Bring Standards-Based Grading To Your School — SUCCESSFULLY! Part 1

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 3.18.21 PM A teacher’s recent tweet.
“Standards based report cards coming for us next year. No more isolated ABCDF. Don’t really know how to grade like that yet!”

Another tweet from same teacher.
“Was told yesterday that we’re going to sb report cards next year. No idea how to start.” 

What a difficult challenge that has been laid down for this teacher and school. Is it possible to successfully implement a change like Standards-Based Grading (SBG) in six months? I’ll answer that question with another question. Do you believe in miracles?

Introducing and leading a standards-based assessment and grading shift in your school or district is among the most important work you will do as a school leader. This shift is not just another initiative. You are changing the culture of school and community to one that truly supports learning and growth.

There is no “copy and paste” set of instructions for successful implementation. The good news is there are excellent SBG resources and practitioners with valuable experiences and strategies available to you.  As there are multiple routes to success, each school needs to make this pathway their own.

However, there are pathways that improve the likelihood of success. In this blog series, I share learnings on leadership primarily based on Shanghai American School’s (SAS) middle school standards-based assessing and grading experience.

                                             Part 1 – LAYING THE FOUNDATION


This is not just another initiative like a new reading program or adding an elective or two. The culture shift is transformational and will open additional opportunities for change that support 21st century learning. Can you make full shift from traditional grading philosophy and practice in three years? Maybe. In five years? Much more likely. Administration is about things. Leadership is about people. You will rely significantly on both skill sets during the process.

Why change? 

Most people are very open to change . . . as long as they don’t have to change themselves. The process around a SBG implementation will challenge deeply entrenched, long-held beliefs in the traditional system. It is in children’s best interests, not adults, that we make the shift. I invested significant energy with teachers and parents by visioning a different future that best supports children on THEIR learning journeys. It inspired, motivated me to share this view and helped others envision change too.

Introduce and develop Growth Mindset strategies with parents, teachers, and students as early as possible. You may have noticed the tweeting teacher at the top used the word, “yet,” to describe her situation. She is already demonstrating a growth mindset.

In some ways, any change is about you, the school leader. Success or failure may already have been partially determined by how well you have built relationships and trust within the entire community.

Do your research.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.41.18 AM

Read articles, books. Attend workshops, conferences. Build your assessment PLN including other administrators, teachers, researchers, and authors. Connect with schools already in implementation phase. Join Twitter and #SBLchat. Our leadership and teacher teams learned much from the work of Tom Guskey, Ken O’Connor, Rick Wormeli, Doug Reeves, Robert Marzano, and others. Sit down with your Student Information System engineer. How and when will current electronic teacher grade book & report card become compatible with a standards-based assessing & reporting system?

Resources to get you started or further support understanding SBG are located at bottom of post. Huge shout out to Matt Townsley for curating the lists!

Screen Shot Points Not LearningMantra. It’s about the learning, not the grading.” This was the phrase we used as a focus point. No parent or teacher ever contested the importance of the statement. It immediately created a positive, widely accepted essential agreement and reinforced the commitment to what is most important — learning. Because many parents believe grades equal learning, you will need to show parents and some teachers the difference. Regardless of your choice of a core message, it should become central to all communications.

Share the research. Create your story.

Take every opportunity to share your learning and vision of the future. Parent coffees, teacher workshops, team meetings, school board meetings, book circles, internal/external emails with signature tag including your mantra. I videotaped respected teachers extolling the value of shifting grading practices and shared with parents and faculty. At some point in the change process, senior administrators will likely be approached by naysayers. Be sure the administrators have the information necessary to provide support.

Backwards plan.

All the research and sharing leads to putting a FLEXIBLE plan in place. What are the major components to the new report card? How will assessment strategies change? How are instructional strategies impacted by change? Collaboratively draft a 3-5 year plan anticipating benchmarks, professional development needs, roll-out strategies. Start creating a SBG FAQ, SBG glossary of terms, and SBG resource link on divisional or school website. Keep an eraser handy.

Lastly, you don’t need answers to all the questions during the foundational stage. That’s fortunate as, honestly, you don’t have them anyway!

Blog Series
Part 2: Transitioning
Part 3: Implementation

Resource List curated by Matt Townsley.
SBG Research.
SBG Articles.
SBG Books.

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