What is Standards-Based Grading? Why is It So Hard? And How to Tackle It!

What Is Standards Based Grading, Why Is It So Hard, and How to Tackle It Pin

What is Standards-Based Grading, Why is It So Hard, and How to Tackle It!

Standards-based grading’s advent came around in 2012, two years after the Common Core State Standards initiative. Since then, many states have adopted or adapted new standards based on the original Common Core State Standards.

Even if your state isn’t a Common Core state, you may be interested in finding out just how similar your standards are to Common Core. (Do a quick Google search of your ELA standards and the Common Core ELA standards, I bet you’ll find a few similarities.) 

With so many states adopting new standards about a decade ago, new methods of delivering student progress and feedback were all a buzz. 

In came standards-based grading. At first, very few schools jumped on board to give their report cards a total overhaul. After all, parents received traditional letter grades when they were in school, and changing report cards would undoubtedly cause some hiccups. 

What is Standards-Based Grading? 

Standards-based grading dismantles the traditional report card and turns the report card into a more robust document that represents where students are performing with much more specificity.

For example, a student no longer receives just one letter grade per subject. 

Instead, a student may receive several scores under the reading category. This is because teachers assess and grade each individual standard.

Letter grades, which are traditionally based on percentages, take a weighted and averaged measure of ALL student progress throughout the grading period. Thus, the student receives one letter grade per subject. 

In addition, traditional grading commonly takes into account schoolwork assignments, homework assignments, quizzes, and tests. All of those grades are added to the grade book, and a culminating grade is spit out. 

Standards-based grading commonly uses a rubric to measure student proficiency. Here’s an example of what an elementary standards-based grading rubric can look like.


Example Standards Based Grading Rubric

A school will usually use a four-point system to score a student’s proficiency with each individual standard or skill.

Because more states have close to 20 reading standards, it’s unlikely that each standard will be given a grade during each grading period.

Here’s an example of what one grading period’s ELA report card might look like:

Example ELA Standards Based Grading Report Card

Note that this student is showing that he or she is meeting grade-level expectations for comparing and contrasting points of view, but is not yet meeting grade-level expectations for theme or making connections. That said, this student is displaying that he or she exceeds grade-level expectations for describing a character, setting, or event in depth by using details from the text.

This multi-faceted approach is a key characteristic of standards-based grading and gives stakeholders and parents a broader look at how a student is doing.

Criticism of the Traditional Grading System 

  • Traditional grading commonly uses homework as a grade.
    • Using homework as a grade can unfairly measure a student’s amount of support at home. Grades that are dependent on at-home support have been harshly criticized. It is commonly said that it is inequitable for students whose parents work and do not have time to dedicate to working with their children on schoolwork. 
  • Even if weighted, a student’s grade may reflect a “passing” grade, even if they’ve scored poorly on most performance-based assessments.
    • If a student completes all of their homework but scores low on all assessments, they still may receive a C reflecting that they are performing at an average, expected level at that time. This can lead to students not receiving the support and intervention that is needed. 
  • Traditional grading does not reflect a students’ progress on the various skills and strategies covered throughout the grading period.
    • For example, a student might excel at identifying the main idea and details of text but may struggle significantly with inferencing. This isn’t reflected in a traditional grade.


Traditional Grading Flaws

The Challenges of Standards-Based Grading

If your school has adopted standards-based grading, you know all too well the challenges that the first few years can bring. 

Challenges Caused By Standards-Based Grading

Parent Challenges

  • Parents lack education and understanding of standards-based grading. This learning gap can cause many calls, emails, and meetings that can be frustrating and upsetting for parents, administrators, and teachers alike. 
  • Parents don’t know (or understand) the difference between formative or summative assessment scores. 
  • Standards-based grades can be (wrongly) “translated” into traditional grading. Parents will commonly look at the highest score possible and equate it with an “A+.” The next highest score is commonly looked at as a “B.” This simply isn’t true, especially when students are receiving multiple scores within one subject like ELA. 

