Standards-Based Grading with Traditional Grading Scales

I’m slowly becoming a big believer in the concept of standards-based grading, particularly as it applies to writing. Throughout my own education (which wasn’t all that long ago), I often had no idea what went into the grading of my essays. Though I was an honors/AP student, essay grading often seemed subjective and, while I learned a lot from the comments, I didn’t know what separated an “A” paper from a “B” paper.

When I started working in my current job, our department used a standards-based rubric to score essays. At the time, we used a 10-point scale to grade the essays, which was quite simple. As we have progressed in our movement towards more standards-based grading, we have evolved into using a 4-point scale, which is simpler and easier to understand.

The inherent problem with this shift is that a 4-point grading scale does not convert neatly to a 100-point grading system like that used in our school. One of my biggest stressors over the last year has been trying to figure out how to solve this problem – how to convert the 4-point rubric to a 100-point grade. For example, if a student earns a 3 on our rubric  – which we label as meeting standard – she earns a 75%, which in our normal grading scale is a C. A student who does not quite meet the standard and earns a 2 has just failed with a 50%. Even a student who worked hard on the paper but simply lacks the proficiency to do well on an essay will fail miserably by getting a 1, as that is only a 25%. The problem is obvious to anyone who looks at it, and we’re not even dealing with the dreaded zero (for more on that, check out “The Case Against the Zero,” by Doublas B. Reeves – it’s something of an eye-opener).

Lately, I’ve been working on finding an adequate solution for this problem that is both fair to the students and easy for the teachers. Obviously whatever we do will add some work for the teacher, as we have to convert one scale to the other. But the methodology we choose could minimize that work or make it daunting. After doing a little online research, I came up with a couple of ideas, all of which employed Excel.

  1. Create a spreadsheet for the entire class that allows me to input the scores from each writing category (content, organization, word choice, etc.) and have it calculate the 100-point grades. This seemed to be an effective, but also somewhat time-consuming choice.
  2. Create a table (to print out) that converts a total score on our 4-point, 6-trait scale (basically a 24 point scale) into a number that can be entered as a percentage. While this seems to be the most efficient way, it also lacks the ability to weight categories or eliminate categories – basically we’d have to have a scale for every imaginable situation.
  3. Create a grade adjustment calculator that gets used and reused. Have spaces to input the scores for each trait on the rubric, weight those scores, and have the spreadsheet calculate the adjusted point total for an accurate percentage. This seems, to me, the best balance of efficiency and effectiveness. It acts like a calculator, only you have to switch between windows (unless you’re using dual monitors…*drool*).

As I’m continuing to ponder/debate this difficult issue, I’m hoping for input on a couple of things. If you’d like to provide some feedback, please click a response in one of the two polls below, letting the me the world know which of the above options is best, and what grade you think a 3 (meets standard) should earn . I’d also, obviously love to hear comments on what you’re already doing or what you think might work. Looking forward to seeing some ideas bandied about. 🙂


60 responses to “Standards-Based Grading with Traditional Grading Scales

  • Dana Huff

    What you need to do is figure out what is absolute zero on an essay that was turned in. I usually say that’s a 40. Here’s an example of how a 30-point rubric might work (6 areas of accomplishment across 5 domains):


    The way it works is that if a kid turns in a paper and earns all 1’s on each domain, she would earn a 50, which seems fair for a paper that is a 1 across the board — it would be a failing paper. You can figure it out for any number of points. It makes it a lot easier to use rubrics to derive a grade.

  • Michelle

    I’ve been working on implementing standards-based grading in my class and plan to spend the summer figuring out how I can use this in my science classes (I teach high school). If work is graded on a 4-point scale where 1= above standards; 2 = meets standards; 3 = approaching standards; and 1 = below standards that would roughly translate to:
    4.0 = A+
    3.7 – 3.9 = A-
    3.3 – 3.6 = B+
    3.0 – 3.2 = B
    2.7 – 2.9 = B-
    2.3 – 2.6 = C+
    2.0 – 2.2 = C
    1.7 – 1.9 = C-
    1.3 – 1.6 = D+
    1.2 – 1.0 = D
    0.7 – 0.9 = D-
    0.6 – 0 = F
    This is still a work in progress, so if anyone sees any problem with this scale please point it out to me!

    One of the things I’m having a hard time figuring out is finding things for the kids who master that standards early. What kind of extension activities would enhance learnign and not seeme like more work? I don’t want to foster the idea that success = more work = punishment. How have others dealt with this?

    • Emily

      If a student gets 1s in every single area, for every single assignment, wouldn’t his average be 1.0. That would be a D, for a student who doesn’t know anything, right?

      • Michelle

        I just realized that my post is incorrect. A 4= exceeds standard, 3=meets standard, 2=approaching standard, 1=doesn’t meet standard, and of course 0=student has not attempted to meet standard.

        Which does, indeed, mean that a student who scores a 1 on every assignment receives a passing grade. Not perfect, I realize. But it also indicates that the student at least, attempts to meet the standards. I’m afraid that until the system of reporting changes it’s the best I can do.

      • RoschBenjamin

        I use a 4.0 system, too, and while having a D or not meeting a standard allows a student to pass the course, we are in discussions about what to do.

    • Cortney

      I, like all of you struggle with grading systems. Not only do I try to come up with a rubric that meets the standards that student friendly but our department is trying to all get on “the same page” as far as grading goes. This has not been easy because we all have our own expectations and requirements. That’s what make us teachers. I use a system that is almost identical to the one listed above. I found that the drastic point change discourages students when they can get a “100 for a 4” and then only an “80 for a 3”. Allowing for the “in between” numbers to be given has improved their grades on projects and written assignments.

    • Laura

      Why convert your scale at all? The administration at our school wants our teachers to use the standards based report card. We were told that they DON’T want parents trying to translate it. If you do convert it, then why not structure your tests around the standards on a 100 point scale?

