The Standards-Based Grading System: A Review

Prince William County implemented a new grading system across all high schools this year, but how effective really is it?

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Last year an abundance of rumors swirled around Hylton High School, but none so poignant as the looming threat of a new ‘standards-based grading system.’

When I heard the rumor, I personally did not believe the system would change. I brushed it off as just another ‘scary’ rumor floating around to get a reaction out of people. I was thoroughly surprised, however, when my teachers confirmed that the aforementioned rumor was true.

No one really knew, in the student body at least, what the ‘standards-based grading system’ actually was. Teachers talked about new things called ‘formative’ and ‘summative’ grades, as well as those grades having different percentages in each class.

My limited last-year understanding of the system could not have prepared me for my current reality of it: a system which does not accurately reflect a student’s quality of work at all.

It is easy to just dismiss the system as bad because it is new and foreign, but my core problem with the system is the way it alters test grades.

Before the ‘standards-based grading system,’ test grades were put in as a single percentage that was weighed as numerous amounts of grades, depending on the teacher, that you could usually not retake. Now, tests are put in as three or four different grades, which give different scores depending on how many questions you got right on a certain unit covered in the test. A student could receive three one-hundreds, but then get a fifty on another portion, which would drag down what would average out to around a B in the old grading system to a C or lower.  While this new grading system has come with a new and more forgiving retake policy, the way test scores are put in the grade book are simply nonsensical and damage student’s GPAs.

The summative and formative nature of the grading system are not helping either. Summative grades make it so quizzes and tests, if both are labeled as summative, would give a student the exact same grade. This is not hard to see as a bad idea, as a quiz and a test are completely different assessments, one of which is immensely different than the other. Furthermore, the summative and formative aspects damage student grades more severely than the previous grading system. If a student gets an A on a summative assessment, oftentimes their grade will go up only one percentage point, but if a student gets a D on a summative assessment, their grade will plummet.

Formative grades, aka worksheets and in-class assignments that are used as practice to teach students new skills, used to be an easy way for students to boost their grades. But now, especially in math and science classes, formative grades mean close to nothing. In STEM classes, formative grades are only weighted as twenty-percent of a student’s grade, compared to summative assignments being weight as eighty-percent, causing students to have to do an abundance of formative assignments for their grade to shift in the slightest.

In non-STEM classes however, where formative grades are weighed as forty-percent and summative grades are weighed as sixty-percent of a student’s grade, having a formative F can mean a grade plunge.

This new grading-system was brought in under the guise of helping students boost their grades through more retakes and giving them more grades through splitting up tests into sections, but neither of those things are truly aiding students. Standards-based grading, while it may be trying to ensure that students learn the standards of their classes, is not well-loved by the student body nor is it very effective.

The old grading system was much simpler to understand. It allowed students to calculate theoretical grade changes through simple math, but now students are forced to wait for their teachers to update StudentVUE to see how their grade is faring.

Overall, I give the standards-based grading system two stars. It is unhelpful, generally stress-inducing, and too complicated. Perhaps this was not how its creator intended it to be, and this is the fault of strictly Hylton High School, but the system nonetheless needs to change.