For the last two years, I’ve been increasingly frustrated with the traditional approach to assessing students and reporting grades. I want my students to value learning, not the accumulation of points. Unfortunately, I feel like school is akin to a Pacman game where students are myopically focused on gobbling up points and, as a result, miss the point of learning entirely.

Redesigning My Gradebook

This year I decided to overhaul my gradebook and assess students based on their mastery of particular skills, also referred to as standards-based grading. Instead of organizing my gradebook using traditional categories (e.g. homework, classwork, projects, tests, and projects), I identified the main skills we would be focusing on developing in this class and used those to create my gradebook categories.

 Last Year                                                                   This Year

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 11.58.48 AM

Because my students create everything from digital stories to digital portfolios to RSA animation, I also included “Creative Design” and “Academic Engagement” categories to cover additional skills that are crucial to their success.

Don’t Grade Everything

In the past, students received points for almost every activity they completed in class. This led to an enormous number of grades in my gradebook, but it did not provide real insight into how much they were actually learning. This approach to grading created a disconnect between a student’s level of mastery and his/her grade.

Much of the work we do in class is focused on learning and practicing specific skills. During these activities, students should feel that it’s okay to struggle, or even fail. That is part of the learning process. If everything they do is collected and given a grade, students don’t have the time or space they need to really learn. It’s my job to support them during this phase of learning by providing meaningful feedback and support. My energy is better spent working with them in small groups or one-on-one in these moments instead of collecting massive stacks of paper to grade and enter.

It’s important to explain the rationale behind this shift in assessment and grading to students, so they understand the importance of the work they do in class – even if that work doesn’t receive a grade. Again, the focus needs to be on learning not the accumulation of points. I explain that certain activities are designed to help them practice and hone skills which will be assessed at a later date by a writing assignment, quiz/test, or project. Each activity they do in class and at home is designed to continually build their skill sets.

Entering Grades in Relation to Specific Skills

In the past, I entered grades in a way that worked for me. Although I used a detailed rubric to grade their essays and projects, I only entered the total score into the gradebook. So, an argumentative essay would be entered as a point value out of 100. A student might earn an 80/100, but a parent looking at his/her child’s grade wouldn’t know exactly what their child did well or what they need to work on. As I reflect back on it, I doubt my gradebook really made sense to my students or their parents.

I redesigned my gradebook with the goal of helping my students and their parents better understand exactly where they are succeeding and where they are struggling. My hope is that this would make it easier for students to focus on the areas where they were struggling and for parents to better support their children.

Now when I am entering the grades for an essay, I enter each individual element that I am assessing from the rubric as a separate score. For example, an argumentative essay on the novel Of Mice and Men might have the following entries in the gradebook:

  • Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Claim
  • Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Quality of Evidence and Citations
  • Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Depth of Analysis
  • Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Strength of Rebuttal
  • Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Conclusion
  • Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Spelling, Grammar, & Formal Writing Norms

If each element is entered separately, the student can see how he or she did in relation to each skill. Then they can focus their energy on developing the specific skills they are struggling with.

Teachers can decide to allocate different amounts of points to different elements or assign them different weights in the gradebook depending on the difficulty of the skill being assessed. That’s totally up to the teacher.

Grading for Mastery Using a 4 Point Scale

After an enlightening conversation with Jon Weller, another English teacher in the North Bay, and exploring the work done by Robert Marzano, I decided to use a 4 point scale to assess where my students are on the road to mastering a skill.

  • 4 = advanced
  • 3 = proficient
  • 2 = basic
  • 1 = below basic

In his book Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading, Robert Marzano breaks down several examples of what it looks like to assess students using a 4 point scale. On his website, Marzano provides a generic scale to help educators think about what each point value should represent.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 1.16.32 PM

A student who earns a 4 “goes beyond what was taught.” A student who earns a 3 demonstrates a strong knowledge of what is explicitly taught. A student who earns a 2 shows a grasp of the simpler concepts and may have errors or omissions when it comes to the more complex concepts taught. A student who earns a 1 only demonstrates a partial understanding of simpler concepts taught (Marzano 2006).

If individual teachers are using a 4 point scale to assess individual skills and the entire school is not shifting to a standards-based approach to grading, they may want to reference a translation scale that turns that 4 point scale score into a percentage score.

Here is a conversion chart based on a recommendation by Robert J. Marzano and Tammy Heflebower in their article “Grades That Show What Students Know” (2011).

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 1.27.52 PM


As I continue to make this shift in my own teaching and assessment practice, I will continue to blog and share both the successes and challenges of shifting from traditional grades to a focus on mastery in relation to specific skills. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I am excited to see how this shift will impact the learning happening in my classroom. If you have resources or experiences with standards-based grading or grading with mastery in mind, please post a comment and share! I’d love to learn from other educators doing this.

107 Responses

  1. Catlin – I’m glad you’re moving in this direction and blogging about it as you work on it. The transition isn’t easy – especially if you have to come up with work-arounds for software that only thinks in terms of averages and percentages. Still, once you get it going I doubt you’ll consider going back. I’ve found students and parents appreciate the change once they grasp it. Good luck!

