Standard Based Grading

Charlie Brennan and Daniel Cho

Should a student get a 100% if they have total accuracy on a test? And should students have to know more information than the teacher taught? This happened to Fiona McCarthy, current 9th grader at CHS.  When in 7th grade Fiona had a test in which she did not miss any answers. After receiving a test back from her 7th grade teacher, she looked at her grade to find it was a B. “What did I get wrong,” she thought. Scouring her test looking for her error she was puzzled to find none. “How can this be? It doesn’t make any sense.” She recalls feelings of confusion and annoyance. Since then Fiona has been educated why she got the grade she received and she summarizes it.  “To get a 100% you need to go above and beyond, pretty much ‘Exceeds Expectations’ . . . How are you suppose to ‘Exceed Expectations’ when the teacher doesn’t clearly define what is exceeding expectations.”


Fiona is not the only one concerned with this new implementation. On March 6th 2013 when this issue was presented to the school board, Former president Omri Priass, showed his concerns along with Sony Buttar. They requested that before the further spread of this system that the implementers would come and consult them first. That crucial step was overlooked and passed up and in the 2014-15 school year the number of teachers using it has greatly increased.

Teachers at Wydown Middle School began to utilize a new grading system by the name of Standard Based Assessment (SBA) almost a decade ago.  In 2013 this topic was brought to the attention of the school board. They informally requested that they come back to talk with the board before it was further expanded. This follow up meeting not yet occurred. However, in recent years the number of teachers using this grading system has grown.


In addition to the SBA, a policy called the No Zero Policy has also been enforced which states that a teacher cannot give a student a zero on any graded assignment or assessment. These new policies have sparked controversy and discussion throughout WMS.


The Standards Based grading system uses more descriptive means of communicating a students grades. Rather than telling the student that you had an 90 percent on an assignment, it clarifies what exactly you missed. This is hard, as you would imagine, to use this on Power Schools, the currently online grade management system used by the District.


As a result, grades are now broken up into different categories. For example, instead of having one test over grammar in the gradebook, that test would now be broken into categories such as, nouns, verbs and adjectives. The standards that are commonly used are E, S, M, and T or B. E for Exceeds Expectations (99%), S for Standards Met (89%), and M for Making Progress (79%), and T for Target for Improvement or B which means Basic Understanding (69%).


For some students and parents the concept is a hard one to grasp.


“Part of it is that we’ve grown up in a grade driven society and that is something that I accept that is reality,” Wydown Middle School Principal Mary Ann Goldberg said. “But I understand that kids are driven by that so we have to help them get past it.” Goldberg believes that teachers should be using the system and policy that is best for the students and that each teacher is different and teaches best using a certain grading scale, just like students express themselves in different ways like, through music and art.


Goldberg, stressed that the grading scale must work best for each individual teacher. She said she evaluates the teachers using a similar grading scale and in real life people aren’t evaluated by As, and Bs, but by standards that are set out by the evaluator.

In this way, Goldberg believes that the SBA system prepares students for later life.


“I think my approach is that whatever way that a teacher feels is the best way to convey to a student whether they are learning or not is the system that they should choose,” Goldberg said.


It is the teacher’s job to create the best learning environment for their course. That might be different if you are a band teacher or if you are a science teacher. The curriculum are so different it is obvious that they would be scored differently.


“This also helps prepare you for college when the professors don’t use the same rubric”, says Terri Sheldon former History teacher at Normandy and St. Charles school districts, Terri is currently retired.


Joshua Wilmsmeyer, science teacher for team ⅞ defends the standards based grading system when asked why he doesn’t give a full 100% on every assignment. “Why would a student ever want to excel if they get the A+ with just the basic knowledge?,” Wilmsmeyer said.


When students complete an assignment and do everything that was needed and had full understanding, but still received an S. Students who have become accustomed to earning an A+ for everything they do, essentially perfect students, have found this alarming.  Freshman Nikki Seraji feels, “Its frustrating that I couldn’t get a 100 percent when I got everything right on [something]  like multiple choice.”


“For the first four assignments of the year a student scores a 75 percent on all four, let’s say another students scores a 100 percent on the first three and thinks, ‘oh this is too easy’, so he doesn’t do it. If we are dealing with percentages those students are exactly the same,” Wilmsmeyer said.


The main reason the staff implemented this new grading scale was mainly to clear up the confusion for parents who questioned the teachers on the normal letter grade system. Improved communication is a key objective with the SBA.


The No Zero Policy is a different story. Wilmsmeyer and other teachers believe that the assignment’s grade doesn’t matter as much as the knowledge that was gained by doing the assignment.


