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Reporting (Grading) to Standards

Grading and Reporting Belief System


“Why would anyone want to change current grading practices? The answer is quite simple: Grades are so imprecise that they are almost meaningless.” – Robert Marzano


Many of the leading educational experts in the world (Doug Reeves , Robert Marzano, Ken O’Connor, Tom Guskey, John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam, and Richard Dufour) have found that timely, actionable feedback is one of the most powerful influences on student learning.  A traditional grading system reduces everything that a student does to a single letter grade, making it neither timely nor actionable. The most effective feedback teachers can provide to students comes in relationship to predetermined learning goals and the evidence of students’ attainment of those learning goals. Standards describe what a student should know and be able to do at each grade level in all subjects and provide the predetermined learning goals for students.


NCPA has adopted a belief system about students and their learning that compels us to move beyond the traditional, single letter grade system. A shared set of belief guides our work:




  • All students can learn at a high level and that it is our responsibility to use our best practices to that end.

  • The primary purpose of assessment and evaluation is to improve student learning.

  • The intended audiences for grade cards are students and their parents.

  • The most accurate reporting systems are those that separate academic achievement from behavior reporting.

  • Students deserve multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they know and can do after learning.

  • Learning is a process and where you finish is more important than where you start or how long it took you to get there.


What is Standards-Based Grading?


Standards-Based Grading (SBG) is a set of teaching and reporting practices that communicate how the student is performing against a predetermined set of expectations. SBG reports achievement of each standard separately instead of combining them as in traditional systems.


SBG also separates out behaviors such as effort, attendance, participation, timeliness, cooperation and attitude, in an attempt to give the clearest picture of student learning possible.


How is Standards-Based Grading different than traditional grading?

   Traditional Systems

  • Grades given by subject as an average of all assignments. Percentage system (100 point levels) is used with incomplete assignments (zeros) having a disproportionate effect.

  • Criteria for success is often unclear or assumed to be known by students.

  • Letter grades can be a mix of achievement, attitude,effort, and behavior. Penalties, extra credit, and group scores are included.

  • Curriculum and instruction may not be aligned to the standards and may be driven by textbooks instead of standards. (teaching focused)

  • All assignments included, regardless of purpose. Homework completion can be a major factor in averaging a student’s grade.


  • All scores from the grading period included; multiple assignments are averaged.

  • Mean is the primary way grades are “calculated.”

       Standards-Based Systems

  • Grades given by separately reported standards.  The levels of reporting only consider the evidence of learning produced to the standard.

  • Publicly published criteria for success.

  • Reporting levels indicate the degree of achievement on each reporting standard. Achievement and effort are reported separately. Only individual evidence is used.

  • Curriculum and instruction are student centered and aligned to standards. (learning focused)

  • Only those assignments which come at the end of learning (summative) are included. Assignments which are part of the learning process (formative/practice) are used for feedback and planning instruction, not grading.

  • Most recent evidence is emphasized and students are able to demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways.

  • Grades are “determined” using professional judgement, relying on the median and/or mode.

Adapted from O’Connor, K. (2009). How to grade for learning, K-12 (3rd ed.)