Tag Archives: SBG

How football can explain standards-based learning

Most teachers continue to issue overall letter grades based on a student’s overall average; the teacher takes the average of every score on every assignment over the course of an entire semester then issues a single letter grade to show the student’s accomplishments. The letter grade becomes the goal of going to school, not how much a student learns or how much a student grows.

One of my biggest issues with traditional grading (I have many) is that averages, in my opinion, are meaningless. It’s the results at the end that matter more to me. My usual argument uses a sports reference from when I ran the 100m dash in track in high school, and it goes as follows:

  1. I never earned a medal based on my average times from all my practices; practice helps me prepare but practice itself is not counted
  2. I never earned a medal based on my average times from all my races; each race was a chance to earn a medal
  3. If I lost a race on Monday it had no bearing on my next race on Friday
  4. My times got better throughout the year; my coach really only looked at the last race or two to decide if I would be entered in the next meet but he never took the average of my times to make that decision
  5. I qualified for the state finals because of my time in the final qualifying race of the season; no other previous times mattered

Don’t take my word for it, though. I will turn to Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots and winner of four Super Bowls in the last 15 years. At the halfway point of the 2015 season, a reporter told Belichick that his quarterback is the mid-season MVP. Belichick’s reply was,

“That’s great, but honestly I don’t think anyone is really focused on that… Some midseason report card, who cares? What difference does it make? Give me an F. Give me a C+. Right now we’re focused on the Giants [their next opponent]. That’s all I really care about.”

The reporter then asked the coach what grade he would give his quarterback. Belichick’s response was, “I don’t give grades… We’re trying to beat the Giants. I don’t really care about some midseason midterm grades. Give me whatever you want.”

In football, nothing really matters except winning the Super Bowl at the end of the season. It doesn’t matter where you stand at any point during the season except for the fact that you need to make the playoffs and win the championship. Let’s look at the 2007 NFL season as an example of whether or not a team met the standard. The Patriots were 18-0 going into the Super Bowl; their average was 100%. But they lost the Super Bowl, dropping their average to 95%. Yes, they performed well all year, but they did not meet the standard of winning the Super Bowl. A teacher would still give them an overall grade of 95%, which is an A, yet they didn’t prove they knew what they needed to know.

patriots lose super bowl the catch 2
David Tyree of the New York Giants trapped the pass against his helmet and held on to get the first down. The Giants scored on that last drive and beat the 18-0 New England Patriots to win Super Bowl 42.

Their opponent was the Giants, who entered the playoffs at 10-6 for an average of 63%. They won the next four playoff games to win the title. What was their new average? 70%. For a teacher issuing traditional grades, the Giants would get a C-. But if you look at the STANDARD, which is winning the Super Bowl, they met the goal that everyone is striving for.

Averaging scores for an entire semester just doesn’t make sense to me. It penalizes every student if they do not understand a concept during the week it was taught, even if the student learns later in the year and remembers it forever. Is the point of grades to measure learning at the exact moment that something appears in the curriculum, or is it more important to fully understand the concept before the course ends? Providing students with meaningful feedback throughout the semester – telling them where their strengths and weaknesses lie on a continuous basis – is far more valuable in helping a student meet the standards by the end of the year than issuing a final, single letter grade based on the average of how their scores from assignment.



Curran, Tom E. “Belichick’s Report Card? ‘Who Cares? Give Me an F'” Comcast SportsNet New England. Comcast SportsNet New England, 11 Nov. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. <http://www.csnne.com/new-england-patriots/belichick-report-card-who-cares-give-me-f>.

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

“Standards-Based Practices: Self Assessment for Teachers” from Colorado Education Association

“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>

Data, Feedback, and Standards Based Grading: It Is Your Destiny

Your gradebook says a lot about the way you teach. After all, it is the measuring stick to which your students will compare themselves for an entire year. Gradebooks should provide much more than a single letter grade, and this article will look at two ways that could improve your gradebook which in turn could improve your instruction.

Part One: Collecting data on the activities students spend the most time completing

What if your gradebook could show you which activities a student was likely to complete or likely to avoid? Knowing what your students spend most of their time doing could help you design better activities in class – activities that students actually want to spend time and energy to complete. Below is an example of how a gradebook could look if you could tag all of your assignments by TYPE. By looking at the data, you can figure out that this student really likes to keep a journal but dislikes creating posters and flashcards. Giving students choices in how they complete their work keeps them more engaged in their learning. Often they are more willing to spend more time completing tasks because they are enjoying them.


If the student is willing to take practice tests over and over which leads to improved performance, then it makes sense to try to create a larger bank of questions for your students to practice with. If other students really enjoy (and learn from) discussing topics online with their peers, then it makes sense to create more discussion boards whenever they are appropriate for the topic.

Part Two: Standards-Based Grading (SBG)

Okay, maybe you aren’t really in a “give the students a choice” kind of mood at the moment. You know what your students need to complete, and they are willing to do it. Excellent! Here’s a different question for you. What if your gradebook could show each student’s progress towards mastering each of the learning standards within your course? Instead of just seeing an A or B, what if your gradebook could show you where your students are really excelling and where they are falling behind? That’s called a Standards-Based Gradebook (SBG).  This photo below is modified to look like one example of data in a Standards-Based Gradebook. The numbers to the right show a student’s progress towards mastering each of the standards, with 100 being the highest they can achieve. The standards listed come from the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts <http://www.corestandards.org/wp-content/uploads/ELA_Standards.pdf>.


When data is aligned to multiple standards instead of a single letter grade it explains the progress a student is making towards mastering the reading and language skills of a course. In the example above, the student shows a high level of skill in determining the key ideas of what he or she reads, but a very low level of skill in trying to integrate the ideas of multiple authors into one coherent theme. This standards-based data provides much more detail as to how the student is performing in class which helps the teacher to inform and modify his or her teaching, and it provides the student (and the parents) with information as to which skills are advanced and which need additional work.

Part Three: Destiny (and how video games could teach us something about providing data and feedback)

The idea for this article came from a combination of two things that are taking up a great deal of my time: helping teachers create a Standards-Based Gradebook, and playing hours and hours of the video game Destiny. Video games provide constant feedback to the player which can lead to greater engagement in playing the game, more time playing the game, and better results when playing the game. If teachers could provide the same type of instantaneous, high-level feedback that video games provide then we could really help our students learn. The photo below is an actual screenshot from Destiny. The data listed in the image includes:

  1. Overall skill level of 27 (top right)
  2. Total time spent playing the game (over 86 hours)
  3. The number of times the player spent in each type of game mode (He played 129 “Control” games which are 5-10 minute mini-games, but only played 5 “Raids” which are 30-60 minute adventures that require a great deal of skill and teamwork)

Destiny Hunter Stats


The more data we, as teachers, can gather regarding student performance, the more informed we can become in our instructional practices. Providing a variety of data related to the TYPES of academic activities students complete and/ or the level of mastery students demonstrate towards the learning standards will only help teachers to teach better which in turn will help students to learn more. Video games are effective in providing data and feedback which teachers could adapt to fit their classrooms and their gradebooks to help make learning more meaningful and engaging.