Standards-Based Grading: Preparing Our Students for the “Real World”?

About two months ago, my husband brought home his annual review (or employee evaluation) from work. I glanced over it and when I got to page three, I was shocked to find out his employer uses a standards-based assessment system to evaluate its employees.

I ran into the kitchen and exclaimed, “Wait! This is standards-based! This is standards-based grading! This is how I assess my students! Do other companies use this?” My husband said, “Uh, yeah, this is how every company I’ve worked for evaluates employees.”

It is? Corporate America uses standards-based grading to assess employee effectiveness?

Teacher evaluation systems vary greatly in education, so it never occurred to me that large-scale businesses might use similar systems to review their employees’ performance. After doing some basic research (a.k.a. talking to my family members who work for large companies), I discovered that multinational banking and financial services companies, technology corporations, national car rental companies, and non-profit organizations use standards-based employee evaluation systems.

Here’s a chart comparing my standards-based grading system with my husband’s annual review:

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As you can see, the assessment systems are very similar. The most recent, consistent level of performance is reported, and the students and employees know when and how they will be assessed.

Could exposure to standards-based grading in school prepare our students for life in the “real world”? If our students have access to an assessment system that is proficiency-based, with clear learning targets and outcomes, will they be more prepared to be evaluated by future employers who use a similar system? Will they have a clearer understanding of what is expected of them?

There are parents (and legislators and teachers and school board officials and administrators…) who oppose standards-based assessment. I’ve read articles citing worry about the effect on class rank, grade point averages, and college admissions. Parents are more comfortable and familiar with A-B-C-D-F than 4-3-2-1 or E-S-M-B. They want their children to earn A’s and B’s, not 3’s and 4’s.

I asked my husband and brother-in-law to explain their companies’ evaluation systems to me. They were both able to clearly articulate their employer’s expectations, the rating systems (performance standards), and what they need to do in order to earn a raise or promotion. Both men stated that all employees understand the evaluation systems because they receive hours of training to learn why their companies use specific standards and how those standards apply to their work.

Why does standards-based assessment at school sound crazy to parents who seem to understand standards-based assessment at work? Could poor implementation, a lack of guidance and education, and the use of too much pedagogical jargon be the problem? What can we do as educators to make sure our students and their parents understand our grading systems?

Here are three strategies I use:

1) In order to teach my students about my grading system, we play games! In one 45-minute class period my students can change their clothes for class, play two games, and have quality class discussions about standards-based assessment. You can read more about my grading system and the games here.

2) Because I am the only physical educator using standards-based grading at the school where I teach, I have networked with some teachers in other subject areas who also use standards-based grading. We have worked together to develop consistent performance standards and common language. Some of us have even created kid-friendly performance standards, which are easy for parents to understand, too. Mine are:

E = Wow!

S = Got It!

M = Getting There!

B = I need more practice. or I do not understand this yet.

3) At the beginning of each quarter, I provide my students and their parents a document explaining my grading policy. I explain what standards-based assessment is and why I use it in my classes. I also explain the performance standards (levels of mastery) and how they will be converted into numerical grades for report cards. The information is also posted on my website.

The A-B-C-D-F grading system is ingrained in all of us, so it’s easy to understand why some parents are confused or upset when their child earns a “2” on an assessment. Once we have a clear plan for evaluating student performance, it’s our responsibility to effectively explain the system to our students and their parents. Not only will this allow our students to be involved in the assessment process, it just might prepare them for the corporate world.

11 Comments on “Standards-Based Grading: Preparing Our Students for the “Real World”?

  1. Printing your article out to share with my college students in my Assessment Strategies in Physical Education class in our teacher preparation program!! Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Our staff just got the link to your article this week from our dept head…WELL DONE! I am with you too!

  3. Seems to be miscommunication in many schools as to how this works….your system seems to be very well thought out and easy to understand.

  4. This is what jumped out at me:
    “…all employees understand the evaluation systems because they receive hours of training to learn why their companies use specific standards and how those standards apply to their work.”
    There is a good idea here… Let me think about it!

  5. Pingback: The #PhysEd Podcast #015 –

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