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Let’s start with a little background on what Standards Based Grading (SBG) is:
SBG is a grading system that aims to ensure students have mastery over the material being taught. It does this by valuing assessments more than traditional homework or exercises.
SBG uses a numerical scale of 1–4 or 0–5 and eliminates percentage-based grading. It is also flexible in how the final grade is determined and uses the following methods:
- Latest Scores
A sample performance indicator scale used in standards based grading:
|4.0 – 5.0||A|
|3.0 – 3.9||B|
|2.0 – 2.9||C|
|1.0 – 1.9||D|
|0 – 0.9||E|
SBG allows for multiple assessment retakes to raise the grade.
SBG has been implemented in many school districts in Illinois and across the country. We will look at the first year results from JS Morton High School District 201 as presented by Jill Spaeth Alexander, a parent in District 201 and a 22-year veteran science teacher at Argo Community High School. Jill has been the head of the Science Department at Argo High School since 2003 and currently teaches chemistry and physics. Jill also founded Morton P.A.S.S. (Parents Against Sinking Standards).
Morton’s graduation rate fell from 82 percent in 2010 to 69 percent in 2013. During this time, Morton cut all extra programs that would have enabled students falling behind academically to get extra help or catch up. The only current option for them is to pay for tutors or summer classes. Because of the falling graduation rate, standards based grading was implemented in the 2013–14 school year.
So what were the first year results?
The failure rate dropped dramatically, which would normally be viewed as a good thing, but when the new grading scale was scrutinized, it was discovered that students would only have to do well on two assignments to get a D grade, the minimum passing grade. Students are now passing at higher rates while knowing much less. See the failure rates below:
Biology – 77 Percent Decrease
World History – 51 Percent Decrease
When this issue was pointed out, the school added an incomplete status to ensure that all other assessments and assignments would be completed. However, these incomplete assignments cause another issue because students can now complete them six weeks after a semester ends. This means that a student can skip an assignment in the spring semester and still complete it up to six weeks into the following school year. There are no data or results for how well or if the new incomplete status works since the school year has not yet ended.
Another side effect of standards based grading is not just enabling more passing grades. This new policy also lowers the grades at the top end of the scale. This is because grades are now more heavily weighted (90 percent) on assessments. If a student has an off-day on a test, his or her grade is significantly lowered even if the student knows the assignment-based material.
See the full presentation here.
SBG deserves much more research as it has the potential to hide how poorly a school teaches its students. Students within this new system can now pass with 20 percent knowledge of the material instead of the previous 60 percent.