      • Emily

        Lucky you! At most schools we are still expected to produce a letter grade for our report cards, so thence comes the difficulty of converting. We want our class and students to use the 4 point scale, but at the end of the grading period have to give them a letter grade which is usually all they care about all along, and all the parent/next teacher will see.

    • a

      My biggest complaint about this system is that it is confusing for the students and parents and our school does not quiz or test for a 4. They are trying to change the shape of the bell curve. My daughter has been encouraged to ask what she can do to get a 4 but if they never ask that level of a question then she is unable to obtain it. She knows that whether she puts in a lot of effort or minimal that she will get a 3. So therefore, she has lost all motivation to try. It is really sad and I am frustrated. The one time that she did get a 4 was when the person that wrote up the quiz made an error. It was more difficult then what they had been working on and my daughter got it right. But she was told that she got a 4 because the person that wrote of the quiz screwed up. Any recommendations on how i should approach this with the school. Not happy!!

  • Adrienne

    I have often come across this problem too, while grading my student’s essays. I want the students to understand the difference between an A and B paper, which is sometimes hard with the concept of standard grading. However, scale grading is easier to grade papers, but it is not always fair in my eyes. Global Studies essays are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. If I didn’t change the scale then a student who wrote a 3 essay, which is a decent essay would receive a grade of a 60% A solution to this is to create your own grading scale with numeric grades that reflect the students work.

  • Emily

    I think I have decided to use a 4 point scale with a
    4 – 100%
    3 – 80%
    2 – 60%
    1 – 40%

    However, a significant note is that math teachers at my school have a practice that D- is not passing. Students who do not get a 64% or better will receive an F in the class.

    This is perfect for me because “almost meets standard” is not passing to me.

    I’m going to go all out on this, with homework not being graded toward the academic grade. Participation will help a student in his citizenship and effort grades (big whoop, I know), and only be practice for tests and quizzes.

    Let me know what you think. I did a test run for high school Algebra 2 last semester, but want to do this for all classes this year, once I get the wrinkles smoothed.

    • Kay

      Homework is the practice. We are transitioning to standards based grading, but prior, my homework was worth only 10% of their grade. Why? Kids are so intent on getting points and not learning concepts. The would constantly cheat on homework to get their points when the homework grade was higher. This way cheating is of no benefit. But if a student has not mastered a standard they should not pass a class. The only problem with your scale is that you have no C grade. How would you average assessments?

  • Matt Townsley

    This is a really great discussion! I’ve had similar thoughts on the use of s-b grading and transferring it back to the traditional percentage/letter grade scale. I haven’t come up with a clear-cut answer yet, but here are my thoughts so far:
    Yet another solution is to not really worry about percentages and give students ongoing opportunities to improve their scores. This idea goes along the premise that a grade represents only a student’s current level of understanding rather than some hybrid effort+progress+mastery formula often used in traditional grading. If you’re interested, you can read my extended thoughts on late work:

    Looking forward to engaging in this discussion here on Edumacation!

  • thehurt

    What an interesting discussion! I am surprised that this discussion just keeps going. Perhaps an updated post (with some additional research) would be a better place to engage in this topic a little more?
    In any case, I am intrigued by a couple of the ideas being shared here, particularly Emily’s note that “Almost meets standard” is not passing.

    There are a lot of issues at play here – standards-based grading, traditional grading scales, the standards we are using to assess students, and even administrative decisions to hold back or “pass” students on to the next grade. This last one, however, I feel is the absolutely critical component of the entire discussion. The more I wrestle with this topic the more I realize that, if a student was not meeting lower standards, why am I holding that student accountable to even higher standards? It would seem that if we truly believe in standards, we would be holding back students that don’t meet those standards.

    Obviously, this isn’t likely to happen in the educational/political climate of public schools. I’ll have more on this in a future post, but it’s something I continue to think about. If holding students back is not an option, however, we’re left with the current discussion of melding s-b and traditional grades. Like Matt, I’m excited to continue this discussion.


    I piloted standards-based assessment and reporting in my classroom and then in my department at my last school. We struggled mightily with all of the questions and issues raised in the post and comments above. There is so much to deal with when shifting from traditional grading to SBAR, including colleagues’, students’, and parents’ perceptions of rubrics, which – no matter how detailed – are “mushy” when compared to a “real” grade in many people’s eyes. My best advice is to take the time needed to educate your learning community about SBAR and 4- or 5-point scales and to use those scales exclusively if you’re able to do so. It’s a tough political sell, but every time you crosswalk a rubric back to a number score, you take away the student’s perception of therubric’s importancer by undercutting the behaviors articulated on it with a number grade. I’ll try to post more on SBAR and its impact on authentic engagement sometime this week over at

    • Kristen Norris

      Wow! Our district has just switched to SBAR for the first time this year. I teach 5th grade and I am so confused as to where to start. I like the concept but do not know how to switch everything over to grading with a rubric. Thanks for you positive outlook.

      Kristen Norris
      Cholla Elementary

  • Rich

    Try understanding the New York State French Regents’ idea behind giving an essay a grade on a scale of 18, and then converting that scale to a scale of 8…for 2 different essays! It’s just too difficult to say which method of grade conversion is best for you. You need to decide what is best for the department, while also considering which method will be best for the students. Not necessarily saying that grades should be inflated, but that they need to properly reflect the students ability, and I think we all know that dividing a class into 4 grading criteria is not effective. Have you tried to create a rubric for each grade given. Maybe each grade (1,2,3,4) could be further divided into 4 grades making 16 possibilities instead of 4. I know you said that it needed to be kept simple, but using only 4 grades for the students is doing them and injustice.

  • The Standard is Authenticity at

    […] at Twitter this morning, @mctownsley pointed toward a post at Edumacation about the tension between standards-based assessment and traditional […]

  • Emily

    I feel there is some injustice when I say, essentially, “You know it” “You aren’t there yet.” But I was amazed at how easily I could tell what a student knew when I tried this grading last semester. It’s so easy to tell a student who knows it somewhat, and gets some right answers, from a student who knows it well, and gets most right answers with silly mistakes like a negative sign, or not reading one’s own writing correctly. Additionally, they are given the chance to show what they know in re-takes.

