Student Perspective on the Shift to Standards-Based Grading

Last week, I had a very enlightening conversation with my students.  My district is transitioning to a standard-based report card next year, which includes the removal of letter grades from our system.  I have been using standards-based learning and grading in all of my sixth grade science classes throughout this current year, so my students are well adapted to a SBL environment.  However, the idea of the entire school transitioning is a big change for all of us … staff, parents and students.  Needless to say, when I brought up the report card changes, I was fully prepared for a wide range of reactions.

Overall, the response was a positive one.  Many of my students were excited to have grading be more specific and clear.  Several spoke about how removing the grades would also remove some of their stress.  We talked about how the focus would be put directly on the learning, which they all agreed is where it belongs.  Almost all of my classes had healthy discussions about how grades can foster stress and competition among learners, and that by removing them, they all would be better off for it.  Most students asked me to provide examples of what it could look like in other classes, and we all brainstormed to come up with some possible examples.  We talked about how everyone (teachers, parents and students) will be learning together as we transition, and that’s a pretty cool thing.

However, the students did have some concerns.  Their biggest worry was if the high school (and/or colleges) would be able to interpret their report cards.  Their next concern was for their parents, wondering if they would be able to understand.  A few questioned the need to change at all, and many wondered if the new system would be confusing.  The most interesting thing to me was that a large chunk of them viewed grades as something very adult-like, speaking of how they waited and waited in elementary school before they finally got to fourth grade, which was traditionally where they received their first letter grade (though our elementary schools transitioned to standards-based grading this year, so my future students will not have had the same experience).

I will be completely honest, I didn’t expect them to stand up and cheer … and of course, they didn’t.  However, they did approach the idea of change with open minds, asking thoughtful questions, and respectfully considering different viewpoints as we talked everything through.  Many requested to hear about other districts or research that showed this was a good thing (including several students paging through my various books on the topic).

I cannot express this enough, the entire conversation made me so exceptionally proud of each and every one of my students.  They didn’t just accept what was being handed to them.  They approached it like scientists: asking questions, defining problems, and coming up with solutions.

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