that you need to make ten out of ten free throws in order to get a 100% in class.

Teacher: “What do you think of that scenario?”


RPS Olympics (This game represents a standards-based grading system.)

  • Evenly distribute three different colored cones across the playing area. (In a gym, put the cones on the free throw line, the half-court line, and the opposite end line.) The cones represent the Olympic medals.
  • Tell the students that they are competing in the Rock, Paper, Scissors Olympics. There is one added challenge, though! Instead of playing traditional RPS with their hands, students will mimic each component with their bodies!
    • Rock = squat
    • Paper = stand with arms wide and legs straddled
    • Scissors = cross legs and cross arms overhead
  • Every student starts at the end of the gym (the Olympic Village) as an Olympic athlete. They find one opponent to play RPS against.
  • Winners quickly move to the bronze medal cone to play against another bronze medalist. Non-winners stay in the qualifying area and play against other athletes until they win. Then they can move to the bronze medal.
  • Winners at the bronze medal quickly move to the silver medal cone to play against another silver medalist. Non-winners stay at the bronze medal and play against other bronze medalists until they win.
  • Winners at the silver medal quickly move to the gold medal cone to play against another gold medalist. Non-winners stay at the silver medal and play against other silver medalists until they win.
  • The gold medalists will stay at the gold medal cone and will continue playing against other gold medalists.
  • At this point, you will notice that some students will be left at the Olympic Village, bronze medal cone, and silver medal cone because they will run out of opponents to play against. For the purposes of this lesson, that is perfectly fine!

Class Discussion:

Teacher: This game represents a standards-based grading system, which is the type of grading system I use in my classes. Did you notice that our students ended up at different cones by the end of the game? That will happen in our class all the time. Students will perform at different levels.

Teacher: “What happened when an athlete won at the bronze medal cone?”

Students: “They moved to the silver medal.”

Teacher: “Did the non-winners at the bronze medal move down a level to the Olympic Village?

Students: “No.”

Teacher: “That’s right. The bronze medalists showed that they were capable of being bronze medalists and so they got to stay there until they showed the other athletes (and their teacher) that they could move up a level. Once you have reached a specific level on an assessment, you cannot move down a level. Let me give you a PE example:

You enter the gym and your PE teacher teaches you how to properly hold and shoot a basketball. You are given multiple opportunities to practice shooting during small-sided games in class. Your teacher helps you when you need it, encourages you to ask questions, and gives you feedback about how you are doing. At the end of the week, your teacher tells you that your shooting will be assessed the following week while you play games in class.

Here is another PE example:

Your PE class is playing a game of Ultimate Frisbee and today your teacher is assessing throwing and catching skills. You meet the standard and end up at Level 3 [in my classes this is referred to as “S”]. The next day, your teacher continues assessing the class. You feel a little under the weather and aren’t able to play your best. Your teacher knows that you aren’t feeling well, and you stay at Level 3.

Teacher: “What do you think of those scenarios?”

[At this point, you should explain the levels or performance standards you use to your students.]


Here are the performance standards I am using this school year:

Each national standard will be graded at one of the levels of mastery as shown below:

Exceeds Standard (E)

Standard Met (S)

Making Progress (M)

Basic Understanding (B)

Since my online grade book requires numerical grades, the following system will be used:

Exceeds Standard (E) = 100%

Standard Met (S) = 89%

Making Progress (M) = 79%

Basic Understanding (B) = 69%


It is important to spend time at the beginning of every school year to explain your grading system to your students. No matter what system you use, I hope this post encourages you to teach your students through play.

One Comment on “Teaching Students About Standards-Based Assessment Through Play

  1. Pingback: Standards-Based Grading: Preparing Our Students for the “Real World”? | PHYSEDAGOGY

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