    One thing I would like to note, I need to remember that as teachers, we are educated professionals. We are the ones that should be trusted to tell whether students have learned what they needed. Instead of letting some complicated system of points (which students know just how to hoard) dictate whether they pass, we can (I can, at least) tell what grade a student should get.
    I get the feeling that I need to justify it all the time, and I’m happy to do it, but I’d rather do it with evidence of learning than a series of point values making a numerical grade.

    However, I’m somewhat happy to go along with those around me, as they come around.

    • Matt Townsley

      “I feel there is some injustice when I say, essentially, “You know it” “You aren’t there yet.” But I was amazed at how easily I could tell what a student knew when I tried this grading last semester. It’s so easy to tell a student who knows it somewhat, and gets some right answers, from a student who knows it well, and gets most right answers with silly mistakes like a negative sign, or not reading one’s own writing correctly. Additionally, they are given the chance to show what they know in re-takes.”

      BINGO! Some pushback against s-b grading by saying it’s impossible to classify students’ understanding into a 4 or 5 points scale. I’ve had the consult for several educational publishers as they write and pilot tests which involve holistic scoring. The consensus in that field is that when a grading scale is widened by adding more values, it becomes much more difficult to score and hence, inconsistency comes into play.

      By allowing re-takes and follow-up assessments, students are always given the opportunity to improve their “grade” and overcome the common rebuttals to one shot assessments.

      Thanks for articulating the value of s-b grading so well, Emily.

    • Jacob

      It’s a good perspective that you put out when you said that teacher’s should be trusted to say if they know the content or if they don’t know. It is our responsibility to do that as teachers and student should hear that feedback and provide concrete evidence of that progress.

      • javier

        The problem of trusting teachers are that there are so many burned out or negative teachers still on the rolls due to teacher union intervention. they simply do the time and earn the check and could give a hoot about performance. The intent of SBG is to prepare the students for the next higher grade in terms of academic skills, not grading scores. SBG should focus on learning skills development AND knowledge, instead of simply on content learning. Too assume that atl teachers are competent is a general mistake made by administrations. SBG for students should translate into standards based performance evaluations for the teaching staff in that district.

  • Marci Mcevoy

    My child’s school is going to the 4 point grade scale and as a parent, I’m very dismayed by it. I guess I am too traditional but I want to see how my child scored on a paper. I don’t want to know that they meet the standard. What standard? Who is setting the standard? What if my standard is higher than the acceptable standard? When I was a student I was motivated by that score on the paper or test. I wanted to know that my score beat everyone else’s. If everyone is getting a 3 or a 4 how do I know if I knew all the answers or only enough of the answers to get an A? How can a student who wants to excel, beat the competition if everyone can get a 4 by making an A?

    Can someone explain to me why a 4 point system is better for the student, better for competition, better for the parents than the traditional grading of 0-100? I don’t even like the grading scale of A-F or E, S, and NS. Again I want the percentages of the grades for my students so that I can tell accruately how they are doing in the classroom. Not meeting some standard set by someone that doesn’t share my values or know my student. My standard of acceptable is not matching their peers but making A’s and B’s (with more A’s than B’s) because I know what my student is capable of doing.

    • thehurt

      Some really excellent questions to which there aren’t necessarily hard and fast answers. That said, I’ll give it a shot. The 4 point grade scale, as you point out, is meant to help educators identify whether or not the student’s work is meeting standard. Typically in the US, that standard is aligned with the standards the state has set for writing at a given grade level. The idea behind this scale is that there are two levels below and two levels above the “standard” line, which means that scores of 3 and 4 have met standard, while scores of 1 and 2 have not.
      What most educators value in the 4-point scale is twofold. First, by using the same scale and, more importantly, the same rubric for all students, we are able to get a better idea of where students are relative to where we expect them to be in their writing (or reading, or mathematical ability, etc.). If all teachers are using the same rubric and scale, they are being assessed based on the same criteria. Theoretically, this means that there are no “easy” teachers or “hard” teachers because they all grade the same way. As a result, students in one class can be accurately compared to students in another class, regardless of who the teacher is.
      The other advantage to the 4-point scale is pure simplicity. When grading on a 4-point scale/rubric, there is a clear difference between a “2” paper and a “3” paper – it demonstrates a certain sophistication, utilizes examples and good elaboration, and so on. When using a 100-point scale, you would be hard pressed to find a teacher who can clearly articulate the concrete differences between an “88” paper and an “89” paper. In reality, there are virtually no differences, save for the teacher’s preference.
      In reality, the student’s paper will still have a score. However, instead of a number out of 100, you are likely to see that assignments are graded out of multiples of 4. Our writing rubric, for example, is on a 4-point scale, but we grade on 6 writing traits. Consequently, a student could get 3’s (meeting standard) on each category and the score might be 18/24. So there is still a score, still some way to look at how students are doing, but instead of comparing students to each other, we are comparing the skills they have demonstrated to this expectation (standard) that we have set for them.
      The discussion stemming from this particular post, as you might have noticed, relates to your last question. Like yourself, most parents neither understand nor agree with a 4-point grading scale for the same reasons you mention – particularly that they are familiar with the 100-point / A-B-C grading system. Because we, as educators, understand this, we’re trying to figure out a sensible way for us to grade using a 4-point scale, while still giving students a letter grade.
      Finally, I just want to address a couple of your comments regarding competition. First, I am just like you – grades were all the motivation I needed in school, and because I am a competitive person, I wanted better grades than my classmates. However, my experience in the classroom (limited as it is) has taught me very quickly that there are a lot of students who are not like this. In fact, for many students I teach, grades are actually a deterrent (can’t get good grades because it isn’t “cool,” and so on). For these students, it’s imperative that teachers find other means of motivation, otherwise those students are destined to fail.
      The upshot of this is that you end up with a classroom full of very different students – some are self-motivated, some are anti-school, and some are in between. The standards the state sets are attempting to create a “minimum” level of competence that all students should reach by the time they leave public schools. That said, a lot of people (myself included) expect more out of their students. We want our students to be challenged and pushed because that’s how people grow. As teachers, we try to do this in the classroom by differentiating instruction – giving students work that is different, but will challenge each of them past their individual abilities. As a parent, I am sure you find other ways to challenge your child, as well, both as a student and as a person, and that’s what has to happen.
      Thanks so much for sharing – it’s exciting to hear a different perspective!