    • Thanks, David!

      I am definitely coming up against the challenges of using regular grading software. It looks like I’ll be converting to percentages to make it work at first.


      • I just finished reading a book called Rethinking Grading. If you haven’t read it yet, i recommend it. It was very eye opening for me as I too am transitioning into mastery based grading.

  2. Catlin,

    I am so excited to see that you are trying SBG! I am a middle school ELA teacher and I made the switch two years ago after becoming fed up with points-grabbing and giving scores as compensation rather than actionable feedback.

    I don’t see an option to create links here on your comments page, but here are some to copy and paste.

    I created this rubric for all my standards and used Doctopus to share it with students:

    I think Marzano recommends 10-20 standards, so I have too many. I’m not sure how to solve this problem.

    Chris Ludwig does SBG and has his students create remarkable portfolios:

    Shawn Cornally has since moved beyond SBG to an entirely new form of school, but here are all his posts:

    Rick Wormeli and Thomas Guskey are two to follow on Twitter.

    What I love about SBG is that it puts the focus squarely on learning and puts students, parents, and teachers on the same team. Best of luck to you!

  3. Great article. I started playing with standards-based marking last year. It’s much easier to write report card comments and also direct mini lessons to specific needs/students. I also played with low stakes testing … See “make it stick”

  4. Thank you for posting such an informative article on SBG! I implemented SBG last year and plan on doing it again this year. For parents to understand the standards, I had to write longer descriptions in the notes to support the assignment. Overall, I felt that it was worth it, especially since it provided me with a new way of doing things and assessment for my students.

  5. Caitlyn,
    Thanks for sharing your thinking on this! We have been reporting on standards in my district for many years, and our report cards are standards-based from K-5 versus grades in 6-12. I currently teach 5th Grade ELA & History and also used SBG in grade 4 for many years. It is much more informative than a percentage or grade, but it also involves quite a lot of distilling and analysis since each standard’s score is based on a constellation of data points. I have been using a Google spreadsheet with line-items for different assignments under each standard. I’m still looking for the most efficient and navigable platform or template. I would love to share ideas about best practices on this — particularly re: recording and coordinating data for each standard.

    • Hi Ilse,

      My school asks that we use one of two grading programs – Aeries or Jupiter Grades. Neither has great options for this approach to grading. Apparently, if our whole school was standards based, then I could use that in Jupiter. As a single teacher though, I cannot switch to the standards based grading option in Jupiter as it would impact the way grades are reported.

      If I find a better solution next year, I will definitely share it!


  6. I’ve used a similar method for the past few years, but I’ve simplified it even more so. Rather than getting into the four point scale for the skills, I stick to a binary system – 1 or 0. If a student can demonstrate their learning, they earn the credit. I found that a four-point system still encouraged grande wrangling (why didn’t I get a four instead of 3.5, etc) and caused headaches.

    The other thing I’d like to push back against is the fact that the only way to earn full credit is to earn a four. If the “4” on the scale represents “going beyond the content,” why are other students being docked for meeting expectations? It’s definitely a philosophical question, but I think asking students to go beyond what we’re asking of them to earn the highest points has us speaking out of both sides of our mouths. I’m all for pushing students to meet their highest potential, which means digging in, but I don’t think it should be tied to their grade.

    • Hi Brian,

      Thanks for sharing your strategy and your concern about the 4 point scale. I think the 4 point scale is easier for me to wrap my brain around at this point since I’m just getting started. I’m sure my approach will evolve as I work with this approach to grading. My biggest shift is not allocating grades to everything. I want the incentive to learn the material to push students to do the practice work that happens along the way towards mastering a skill.

      In terms of the grading concern, I see your point and I agree that it is a philosophical question each educator must consider. Because the grading scale still puts a 3-3.5 in A range, that did not concern me. If a student is earning an A+ in my class than I would expect that their work exceeds what was explicitly taught in the class. Maybe my view of this will change I work with this scale, but I actually anticipate that this approach will cause more students to be successful and fewer to fail based on the breakdown of the 1-4 scale as described by Marzano.

      As with everything I try, I know I will make mistakes and learn from them. This will be a process, and it’s one I am excited about.

      Thanks again for the comment!

      • All valid points. I definitely agree that standards-based grading helps far more students find success than traditional grading schemes. I’ve also done the four-point system, and between those years and my current setup, most students see a full grade-letter boost.

        At the start of the year, I tell my students – and constantly remind them throughout – that failure is really the choice to do nothing at all. It makes it a much more personal decision. Some still, unfortunately, make that choice and fight to the end, but it allows for a much more meaningful dialog to emerge than would otherwise happen. Good luck this year!

        • Hi Brian,

          I also anticipate that this approach will help students to more effectively improve their grades because they will have a better understanding of where to focus their energy. I saw a difference as soon as I returned their scores for their summer assignments. I graded 6 specific elements of their writing, but I told them their homework that evening was to watch my flipped videos on how to write an introduction with hook and thesis and revise their introductions. I explained that I would replace their initial score with the score they earned after their revision. My goal is not to penalize students with grades but to encourage them to continually improve. Instead of freaking out about their scores, I could tell they were eager to improve their writing. It was a total shift in their thinking about their grade. They realized it wasn’t an end point, but rather a beginning.

          I love that you tell them that failure is the choice to do nothing. I think that’s important for them to hear. Students need to take responsibility for their learning and dedicate energy to continually improving.

          Thanks again for the conversation. I really appreciate hearing about how other educators have approached these shifts.


      • Catlin and Brian,
        Something to consider is that the scores earned do not necessarily equate with a grade. I am using a 4 point scale, but the numbers are feedback for the kids–thats it. At the end of the term we conference and discuss their performance on the standards and all of their habits of learning to arrive at a grade. Thus a 3 is not a B it is a benchmark that they have met that standard in that unit–that’s it. If at the end of the term a kid has mostly 4’s and they have demonstrated a desire to improve and grow–then of course they will be able to earn an A. But if there were some big gaps and there was a time that students didn’t engage in our learning, then that becomes part of the conversation. All scores are formative unless they are specific summative assessments.

        This takes away point grubbing and turns it into a conversation. One big thing about SBG is that the scores should not be averaged.

  7. My only struggle is with students receiving a 0-even with help, no success, yet when their mark is converted into a percentage anyone with a mark less than 1.0 will receive 50% and essentially still pass the class

    • In my state 70 is the lowest mark a student can get to pass a class. Therefore, there are 31 points of success and 69 points of failure. The 4 pt system (5 when you consider the 0) brings clarity and equity to the conversation.
      The only reason Catlin converts to a 100 point scale is because she has to. As educators, we need to stop converting and stop averaging. But that can only happen if we start working with our communities. Their comfort with “real grading” will determine whether it ever takes hold. But please don’t hold on to the 100 points as if it represented equity because the kid who earned a 0 gets a 50 in Caitlin’s forced conversion, because it misses the point of what she’s doing for her students and community.

    • Shari,

      My approach to this issue is to make sure students know which tasks are absolute requirements. If students are writing one of their portfolio pieces, which are required by the English department at my school, they must complete that piece to a passing level if they are to pass the class. So if a student chooses not to do one of those non-negotiable pieces, even if the grade book calculates their grade and it’s still above an F, I manually override the grade and change it to a failing grade. This way, students know they can’t opt out of something just because the grade book math suggests they can. Does that make sense?


  8. I think this is a great explanation of a standards-based grade book. The only thing that I think needs tweaking is your explanation of the 4 points: A student who earns a 4 “goes beyond what was taught.” A student who earns a 3 demonstrates a strong knowledge of what is explicitly taught. A student who earns a 2 shows a grasp of the simpler concepts and may have errors or omissions when it comes to the more complex concepts taught. A student who earns a 1 only demonstrates a partial understanding of simpler concepts taught (Marzano 2006).

    Rather than refer back to “what was taught” this scale represents the student’s progress on what the standard is expecting them to know and be able to do. When you refer to it as “what was taught” it implies that’s it based on the teacher only rather than the teacher and student working together to meet and exceed the rigor of the standards.

    I’d love to see this type of grade book more widely used. Well done and well explained!

    • Thanks for the suggestion about the language, Lauri.

      I use more specific explanations for each individual assignment I assess, but that’s my general guide. My classroom is very student-centered, so I’ve had fun engaging students in the process of articulating what a 3 looks like vs. what a 2 looks like. I want them to be included in the process, so they really understand what those numbers mean.

      I did not explicitly state that an assignment that is not turned in is a zero, but that is the case. Students do not receive points if they don’t even attempt work. I’m sorry I was not more clear on that point.

      Thank you for the comment!


  9. Catlin,

    Nice job on this well written post. I teach high school English and went to a system very similar (basically identical) to what you describe over the last couple of years. I am still tweaking things, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to traditional grading. My goal this year is to focus on more feedback and fewer grades in the grade book. I found Brian’s comments about the 4-point scale interesting, and in the past, I’ve always thought of it as you have – that an A represents true excellence, not just on-grade-level work. However, Brian gave me pause, and I may reconsider my philosophy. I hope you keep sharing what you’re doing and how things turn out.


    • Yes, that’s my goal as well. I want to put my energy into assessing their work/progress and less time entering every single thing they do in my class. I want to create more opportunities for them to rework pieces and resubmit for a higher score. I didn’t have time for that the way I was handling grading before.

      Thank you for the comment!

  10. Excellent reflection on how your practice is growing! I switched to SBG this year and wanted very much to set up my online gradebook with categories almost exactly as you have done, but we aren’t able to set up our own categories. So I have three categories in my gradebook, and am trying to set up individual “assignments” in each category to reflect the standard assessed rather than a total grade for each assignment. It’s not easy fitting SBG into a traditional gradebook! I also use Marzano’s scale with my learners, and then translate to percentage-based grades for the gradebook. We’ve only been in school for three weeks, but I love the ongoing conversations happening between students about what they know and what they need to know.

    The most difficult part for me has been this translation system. When working with students and offering feedback, Marzano’s scale is a wonderful tool we can use to define the learning… but taking all that information for each standard and cramming it into the narrowly defined gradebook.. not so easy! I’m always curious how other teachers are handling this same problem. Thank you so much for sharing this – your work matters!

    • Agreed! The hardest part of this process is converting grades so they make sense in a very traditional grade program. I believe it will be worthwhile in the long run though.
      Thanks for sharing your experience!

  11. Thank you so much for sharing! I have never liked the traditional trading system. It feels so useless and does not help anyone.

  12. I am very excited to see how SBG works in my classroom this year. I too am challenged with converting my scales to a traditional grade book for report cards, but I think the Marzano conversion will work best for me as well. So far the students are responding positively to the change.

    Thank you for sharing all of your hard work. I really enjoy your site!

    • It’s great to hear that your students are responding positively to this shift, Kim! I haven’t heard much from my kids yet, so I’m curious how they will handle it.

      Thank you for posting a comment!


  13. As I read your post I realized how I have not thought about using the electronic grade book as an actual tool for me, I never thought about changing the headers from “quiz, test, homework…” BRILLIANT and simple. A wonderful tool to aid the paradigm shift…

    • Hi Darci,

      It’s taken me over 14 years to get to this point 😉 I’m loving the new categories, but it is tough transforming the scale into percentages to spit out a traditional grade. It would be so much easier if our entire school transitioned to this approach. As it stands, I am making it work!

      Thank you for the comment!


  14. Hi Catlin,

    When you give an assignment, how do you reflect that some components are bigger and more important? For example, “claim” may not be nearly as big a portion as “quality of evidence and citations.” Do you simply multiply the weight of that component in your grade book? I love the concept of SBG but am struggling with the grade book component and relative weighting of assignments towards an overall grade.


    • Hi Mark,

      You can do one of two things. You can weight them differently in the grade book or you can assign points to each element. Since I am using Jupiter Grades, I actually have to convert all of my assignments into a percentage. I allocated a smaller amount of point to the thesis and more to evidence and analysis.

      I hope that helps!


  15. Hi Catlin,

    Thanks so much for this information! I love your blog! I had a question…with your categories (academic engagement, narrative writing, etc) what do you weight them? Or do you go with a total points gradebook? I usually weight categories (ie: writing – 20%, homework – 10%) but with this type of system there are a lot of categories so I’m wondering what you think the best approach would be.


    • Hi Kristen,

      I’m so glad you are finding my blog useful! I don’t weight categories, but instead use points to weight particular elements/skills being assessed that may be more challenging. For example, when I grade an essay, the thesis statement will earn fewer points than the analysis. I still assess everything on a 4 point scale, but I convert to points for larger assignments as needed. In part, I do that because I am dealing with a traditional grading program. I’m not sure if my strategy is better or worse than weighting individual categories. I’m just so new at this that I wasn’t sure how weighted categories would impact their overall grades.

      I’d welcome other perspectives on this! Right now, I feel like it’s working well without weighting the categories. I’ll be in touch if that changes 😉


  16. […] Grading for Mastery and Redesigning My Gradebook. For the last two years, I’ve been increasingly frustrated with the traditional approach to assessing students and reporting grades. I want my students to value learning, not the accumulation of points. Unfortunately, I feel like school is akin to a Pacman game where students are myopically focused on gobbling up points and, as a result, miss the point of learning entirely. Redesigning My Gradebook This year I decided to overhaul my gradebook and assess students based on their mastery of particular skills, also referred to as standards-based grading. Instead of organizing my gradebook using traditional categories (e.g. homework, classwork, projects, tests, and projects), I identified the main skills we would be focusing on developing in this class and used those to create my gradebook categories. […]

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  18. Great model of how to use standards to grade in a high school setting!
    The twist I have added is to have students self-assess at the end of the term to determine a final percent or letter grade. I would select the appropriate letter grade by “holistically” looking at the list of 1-4’s in the gradebook, conference with the student where they would tell me what grade they deserved, then If we disagreed, I would ask them to prove their grade over mine by solving a problem (I was a math teacher), This is just as accurate as a totalling of the points to create a percentage.

  19. An excellent post, Catlin, and thanks for articulating your journey and your thought processes so well. Obviously you struck a chord with many teachers, based on the number of comments. It all makes me wonder how I would be grading, if I was still in the classroom. I gave so many zeros, and manipulated my gradebook so often because I was unhappy with averaging…but never made the leap to SBG. Meanwhile, you should also be looking at Thomas Guskey’s work on assessment, if you’re not already. Our teachers are making a similar journey to yours, and he’s been a helpful guide for us. And, I will be passing your blog post along to our teachers and principals!

    • Thank you for the recommendation, Jim! I’ll definitely check out Thomas Guskey’s work on assessment. I’m definitely still finding my way with SBG, but I’m super happy with it so far. I hope your teachers and principals find this post valuable.

      Take care.

  20. Hi Catlin,
    I really like your ideas. One question though: Do you really think that the 3 and the 4 student should receive different grades? After all, the 3 student mastered what was thought. At a conference, I saw someone say that they still distinguish between the 3 and the 4, but that the grade entered in the gradebook is the same for those categories. What do you think?

