Blog: The Educated Reporter

The ins and outs of standards-based grading.

At least once a month I hear from a journalist whose school district is moving toward standards-based grading—being measured on whether students know the content and not whether they do the work (or, for that matter, show up). Peg Tyre summed up the issue nicely in the New York Times this weekend.I think journalism on this topic, this piece included, tends to set up too simple of a dichotomy: you grade students on being friendly and compliant, or you grade them on mastery of material. It is possible, and common, to set up a traditional grading system that doesn’t credit “good behavior,” as the headline provocatively suggests.

But the piece captures the general idea, and shows through example how a reformed system works in real life. A frequent, understandable criticism of standards-based grading is that it allows students to slack on homework and other tasks, because in the end all that matters is whether they know the material. The middle school Tyre featured in the piece has come up with what seems like sensible balance. For example, homework doesn’t count toward a student’s grade, but he or she cannot retake tests for better scores unless they complete the homework.

If the districts you cover have not yet adopted standards-based grading, they are likely to consider it soon, so it is a good idea to look at how it is (and isn’t) working elsewhere.