    • Emily

      First let me say, it is GREAT to have a parent weigh in on this conversation. I haven’t spoken to the parents of my students because most of them speak Spanish, and I can’t accurately represent this in Spanish.

      One important thing to know is that this does not foster competition. I don’t know if that was one of the arguments for it originally, but it certainly does not foster competition among students.

      The standards are set by the state or federal government, and the idea is that all teachers are supposed to teach these standards. It’s been that way for years, but teachers already had their way of teaching and grading, so the standards simply told them “OK, I won’t focus my entire year on the Civil War that I like best, because there are 24 other things the students should know when they leave my class.” Ideally, the standards would make it so that every student in a certain class would be taught the same things all over the state.

      That’s where the grading trouble comes in. No one knows what an A means across the state. Supposedly, your student was taught 21 different standards in geometry, and got a B, but no one could tell you what that means. It may mean that the student had trouble with a few certain things or that the student was generally good at everything but not great. Especially on progress reports, we feel it would be good for parents to know exactly how their student is doing on each thing that he does, so that you could provide help on the things that he is not understanding.

      For me, on each test, there are about 4 standards and I give them a number grade for each one. I have questions that line up with the standard, and then I have questions that require advanced understanding beyond the standard.

      If a student can get a 4 on a “standard” (section) I would say they more than just met the standard, but the school your students are at may be different. A parent who wanted to see his/her student be a high achiever should push for more 4s than 3s.

      I can’t actually give you any details because for me the school is on traditional grading, and I am the only one trying this out!

    • Michael Jankanish

      O.K. I am a 35 year experienced instructor beginning the process of exploring Standard Based Grading. While I have not reached hard conclusions yet, I will share some initial impressions.

      1. I am inclined to agree with the common sense expression of the parent who posted above.

      2. SBG seems to be coming out of an elementary/middle school perspective and I am not sure about the application to high school where content, as opposed to process, is appropriate.

      3. I have no difficulty at all with justifying the pt. system I now use.
      Every evaluative piece of work is assigned a point value; with exams having the highest pt. value. Pts. earned are divided by pts. possible and translated into a percent scale. 94% for an A down to 60% required to pass; where an A means SUPERIOR; B means ABOVE AVERAGE; and so on. I do not use a curve. Yes, the students are ranked in relation to the grades of their peers. So, if you earn an A that means you scored at a superior level for the course compared with your peers.

      4. I agree, subjective factors ought not to figure into the grade. I am only interested in the students ability to demonstrate knowledge of the course content.

      5. My impression is that most administrators like SBA because it will result in grade inflation and also result in more students passing; graduating; and it may help in MAKING IT APPEAR the performance gap between different student populations is closing.

      6. Don’t complicate the simple: Most of what I have read above is to D_________ confluted to be useful. I read a description of the SBG system of a teacher in my building. It took 3 pages and I still don’t know how the students demonstrate their knowledge! Another staff member simply divided the 100% scale into 4s. Thus a student with 37% was getting a C. Another with 75% was getting a B! Absurd.

      7. By the way; what do people do with 504 and special ed. students who claim test anxiety?

      • JYB

        1. Go for it. I personally wouldn’t want my daughters overly concerned with beating the other kids. I’d want my daughters to help others who needed help and get help from those who were able to offer it. Competition is rarely a good thing in a classroom where the goal is to learn. My old boss told me when she was in college a girl and her suitemates checked out all the books from the library (yes, all) that were required for a class because she wanted to set the curve.

        2. There’s no difference. In my class (science) a student has a 3 if they’re at standard and a 4 if above. So for example one of my state (CA) standards has to do with solving problems involving speed, distance, and time. If they can do that 100% of the time, they’re at standard. In our case, we have a state test that defines what standard is. If they can solve harder problems than that (for example multi step problems) they have a 4.

        2. If A means you scored superior to your peers then yes, you’re grading on a curve. You may not re-norm every test but if you go back and think “Too many kids got As on this test, I need to make it harder” then you’re using a bell curve. In SBAR, you’re graded in relation to the standards. As a teacher, there’s a huge mental difference between looking at all the As in your gradebook and thinking, “I’ve made the class too easy, I need to make it harder now” and in an SBAR system of thinking, “Look at all the As, I’ve succeeded in bringing everyone up above standard.”

        3. The difficulty is not in your justification, it’s in others understanding the justification. If parents, students, other teachers, and future teachers don’t know what your grades mean, that hurts the student. I can’t look back at the grades of my students from in earlier years for help because I have no idea what went into those grades. I can’t help my kid because I don’t know why they have a C. I can’t help my current students in other classes because I don’t know what they need help with. And if I can’t do that, your students can’t do that.

        4. I actually have no problem with subjective stuff as long as it’s made clear. If you report out academic achievement separate from non-academic than you’re ok. So my ability to write a persuasive essay is reported separately from my ability to not be disruptive in class.

        5. It depends on the standards. If achieving standard is harder than most teachers demand then overall grades might go down. If it’s easier than it might go up. That’s the issue though. Grading standards vary from teacher to teacher. I read in Educational Leadership that a A in math in an urban school is equivalent to a D in a affluent one in terms of how the students performed on standardized tests. That’s from school to school. I bet every student in your school knows who the easy graders and the hard graders are. If I’m trying to be valedictorian, what incentive do I have to take the harder teacher?

