Tag Archives: Standards-Based Grading

Who do you want as your skydiving training partner? (A lesson in Standards-Based Learning)

Who do you want as your skydiving training partner?

I would really love to skydive one day, and I would also love to tell my kids and grandkids about what it was like to go skydiving. My point is, I want to jump out of an airplane and live to talk about it. Therein lies my fear: choosing the right person to train me.

skydive 2The first time anyone skydives they are paired up with a skilled partner. That partner passed some type of certification program, and that person is still alive, so they must know what they are doing. In fact, every trainer there has the same credentials: they all passed their certification test, and they are all still alive. But I want to know more about the person I am going to trust my life with. Surely they can tell me more about their actual knowledge and skill level.

Pretend that I have two possible training partners standing in front of me. One earned an A in skydiving school, and the other earned a B. It would make sense to pick the one who got a higher grade, because an A inherently implies that the person learned more than the one who earned a B. So that’s who I should go with, right? Not necessarily. An overall score of an A is good, but it doesn’t tell me what areas of skydiving they are good at and the ones that need work. I want more information before I choose my training partner.

Let’s say there were 10 topics covered in skydiving school. I know there is much more to learn than 10 things, but this is just an example so go with it.

  • Jim is the first trainer, and he scored 100% in every area except for “ground landings” in which he got a 40%. He is excellent at everything EXCEPT landing on the ground. His overall average is still 94%. Solid A, right?
  • Felix is the second trainer, and he scored 90% in every area except “water landings” and “flip and barrel rolls” where he scored a 60% in each. His overall average is 84%, which is still a B.

skydiving score 2

skydive 5
Jim scored very low in ground landings. (Not an actual photo of Jim)

So who should I pick? This is my first time skydiving, and we are going to land on the ground. Felix is much better than Jim at ground landings. In fact, I have no faith that Jim can help me land without breaking at least three bones. Felix is not good at landing in the water or doing barrel rolls, but we aren’t going to do that on my first day. I don’t need those skills from him. In this case, I am going to avoid Jim, the A student, and go with Felix, the B student, because of their specific competencies.

The owner of the skydiving place might want to know his employees competencies as well. I’m sure he them to be excellent in all areas. He’s not going to make them re-learn all 10 topics. Instead, the owner will give Jim extra training only in ground landings, and he will have Felix work on water landings and barrel rolls. In fact, Jim and Felix can probably help each other. Students are often willing to help each other, especially if the can identify where they need help.

Skydiving school, like all schools, would benefit from standards-based grading

Like Jim and Felix, all students could benefit from the extra feedback of knowing where their strengths and weaknesses lie. One single letter grade for each class does not tell them where to put their time and effort if they want to improve. One single letter grade on a test does not provide the information needed to go back and review the specific areas that they should go back and review. Traditional grading – one score for every assignment and test averaged together for a single letter grade – does little to inform a student on where to practice, where to reassess, where they need to improve to become proficient in all areas of the subject. With standards-based grading, a student can take one test yet receive feedback in multiple areas of learning. As these learning standards are measured and progress is tracked throughout the year, the student receives continuous feedback as to where strengths and weakness lie. That student has the opportunity to practice learning targets throughout the year and also helps the student to spend more time on the standards where he or she is not proficient while still maintaining understanding of the other standards.

Mark Welchert, tandem parachute instructor, and Derek McMullen, 19, of Old Monroe, Mo., land safely after jumping from 12,000 ft., recently at the Hannibal Airport in Hannibal, Mo. via Rapid Descent skydiving (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Mark Welchert, tandem parachute instructor, and Derek McMullen, 19, of Old Monroe, Mo., land safely after jumping from 12,000 ft. in Hannibal, Mo.
(H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)

When students understand their own strengths and weaknesses they can help each other with their learning, just like Jim can help Felix with water landings and Felix can help Jim with ground landings. Metacognition – knowing what we know and what we don’t – helps the individual to help him or herself, and it also allows him or her to help others. It allows every student to become independent and proficient with his or her learning.

The more feedback we can provide our students, the more they can help themselves become competent in all areas of their learning. Even A students can improve, but without specific feedback, often based on learning standards, they do not know where to spend their time and energy. A standards-based learning approach not only informs the student of their overall learning, but it also helps their teachers, parents, or even classmates provide support as well.

Author’s Note

If you are an active skydiver, please do not be offended by my lack of knowledge regarding what it takes to become certified. My knowledge is in the use of standards to inform learners, not how to jump head first out of an airplane. I respect your expertise, and hopefully you respect mine. Thanks.

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.

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.