May 2021

Preparing families for the switch to standards-based grading

By: Quinn Duffy, Director of Special Operations

Making the switch to standards-based grading introduces new, potentially unfamiliar concepts to your school community. With a bit of foresight and communication, you can help make sure everyone starts the year on the same page. Ensure a smooth transition by holding time and creating space for collaborative decisions with staff and thoughtful discussions with families.

Communicate the reasons why your school is considering the switch
Even though changing grading systems may be temporarily disorienting, the ultimate goal of adopting standards-based grading is to give everyone–students, families, and teachers–a more precise understanding of each student’s current progress, areas for improvement, and areas for acceleration. Helping parents understand that the switch is intended to support and accelerate students’ growth may help them approach an unfamiliar system with an open mind.

Invite family feedback and input early in the process
Grades are an essential communication tool between school and home, and we want to ensure that communication stays strong throughout the transition. Even before changes are enacted, bring a representative sample of families into the conversation. Their early concerns or confusion will help you better anticipate the support parents will need when the rollout goes live, and may shape the format and content of the parent meetings, videos, or handouts you may create to support the rollout.

Explain how rubrics differ from traditional scales
Share sample rubrics for a few standards from different content areas, with descriptions of what performance on that standard looks like at each level. Show sample work that represents each level of the rubric on the example standards.

This is also the opportunity to explain how rubric levels measure a student’s progress against the end goal, and that we expect students’ grades to start low and rise over time. Explain that parents should focus on growth over time rather than individual assignment grades.

Cross-compare work using standards-based and traditional grades
Provide samples of student work graded under the traditional system, vs. the same assignments graded using standard-based grades. Show assignments where a student hasn’t demonstrated mastery of some standards yet, and some where a student demonstrates proficient or advanced understanding.

Describe the actions students and parents can take when a student is demonstrating advanced understanding (accelerate/seek challenges) or when a student is still not yet proficient (practice, seek extra help from teacher).

Share example report cards and provide guidance on how to read them: what should a student or parent be looking for when report cards or progress reports come out? Explain that our goal is that a student reach Proficient levels on all standards in a class, rather than just hit a single, overall number.

Describe how your school’s approach to incomplete and missing work will change
Based on decisions made in internal alignment, outline the new policies around work that is not turned in or provides insufficient evidence of a student’s understanding of the subject matter. Explain to students and families that schoolwork that is not turned in in a timely fashion is still expected to be completed, even if a student no longer loses points for missing or late work.

Consider a pilot program
One way schools are able to roll out standards-based grading in a way that gives the community time to adjust is to pilot standards-based grading in a subset of classes rather than overhauling your entire school’s grading policies in a single school year. Typically, the subset is either a particular grade level or a particular subject area. Invite parents, students, and teachers who are participating to give feedback in the pilot: can families more clearly identify standards that still need work? Can families determine overall progress? How do students reflect on their scores? What support do students need to reflect on their own scores?

Once the wrinkles have been ironed out in that subset of classes, your community may be better prepared for a full cut-over the following year.