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

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.

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

  1. Communication is the key. Building that understanding is foremost. We have moved k-8 and are now totally standards based. No more letter grades, no more overall grades, no more percentages. Ir’s been a long road, and we are still on the journey. When you know this is good for kids, it’s too hard to ignore. Good luck. One teacher can do more than you think to move an organization!

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