Walking Through Standards Based Grading: Part 1

It has been my goal to really dig deep into standards based grading to help you better understand it.

The idea of standards based grading aligns PERFECTLY with my Student Data Tracking Binders (click HERE to read up on these) and my Standards Based Assessments (click HERE to read up on these), so I figured it was time to do a little research to understand it better.

While I am on this journey of learning this REALLY tough and confusing stuff, I thought I’d share out my findings for you in a few blog posts.

My research this summer has really helped to crystalize the WHAT?, WHY?, and HOW? of standards based grading. I will be blogging about this periodically and in the end, will compile all of this informational together for you, as a great guide to getting started. I promise you though, I have only scratched the surface of standards based grading.
For part 1, I’ll start from square one and explain the WHAT.

Walking Through Standards Based Grading: Part 2 WHAT IS STANDARDS BASED GRADING- Young Teacher Love by Kristine Nannini

Now the big question, what do these “levels” look like in my classroom? If research suggests that students are proficient or meeting grade level expectations at a level 3, then what should a level 4 look like? Well, here is the most BASIC analogy I could think of, and I am totally sharing this with my kids!
Fonts courtesy of: Kimberly Geswein 
Graphics: Squiggle Dot Designs, NRC Design Studios, Collective Creation
Stay tuned for part 2, where I explore the WHY.
For those of you that follow youngteacherlove on Instagram, you know this has been my view as I wrap my brain around all of this!
I’d love to hear your thoughts so far! Do any of you use standards based grading in your districts? Thanks for reading!
Click HERE for part 2:
and click here for part 3:


  1. Wow! What a comprehensive and helpful post! You should do trainings :)

    Thank you so much for this! I can’t wait to read part 2

    Mindful Rambles

  2. I love the idea of standards based grading, and with my district focusing on Marzano’s book, I’m sure it is coming my way soon, so I’m planning to get a jump start, and your post is helpful in heading that direction. I’ll look forward to following you through your journey as I start my own!
    On another note, I love the chalkboard graphics you used in this post. Very cute!

  3. We use standard-based grading but still revert back to letter grades for the actual report card, which is really annoying. Below each grade/subject, we do however put the standard based grading abbreviations (E, M, App, etc.) for skills such as Number Sense, Problem-Solving, etc. It’s super annoying! Oh and then they have us put those same abbreviations on the CUM folders at the end of the year. I don’t know why my district (which is a cutting-edge and ahead of the game district) hasn’t fully changed over. Hopefully, when we finally do, I will be able to come back to this post time and time again! Thanks!

  4. I’ve been looking at standards based grading this summer as well. As I started to use Marzano’s 4 point scale I was having difficulty articulating what a 4 would be one each standard. If the three is the actual common core standard (which are often complex enough) then what is the 4? Some standards lend themselves to an extension while others I’m having trouble with. I don’t want to just change the verbiage but really look at extensions of the content. Have you been working on this piece at all? (I’ve been starting with grade 5, i teach 5-8 math).

  5. Thank you so much for posting this! My district is going to standards based grading this year and it makes me a little nervous. However, I appreciate your post on this!! Very helpful!!


  6. We use standards based grading in my district. Our report cards are standards aligned, which helps parents, and students, understand exactly which areas are mastered and which progress is being made. I love it! Give lots of wiggle room for creating more project based assessments as well.

  7. My school used SBG last year, but completely ineffectively in my opinion. We were told to average up all of the percentage scores the students earned that pertained to each standard, then there was a correlation chart (similar to the one above) showing which percentages correspond with which level. What?! This, to me, does not show mastery at all. If a student really struggles with standard initially (ie. low daily work scores) but masters the standard in the end, averaging daily work and assessment scores would not be indicative of the child’s mastery in the end. Right?!

    So, my question is are you all getting your children’s mastery level 1-4 based on formative assessments only? If so, how do daily work grades come into play on report cards? Thanks!! :)

  8. We used to have a grading system very similar to this. Skills were graded on a 4 point system, and each skill was listed out on progress reports/report cards. There was no equivalent letter grade given though. This was well before common core, even before the state standards came out. It was just based on our district’s curriculum.