“Some students would use the zero in the grade book as an excuse to not do the assignment,” Wilmsmeyer said. The students would see the zero and think it is final and there is nothing I can do, but according to Wilmsmeyer that is not the point of homework, the purpose is to learn and fortify concepts. This he thinks this this gives students an excuse not to do the work. Wilmsmeyer does not give zeros in his classes,  so in Wilmsmeyer’s 7th and 8th grade science classes, instead of giving them the “easy way out”, he requires that students come in during lunch and after school so they can complete the given assignment.

Wilmsmeyer says that since the elementary schools have been doing this for a while, that to implement this in the middle school would not be a difficult task. He also thinks this might bring out the laziness in some students. They might take advantage of the system and turn in their home work late, but so far he say they have not seen any alarming cases of that happening.


Some students find this system helpful. David Yeom, a current 8th grader at WMS said, “I would rather get an S then a B on an assignment.” Yeom feels that since these grades are more subjective they allow for better evaluation.


Christy Breckenridge indicates, when you set standards in the grading system, the grades become more clear. An A in one class could be very different than an A in another class. Some teachers grade more harshly than others. Some teachers say an A would mean they know the standard amount of information and in another class a B would mean the same thing. This grading scale conforms the different evaluation styles.



“It sounds great but there are several problem,” Dr. Martin Rochester professor of political science at UMSL, Clayton resident, attendee of all Clayton board meetings, and author of the book, “Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids and the Attack on Excellence” said during our interview with him. “What I don’t understand is how does this achieves college and career readiness … the whole goal of education these days in the United States is to prepare kids for these things, and the no zero policy doesn’t allow that,”


He also feels that there are hidden reasons for why the SBA system is being implemented “I think that there is hidden agenda in SBA … is to play down grades, grading, ranking and competition.”



“It might be a little bit difficult if universities are looking for the traditional letter grades and numerical percentages and all they see is this SBA,” Heather Puerto, a long time spanish teacher at Wydown Middle School, said. Puerto hasn’t been using SBA since it was introduced, she plans on using it in the 2015-2016 school year after she gets used to this change.


Terri Sheldon explains the no zero policy, “No Zero policy doesn’t make sense … most of us in the world have deadlines, teachers have deadlines as to when to get the grades in. When you go to college, if the professor says the paper is due on October 12th he doesn’t wanna see it on the 13th … if kids don’t gain a sense of responsibility in high school, we’re doing them a disservice for not preparing them for college and the workforce.”


Sheldon also feels that it makes things unfair for the students who take the time and responsibility to finish their assignment on time. The kids who don’t do it are pretty much being rewarded when they should be getting penalized. This disincentives doing homework at all.


Rochester feels that the system is easy to follow given it is taught at all the elementary school and has not yet caused a huge stir.


“I don’t think it’s rocket science … most parents, I’m guessing would prefer the standard grading system to see where their kids are at rather than being inundated with tons of data … so I understand the logic behind SBA, it sounds great in theory,” Rochester said. “But I also think that practice can cause a potential disaster.”


In a school board meeting on March 6th, 2013, Omri Praiss, former board member, board president and parent to a current 9th grader at CHS, said, “‘What worries me is that we’re changing something and it’s a cultural shift that takes a life of it’s own … it’s just a fad”.


Praiss’ perspective was that this is an unnecessary change to an already well working system.


There was another opinion to add along to Praiss’ statement, “There is no formal movement of any kind on SBG in the District and it’s crystal clear that the board will not support this without any abundant study and feedback,” current Assistant Superintendent Greg Batenhorst said. Batenhorst says that any school would need the consent of the board to start using this grading system. This goes hand in hand with what Praiss said about this change just being a fad. The board thought that this change would not be put into play because it had already been discussed in abundance for a long period of time, so to implement it not would be pointless.


The board, at this meeting, established that this change would NOT happen without further discussion. They also said that, if this notion for change was brought up again, that the schools could not change without there consent. Here’s the problem, Wydown is implementing this system without the consent of the board.


The discussion continued and Sony Buttar, former school board president and high school and middle school parent, said, “‘We’re trying to train these students for the hardships of high school” in response to the notion of bringing this change to the middle school. With this, Praiss responded arguing that the current system is simple, “A letter grade maps out what the student knows and does not know based on the content of a test … In math and science, most parents and students will know what a 90 percent or A- means, it’s not that complicated.”


Many of the board members in this discussion were parents to children ranging from all 3 levels of schools, they all seemed to come to a consensus that SBG is not the right step in providing better communication to the students and parents, also that the No Zero Policy is absurd because of the disservice that it does towards students in their future as college students and people in the workforce.


The ideas that came up while researching and interviewing have turned into topics for discussion that are more than just for the grading scale or no zero policy. Should the students and parents have a say on what they want to have implemented in the classroom? Who is responsible for teaching time management and responsibility?


Despite struggling through eighth grade with the SBA grading, Fiona McCarthy is thriving in the high school. “It’s nice to know that my teachers finally care enough to fail me. But the next time somebody tells me I’m a ‘target for improvement,’ I’ll opt for homeschooling.”