All About the SBG: Standards-Based Grading

All About the SBG: Standards-Based Grading

By: Sherry Mohr

I’m a sucker for big ideas. Have you noticed?

Last week I wrote about a high school that’s changing up the graduation game. Today, I’m going to focus on grades and grading.

How many of you have ever been stressed out by a potential grade? How many of you have hated grading?

It’s okay to be honest here. We’re all pretty much in the same boat.

In my opinion, grading does not do anything more then tell the student that they achieved a certain score. It doesn’t tell the student why they received that score or how they can improve. In other words, it doesn’t offer the formative assessment the student needs to succeed.

How many of you have parents who are obsessed about grades? What? A B+ isn’t good enough? Are you even interested in knowing why your child received that grade or how you can help them improve?

I know you’ve thought that once or twice.

Parents get really stuck on the grade and not on what they can do to help their child learn better, which is the goal, right? We ultimately want our children/students to learn better, become great critical thinkers, and possess an intellect that will make them prosperous, well-informed adults.

How do we break away from grading? Well, we don’t because, unfortunately, our education system is a letter-grade centered one.

HOWEVER, we can shift the way we grade by using a standards-based grading system. I’ll call it SBG. SBG does a few things that are beneficial for the student, the teacher, and the parents:

  • Summarizes the student’s level of achievements
  • Reports what students know and what they are able to do
  • Identifies areas in which the student is progressing; helps the teacher and the student target problem areas needing support and assistance
  • Provides the teacher with positive formative assessment and cues on how to adapt or modify instruction

Robert Marzano, a leading education researcher, has written several books on SBG. He instructs the teacher to grade the content by breaking down the subject area into specific topics that were covered throughout the lesson. Using a rubric, the teacher identifies how the student performed within each topic. The teacher uses the numbers 1 – 4 to indicate the student’s level of understanding. What do these numbers mean? Kristine Nannini, a fourth grade teacher & blogger, provides a great illustration for this information.


Okay, but isn’t that the same as providing points for a grade? In her discussion on SBG, Nannini provides an example for grading a math lesson using SBG (I love this visuals!).


She further illustrates her point with a baking analogy:

SBG baking analogy

Nannini elaborates on the What, Why, & How on her blog, Young Teacher Love. She provides great examples that can help you, the teacher, on how to incorporate this formative assessment into your classroom. Kelly Mogk, a fourth grade ELA & Social Studies teacher in Texas, writes about her experience using SBG and Nannini’s tools on the education website, Ethical ELA. You can read more about her experience here.

Sure, it will take longer to grade assignments using this method, but it’s definitely worth it. I’ve used a similar assessment tool during a study I conducted, and it helped me identify where the student was underperforming. As an instructor, I was able to target these weak areas, and work with my incoming first years a lot better because I understood them more. This assessment forced me to think creatively and critically about my instruction.

If you’re still not convinced, here are 7 Reasons to Incorporate SGB as told by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Until next time!