What is Standards-based Grading?

Typically, U.S. classroom teachers use some tests and assignments purely for summative purposes, recording scores indelibly to be used in a weighted average that determines final grades. In contrast, under a standards-based grading system the teacher uses such assessment evidence both to evaluate the extent to which a student is proficient in each of the course’s learning outcomes at that particular moment in time (summative assessment), and then to provide students with personalized feedback designed to guide further learning (formative assessment). A key feature of standards-based grading is that students are then given opportunities to do further work, at home or in school, and to be reassessed for full credit. In other words, summative assessments become formative tools designed to promote further learning, not just markers of how much students have learned already.

How did we conduct this study?

We conducted a cluster randomized controlled trial, recruiting 29 schools and randomly assigning half (14 schools) to a Treatment condition, and half (15 schools) to a Control condition.  Treatment schools implemented the standards-based grading program, called PARLO, in their ninth-grade algebra and geometry classrooms, and Control schools proceeded with business-as-usual. In our participating districts, instruction to learning standards and implementation of formative assessment were already commonly in use. Consequently, the PARLO program focused on implementing two necessary components of standards-based grading. The first was Mastery: students were rated as not-yet-proficient, proficient, or high-performance on each learning outcome, and final grades were computed using a formula based on the number of proficient and the number of high-performance learning outcomes. The second was Reassessment: after providing evidence that they had done further studying, any student could be reassessed for full credit on any learning outcome.