A Standards-Aligned Gradebook Provides Rich, Meaningful Insight Into Students’ Progress

Introduction to Standards-Based Grading (SBG)

A Standards-Based Gradebook, or SBG, is one where a student earns a score for each learning standard based on his accomplishments throughout the grading period. This is different from a traditional grading system where students earn one composite score at the end of each quarter – an A or B, for example. With an SBG, the student instead earns multiple scores – one for each measured learning standard. In a class with nine learning standards, a student might earn five scores of Excellent, three scores of Proficient, and one score of Adequate in the different measures of the class. Instead of getting one composite score (a B for example), he instead earns nine different scores which tells him what he has mastered and what he needs to improve upon. There is a much higher level of detail and feedback within an SBG.


Some teachers want what they see as the best of both worlds: a typical gradebook with percentages that leads to a letter grade which is then combined with a more sophisticated view of whether or not students are meeting each learning standard. Can this be done easily? Absolutely. It is called a Standards-Aligned Gradebook.

What does a Standards-Aligned Gradebook look like?

A Standards-Aligned Gradebook is set up in a typical fashion: there are categories like tests and quizzes, homework, labs, and projects. Each category has a weight (tests 40%, homework 40%, and projects 20%). There is a grading scale such as A 90-100%, B 80-89%, C 70-79%, etc. Your gradebook does not change in any way.

A typical gradebook in Schoology

However, every single assignment is tagged with one or more learning standards. As students complete their work and earn points towards an A or a B in class, they are also earning a score in each of the learning standards.

Align a learning standard to each assignment

Setting up a Standards-Aligned Gradebook in Schoology

There are really just three steps to take when creating a Standards-Aligned Gradebook. A fourth step is needed if you were going to create a Standards-Based Gradebook instead, and I’ll briefly explain the one big difference later in this article.

Step One: Define the learning standards for your course

The learning standards are paramount to your (and your students’) success. The standards define not only WHAT you want your students to learn but also the LEVEL OF MASTERY you want them to achieve. If you cannot clearly explain to your students what you expect them to learn then you cannot possibly grade them properly. There are national learning standards such as the Next Generation Science Standards and the National Educational Technology Standards which have already been written, vetted, and accepted by others. Your state or your school district might possibly have their own sets of standards, too, and those could be acceptable as well. I strongly recommend against creating your own standards, though, for the simple reason that a widely-used, accepted set of national standards are easier to explain and justify than standards you created yourself.

NGSS Forces and Interactions
NGSS: Forces and Interactions Standards

Once your standards have been chosen you will need them uploaded into your gradebook. With Schoology you can import your own standards for your own classroom or you can ask a tech person to upload the standards so that every teacher in the district can use them.


Step Two: Tag each question of each assessment with the learning standards

Create Question Banks in Schoology to hold every question you use on a test or quiz, and then align each question with a standard.

Each individual question is tagged with a learning standard

Every single time that question is used in class, the student’s score towards meeting the standard will be recorded. The same question might be used when they first learn about the topic, used a second time during a review quiz, and then used a third time during a summative assessment. Each time the student answers that question the progress towards meeting the learning standard will be calculated.


Tagging every question is time-consuming, but it is a necessary step for a Standards-Aligned Gradebook. A huge time-saver when creating these tagged question banks is the ability to share your question banks with other teachers. Your entire grade level can pitch in by writing questions or tagging each question with a standard.

Schoology Question Bank with multiple assessment questions. Each question is aligned to a standard.

A quick and easy way to get hundreds or even thousands of questions tied directly to your curriculum is to contact your textbook providers and ask them for the latest ExamView question bank. Many textbooks offer about 100 questions per chapter that are aligned directly with your textbook. These questions can be imported into Schoology in a matter of minutes. All you have to do is tag them with your learning standards.

Step Three: Tag each assignment and activity with the learning standards

Similar to tagging each assessment question with a standard, you will also tag each assignment, activity, and discussion board with a standard. Anything that is graded needs to be tagged. This is a much simpler and less time-consuming process than tagging your assessment questions. Each assignment is likely tied to just one or two standards, whereas a ten question assessment has to be tagged to ten standards (one per question).

The written portion of the Marble Sorter assignment is tagged to the Principles of Engineering Learning Standard 5.1 (Design Process)

The difference between a Standards-Aligned Gradebook and a Standards-Based Gradebook

A Standards-Aligned Gradebook still uses a typical grading scale (0-100%) and typical grading categories (homework, quizzes, and so on) with the end result of getting a single letter grade. A Standards-Based Gradebook relies on proving proficiency in multiple standards, with the end result of earning a level of mastery in multiple areas. If you were going to create a Standards-Based Gradebook then there would be a fourth step: choose an appropriate grading scale that can measure mastery. Marzano created a four-point scale for measuring mastery which is shown in the photo below. In an SBG using Marzano’s scale, every assignment is worth between 0 and 4 points based on their level of mastery (Excellent, Proficient, Adequate, Limited, Incomplete). Four point grading rubrics are also typically used in an SBG. That has been an oversimplified explanation and I apologize for that, but to learn more about Standards-Based Grading you will need to read one of my other articles.

Marzano 4 point scale
Marzano 4 point scale

Final Thoughts

Evaluating each standard separately provides each student with more feedback on their learning compared to a single letter grade. Measuring growth within each standard also provides the teacher with feedback regarding his or her own instruction. A Standards-Aligned Gradebook provides easy visual evidence as to what the students have learned and what they have not. Students can easily see where they need more help, and teachers easily see what they should re-teach at a later time.



The examples in this blog were created by Michael Schaffer, a high school Principles of Engineering teacher at Fremd High School who uses Schoology for his gradebook and learning platform. It took him approximately 3 to 4 weeks (right in the middle of the second grading quarter) to switch to this new gradebook. I want to stress that any teacher at any grade level can set up a standards-aligned gradebook. It just so happens that Mr. Schaffer is a motivated applied technology teacher who was the first person who volunteered to make the transition. I am hoping he will present at a teachers’ conference in the near future so you can hear the full story in his own words.

About the author

Keith Sorensen has been a public school educator for 18 years. He is a technology coordinator who provides staff development to his faculty on a large variety of technology-related topics. Follow him on Twitter @keithosorensen to learn more about using technology in the classroom.