Bruno: Is Standards-Based Grading A Good Idea?
It might seem like a no-brainer, but is it really a good idea to give students grades based entirely on their mastery of the content rather than factoring in their effort? I doubt it, but via Darrin Jolly on Twitter I see that a number of Tennessee middle schools are trying to do just that. The specifics of this particular plan aren't totally clear from the story, but I can think of at least two reasons we should be skeptical of moves toward this kind of "standards-based" grading:
First, grades should communicate information not just to students but also to parents and guardians. The article makes it clear that there is already considerable confusion from families resulting from the transition to the new system, and even if you assume these problems will fade over time it's doubtful the standards-based grading system will ever be more informative than the traditional system. After all, many elementary schools already issue sprawling, standards-based report cards and it's not obvious to me that they present students or adults at home with more meaningful or useful information than typical report cards. And many guardians probably want information on effort and citizenship in any case.
Second, grades are incentives and they are likely to be effective only to the extent that students know how to attain them. One lesson of much of the research on pay-for-grades schemes is that it is most effective to incentivize behaviors that students can control directly and confidently. "Participate in class" and "complete this homework assignment" are actions that students generally know how to do, and so it makes sense to reward students for performing them. "Master this content standard" is a much more abstract and long-term goal that students may neither know how to achieve nor have the willpower to pursue over time. And is content mastery really the only thing we want to reward kids for anyway?
Of course, it can often be ambiguous what factors are included in a grade in a conventional grading system. This ambiguity, however, is due in part to the fact that grades serve more than one purpose in our education system. Standards-based grading usually neglects these other purposes in favor of emphasizing mastery exclusively. That approach has some intuitive appeal, but is not obviously better, on balance, than more traditional systems. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)