Standards Based Assessment

Although students are typically assessed multiple times, they often do not make the connection between individual assignments and learning goals. Also, when graded work is returned, the student’s focus often becomes focused on the evaluative “what is my grade” as opposed to growth oriented “what have I learned” or “what should I do next to improve.” As economists, we know all too well the meticulous cost-benefit analysis in which students engage as they plan their work and time. Standards based assessment is an established philosophy or practices that focus on measuring and reporting students’ mastery of learning goals as opposed to simply particular assignments. Closely connected to Understanding by Design in many of its philosophical foundations, the combination of the two provides a necessary structure for differentiation and blended learning as students and instructors have far more precise knowledge of what has been learned, the basis for planning future learning activities.

We turned to Standards-Based Assessment because we found that although there was much we personally knew about our students, our gradebooks—to the typical student or parent—was only helpful for generating a limited set of recommendations: Do better on tests, turn in homework, do better on homework. This is certainly insufficient advice at best!

Knowing that a large portion of learning must occur outside of the class period, it is important for students to have the information they need to make the most of their outside-of-class time. If a student and/or parent were planning to spend time on learning, and they were consulting the student’s grade as a starting point, we wanted to make sure the data we collected and reported gave as clear a picture as possible. Moreover, a standards-based approach is helpful for incentivizing students toward learning and mastery, rather than merely collecting points. Other class policies (weighted grading, high exam value, retakes and others) may be considered as well.

We don’t necessarily advocate a prescribed set of policies in this regard. More than anything, the premise of SBA is to put the focus on feedback and learning over grading and penalizing. Grading is the most basic function of assessment. In and of itself, it amounts merely to record-keeping and generating a defensible report card grade. Moving away from this perspective, we place the highest importance and value on feedback—assistance, advice, coaching, and instruction to the student. Generally, grading and feedback are inextricably linked in the classroom (and therefore students’ mind). The feedback they receive nearly always has a grade attached. We encourage teachers to view these as two separate, though related, goals that should not always occur at the same time. For example, an instructor may choose to simply provide feedback for learning on an assignment without also grading it. The resources below will help to familiarize you with the many features and options available through standards-based assessment. In its most basic form, you need only link assessment items to learning goals and report to students based on learning goals, which may or may not also be graded.

Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading
A Guide to Standards-Based Assessment
A Better Grading System: Standards-Based, Student-Centered
Tips from Dr. Marzano: Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading