Considering Standards Based Learning

For over a year I’ve considered switching to standards based grading in AP Calculus. I’ve read, listened to conversations, and thought about how it could change my classroom in a positive way. My problem always seems to come with implementation in the traditional grading world. To try to pull out the advantages of SBG in this context I read Frank Noschese’s post on Keep It Simple Standards Based Grading. That post informed much of the system I’m about to lay out.

I want to write about how I’m considering implementing SBG this year in calculus (you might call it SBG Lite). I’d love feedback from people that have implemented SBG and can help me troubleshoot this before I dive in.

The Plan

First, a student’s grade will be broken into two pieces. The first piece I call the standards portion and is worth 90% of a student’s grade. The second piece is a blog, which is 10% of a student’s grade. I believe the blog should be a component by itself and has value beyond my standards. You can see how I evaluate my reflective learning blogs here.

I’ll lay out the standards portion first. This is basically the SBG portion of the grade. Last year, as I went through each unit and wrote out all the individual standards, so now I have all the standards typed up. I am going to follow Frank’s Yes/No method. Either “yes” you mastered the standard or “no” you haven’t mastered the standard. My test/quizzes are spiraled anyway, so topics from the first unit show up on tests in future units. This allows students to master topics even if they don’t master it the first time. If a student starts out with a yes (on the first assessment for example) and then misses the standard on the next assessment he/she will be moved to a “no”. In other words, students can slide back and forth from yes to no and no to yes, throughout the year. The idea is that I want students to be making sure they understand even the oldest concepts.

I don’t think there’s anything crazy about the above structure (but please, if there is then definitely let me know in the comments). However, I’ve added a bit more to each standard. In order to get a “yes” on a standard you have to master the objective portion of the standard AND the communication portion of the standard. The idea is that there is more to understanding the standard then just being able to do a problem on a test. You also need to be able to communicate the concepts. Check out the image below to give you an idea of how it’s laid out. (The CCC refers to how I assess homework on a daily basis. Check out this post for more on that.)


All of this information will be kept in a spreadsheet that is shared with each individual student. This way students will always know where their grade stands. I’ve provided a sample of that spreadsheet and posted it below. (Clicking the image takes you to the actual spreadsheet).

Sample SBG student (img)To summarize: Each student’s final grade is broken into two marking periods and a final exam (the weighting is 3/7 + 3/7 + 1/7 = final trimester grade). Each marking period grade will be broken down as outlined above (90% standards grade, 10% blog grade). Each standard is broken into two parts (objective portion and communication portion). If a student hasn’t mastered one part, then they don’t get a “yes” for that standard. Students must continue to demonstrate mastery throughout the year as any standard can slide back to a “no”.

As I mentioned above, the main purpose of this post is to get feedback on this system and help troubleshooting before I implement it. Any thoughts or ideas you have would be greatly appreciated!


  • Lindsey Becker Reply


    Love the idea that students can “slide back” from their standards. This ensures that students aren’t just plugging and chugging the information and shows them how math is a spiraling content. Would love to hear how this goes as I am interested in using this as well as a “mastery” style learning classroom.

    • Zach Cresswell Reply

      I think the short answer is that assessments would change. Although, maybe not a lot. Most of my questions can be tied pretty closely to some learning objective/standard already, so it wouldn’t be a massive shift.

  • Tovi Reply

    So I just finished using standards-based assessment for my honors physics classes last year and here are some things I did and why:

    1) I made a scoring scale of 0 to 4. This way the student gets more detailed feedback and I do not need to write in comments on every paper that comes my way. As long as students know that a 2 means “I still have major conceptual problems and need help for improvement” they get a sense of how far away from mastery they are.

    2) I do not base the grade for the year on the final only because I must break it up into 4 marking periods, a midterm, and a final exam. So I calculate my grade as a simple ratio = number of standards that achieved ______ / total number of standards. In the beginning of the year I count all standards toward the grade except for the ones that achieved a 1 (Basic). Later I also do not count 2’s or half of 3’s. This way I am telling students that it is ok to not be perfect earlier in the year but later in the year you need to raise the bar and demonstrate mastery. I don’t do a replacement system like you do but an average to hold students accountable for all work.
    (Why wouldn’t they just not do any work the whole year until the final exam?)

    3) I made the mistake of making my own excel spreadsheet like yours and the time to insert all the actual scores for all assignments for each student is daunting. I am still trying to find a way to do this score tracker and save time not multiply it. If each assessment has 2-5 standards and big tests have more that is multiplying your time for inserting numbers into the excel sheet by a factor of 2-5 or more.

    I would love to talk to you more about this if you are interested email me.

    • cresswellzach Reply

      This is great information! Thanks so much for taking time to comment. I’m leaning towards not making the transition this year but will continue to research it and maybe have a better plan for next year. A few people have mentioned the advantage to 1-4 over yes/no. Also, thanks for the note about the spreadsheet. I should’ve thought about how much extra time that would be, considering I’d have to do it for every kid. Thanks again!

  • Leif Segen Reply

    Thanks for sharing (Zach & Tovi). I use the most recent assessment as evidence of the student’s status. This is why. Curious what you think.

    My goal is to eventually have weekly quizzes (block schedule here) that address several standards – built-in, multiple, unannounced reassessments.

    Also, I HIGHLY recommend ActiveGrade as a SBG grade book. There’s a 30 day free trial. The $5/month I spend on it, though, is well worth it. I could try to answer any Qs about it. / @mr_segen

  • cresswellzach Reply

    Thanks for your comment! After thinking about it a lot I think going with the most recent assessment is best. Someone mentioned, “what happens if a student knows it all year and has a bad month at the end of the year?” I think that’s an unlikely scenario, especially is they really understood the concept and it was spiraled well.

    I will have to look into Activegrade. A couple people have mentioned that it’s good for SBG. Thanks again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *