Standards-Based Learning: What It Is and Why We Love It

standards based learning

The education system these days doesn’t look the way it used to. Standards-based grading (SBG) is starting to take the place of the traditional grading. With SBG, grades reflect a student’s mastery of a certain set of skills. Traditionally, grades are weighted average of test scores, homework completion, projects, presentations, and possible extra credit. Students get grades that pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses.

Standards-based learning is a shift from the 100-point scale of overall percentages to a 4-point scale based on mastery of specific skills. Now, the question of “what does a student need to do to raise their grade” becomes “what does a student need to do to demonstrate more mastery.” Maybe they need to use more details to support their claim, or maybe it’s graphing functions with two variables. Whatever it is, students will know exactly what they need to improve to get a better grade. Instead of saying, “Oh I got an 87 because I missed the last two questions,” students can say, “I need to work adding fractions as mixed numbers.”

With standards-based learning students can work on adding fractions and improve their grade. If a student fails to achieve mastery on a topic the first time, they are encouraged to revisit the topic and practice until they feel good enough to prove their mastery again. The focus of the class is to attain mastery, not the highest possible average. This grade/expectation transparency transforms students from passive receivers to active learners. By involving students in the grading process, the teacher can focus on being a guide in the learning process.

My favorite aspect of standards-based learning is that homework is assigned for practice. While not graded or mandatory, homework is a way for students to get better at the skills expected of them. So even though students aren’t forced to do the homework, it is one way for them to master the standard. It’s not longer a matter of completing the work for credit, it’s just the suggested avenue on the road to standard success. We’ll hear from an actual standards-based teacher on Thursday on this practice.

Now, when students get their diploma they know exactly what they are academically capable of. It’s not just that they made it out of high school, students know they’ve cleared some well-defined, clearly-marked hurdles to get there. These skills are outlined in the same language that employers and higher ed people are looking for. So when a job posting asks for critical thinkers, students can say with confidence that they are fully capable of that type of thinking because it’s been spelled out for them the whole way.

Are you a standards-based teacher looking for new ways to keep track of all the standards mastery? Gradeable has a great Common Core tagging feature that will help you track your standards-based lesson plan. 

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