        6. Don’t confuse “what I’m used to” with simple. Traditional grading would be insane if we had never been raised with it. “Your teacher will decide how you are graded. Your GPA will largely be determined by random teacher assignment. Each teacher may decide to include whatever level of competency and mixture of things. As long as you achieve 90% of that random mixture you will excel. Some will give you extra credit for bringing kleenex. Doing the work is mandatory while learning itself is optional. If you are at an 89% but the teacher likes you, you might get bumped up to an A.” yes, that was a little snarky but not too far from the truth. To be less snarky, the problem that teacher was having was trying to do everything exactly the same but change the representation of the grades. SBAR requires a rethinking of how you approach everything.

        7. Standards is not the same as standardized testing. The type of assessment itself is irrelevant as long as they can demonstrate the appropriate level of mastery. One of the joys of SBAR is you can use multiple measures.

        Ultimately the issue is not whether or not SBAR is perfect, but whether it is better than the traditional model. Disagree with the number or depth of the standards we have? Go for it. Disagree with the whole standards-based movement? That’s a good conversation. But you will have a hard, hard time convincing anyone (student/teacher/parent) who’s really tried both that the traditional method is any any way better for learning.

      • Diane

        I have 22 years of teaching HS Science (Honors/AP). SB is different, but I am coming to realize it is better for student learning. I come from a school where kids are interested in points and not knowing concepts. How many more points do I need to get the A, or C or D? Its their standard question. They do not ask, “What do I need to know or demonstrate knowledge about to get the A, C, or D?” With SB I can say, go back and learn how to balance an a chemical equation this will raise your grade. Also with the traditional system, I have students coming to me with A in algebra from different teachers and their skills are very different. Letter grades are very subjective items and not as concrete as parents believe them to be.

        An inherent failure of traditional grading is that many teachers do not construct their tests in such a way that the concepts are equitably weighted. So if you construct a test where you asked an inordinate amount of questions on a single concept the kids might pass the test but they may only be proficient in 1 skill (lets say force vectors) and can’t do diddly squat with gravity, projectiles, or friction. So they pass the test with a C or maybe a B. When that same student is given a test by the teacher next door who constructed his test with less weight on that one concept the student may get a D or F. By using standards you grade on each standard or goal. A student who is proficient is a C student. A student who shows Mastery is an A student. A student who is proficient in some areas/with mastery in others is a B student. A student is shows proficiency in some and below proficiency in other would be a D student and a Student who gets 1 across the board (Have not meet a single standard) is an F student. The question comes down to

      • javier

        I love the interesting comments made regarding the across-the-board outlook. Radical change from a 100-point system to a rubric system in a short period of time only foster confusion. Most of the teachers and administrators of today were raised on the 100-point scale and which is why the translation to SBG is so difficult. The federal intervention of demanding SBG performance, motivated by punshment in terms of sanction or receivership, does not foster confidence in trying new things. The threat of the lowering of standards to meet rubric measurements is very real. Why should it be one or the other? I have successfully used rubric and grade-point grading concurrently to measure everything from ESL to Math. This blend allows working with students across the board, from regular students to students with special needs. The problem has been that it is usually a single-classroom effort, and it is a process that has rarely been supported by administration.

  • Shelley Lima

    I just discovered this blog and thread of conversation while researching s-b grading. I, too, have assessed demonstrated skills across a range of domains on a 4-1 scale with clear descriptions of each domain from “approaches” to “exceeds.” I also have engaged my students in assessing work against these rubrics to figure out what a 2 or 3 or 4 “looks like.” HOWEVER, I’m wondering how to actually assess against a specific GLE (split infinitive intended). So, if I’m teaching writing GLEs 3.1.1 and 3.1.2 (dealing with analyzing ideas, using details, etc.), then should I assess against those specific GLEs on a 4-1 scale? And shouldn’t my gradebook reflect a student’s achievement on specific GLEs rather than on an assignment with a grade that represents an average across mutliple domains…representing multiple GLEs?

    I’m soliciting ideas because I’m really struggling with this. I really want to know. I was flipping through the NMSA catalog and searching for resources on the web when I stumbled across this site, and I would love to figure this out with others…. What, truly, is s-b grading if we’re not aligning all grades with specific standards?

  • R. Parsons

    Check out the rubric grade converter at


    • Emily

      USE WITH CAUTION! This converter assumes that anything but a zero is passing. If your scale is 1,2,3 with zero as the only not passing score, this scale will work fine. All this converter does is space your numbers between passing grade and 100%. If you have a 5 point scale with 60% passing, it will make a 1 = 60%, 2 = 70%, 3 = 80%, 4 = 90%, 5 = 100%. Just divided between but ***assumes your only non-passing score is a zero***

  • Emily

    Regarding I had a bit of confusion because I put 60% or 65% in the “minimum passing score.” But the converter took that score and assigned it to the 1 value. As in my student getting a 1 with one criteria would get a 60% and then a 2 would get a little better, etc, up to 4 being 100%. But I wouldn’t want a 1 to be a passing score, would you? When I put in 40%, my minimum failing score, equivalent to a 1, it is a handy tool that I can refer students and parents to in order to find a grade equivalence for their s-b score. Being a mathematician, I would not find it useful (especially when Excel could do it for many scores at once).

    Response to Shelley Lima: My assessments and quizzes are broken into categories with headings above every 3 to 7 questions or problems. So an assessment may say “Finding measurements using bisectors” then a few problems. Then “Finding complementary and supplementary angles” and a few more problems. Each section gets a score from 1 – 4 and in my gradebook there is no “Test 3.” There is “Test 3 – Bisectors” and “Test 3 – Comp and Supp” with distinct grades in each. Students’ grade reports list every standard and a distinct score, and quizzes usually assess only 1 or 2. Occasionally I will use the same problems to assess two different standards, but I will still give them a grade for each one. Hope this helps!

