Standard Based Grading Sparks Mixed Reviews Among Students

Standards-based grading is new this year yet many already have bitter feelings towards it.


Most high school students and families have noticed that Prince William County Schools has implemented a new grading system. Some recognize this new system as a distinction between formative and summative grades that determine a student’s overall grade in a class. But many members of the Hylton community are not in favor of the new grading system. Many students question whether its contributing to their success in the classroom. Few understand the purpose of the new grading system.  

Standards-Based Grading is intended to accurately reflect students’ proficiency while tracking their level of understanding in a subject or material. In addition, the grading system is supposed to give a clear view of what students are expected to know and do.

The most drastic change was the new formative/summative grading method. Formative grades include assignments, such as worksheets and homework, that are intended to track a student’s knowledge and understanding of the material that is being discussed in class. Summative grades, such as tests and quizzes, are final scores based on students’ growth over time on specific material to determine whether a student has mastered a skill.

In PWCS, teachers can customize how they wish to grade students’ assignments. For instance, social studies teachers at Hylton weigh formative assignments as 40 percent of a student’s grade and summative assessments are 60 percent of a student’s grade. Whereas in Hylton’s math classes, formative assignments counts as only 20 percent of a student’s grade and summative grades count for 80 percent. Many students dislike the way assignments are now weighted.

Sophomore Nicole Castaneda expressed her thoughts about how in some subjects summative grades are the majority of a student’s overall grade and said, “I think if they [PWCS] are going to put so much pressure on summative assignments, then they should give us more opportunities to bring our grades up or [do] test corrections.”

Similarly, in 2016 Fairfax County Public Schools implemented a similar type of grading system intended to give students a better opportunity to do well in school. The president-elect of the Fairfax Education Association in 2016, Kevin Hickerson, had stated that the purpose of the new system was to grade students by what they understand instead of their behavior within the classroom. The new grading system is not supposed to have a direct impact on well-performing students as they are already doing well. On the contrary, it is supposed to give underperforming students a chance to succeed in the classroom setting.

“Don’t be alarmed. It’s a change. It’s a difference,” said Hickerson. “But, it’s something that should be looked at as positive overall.”

FCPS also implemented the same “no zero” policy that is seen in PWCS. The policy states students who receive below 50 percent for a quarter will instead automatically receive a 50 percent. The purpose of this policy is to provide students who failed one marking period with the opportunity to improve their grade in subsequent marking periods and ensure they still have an opportunity to pass the course for the year.  

Students at Hylton have different opinions and experiences with the new grading system. Some students like sophomore Sofia Simonian see the new system favorably.

“I like it, as you can retake summatives and improve your grade,” said Simonian. “Also, if you don’t do well on a worksheet, you don’t have to worry about it as much because it won’t impact your grade very significantly.”

On the contrary, Castaneda had negative feelings toward the new system and said, “The new grading system is a little unfair to students who do their work, [and] all the assignments teachers give on a daily basis, but then struggle on tests in general.”  When asked what she would change about the new system, she recommended adjusting the percentages that summative grades weigh to what it was before the change.

The system is fairly new, yet it has received much criticism among students. Though there are a few students like Simonian who are enjoying the benefits it brings within the classroom setting, many others have sour feelings like Castaneda.

At present, the system is still being used and there aren’t any signs of it being removed. Its purpose remains to bring forth success for all students in the classroom.