How can you assure that all students in your building have met a minimum proficiency on all of your priority standards, regardless of the teacher? As Lander Valley High School began to answer this question, it became apparent that we needed to have a different grading system to ensure that when I sign a diploma, I can verify that the student has met the standards.

Simply stated, there were too many extraneous variables that influenced our students’ grades to ensure all students were learning at a high level. Just take a moment to think about the way behavior is ingrained into our grading system—from attendance, punctuality, late work, missing work, etc. Then factor in extra credit, and by the time students’ grades hit the report card, it is hard to say what they know about any given topic. Moving to a standards-based grading system ensures that proficiency is measurable, student by student and standard by standard, and allows me as a building principal to guarantee a product of our system despite the teacher, family, or behavior of the student.

Get Crystal Clear About What You Expect All Students to Know and Be Able to Do

What do you want students to know and be able to do? Up until three years ago, what our students learned in their respective classes depended on which teacher the student management system randomly assigned them. Let’s face it; as teachers, we all had things that we preferred to teach and those items that we would prefer to avoid. If you are going to grade on standards, it is imperative that collaborative teams have agreed-upon standards to which all teachers within that team will adhere. Creating a list of priority standards that are also vertically aligned guarantees a clear scope and sequence of material for all students to learn.

Create a Scale to Outline Specifically What Proficiency of The Standard Looks Like

Once you have identified the standards that all teachers will teach, it is important to have an agreed-upon proficiency scale. This scale will clearly articulate exactly what it looks like for students to be proficient in each individual standard. Using Robert Marzano’s scales, our system outlines beginning, approaching, meeting, and advanced application of the standard. Each one of those levels becomes our 1–4 grading scale, with 1 indicating beginning work, and 4 demonstrating advanced application. The concise, four-point grading scale makes it very easy for teachers to calibrate their assessment of a student’s level to ensure every student is assessed equally. With only scores of 1–4 being entered into the gradebook, it becomes crucial for a high school to conquer the next step of converting those back to a traditional percent and letter grade for all the purposes of transcripts, scholarship, college apps, etc.

Convert Scale Grades to Percentages and Letter Grades

There are many suggestions on how to convert scale grades to percentages and letter grades in the literature concerning standards-based grading. As a school, you have to decide what the value of a certain grade means in your school community. Below is the conversion scale LVHS selected, and it is set against the Marzano conversion so that I can highlight our differences and reasons for those differences.

LVHS CONVERSION                MARZANO CONVERSION

4 = 100%                                  4 = 100%

3.5 = 90%                                3.5 = 95%

3.0 = 80%                                3.0 = 90%

2.5 = 70%                                2.5 = 80%

2.0 = 60%                                2.0 = 70%

1.5 = 55%                                1.5 = 65%

1.0 = 50%                                1.0 = 60%

The starting point when deciding a conversion at your own building should focus on level 3, or proficient. Level 3 is your benchmark, the level to which you will drop everything to ensure a student has achieved the standard at this level. The staff at LVHS agrees that level 3 is high-level work worthy of more than a C, but we also agree that there is a difference between showing proficiency and having advanced knowledge and/or application skills that should be reserved as A-level work. Therefore, we agree that level 3 work represents an 80 percent, or a B.

Furthermore, on our scales level 2 work is listed as the prerequisite knowledge needed to acquire proficiency on the standard. We cannot support giving students credit towards a standard without ever having to move above a 2 and apply that knowledge. Therefore, we give 2’s a 60 percent and also changed our grading scale so that D’s no longer receive credit. This guarantees that students who earn credits and eventually graduate demonstrate proficiency on the standards each subject area has identified as priority.

Converting a high school grading system is not always an immediate reality; however, what things could you do almost instantly to ensure that students’ grades are reflective of their proficiency towards a standard rather than an indicator of their behavior? I challenge you to identify the behavior that is being included in your school’s grades and work towards eliminating such marks to ensure your grades assess proficiency towards academic standards.

Brad Neuendorf is in his fourth year as principal at Lander Valley High School where he also served as the assistant principal for four years. He took over at LVHS during a transition to a new block schedule that was created to build time during the day for targeted intervention for students. In an attempt to continually deliver a better product to students, the PLC journey began at LVHS and with immediate buy-in from staff, LVHS quickly prioritized standards, created proficiency scales, and created a standards-based grading system to serve their 500 students. He is the 2018 Principal of the Year in the state of Wyoming.

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