Voice from the Field: One Teacher’s Journey to Implement Standards-Based Grading

Rachel Porter
Rachel Porter, Cincinnati Christian Schools

We are pleased to feature this guest post from Knovation customer Rachel Porter. Rachel is a Junior/Senior High English Teacher at Cincinnati Christian Schools in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Being an effective educator can have some serious obstacles. One of the greatest challenges I have, one that affects my effectiveness in the classroom, is GRADES. Now, stay with me here. Over the past three years, I have been slowly making the transition to running my classroom in a standards-based manner. This means that the purpose of my grades is simply to communicate to students and parents what students know and at what level they can perform the skills being assessed.

The Challenges of Inconsistency

In my school, teachers have autonomy in the classroom, and this means they have freedom to grade however they wish. This is a great thing for someone like me who is changing everything about how my grades look. However, since I believe so strongly in the standards-based grading philosophy, this autonomy isn’t such a great thing at times. Let me elaborate. Some teachers give points for turning in homework. Some give points for bringing in tissues or candy to the classroom. Not only are points attained for these types of things, but teachers across our school weigh things differently in their classrooms. For instance, in some classes, homework is worth more than assessments. This allows students to fail all tests and still pass with a high grade in the course. This is an obstacle for me as a standards-based teacher because I am the “lone nut” in the school, and it has become my job to communicate this to students, parents and administration, so that what I am doing with grading makes sense.

Turning the Ship: From Factory Model Schooling to Standards-Based Grading

All of us grew up in what Rick Wormeli calls “factory model schooling,” and therefore, using a standards-based grading system rocks the worlds of both parents and seasoned teachers. This idea isn’t novel, but it’s different and therefore seems threatening. Not only does it seem threatening to teachers, but also it requires them to uproot their pedagogy and the grading systems that they’ve had in place for decades. This is scary.

So, how do we turn this barge around? How can one teacher in one building pave the way and convince teachers that grades should solely communicate levels of mastery as it pertains to standards being assessed in the curriculum? That’s the million-dollar question.

Here’s how I’m working on it:

  • Transition to standards-based grading in my own classroom.
  • Model it well.
  • Proactively communicate to students, parents and administration through email, screencasts and face-to-face interaction about what this “new” way of grading is all about.
  • Start the conversations during times of collaboration with my colleagues in order to break down natural defenses that will arise in the minds of these teachers.
  • Be quick to apologize when I don’t get it quite right.
  • Keep an open mind and be willing to tweak what I’m doing when evidence shows that it’s best for me to re-evaluate.

I would love to hear ideas from others who have implemented standards-based grading.

5 Key District Initiatives


In our continued efforts to understand what is most important to school district leaders, including the initiatives that receive top priority in their districts and the main challenges their districts face, we conduct research interviews with K-12 educators and administrators throughout the school year. Over the course of these conversations, we identified 5 key initiatives across districts of all sizes.

1. 1:1 Environment

The goal of moving toward a 1:1 environment is becoming more prevalent as districts across the nation work diligently to prepare their students to take the Common Core assessments, which will be delivered online. Districts want to make sure they have the necessary technology and infrastructure in place, along with the proper training of teachers and students, so that students can complete the Common Core assessments online without confusion or glitches.

Many districts are piloting particular devices, like iPads, in a 1:1 environment with certain grade levels (i.e., elementary school or grades 5-12), learning as they go and then rolling out the 1:1 program for the rest of the district after revising their plan to avoid the mistakes they encountered with the initial pilot program.

When teachers and administrators talk about creating a 1:1 environment in their schools and districts, many mention that they are incorporating a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) component.

Teachers love the enhanced aspects of personalized learning that are made possible by providing every student with a device: “It’s amazing and powerful that the iPad can be tailored to each individual student’s needs. It frees up the teacher to work on higher level thinking or students who need to be pushed or need extra support. Instead of doing flash cards with a student, the iPad can do that with a student. Students give feedback so they know what they’re doing correctly and incorrectly.” (Technology Integrator, CT)

2. Common Core & Curriculum

There is an emphasis in school districts on the shift from teaching the existing state standards (which are specific to each individual state) to teaching the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in ELA and mathematics.

Districts are engaging their teachers in professional learning workshops to prepare them for this shift, by helping them to find resources that are better aligned to the true intent of the CCSS. District administrators are working with teachers to update curriculum maps with these CCSS-aligned resources.

The “massive amount of testing that’s going to be required” by the Common Core is a huge concern for a teacher in California.

A technology integrator in Connecticut says, “Now testing will take a different route on computers or iPads – making sure students have the proper skills to take assessments using technology is another big discussion.”

3. Blended Learning

With the vast array of digital resources that are available, districts are encouraging their teachers to incorporate a blending learning model into their instruction. Blended learning is seen as a mixture of learning in a physical building (school classroom) and learning in an online environment.

An eLearning Specialist in Georgia shared his district’s understanding of blended learning with us: “Taking the best of online learning and the best of classroom learning and combining them to provide the best experience possible for the student. It extends the classroom beyond time and space, and it makes the curriculum available 24/7.”

At that large district in Georgia, one of the Spanish teachers who teaches Spanish 1 and 2 courses has students enrolled at 6 of the district’s high schools. The course content is delivered through an online platform, and most of the students have worked out with their counselors the best time for them to take the course.

The key to successful blended learning, according to a 5th grade math teacher in North Carolina, is to find the balance between using the computer and paper/pencil. It’s taken her several years to find the balance of teaching math with computers, and now she is in a comfortable place with how she has blended the learning for her students.

4. Print to Digital Transition

Along with the previous three trends, the overarching vision of a print to digital transition is present in today’s schools. Districts are at varying places in their transition to completely digital content, and some are moving at faster paces than others.

An instructional technology coach in a smaller Pennsylvania district uses specific programs and sites to find learning resources, and teachers can add any resources they find to the district’s learning management system.

Another district doesn’t really have text books anymore. The curriculum teams show the teachers where they can integrate content from their programs where they have subscriptions.

5. Data-Driven Instruction

With more data available to teachers, it is becoming easier to adapt instruction based on what the data shows.

“The teacher can immediately have the data and know that 90% of the students got the concept and 10% didn’t – and then they know they need to differentiate for the students who didn’t get it.”

Methods of collecting data range from traditional clickers to various iPad apps. Regardless of the data collection method, “More and more, data collection is becoming more prevalent – teachers need to collect data on everything students are doing.”

What are your district’s initiatives?

Feel free to add a comment below about the initiatives in your district. Is your district focusing on the same things mentioned in this article? What other initiatives are main areas of focus for you and your district? Was there anything in this article that surprised you (and why?)?


Along with these key district initiatives, the educators and admins we spoke with also shared the greatest challenges in their districts. Learn about their challenges in this post: 5 Challenges for School Districts.