  • Andy

    Great post. I haven’t had time to sift through all of the responses to see if someone has addressed this already, but let me give you my two cents about standards based grading.
    You have to throw out the idea that earning a three is like earning a 75% because four is the best you can do on an assignment.
    When you’re using standards based grading, that percentage calculation for all intents and purposes isn’t applicable upon those final grade. Earning a three simply means that the child works proficiently on that specific standard (e.g. – You teach a lesson on text-to-self connections and ask the children to make a connection in their reading that day. A child connects the book they’re reading to themselves, so they earn a 3 on that assignment).
    And I agree with you whole-heartedly about how essays are graded subjectively. Using that example above, either that student is capable of making a connection, which, for the purpose of a percentage grade would make that assignment a 100%, or they’re not capable of making a connection, which would pound their percentage based grade with a 0%. Percentage grading in that case is not an appropriate way to measure understanding or growth.
    Now, the scale we used for standards based grading was a 1-4 scale and was explained to us as follows:

    1 – No comprehension
    2 – Comprehension with assistance
    3 – Comprehension with application
    3* – Comprehension with some extension
    4 – Comprehension with extension

    For reading, I’ve found that to be an excellent scale, other than the fact I feel there should be a 2* on there somewhere for kids who can comprehend with some application but still need assistance. You also have to give each child at least three opportunities per graded standard to show application (e.g. – 2 quizzes and 1 test or 2 guided reading responses and 1 quiz, etc.).
    Anyways, I wanted to chime in there and I will be back to check out these comments because I am firm believer that standards based grading is a more balanced way to evaluate comprehension and growth.

    • Laura

      2- Comprehension with assistance. I was wondering about this. If you are giving a quiz or test, then you shouldn’t be giving any assistance. A quiz or test is when students are demonstrating their independent ability. So when would you use this number?

      • Emily

        Your idea of a test or quiz may differ slightly from mine, and perhaps Andy’s. I think a test or quiz is when students are demonstrating their knowledge and ability, however limited. Sometimes that needs to be drawn out by some assistance. For instance, a student can’t remember the right formula and either asks for it, or uses an incorrect one. I give him a two because I was able to see his ability in using the formula, but I expect him to know it without assistance for a 3.

    • javier

      Nice. However, I’m wondering how the process would work with bilingual or strictly ESL classrooms? Or, are ESL classrooms to be defined as strictly remedial?

  • MommaKat

    I just found this blog while searching for ideas, but I am moving in the opposite direction, s-b to traditional grading, and I hate it. In the past, I know what my students were expected to master, not just over the course of a year, but each trimester. Each content area and essential learning encompassed what constituted grade level mastery (3), achievement beyond grade level (4), progress toward master (2), and and limited progress toward mastery(1).

    I love standards based grading as it helps highlight, on a regular basis, concepts each individual has mastered, and areas in which he or she needs improvement / practice / further learning, and more importantly, support. It allowed me to be specific with parents and my students at conferences, and I didn’t have to worry about backing up my grading decisions because they weren’t subjective, and I actually had more documentation than previously.

    In my new job, I am forced to give a traditional letter grade aligned with a 100 percentage point system, and standards grades in the learning strands of each content area. The dilemma I have is that the two were NEVER meant to align for conversion. SB shows progress over time, and it allows us to show growth or lack thereof in material covered each grading period. It puts the responsibility on the student, and makes learning expectations explicit. Recording a 1 is meant to show that the students has shown limited progress in that one area, and is a red flag for further differentiation, support, and perhaps even assessment for LD.

    True, no rubric is perfect, but that’s why WE are the trained professionals and learn how to read our students contributions. A 1 isn’t a D, it isn’t ‘not passing’ or passing, it’s an indication of a need for help or differentiation – period. We know not compare apples and oranges, so why try to compare sb with Trad grading systems. They don’t align. Now, back to my stupid report cards with what I perceive as far more subjective grading…

  • Robert Anderson

    4 = 100%
    3.9 = 99%
    3.8 = 98%
    3.7 =97%
    3.6 =96%
    3.5 = 95%
    3.4 = 94
    3.3 = 93
    3.2 = 92
    3.1 = 91
    3.0 = 90
    2.9 = 89
    2.8 = 88
    2.7 = 87
    2.6 = 86
    2.5 = 85
    2.4 = 84
    2.3 = 83
    2.2 = 82
    2.1 = 81
    2.0 = 80
    1.9 = 7 9
    1.8 = 78
    1.7 = 77
    1.6 = 76
    1.5 = 75
    1.4 = 74
    1.3 = 73
    1.2 = 72
    1.1 = 71
    1 = 70
    This could be extended to the .9 – .1 range and even beyond to the .09 etc. However I have no wish to do either. Below 1 is me. Students don’t have enough of the concept to be graded and need either redirection to earlier levels of learning or additional opportunities to be retaught . It may indicate the need for a referral if it is an average of many assignments.

    For individual assignments I generally score 1,2,3 or 4. When translating those assignments for a reporting period I average the accumulated work and use the scale above to translate it to a percent for the report card.

    • Kaitlin

      I really like this scale! I do believe that if a 4 is given in the SBG system, it should represent “above and beyond” work. My biggest challenge this year (as I slowly implement standards-based grading by choice) has been getting students and parents to understand that a 3 is good! I tell them that a 3 means they have met the expectations and have demonstrated exactly what a 6th grader should be able to do, as outlined in the state’s grade level expectations. When the students and I design rubrics for different tasks, to get a 4 the student must show some sort of extended knowledge, beyond what is taught in class. For example, on an exit slip I will include a question from class, and then another that includes a concept that we will learn the next day. The students know they must answer both questions correctly to earn a 4. My students have just recently started to accept 3 as a great score, so they don’t stress about not being able to answer the “challenge problem” as some of them call it. In your scale, a 3= 90, which is an A- in the traditional grading system at my school.