    There were good and bad things about it. One of the bad things was that the parents didn’t really get it, and they wanted to know, “So, did my kid get an A in math or what??” It was hard to explain the concept to them, as they were used to a whole different system growing up.

    I am curious to see how parents would respond to this system. The letter grades would be there, but I wonder if they will see the grades as being subjective to the teacher’s opinion, which was also a problem with Grady. I do understand that your student data notebooks would help so much with that problem! It is definitely something to think about. I think I would have to try a year of using the data books while still having traditional grading, just to make sure I could keep up with them and work out the kinks for myself. Definitely something to aspire to, thanks for sharing!!

  9. Did your reference on the percentages correlation come from The Art and Science of Teaching?

  10. @Jordan: That seems crazy to take a student’s average. Research suggests (at least the research I have read) that you aren’t supposed to use student’s homework assignments as mastery but instead formative and summative assessments, so obviously you are correct. Wouldn’t the “daily grades” be formative assessments, as long as you are working on something (assignment, project, test, group work, etc.) that aligns with the learning goal? Or are you talking about “daily grades” as homework? I DO grade homework, but include in an entirely separate portion of my grade book. I do believe that you have to make all of this fit your needs though. Hopefully my next posts can offer more insight!

    @Kim: In my opinion, the parent aspect of all of this will FOREVER be the toughest part. And, rightfully so. It has been hard enough to wrap my teacher brain around all of this. I do believe that if you inform parents enough and make them a part of this entire process, leaving no stone unturned for them, they will understand and accept it all much easier.

    @Taylor: It is my understanding that those level 4 students are the students that took it a step further. I am adding an analogy that I came across just tonight that made the lightbulb go off for me!! I hope it helps!

    EVERYONE ELSE: You rock! Thanks for your fab comments, and of course for reading! Stay tuned to part 2!!!

  11. Hi Nannini!

    I love your research you began! Tackling the CCSS can be a challenging feat! Our school went to standard based report cards last year and it has been an uphill climb to get parent support, but, overall, after explaining, the parents come around and see the benefits! We do not use a point scale at all, however. In that sense, it goes back to putting a number to the grade. We stick to emergent, approaching, meets, and exceeds. On the report card, every standard is listed and either emergent, approaches, meets, and exceeds is listed next to it. We also look at exceeds a little bit differently than what you described. Exceeds is not really going above and beyond, but taking it to the next grade level. I think that is the true beauty of the CCSS…most standards align with the grade above.

    Let me give a better example, I teach fourth grade. I test for mastery and if that child meets the standard, I can test that child on the aligned fifth grade standard to get exceeds. It is in this sense, not completely possible to get exceeds in every area.

    That’s just my take on it and how our school looked at it last year! I have a passion for CCSS though and I think it can very much benefit our country and unite our schools! Good luck next year! :)

    from Well, Michelle?

  12. Thanks for this post. We are fully implementing CCSS this year. We still use graded report cards and I haven’t heard if we are switching report cards YET. Marzano is our evaluation system so this info is so helpful. I look forward to more posts on this topic!
    Beach Sand and Lesson Plans

  13. This has been a very interesting post. My distict as adopted the Marzano evaluation system. I don’t think we are at the point of switching the grading sysytem yet. But I am very interested in it. I have your data binders and assessment packs in my wish list. I plan on purchasing them when I am ready to start planning.

    What book are you using for your reserch?

  14. I love your baking idea!!! Do you have the poster for sale? Thanks!

  15. I love all the work I do!,, I am just preparing to start as a fifth grade science and math teacher and you’re blog has been a tremendous help and inspiration. I think you’re explanations and analogies for standards based grading are great for parents too!

  16. We are not yet at a standards based report card but I wish we were! Soon I’m hoping. Great post, as teachers we need to understand it well enough that we can easily explain to parents.

    @Jordan – The analogy I was given to understand is that each standard should be treated like getting your driver’s license. It doesn’t matter how many hours of practice you needed with your permit. If you do well on your actual test to receive your license. Therefore how the student does on the summative assessment shows how well they have mastered the standard, which should correlate to the score they receive to that standard.

  17. We also just started using standards based grading two years ago. I had a hard time explaining to my second graders (and their parents) what exceeding the standard would look like. Until I saw the movie Brave. Then I explained to my students using an archery analogy. Imagine an archery target with the typical circle in circle bull’s eye I told them 0 points means you completely missed the target. One point you hit the board, but didn’t get it in one of the circles. Two points meant you got it in the outer circle. Of course three points means you hit the bull’s eye. Then for that elusive four points. That was Merida’s last shot. Not only did she hit the bull’s eye, she split the other guy’s arrow in half and her arrow went all the way through the target. My kids got it.

  18. Anonymous says:

    You are amazing! LOVE the cupcake example, I’ve had such a hard time coming up for a level 4 example and you nailed it:) I am glad I’m not the only teacher craving a REAL grading system. My district makes report cards so difficult and it always comes down to parents needing a letter. Well times are changing, they need to get with the program.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Can I just say what a relief to find somebody who genuinely understands what they are discussing on the internet.
    You certainly know how to bring a problem to light and make it important.

    More and more people really need to check this out and understand
    this side of the story. It’s surprising you aren’t more popular because you most
    certainly possess the gift.

    my blog … college help

  20. I am thrilled to find a blog that is SPOT ON. I also teach 5th grade and can’t get enough of learning about CCSS and what Miss Nannini does with all of this! I’m passing along to our administrators so we can all get on the same page. Love love love the cupcake analogy.

  21. Hi Kristine!

    I’m currently living in Arizona and moving back to Michigan in October. I love your blog and it’s been an awesome inspiration for me as I’m looking to start applying for jobs. I’d love to chat with you about what’s going on in Michigan schools, as I’ve been out of the loop for the past 5 years!

    My email address is alison.gross13@gmail.com…if you ever find time in your very busy schedule to email me to chat, I’d be so appreciative. I find your teaching methodologies incredibly powerful and would love to get any tips (interviewing or otherwise) you can think of!

    Thanks in advance :)

  22. This is amazing!! I have been assessing my students in this way for a few years now and am constantly amazed at how much more information it gives me about my students and their abilities. I feel much better prepared to talk about their strengths and next steps to admin and parents.
    Great post!!
    Thinking of Teaching

  23. I would love to purchase your baking level chart. The level 4 was an excellent analogy.
    Will you be making it available anywhere?

  24. Anonymous says:

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly think this site needs far more attention.
    I’ll probably be back again to read through more, thanks for the info!

    My page :: 1600 Microsoft Points

  25. My district went standards based YEARS ago. We were told that a 4 is when a child consistently exceeds each descriptor. We were also told that you couldn’t equate a 4 to a 4.0 or an A as they are different. For example, in math, if there are 10 questions on a page and a child scores 9 out of 10, that’s not a 4, it’s a 3. It’s expected for the child to get 10 out of 10 on computation so it’s impossible to receive a 4. That being said, I had a child I gave the end of the year 4th grade math test in November and he scored 100%! Earning a 4 during the first trimester is tough in my class, but this child did on most standards except explaining his thinking. I think it’s the word CONSISTENTLY exceeds the requirements for that standard is key.

  26. I love the work you put in to decode standards based grading. I noticed though that according to the Marzano Scale, students that “Do not meet grade level standards” are still passing and will still move on to the next course. If they are not meeting standards, how can they move on to harder, more complex topics which require prerequisite knowledge and understanding?

    It seems that this scale would keep passing kids until the work is so out-gradient that they get 0’s and can do nothing at all – essentially making them less and less capable as they continue in school.

    I love the idea of proficiency grading but I guess my question is in regards to – what do we do for the students that are NOT proficient?

  27. I love the baking chart and your WHOLE bog! You are amazing! I am confused about the Elementary Scale. If a 4 is above and beyond and a 3 is is what is expected, then wouldn’t a 3 be equal to 100%? Thanks :)

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Hi Linda- Thanks so much for your kind words! It really isn’t that simple of a conversion. If you need more of an explanation, feel free to send me an email at nannini.kristine@yahoo.com. I’d be happy to help!

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