Standards-Based Grading

Standards-based grading (SBG), also known as “standards-based assessment & reporting” (SBAR) — or is that “standards-based assessment & retention”? — is an alternative approach to grading students’ work and reporting results. “Learning objectives” might be a better term than “standards.” The basic idea is to tie students’ individual scores throughout the course to specific learning objectives (rather than to specific assignments); to allow students to continue working and re-assessing on various objectives until they master them; and to base students’ ultimate course grades only on their final level of mastery of the objectives (rather than on how rapidly they learned, how many tries they required, or how obediently they did their homework). In other words, it’s a grading-and-feedback system that says “all that matters is how well you learn the material by the end of the course,” and that tries to give students useful information about what, specifically, they need more work on.


The idea and ideal are peachy; practical implementation, at least in my context, is another thing entirely. I’ve been investigating the use of SBG in medium-to-large (N ~ 15-60) university-level physics courses through an intermittent set of design experiments. I wrote up what I learned from the first pair here:

  • Beatty, I. D. (2013). “Standards-based grading in introductory university physics.” Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 13(2) 1-22. <link> <local copy>

After some time off to lick my wounds, I’m getting back on the horse in Fall 2014 for another round. Let’s see how it goes this time.


I learned about SBG mostly via Twitter and blog posts by teachers who are using and discussing it. Following the Twitter hashtag #sbar is a good way to catch some of the conversation, including a wealth of relevant links. A few more “scholarly” works on SBG (meaning journal articles and books) exist; if you’re interested in that, see the bibliography of my above-linked paper for a start. Another entry point is the November 2011 issue of Educational Leadership (Vol 69, No. 3), which is devoted to “effective grading practices”, and which has several articles about SBG. (It’s aimed at the K-12 level, but much is relevant to those of us in higher ed.)

Here are some general “What’s SBG all about?” resources:

Here are some specific implementation thoughts by various teachers (which I don’t necessarily endorse, but look to for ideas):