    Also, does your grade book allow you to enter letters instead of percentages? I prefer entering an A+ in the grade book, as opposed to a 100%. In my opinion, an A+ shows excellence with rare mistakes, while a 100% shows perfection.
    What do you think?

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Hi Catalina,

      Yes, I do believe the slight difference between a 3 and 4 is valid. I use the Marzano translation, which sets a 3 at 90%, 3.5 at 95%, and a 4 at 100%. A student who knows the material that is taught deserves an A, but a student who demonstrates mastery deserves an A+.

      I enter numbers 1-4 into my gradebook, but then I have to translate them into a letter grade for reporting purposes since I am not at a school where everyone is doing standards-based grading. Students never see a percentage. They see a number next to each assessment and then a grade on their report grade.

      I hope that helps! I’m still finding my own way on many of these issues. It’s been an interesting journey.


  21. Catlin,

    I am so happy that I stumbled upon this blog post. I have been moving towards standards- based grading (at a snail like pace) and this thoughtful explanation is incredibly useful. Thanks for the motivation to pick up the pace.

  22. […] Pre-activities Depending on the reading selection, a set of guidelines or rules will need to be established for students to follow. Activities As a student or group reads or completes a selection, have them stop and periodically place sticky-notes to highlight items they want to discuss following given guidelines. Assessment Supplemental information Comments. Grading for Mastery and Redesigning My Gradebook. […]

  23. Catlin,

    I just discovered your blog and have been reading through your posts as fast as I can. I have been trying to move towards SBG (with only partial success). For in class work that you say you don’t grade – do you still provide feedback? How do you hold students accountable for what’s done in class?

    • Hi Tziri,

      I’ve told students that they will do a lot of work in class that will not be formally assessed. Instead, it is an opportunity to develop and hone their skills. I frequently give feedback as they work. I also encourage students to provide each other with meaningful feedback. I circulate as they work to make sure students are on task. I haven’t had many problems with students focusing on the task at hand.


  24. Thank you for this post and thank you to all who have commented! I have been using SBG within a traditional grade book for the past 2 years (middle school math). You all have given me many ideas to explore!

  25. For the last two years the teachers at my middle school have been using a similar scale but already in a “percentage” number so there is no transfer.
    10 – “above and beyond” or… “I can use this to teach another student”
    9 – met the standard with detail
    8 – met the standard
    7 – on your way but with some mistakes or missing details
    6 – in the right direction but lots of confusion (65% is our pass rate)
    3 – present in the room but not completing the standard
    0 – I don’t even know where you were…??

    I grade EVERYTHING that way. And have tried to tie each of my assessments directly to a standard. This has been pretty easy in Social Studies because each of the standards is a different piece of content usually. It felt like a good compromise between what the students and parents were used to seeing and what I’d rather do (1,2,3,4)

  26. I am struggling with SBG now and have a specific question. If a quiz is given, and one question was derived from something taught two years prior, is that question considered “above and beyond”? Would not answering that question correctly earn the student a 3 instead of a 4 on a 10 question quiz? A 90% instead of 100%?

    • Hi Chris,

      Does the question build on the previous year’s content or does it simply assess the students’ knowledge of that topic? If it’s building on previous knowledge but asks students to extend that knowledge, I would assess it the way you normally would. If question is simply assessing previous knowledge, then I’d agree that no answering that question correctly would earn them a score between 1-3 (depending on level of understanding).


  27. I’m so excited to learn from the growing community of teachers using SBG to support their students’ learning. I have been using SBG for the last 13 years and have always struggled with where in my categories to place assessments that might typically be referred to as “projects.” I will be using your aptly titled category “creative design” next semester.

    For those struggling with reading assessment: I have a Reading-Fiction/Poetry category and a Reading Nonfiction category. I’ve found them to be very helpful in informing a more diverse understanding of a student’s skill set. Additionally, when assessing writing, the evidence choice as well as a couple other rubric lines go in the above appropriate reading categories so that students see how their reading is tied into their writing.

    Best wishes and thank you for making me a better teacher!

    • Hi Stacie,

      I’m glad my approach is helpful to the work you’re doing! My approach continues to evolve, but I’m loving the move away from traditional grades.

      Take care!


  28. We are a SBG school and I am very passionate about it. I have spent hours researching and implementing SBG in my classroom. It definitely reflects student learning better than traditional grading scales. You have done a great job explaining SBG especially setting up the grade book, but I am very curious where you found an equivalency scale from Marzano as he does not advise doing this. I was thrown for a loop when I read your comments saying your info is based on his work.. He is very direct in that there is no correlation between traditional scale and SBG proficiency scale. Could you share your source of info?

    • Hi Eliza,

      My interest in SBG was sparked by Marzano. I love the philosophy behind this shift. Unfortunately, I work in a traditional school that reports traditional grades. As a solo teacher trying to make this shift, I had to figure out how to convert their level of mastery to a grade (even though I felt like this does defeat the purpose of the shift). I relied on the work of educators taking Marzano’s mastery grading concept and using it in the traditional setting. I used that conversion chart last year and wasn’t thrilled with it. This year I’ve moved away from traditional grades entirely. I actually just blogged about it a couple of weeks ago. I’m much happier with the new approach!


  29. I’m just beginning to follow your blog as I transition to SBG. I am in middle school and it is not required here yet, but thank God it is starting to be allowed. I was curious how you found it entering every single element in your grade book, as you mentioned:
    Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Claim
    Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Quality of Evidence and Citations
    Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Depth of Analysis
    Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Strength of Rebuttal
    Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Conclusion
    Of Mice and Men Argumentative Essay: Spelling, Grammar, & Formal Writing Norms
    I enjoyed the post and all the conversations yet I confess that when I saw that I had an, “Oh hell no” moment before I caught my breath again. Seriously, though, please elaborate on that impact on your time entering grades. Thanks!

    • Hi Suzanne,

      When I shifted to SBG, I entered far fewer assignments, so entering individual components of an essay or project didn’t feel like a big burden. I selected key assignments to assess and stopped entering everything. It was actually a huge relief!

      Now, my approach has evolved further. I’ve ditched my online gradebook. Click here to read about my new approach.


  30. Caitlin-

    I wish I had been following your blog earlier. I am trying to do the same myself with mixed success. At times I think it’s my own traditional thinking that is causing a struggle with the transition at other times I wonder if it’s my students. Have you found the same struggle?

    • Hi Mike,

      Letting go of the idea that I need to grade everything has been a struggle at times. How I think of it now is that I am providing opportunities for them to develop specific skills, but I limit my formal grading to assessments. I use informal conversations and formative assessments to gauge their progress along the way, but that stuff doesn’t go into their ongoing assessment documents. If they’ve done all of the pieces leading up to the assessment than that grade is usually better. If they haven’t done the practice, then they do not typically do as well on the assessment. I also keep their “assessments” really varied – formal writing assignments, projects, exams, etc.


  31. ^^I’m so glad to see that I’m not the only one that’s late to this party!! I have been SO frustrated with traditional grading for these *exact* same reasons. I want to make the switch now, or at least attempt to, but I’m not sure about how that will impact my gradebook… especially for the final quarter of the year! Do you have any suggestions on how to dip my feet into this process without completely making everyone panic (including myself)?

    I have NO qualms about not grading everything– I hate that idea anyway… I only do it because they expect it! But I’m eager to see them see the value in their learning rather than the points.

  32. Hi Catlin, I have a question about your points system. You have it out of 4. And if we look at your Mice of Men categories (there are 6 of them) and multiply the 4 by the 6 categories, the total points possible comes to 24. Now, I’m assuming that a 3, which is proficient, if put on a grading scale, would be the equivalent of a B or low A, right? The problem is, if you were to give a student a 3 on all 6 categories, their “grade” would end up being a 75%, which is NOT a B or a low A. So, your student could score 3s in all the categories, which isn’t too bad, but their actual grade that you enter would not match what a 3 was supposed to represent. Do you have different thinking for this? I’m confused.

    • Hi Anna,

      I did not add the points up to create a total score. Each element was entered separately. Then when I had to submit grades into a gradebook I did not add up total points. Instead, I converted the average number into a grade using a scale (E.g.3 = B). Now, I actually don’t use a gradebook at all. I wrote about it in this blog.


  33. Hi! I am seriously looking at moving to the 4-point scale this coming year. I am required to give grades – “updated weekly” – and I am required to have 2 categories (daily, test) with each category being a certain percentage of the grade.
    I am considering making a poster with the 4-point scale to have up in my room for kids to refer to. This will be new to them, and I want them to have something to refer to as they receive feedback.
    Since I’ll also have to put percentages in the grade book, I thought I’d also have the corresponding percentages beside the points on the scale.
    Does this defeat the purpose of “it’s about the learning and not the grade”? I just know I’ll be in new territory for me, my students, and my students’ parents, and I want to be clear and transparent.
    I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about the poster and including the scale plus the corresponding percentages.

  34. Hi Caitlin,

    Great post. Gave me a lot to think about. I was just thinking however, that if you break up one writing assignment, such as your example in the post, to be divided up into different categories or standards, wouldn’t it take more time to grade the same essay for each standard, then enter that grade into the grade book. In other words, to me, it looks like your grading the same essay 6 times, each looking for something different. Am I looking at this wrong?



    • Hi Brian,

      I’ve always used rubrics to assess essays. My rubrics typically have 5 criteria tied directly to standards. Instead of entering one point value. I enter each criterion from the rubric that I assess (e.g., claim, evidence, analysis) as its own entry in the grade book. It’s not more grading but does take a little more time to enter. That said, when I moved to a standards-based approach, I definitely graded fewer items. I grade assessments not practice. Hope that makes sense!


  35. Great blog! Anyone out there using SBG for science? So many standards, I’d love to figure out a way to do this type of grading.

    • Hi Oakley,

      There are definitely science teachers using SBG. It might be worth posting that question to #scichat on Twitter to connect with educators who can provide some insight into how they are approaching SBG in science.


  36. Catlin-

    I really like what you’ve written here. Next year, I’m planning on redesigning my classroom so that instruction is immersed in mastery learning. I’m planning on using your work to drive how I assess student growth and determine their quarter grades. for my instructional redesign. Thank you! It’s refreshing to see a way of assessing students that enforces the idea of a growth-mindset.

    I’ve successfully piloted a writing unit that was all mastery learning, but have yet to construct and pilot a reading unit. Have you come across any models that may be of help? I’m struggling with whether or not I should pre-test students at the beginning of the year for an individual lexile that I can use for supplementals throughout my units, or if I should just keep my expectations high and have a set lexile for smaller pieces. I work to have a whole class novel + individual choice book for most of my units.

    The tricky part is that many of my students are gifted. The reading levels for one of my classes may range from 9th grade level to a level of a college freshman. I want to make sure that every student’s needs are met.

    I look forward to hear your thoughts,
    Ashley Pach

    • Hi Ashley,

      I always do a baseline reading assessment to see where my students are beginning the year. My school district stops testing for Lexile level after 5th grade, which I do not understand, so I have to create my own makeshift assessment (not ideal). Then I use those scores to group students and assign reading that is appropriate for their reading level. We still work on the same grade level skills (i.e. identify a theme and how it develops over the course of a text) but they focus on a text they can access. This strategy should work for your gifted students as you can connect them with more challenging texts even if the skill you are focused on or the task is the same or similar. Does that make sense?


  37. Hi Catlin-
    I’m curious what your “10 Last Assignments” category represents and how you use it.

  38. Any insider tips or specifics for making this work in Jupiter? I have the same problem! I like your standards break down, but any other insight would be appreciated.

    • Not really, Lauren.

      If your whole school is standards-based, Jupiter has a setting for that. Because I am one of only a few teachers using this system of grading, I still have to convert all of my points to grades every 6 weeks.


  39. Hi Catlin,

    I’m a high school English teacher just starting with SBG. I’m using the Orange Slice teacher rubric to track progress of students across multiple practice assignments in the marking period. How often do you enter “practice” of skills in the gradebook?

    My school is fairly traditional and parents expect at least one grade in the gradebook ( with a number instead of the descriptive “meeting” or “emerging” I plan on using).

    I put in all the standards we’re covering for the marking period as a 1st practice assignment (which will count all assignments practicing that skill from Common Core) and a later date with 2nd “Summative” heading for each standard. It seems like a LOT of gradebook entries and I’m not sure the best way to actually show parents and student gradebook progress without overwhelming them with entries.

    Any advice or insight into your process would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you very much,

    Anthony in NJ

    • Hi Anthony,

      I’ll have to check out Orange Slice! My school (and my students’parents) sound very similar to your situation. I do not enter practice assignments into my grade book. The most I will do with practice is enter a title for the assignment and enter a check to acknowledge they completed the practice. That way, if students do poorly on an assessment, parents can see how much of the practice the student did in preparation for that assessment.

      I use 4 point rubrics to assess skills (1=beginning, 2=developing, 3=proficient, 4=mastery). So, parents see the numbers in the grade book and I have all of the rubrics posted on my class website so parents can read what a 2 means for a particular skill.

      I have my grade book organized by standard category (e.g., argumentative writing). When students complete a piece of argumentative writing, I will select 2-3 skills (criteria on the rubric) to assess and then enter those as separate items in my grade book. That creates more transparency about the student’s specific skills. For example, if they write an argumentative essay for Of Mice and Men, I might grade claims, evidence, and analysis and enter those separately. See below.

      Argumentative Writing–Of Mice and Men Essay–Claim
      Argumentative Writing–Of Mice and Men Essay–Evidence
      Argumentative Writing–Of Mice and Men Essay–Analysis

      I hope that helps!


  40. Hi there,
    My team is considering the Marzano scale of 1-4 with the .5 half steps, and we are curious as to the rationale for Marzano’s percentage conversions. I have looked in his books and they seem to give a rationale for why a 3 should be considered the 90%, and we are in agreement with this.
    However, we have noticed that from a 2 to 2.5 is 10% and from 2.5 to 3 is 10%, then from 3 to 3.5 it’s a smaller jump of 5%.
    My guess for this is that the criteria to go from 2 level work to 2.5 to 3 is very substantial growth compared to the criteria from 1 to 1.5 to 2, and 3 to 3.5 to 4. Hope this makes sense, and would love input if this is how others interpret the percentage increments not being equal.

    • Hi Lindsay,

      I also read Marzano’s explanation for the percentage conversation, but I didn’t feel like it worked for me given the way I laid out my 4 point rubrics with 1 (beginning), 2 (developing), 3 (proficient), and 4 (mastery). That did not line up with Marzano’s percentage conversion. If a student is proficient at something (3) but has not mastered it yet, that feels like a B (not an A). So, I set a 4 = A+ and a 3.5 to an A. My thought process was that 4 is mastery. It indicates when students perform skillfully and masterfully, which to me feels like an A+. As a result, my teaching team tweaked the scale so that it was 1= D, 2 = C, 3 = B, 3.5 = A, 4 = A+. It isn’t a perfect system. Ideally, I’d love to throw out the grades completely as I feel like they distort the whole point of grading for mastery of specific skills.

