Standards Based Grading – Guest Post by Taylor Gibson

This post is written Taylor Gibson, who teaches at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Taylor has been using standards based grading (SBG) in his classroom for several years, and shares his SBG system with other teachers every year at the Teaching Contemporary Mathematics (TCM) conference held by his school.

Two years ago, I attended TCM and heard Taylor Gibson talk about how he has implemented SBG into his classroom. I had been curious about SBG for years, and even did a blended SBG model in my middle school classes at my previous school. Hearing Taylor explain it so clearly and enthusiastically was inspiring. When Julia Finneyfrock and I decided to try SBG the following year, it was his model that we started with. So, instead of trying to explain his method, I asked Taylor to guest blog for me. Thank you Taylor!

Standards Based Grading – by Taylor Gibson

Standards-Based Grading has dramatically changed the way I use assessment in my classroom over the last few years. Simply put, it allows your assessments to be both for learning and of learning. Instead of assigning points for each problem and determining how many points a student earns for their response, you instead align standards (or learning objectives) to each problem and decide holistically if students have demonstrated mastery in each standard based on their response. I’ve chosen to report mastery on a scale of 0, 1, or 2 with 0 being no mastery demonstrated, 1 representing partial mastery, and 2 representing complete mastery. While numbers are used to report a student’s level of mastery, these are not meant to be totaled to determine a score for each assessment. Instead, a student receives a small cover sheet with a score for each standard, as shown below:


The light white numbers in the scoring column indicate what problem (or parts of a problem) I will look at to make a decision on mastery. Once score, it will look like: 


This level of feedback provides students with feedback specific enough for them to look at just the cover sheet and know precisely which topics they need to work on.

This aspect alone of changing your reporting system would be a great help to students. However, the biggest impact for students is that these scores can change over time if they demonstrate a different level of mastery later on in the course. For example, in the include score sheet the student earned a score of 1 on the standard Rec.C.2. Should the student reassess on this standard, either on another in-class assessment or an out of class reassessment, their new score replaces the 1 in the gradebook. Likewise, if a student earns a 1 on the standard Rec.A.3, it would replace the 2 they earned on this assessment. This mechanism results in the following positive outcomes for students:

  • Any score earned on an individual assessment doesn’t need to be permanent since students can request a reassessment in the future. I’ve found this greatly reduces student stress and anxiety when taking an assessment. No more tears when a quiz or test isn’t going well!
  • It provides an incentive for students to take their feedback from early assessments and seek additional support to remediate their understanding in areas in which they haven’t yet demonstrated mastery (encourages a growth mindset)
  • It provides an incentive for students to really learn material, not just cram for a test, since they know that a learning standard may be on a future assessment in a week or two, and that getting a 2 today doesn’t exempt you from having to show mastery again to keep your 2.

At the end of a grading term you can decide how to combine the mastery scores in each standard and convert to a course-ending grade.

Some common methods:

  • The % of standards mastered (score of 2) is the grade in the course. For the above example, the student mastered 11 standards out of 12, resulting in a 92% in the course.
  • Average the standard scores together and score to a percentage. In this example, eleven scores of 2 and one score of 1 yields an average score of 1.92 or 96% in the course.
  • Create your own cut scores for each letter grade based either on number of standards mastered or average score on all standards

Moving to a system like this requires repeated explanation of the system to: students, parents, colleagues, and administrators, but I firmly believe the benefits far outweigh those costs. It’s a complex and nuanced process to get right, but there’s a lot of flexibility for implementation to make it work for your students, classroom, and school.

Taylor was also gracious enough to share the Powerpoint from his presentation, as well as standards in different content areas with us. As in most areas of education, standards are an ever evolving process, and are often tweaked from year to year.

Recommended Further Reading in Standards-Based Grading:

About the Author

Taylor GibsonTaylor is the Dean of Mathematics at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. He’s previously taught in Dallas, TX, and Atlanta, GA before moving to Durham, NC. Taylor’s professional interests are in standards-based grading and interdisciplinary coursework between mathematics and computer science. Outside of the classroom you’ll find him running with the cross-country teams in the extreme North Carolina humidity.


To Grade or Not To Grade: Homework in Math Class

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Math Class Grading Policies

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My Mini-SBG Experiment

The thing that I love the most about SBG (Standards Based Grading) is that both I AND the student will always know exactly what they need help with.  As soon as I realized this – I was hooked!  And, as much as I would love to jump head first into the SBG waters, I have a few obstacles in my path this year.  First, I am at a new school.  The other teachers and administrators do not know me yet, so I can’t go changing up their entire grading scheme before I even teach a day there.  Second, I am teaching a whole new grade level.  I have not even begun to plan all that I need to for this year, much less add SBG to the workload.  And third, I am a perfectionist.  So, no matter how much I read, until I really figure out this SBG for myself I just can’t commit.

But, I could not stay away either!  So, I decided to do a little mini-SBG experimenting this year.  That way, I can figure as much of it out as possible, ask lots of questions, and have so much more time to really get ready to launch!  What’s a mini-SBG look like you might ask?  Read on to see what I am implementing in my classes.

1)  I came up with my concepts list for each class.  I have approximately 50 concepts.

2)  I created (copied) a blank Concepts Checksheet for the students.  I took Dan’s and tweeked it some to work for me.

3)  I give them a pre-test on each chapter to see where they are.  This helps me condense sections they already  know large parts of and helps me focus on what I need to really work on with them.

4)  I score them from 1 (Beginning) to 4 (Exemplary).  This goes along with our rubric grades.  I only used 1 – 4 initally, but my fabulous middle school director suggested the B – E.  I like that so much better than the numbers 1 – 4 because I am VERY stingy with 4’s.  I give a 3 if you do not have the concept done perfectly.  For me, a 3 is almost got it!  But I am afraid they see a 3 as 3/4 (75%) and I don’t want that.

5) For each quiz and test I give them a concept grade for each concept covered on the assessment AND a number grade (95%).  The concept grade does NOT go into the “gradebook”.  It is just for my files and for their files to see what they know.

Yes, it is double the work because I am recording the concept grades AND the numerical grades.  However, I have already gleaned such valuable information out of this in just the first week that I feel it really is worth it.

Where My SBG is Different:

  • We make notecards as we take notes in class on key concepts.  I have them put the concept numbers on each of the notecards that they make so if they have a low score on a concept they know what to study.
  • I am using B, D, P, E instead of 1 – 4.  Still, I love it!
  • I am not re-testing.  But, I am including the concepts on each quiz and test several times so each concept will have at least 2 entries.

Kids loved seeing an improvement in the Concept Checksheet – even if they didn’t get as high of a score on a test as they would have liked.

Progressive concept questions are progressively harder.  So sometimes students go from a P down to a D.  They don’t like that.  But I tell them it is only temporary.

I need to organize extra work for the students (with answers) so that they may do additional work on the concepts they need help with independently.  Any idea?   Yes, I will help them.  But, then they need to know what to go and practice without me having to make up a million new practice sheets.  My MS director suggested the teacher’s edition practice workbook that goes along with the book.  I like that idea!  But, would love more!

My students are just figuring out the concept thing but so am I!  Plus, there is so much new stuff thrown at them at the beginning of the year that I doubt they have had time to absorb it.  After the first chapter I think everything will make so much more sense to them – and me!