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Calm down- this is not a critique of Standards-Based Grading (SBG), which I’m a firm believer in. If you’re not on the bandwagon already, start here. That said, there is one SBG issue I’m grappling with currently that doesn’t seem to get a lot of play out there: points.

Abolish the meaningless cumulative letter grades, abolish the unfair 100-point system, but what system takes it place? There’s a few different choices to choose from, but each with their own pros and cons. Here are my thoughts on each:

Binary-system

The most basic and pure SBG point-system. Students either learned it or they didn’t. One advantage is its stark contrast to tradition ABC grading, so students (and parents) aren’t tempted to try and translate their SBG points into letters grades and avoid the paradigm shift that SBG should entail. The only real drawback I see to the binary system of grading is that it doesn’t recognize progress towards a standard. What do you do if a student doesn’t show complete mastery but only partial mastery? You’ve no choice but to grade that student the same way you would if they showed no understanding at all- this doesn’t seem fair or motivating.

3-point system

Easy fix, right? Just use the 3-point system! Seems so obvious I’m surprised I didn’t think of it until I stumbled upon it here. Now a 3 represents mastery, 2 represents progressing towards mastery, and 1 represents no real progress. While I like the shout-out to progression, introducing that third point does inject some grey matter into the proceedings. How much progress is enough for a 2? That would have to be spelled out pretty clearly on every assessment.

4-point system

Why make things even more complicated? Well, my school has adopted the 4-point grading system to also include a grade for students that “excel” or “exceed”, meaning they demonstrate a deeper understanding or a more advanced understanding than is expected. The thinking behind including this is largely motivational- as soon as you spell out what it means to go above and beyond, there will be students who will strive to get there. However, this tempting 4th point can also create some issues… now the 4,3,2,1 is very close to the old ABCs system. With that much similarity most parents are just going to translate a 4 to an A, so suddenly all of your students should be getting those 4s, and just meeting the standard isn’t good enough any more. Yikes.

Missing the Point?

Despite all of these pros and cons- which system is used might not really matter. After all, the whole point of SBG is to reign in grading for grading’s sake and to get back to the root of what grading and assessment is supposed to be about: feedback. Feedback for students, feedback for parents, feedback about learning. Slapping any number at the top of an assessment- no matter what point-system is used- will defeat the purpose of assessment entirely by distracting students to think about points rather than the content of the feedback. So maybe getting rid of the numbers altogether is the cleanest solution, even if that would require a complete re-invention of the report card.

Other SBGers out there- what do you use? What kind of effect does it have on learning?

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