  • SBAR. at

    […] journey now.  As long as you’re wiling to compromise at the end of each marking period and create a formula that cross-walks your feedback and students growth into a letter grade, it’s likely that the merits of SBAR will help you win over your administrator for a […]

  • JYB

    Wow. Interesting posts. Moved to a SBAR system last year. Bringing along 8 teachers in various stages this year. I’m the only truly 100% in the middle school.
    4 is above standard
    3 is standard
    I grouped my grade-level standards into topics. About 4-6 per trimester. In the end I convert it to a letter grade based on a conjunctive scoring method.

    All 3s and at least one 4 is an A
    Minimum score 2.5 at least one 3 is a B

    No averaging ever. I like this method because it forces students to address their weaknesses. In my class 4,4,4,4,1.5 would be a D. Sounds hard but in my view your strengths in other areas shouldn’t mask your weakness in another. You should have to work on that.

    How the gradebook is setup.
    I use Powerschool gradebook. I setup each Category as a Topic, so instead of Quizzes the category is Motion or Forces and Newton’s Laws. Once or twice a week there will be an entry that just says “Progress Check 1” or “Progress Check 2” under each active Topic and I put in a 0-4 score. Each Topic will also have an assignment created called “Topic Score” that I update each week based on what I feel is their current level of mastery. The Progress Checks are just their to monitor their progress. I only use the Topic Scores for the final grade.

    I don’t enter individual assignments because not all students are doing the same things and really it’d just confuse parents to see all these blank assignment spots for their kids.

    Percentages don’t work in a true SBAR system as was stated. Knowing 90% of anything is not meeting standard.

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  • thehurt

    Just wanted to give everyone a heads up that I’ve posted something of an update to this topic – obviously a year later and (hopefully) a little wiser, my thoughts continue to evolve on this issue. Feel free to check it out and continue this discussion – I’ve loved following how people have adapted and evolved with standards-based grading.

  • Kaleele Sarkis-Ahlers

    I preface this comment by saying I am a creative thinker but I do back it up with mathematics!

    I am the 9th team leader at a high school. I have just pulled the “failing for the year report” for the freshmen class as well as the sophomore class. I am also a 7/12 G/T teacher who teachers the honors Algebra to middle school students.
    The problem:
    There are multiple failures 42 out of a class of 85, 69 out of a class of 123. This pattern has sadly prevailed over many years. The middle school is a standard based system using a 1-4 whole scoring guide. The high school is a 4 point system with below 70 as failing. In the middle school 1.9 is failing and the middle school sends possibly 2-3 students who fail to the high school. That consistently translates to the 42 or above failing. In essence many more fail when they get to high school.

    I asked the question- why is 1.9 the “failure” ,if you can have that in a standard based system, seeming 2.7 Honor roll at the middle school when 3.0 is meeting the standard.

    I did a little research into grades of failing students as freshmen over three years. I looked at their standard based 8th grade scores and compared them to their 4.0 system grade to answer the question -What is the numerical number that is failing in a standard based system. All students failing at the high school received a 2.9 or below at the middle school. The average separately of the three years in both english and math of all the failures is 2.5.

    Barring all the other comments about the transition of middle schoolers to high school this tells me that 2.5 should locally be the standard based “failing “. If 3 is meeting the standard on a continuum, how can 2.7 be honor roll?
    How can a student be on the honor roll and not meet the standard.

    Mathematicians try to equate both systems with point scales. I have tried this. I don’t think it can be done and transferable to every school system. The research is clear on not being able to make interchangeable the two systems. I understand that now. However I also see where middle school needs to make higher their “failing ” value and do something to adapt so that students going to high school do not get hit with failure when they have never seen it. High school may need to make a little lower their failing grade. The standards are still high but attainable.

    If 2.5 becomes the new failing grade then middle school teachers, students and parents and administrations will have to change certain aspects of teaching and learning in order for students to really meet the standards. Won’t the range of failures at high school level will diminish?

    • thehurt

      @Kaleele: This is one of the most interesting comments I’ve read on the subject – that the two scales are practically impossible to combine. I’m wondering what the district’s perspective is on the issue? Since the problem lies in unifying the grading practices between the middle and high schools, has the district taken a look at making adjustments across the board?

  • spor10

    Very interesting comments! I am a middle school language arts teacher and I am tired of the traditional grading system. I have taught basic readers for three years and I do not feel that the traditional grading system accurately shows the growth that my students are making. It is based too much on work completion and performance on summative assessments. I am now exploring standards based grading as a way to accurately show my students’ growth. I, as with many of you, am confused on how to convert the standards based grading to the traditional A,B,C,D,F grading scale that my district still uses. We use the Skyward grading system. My principal is extremely supportive and said to present him with the research and we will find a way to make Skyward work. So, I appreciate all of the comments here and would appreciate any other thoughts on how to put SBG into a computerized grading program. Thanks again everyone!

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  • Kara Giblin

    Our school district is currently in the process of rolling out a Standards based report card this year. All elementary teachers are expected to grade on a 4-1 scale starting in September. A few issues/questions that have arisen are …there’s been no training with each grade level on determining rubrics, establishing benchmarks, etc….so where to we begin. Two half days are being provided for our grade levels to meet and discuss these areas. However, we’re expected to use the 4,3,2,1 first thing in the Fall. Furthermore, we’re not allowed to use a grade point conversion. So, where would you begin to set up your grade book for the new school year??? We teach all subject areas to make it more of a challenge. For example, if you give a math test with 30 questions (and assume not all standards on the report card under Mathematics are addressed) how would you transfer the results in a 4,3,2,1 format if you can’t use a grade point/scale conversion?? Anyone? I’m all for Standards Based grading, it is much more informative to teachers, students, and parents of the areas a student needs to work on,etc… But, it’s hard to start the year with no conversion for all subject areas. Anyone who has ideas, please send them my way. I’m trying to get a grasp on this before Summer Break comes to an end.

  • quest

    First off, I am new to this discussion and learning about Standard-based grading. In this early stage, I find this discussion both intriguing and frustrating. I like placing a learning target or a standard or objective next to scores or assessments to assist in the learning. I am not sure, however, why labeling something as a 4 is any different than 100% or a lovely smilely face. They all, to me, mean the same thing- Student understands the concept wonderfully. A 3 or a check or a face with no smile… or whatever % you next want to create, 80%, 75%…. means there is understanding, they get the basics and maybe a bit more.
    It seems to me that this is a discussion on how to best label and how to best assess. As a teacher, that is my job no matter the scale or assessment tool. The quiz over subjects and verbs that meets standards — that I place into powerschool tells the students what they are working to master. The score that I put in, whether it is a 95%, a 19/20 or a 3.5 give the same data, don’t they?
    In my discussion with students in regards to their quizzes, we learn from the mistakes made, where there is confusion , misunderstanding or errors on my part to teach well- this creates a need to re-teach or re-learn.
    What am I missing?

  • John L

    Great Post! After reading the blog I went back and read Reeves’ article. My colleagues and I are continuously discussing the grading policy in the small program in which we work. I never considered the ratio argument that Reeves introduces. I wonder how many teachers have considered the discrepancy in the 100 point grading system when they give a student a zero. The argument in my school is generally, “zero work receives zero credit.” On a different note, I like the 4 point scale, and if was an English teacher (I teach high school math) I would consider the 4 point scale, or maybe even a 5 point scale. I don’t see a problem with a 3 out of 4 points being worth 75%. Although a grade of 4 on a 4 point scale would translate to 100%, these grades would truly have to be earned. Perfection many not be necessary to earn a 4, but the students would certainly have to be much better than average. Overall, I think the 4 point system would work, rewarding the students who produce superior work, and fairly grading those who produce minimal work.

  • Chriistina

    Great discussion. We have jumped into the SBA trend this year at my school. Unfortunately, we have not recieved any training on how to create rubrics for each standard and how to streamline those rubrics across a district of 50,000 students. I feel as though I understand the concept of a 5-1 SBA scale, however, how do I deal with the unreal number of students who meet the standard early and then do not turn anything else the rest of the semester. I teach HS English and our trend scores are only reported at the end of the quarter…..I guess I’m concerned about lowering my expecations and allowing a student to not do their homework as long as they are meeting the standard at the end of the semester. The same goes for reading comp. quizzes. What’s the point to daily “assessments” when they just have to do well on the unit test. My students seem to work really hard at the beginning of the year, and then slack at the end….would that mean that they would not pass? I just don’t feel comfortable with incompletion.

  • spinningaroundthesun

    Why not just use traditional letter grades for 5 levels of proficiency? I’ve adapted Scriffiny’s system (Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading,

    This has at least two advantages:

    1. Teachers don’t need to convert between scales. (In my district, the clunky old online grading system allows me to input letter grades instead of numbers if I so choose.)

    2. Students and parents recognize the letter grades. My efforts to define those and communicate about standards amount to fine-tuning, not starting from scratch.

    I’m sure there must be some reasons to make this more complicated, but I like the simplicity. We’ll see how it goes in 2010-11.

  • Adam

    I’ve been using to handle the record-keeping for my standards- and proficiency-based grading. It’s free and easy to use, allows you to set your own grading scales, and it uses the power-law or traditional average whichever you choose. The developer will even incorporate your state standards into the system if you provide them.

  • javier

    Consistent research is that the two forms of measurement are not interchangeable. Traditional grading measures set learning on a point system while SBG measures progressive learning. SBG, being progressive, requires a system of measurement that is progressive not only from GLE to GLE, but from lower grade to higher grade within the same content area i.e. 7th grade math to 9th grade math. School wide SBG also demands that the teaching staff and administration be graded in similar fashion, using a standards-based performance evaluation and contract. I see SBG as a global effort not strictly directed at the students. The teaching process also must be evaluated. I have also found that a combined measuring process that incorporates both SBG for skills development and traditional grading for content learning is the most holistic approach grading student performance.

  • Melissa

    I like the concept of SBG, however I do not grade conversions in the high school. I think it should be one way or the other. I have a problem with a student essentially knowing 20% of the material to get a D with a grade conversion. If a school does SBG, then the student should become proficient in the standards before moving on instead of conversions into a grade. A student must meet all standards before moving on to the next class.

  • Ra

    Or Science Department has “fit” the 100% scale by breaking that 100% into 8 pieces… each piece is 12.5%. So…

    0-13% = 0 = F (scale 0 = 0)
    13-37% = 1 = D (scale 1 = 25%… in the middle)
    37-63% = 2 = C (scale 2 = 50%… in the middle)
    63 – 87% = 3 = B (scale 3 = 75%… in the middle)
    87-100% = 4 = A (scale 4 = 100 = 100)

    The math department “fit” the 100% scale by cutting out the bottom half.
    50% – 60% = 0 = F 50/100 = 0
    60 – 70% = 1 = D 65/100 = 1
    70 – 80% = 2 = C 75/100 = 2
    80 – 90% = 3= B 85/100 = 3
    90 – 100% = 4 = A 100/100 = 4

    Both groups have decided to break the scale into 5 pieces, and use the middle number for D,C and B, while using the extrema for A and B.

  • Margi

    From a parent – Most colleges, if not all, require a GPA. How is this going to be translated? It all sounds too touchy feely for me, but I’m old school. It also sounds like more work for the teachers who are already understaffed, overworked and underfunded.

  • Robert Harrell

    This year I have experimented with a 5-point (6-point if you count zero) scale using letters that convert to percentages. (The grading program my school uses requires everything to be in percentages.)
    *A*dvanced (exceeds standard) = 95%
    *P*roficient (meets standard) = 85%
    *B*asic (approaches standard) = 75%
    be*L*ow Basic (misses standard) = 65%
    *F*ar below basic (thanks for showing up) = 55%

    The Science department has simply assigned traditional letter grades to lower percentages that reflect SBG points as an attempt to reconcile the two scales (e.g. 40% might be a “C”).

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