      I hope that helps! I love that your team is moving in this direction!


  41. Catlin,
    I teach 6th grade at the elementary level and I really want to switch to SBG system but with so many topics and standards to cover it looks very overwhelming. Any suggestions from anyone you’ve known who has done this in elementary? Just wondering how other elementary teachers have handled it.


    • Hi Amy,

      Ironically, both my children from K-5th grade received standards-based grading report cards that literally listed the math strands individually and they earned a 1-3 depending on their assessment scores. 1 = below standard, 2 = approaching standard, 3 = standard met. Then in 6th grade my daughter has started to receive grades (much less helpful as a parent).

      I hope another elementary teacher can provide some insight to help you think through this!


      • Hi, Catlin! You said your daughter’s school used a 1-3 grading system. Ours does too, but we aren’t in agreement with what percentages should be a 1,2, or 3. Can you help me with this? What did your daughter’s school use for their percentages for the 1,2, and 3? Thanks so much for your help!

        • Hi Renee,

          Her school did not translate the grades into percentages (like I did at the high school level). Instead, I received a report card with individual skills and the corresponding numbers which stood for 1 = below grade level, 2 = approaching grade level, or 3 = at grade level.

          If your district is required to report actual grades, then that conversion might take the following format or one like it.
          3 points could represent high proficiency, and be assigned a percentage of 85% – 100% (B to A in traditional letter grades)
          2 points might denote medium proficiency, equivalent to 70% – 84% (C to B)
          1 point might signify low proficiency, equating to 50% – 69% (F to D)
          0 points can represent no proficiency or understanding, equivalent to below 50% (F)

          Example Conversion Table:
          3 points: 85%-100% (A or B)
          2 points: 70%-84% (B or C)
          1 point: 50%-69% (D or F)
          0 points: below 50% (F)

          It is important to note that this is a simplified representation and in real application, the exact boundaries and allocations might differ. You might want to adjust the scale based, but it’s critical to communicate the agreed upon conversion clearly to students and their families so they understand how their work will be assessed.

          Take care.

  42. Hi, Catlin.
    I was wondering if you could revisit this post. The work of Marzano, Wormeli, Guskey and others is getting more attention of late (yay!). Are you still using SBG? If so, how have your systems changed? If not, why?

  43. Hi, Catlin. I am so intrigued by your idea and think I may implement it next year. I teach freshmen and juniors. There are some skills I really want them to understand and use. One is questioning. I want them to be able to generate a strong question, and I have a formula (I know… formulas? But it helps). They start with 3-5 sentences of context/background. Then a core question. Then they elaborate or clarify that question (“In other words, …”). Then a one sentence statement of their purpose in posing the question. The question is based on a text or concept and hopefully draws them to thinking more about that text or concept. Every assignment or reading we do incorporates writing a question.

    Anyway, I never thought of evaluating this as a separate skill, instead of embedded in an essay. I’m jazzed and would love to hear more of your ideas on this new system of evaluation.

    • Hi Laura,

      I LOVE evaluating specific skills instead of feeling pressure to assess an entire product. If you want to assess the skill of inquiry or writing strong questions, I’d suggest creating a single skill four-point rubric where you describe what a strong question looks like as a 1-beginning, 2-developing, 3-proficient, and 4-mastery. Then as you evaluate each student’s ability to write strong questions, you simply circle the description that aligns with the level of question you see and enter that as a single grade in the grade book.

      When I grade an essay, lab report, research assignment, or project, I always identify 2-3 skills (MAX) to evaluate and I enter each of those skills separately into the grade book. It provides more clarity for students and parents about what they are doing well and what they need to work on. It also simplifies the whole grading process for me.

      If you still feel like your grading too much, I would suggest reading this –>

      I’m excited that you are open to trying this new approach, Laura!

      Take care.

  44. Hi Catlin,

    Do you have any tips on how to construct a standards-based vocabulary test? I want to switch to SBG and understand it in general, but vocabulary assessment has me a little stuck. Do you give tiered assessments with the more abstract words as part of the requirements for a 4? Do you give the students words and demand they come up with sentences? Present a word bank and fill-in-the-blank sentences? I would appreciate any help you could give me.

    Thank you,

    • Hi Beth,

      I apologize for the delay in responding. It is funny that you ask this as my co-teacher and I wrestled with this exact issue. We didn’t come up with a perfect solution, but here is what we did.

      Students had the same set of words, but the assessments varied depending on their level of mastery. I would say the words three times, and students would write them in a word bank at the top of their assessment.

      Level 1: Define the words
      Level 2: Define the words and fill in the blank sentences with the correct word.
      Level 3: Define the words, fill in the blank sentences with the correct words, and write an antonym for each word.
      Level 4: Define the words, fill in the blank sentences with the correct words, write an antonym for each word, and write an original sentence that uses the word correctly and effectively communicates the meaning of the word.

      This is not a perfect system, but we felt it aligned with the beginning, developing, proficient, and mastery levels.

      I hope that gives you some ideas!


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