Student Challenges

  • For many perfectionist students, they can be crushed by receiving a score that reflects that they’re meeting grade-level expectations. Commonly, the highest score achievable notes that the student is consistently performing above grade-level expectations. And when that perfectionist student sees that they’re just meeting grade-level expectations, you can expect some fallout. This can be a very harsh reality for your high achievers. 🙁 

 Teacher Challenges

  • When beginning standards-based grading, teachers usually don’t have enough assessments to measure and track student progress on various standards taught throughout that grading period. 
  • Many schools try to tackle too many standards within one grading period. It is almost impossible to effectively give a score for all 20 standards each grading period. 
  • There is a lot of grading. This comes with the territory of standards-based grading. Teachers are expected to provide formative assessment scores or feedback to students and summative assessment scores on multiple different standards. 
  • Teachers do not have enough resources to assess their students across multiple different standards. Most reading curriculums do not come with five different standards-based assessments per standard. Usually, unit tests contain assessment items for multiple different standards. (Not to mention, they’re usually not coded, and teachers have to figure out which question matches which standard on their own.)  

Does that last bullet point resonate with you? You’re not alone! 

We surveyed HUNDREDS of teachers on The Teacher Next Door Instagram, and the results were astounding! Take a look! 

Standards-Based Grading Survey

Standards-Based Grading Survey

Almost 2/3 of teachers have NOTHING provided to them to help collect student data! Sad, but not surprising. 

Standards-Based Grading Survey

MOST teachers said that tracking student progress would make differentiating easier! 

Standards-Based Grading Survey  

Make Standards-Based Grading EASIER

After seeing so many teachers struggling with the challenges of standards-based grading, I knew I wanted to help! 

I developed assessments for EVERY ELA standard for grades 3, 4, and 5!

My Standards-Based Reading Assessments contain three assessments per standard, meaning that you can formatively assess, summatively assess, and reassess students as needed. 

Finally, no more scouring the internet for standards-aligned assessments and certainly no more sitting at the computer for hours creating your own assessments. 🙌

Take a look at your grade level below! 


3rd Grade Reading Assessments Bundle

3rd Grade Reading Assessments Bundle in print and digital


4th Grade Reading Assessments Bundle

4th Grade Reading Assessment Bundle


5th Grade Reading Assessments Bundle

5th Grade Reading Assessments Bundle


Here’s why you NEED these assessments in your teacher life: 

  • Consistently and quickly assess students to drive your reading instruction
  • Easily form flexible and fluid small groups based on data
  • Short assessments and paired passages that won’t make students cringe
  • Add standards-based grades to your grade book with ease
  • Regularly communicate student progress with parents and stakeholders
  • Print & digital versions are included for in-person, hybrid, and virtual flexibility
  • Print & go or digitally assign & go – no more hours spent looking for or creating assessments
  • Every standard includes 3 assessments so you can formatively assess, summatively assess, and reassess with ease
  • 60 assessments total for $29.00 – that’s just 48 cents per assessment
  • Develop a routine assessment system that works all year long!

⭐ Still not sure? Try out an assessment for FREE! ⭐

FREE Characters Reading Assessments for 3rd Grade

FREE Right There and Making Inferences Reading Assessments

Compare and Contrast 5th Grade FREE Reading Assessment


Interested in reading more? Check these posts out! 


The Teacher Next Door - Creating upper elementary resources that target standards for busy teachers


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The Teacher Next Door - Creating upper elementary resources that target standards for busy teachers

Hi, I’m Jenn, CEO and owner of The Teacher Next Door!

I know that you strive to be an effective upper elementary teacher while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

In order to do that, you need resources that are impactful,
yet simple.

The problem is that most resources and curriculums out there are far from simple. The pages upon pages of daily lesson plans are just plain overwhelming.

At TTND, we believe teachers should be living their lives outside of the classroom, and not spend hours lesson planning and searching for resources.

We understand that now, more than ever, teachers need space to be themselves which is why we create and support teachers with timesaving tips and standards-aligned resources.

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