Using standards to provide specific feedback to students

Standards-Based Grading (SBG) is a monumental shift in the way teachers grade. Instead of issuing a single letter grade based on a percentage of what the student got right and wrong, teachers instead rate a student’s level of mastery of multiple standards. It’s a complex process both in the way teachers view standards-based grading and also in the way they implement it. Some districts require SBG training over a one or two year span to allow teachers to fully prepare for it. Standards-Based Grading might be complex at first, but so is differentiating instruction and using technology in the classroom. There are enormous benefits to grading students based on standards. Teachers who use Standards-Based Grading strongly believe that SBG gives better feedback to students which leads to better performance.

Standards-Referenced Feedback (SRF), sometimes called a Standards-Aligned Gradebook, is a system where increased feedback is given but the grade book does not have to change at all. Standards are aligned to every assignment, discussion board and assessment which allows data to be gathered regarding students’ progress towards meeting the standards. Yet the assignments are still scored the same way, and a percentage or letter grade can still be issued at the end of each term. The standards are only being referenced to give students more feedback towards their progress; the standards themselves do not play a role in the final grade. Using standards as another form of feedback rather than the central focus of a new grading system is much more subtle shift for teachers while still providing students with additional data that can help them self-assess and improve their own learning.

Standards-Referenced Feedback in a gradebook that utilizes a traditional 0-100% format.
Standards-Referenced Feedback in a gradebook that utilizes a traditional 0-100% format.

Why should teachers align standards?
Let’s pretend that a boy named Keith is in high school English, and he is getting a B after about a month of class. If Keith wants to raise to raise his grade to an A, what should he work on? What should he study? What type of writing should he improve upon? He needs more feedback from his teacher so he can learn how to take control of his own learning. How many students try to “study everything” right before a final instead of focusing on their areas of weakness because they simply don’t know what to do? I would say quite a few. By aligning the homework and the assessments to learning standards, students can get feedback on their areas of strength and weakness. Instead of Keith merely seeing a B in the gradebook, Standards-Referenced Feedback would tell him that he has done very well in writing narratives (Common Core Writing Standard #3 on page 41) but he needs to work on his overall range of writing (Common Core Writing Standard #10 on page 41).

A standards-referenced feedback chart for one student displays his progress towards meeting each learning standard in the course.
A standards-referenced feedback chart for one student displays his progress towards meeting each learning standard in the course.

How do teachers align standards to their assignments?
There are really only two requirements for providing Standards-Referenced Feedback. First, you need an electronic copy of the learning standards for your course. Nearly every school district now has learning standards for every course. You must use the accepted standards of your school district. In addition to the district’s learning standards you might also consider including your subject area’s national learning standards like ISTE-S for technology, Common Core for English and Math, and NGSS for Science.

The cycle of creating standards, communicating standards, instructing with a focus on standards, and assessing the standards. Image from Nauset Regional High School.
The cycle of creating standards, communicating standards, instructing with a focus on standards, and assessing the standards. Image from Nauset Regional High School. <http://nausetschools.org/NRHS.cfm?subpage=763067>

Second, your gradebook or your assessment software must have the ability to tag learning standards to assessments and assignments. Schoology is an LMS that lets you attach standards to every assignment, discussion board, or individual assessment question. Mastery Manager is an assessment tool (paper-based and online tests) that can also tag learning standards to individual questions.

A test question is tagged with the proper learning standards. This teacher uses Schoology for his gradebook and LMS.
A test question is tagged with the proper learning standards. This teacher uses Schoology for his gradebook and LMS.

Once the learning standards have been entered into your gradebook (like Schoology) or assessment tool (like Mastery Manager), then you need to choose one or more standards for each assignment. Open the assignment so you can edit it, then click on Align Standard, then choose the standard(s) that goes with the assignment. If it is a test then you will need to align each individual question to a learning standard by following the same steps: edit the question, then click on Align Standard, then choose the appropriate standard.

Final thoughts
Classroom instruction should be overtly focused on the learning standards of the course. The classwork, homework and assessments that follow that instruction should also be connected to the learning standards. The next logical step is to give students feedback based on their progress towards meeting the learning standards. Using Standards-Referenced Feedback helps students take ownership of their learning by giving them specific feedback on their progress towards mastering each of the learning standards.

Additional Resources

“Standards Referenced” from The Glossary of Education Reform
<http://edglossary.org/standards-referenced/>

“Standards-Based Practices: Self Assessment for Teachers” from Colorado Education Association
<http://www.coloradoea.org/docs/default-source/teaching-learning-archive/Teacher_Self-Assessment.pdf?sfvrsn=0>

“Critical Learning Standards” from D211 Instructional Vision (January 2015) <http://adc.d211.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Special-Edition-Newsletter-1-page-Layout.pdf>