Using SBG in a school that uses traditional practices

One question we often hear from teachers is, “How do I make the move to standards-based grading, or at least go in that direction, if my school is still grounded in traditional grading.” It’s a great question and, at first blush, it may seem that the school would have to make a move first.

I teach at the university level, and our university reports grades as A, B, C, D or E. Just because we report A, B, C, etc., though, doesn’t mean the grading practices have to be traditional. What makes a grading system “traditional” or “standards-based” has nothing to do with the fact that there are letters. That’s just an ordinal scale—it’s five levels of performance, and there is a “top” level, “second,” “third,” and so forth. We could call them 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Or we could call them “+++, ++, +, -, --.“ Or we could come up with a series of colors to represent the levels.

What makes a system traditional is how we assign those final grades. The most tradtional involves grading using the percentage system, calculating an average across assignments, and then assigning a grade based on that average of percentages. The problem is that percentage is not the best way to measure performance on most tasks. And averaging percentages when percentage wasn’t the right way to measure to begin with is a big problem. It’s not only a philosophical problem; it’s a measurement problem! I’ll blog more about the measurement problem with traditional grades later.

The good news is that we don’t have to use traditional grading practices to arrive at the final grade, even if everyone else in our school does. The final letter grade means we have to assign a student's place an ordinal scale, probably a 4 or 5-level scale. There are many excellent and standards-based methods to arrive at the final grade. Here is how I do it for my classes. I’m still revising and welcome feedback! And I'd LOVE to hear how you are moving to SBG, especially if your school is not.


There are 5 assignments in this course. Each assignments will be scored as follows:

3: “exemplary.”

2: “needs minor revisions,” or

1: “needs substantial revisions,”

Students should revise any assignment with a score less than 3. Assignments may be revised multiple times, and the score on the revised assignment replaces the original score. An A in this course reflects that the student demonstrated exemplary work by the end of the semester.

Students who earn 3 on at least three assignments and no 1s receive a B in the course. Students who earn at least a 2 on all assignments and no 1s receive a C in the course. If any assignment is not complete by the last day of classes or any assignment has a score of “1” on the last day of classes, a grade of E will be assigned.

Grading Scale

A All assignments are scored 3 by the date of the final exam

B At least three assignments are scored 3 by the date of the final exam

C All assignments are scored at least 2 by the date of the final exam

E At least one assignment was not completed or a score of 1 remains on at least one assignment on the date of the final exam

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