My Standards-Based Journey Pt. 1: An Overview

I’ve been piloting a standards-based grading system in my Advanced Chemistry course this year. Here’s an overview of what my system looks like now.*

Standards (Topics)

At the beginning of each unit, I provide students with a list of topics:


The bold items represent the main content topics in the unit. Students are generally assessed on 1-4 of the subtopics at a time.



I use quizzes as my primary form of teacher-initiated assessment.

Sample Quizzes:

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

I give two quizzes for select subtopics, and students may initiate a reassessment after the second attempt. Students are evaluated on a 1-4 scale for each topic (adapted from Marzano’s Classroom Assessment and Grading that Works):

Scale Description
4.0 You can demonstrate a complete understanding of simple and complex topics introduced in class. You can also apply knowledge to situations not explicitly mentioned in class
3.0 You can demonstrate a complete understanding of simple and complex topics introduced in class.
2.0 You can demonstrate a complete understanding of simple topics, but are prone to conceptual errors or omissions on more complex topics.
1.0 You can only demonstrate understanding of simple topics with assistance.
0.0 No attempt is made to demonstrate your understanding.

I allow half-steps (3.5, 2.5, etc.) for non-conceptual errors (algebra/ calculator fail)


Each lab addresses a particular set of lab skills and 1-2 content subtopics. Most informal labs are carbonless copies of lab data and planning, and a few post-lab questions. About 3-4 times a semester, students complete a partial or full formal lab report for a student-designed experiment.

Students can track lab skills on a Google Spreadsheet


Student-initiated reassessments have generally taken the form of problems. For certain topics, it made more sense to simply have a conversation with students about it (such as the nature of energy), or some combination of both. Though a teacher-initiated assessment might include a few related topics, students can only reassess one subtopic at a time (with few exceptions), once per day.

Quarter Exams

Towards the end of each quarter, students take a quarter exam. This includes all topics from that quarter, plus some cumulative skills from previous quarters. The goal of this exam is to measure student retention of a range of topics. The dates for these exams were scheduled and announced at the beginning of the year, and therefore don’t necessarily correspond to the end of any particular unit. This counts for 10% of the quarter grade that appears on report cards.

Keeping Track

I keep track of scheduled reassessments using Remember the Milk‘s iPhone app.

In first quarter, I experimented with three different gradebook systems. I started with EasyGradePro, which had a decent teacher interface for standards-based grading, but was clunky. Student-reporting options were limited and not SBG friendly. I abandoned EGP in favor of a Google Spreadsheet similar to Frank Noschese. Finally, I switched to SnapGrades. With a paid account ($29.95/yr), I can email progress reports to all students weekly and to individual students after each reassessment with a personalized note.

The weekly reports contain all topics covered up to that point in the semester, and might look like this:

where the score displayed is their most recent score. After 3 attempts, the number is the average of the most recent attempts.

I currently use a combination of Google Spreadsheets and Snapgrades. I encourage students to track their own scores via a spreadsheet template.

Oh yeah, about that…

Ultimately, we can only have two grades at the end of the quarter. One academic grade (A-B-C-D-F), and one participation grade (Outstanding-Good-Satisfactory-Needs Improvement). In determining academic (letter) grades, there are minimum requirements for each letter grade.

A 4.0 on 1/3 of content topics, no score lower than 3.0
B 3.0 on 1/3 of content topics, no score lower than 2.5
C 3.0 on at least 2 topics, no score lower than 2.0
D No score lower than 1.5
F Any score of 1.0 or lower.

As students are able to reassess all topics throughout the semester, the semester grade is generally the same as the quarter 2 grade (rather than an average). A new semester means a new set of topics, and the scientific abilities scores are reset.

In my next few SBG posts, I’ll share what parts of this system have worked well, what hasn’t worked so well, and what changes I hope to make for my second year of standards-based grading.

*Thanks to Shawn, Frank, Chris, Jason, and anyone else I’ve shamelessly stolen this system from in whole or part.

17 thoughts on “My Standards-Based Journey Pt. 1: An Overview”

  1. Thanks for this, it’s great to get such detailed insight into a particular implementation of SBG. I’ve just started a similar experiment and I’ve been struggling with a lot of the decisions you’ve made.

    One think I’m really interested in: How different would your end-of-term letter grades be if you just added up your scores and divided by the max possible (4 for each standard, as I understand it)? I do that but am interested in your system because it looks like, for the ‘A’ at least, it ensures mastery across all the standards whereas my system might allow a student to get the occasional 2 but still get an A with enough 4’s.

    -Andy @arundquist

    1. Andy,
      I think with a “total points” system, 100% of my students would have As (versus 95% now). The idea behind my approach is that a good score in one area can’t make up for a bad score in another area (adapted from Marzano’s book). Students do have the occasional 2 in subtopics, but they either reassess the subtopic, or they demonstrate mastery in a related subtopic to bring the overall topic score above 2.5.

      I think this approach works well for meeting the traditional definition of an A (mastery of all topics), and adds challenge to meet the needs of our particular student body (requiring a minimum percentage of scores above and beyond the material introduced in class).

      Cs or lower just haven’t happened.

      There’s a grey area between Bs and As that I hope to resolve in version 2.1 of my grading policy.

      1. I am thrilled with your detail of SBG!!! I also love the way you are assessing quarter grades. I am leaning towards trying this next year.

        1. Carrie,
          If nothing else, this system has greatly improved my assessment writing abilities, and grading across the board (in my non-SBG classes as well). I would definitely recommend trying it out (with administrative support).

  2. Great stuff! I just got into the blogging world AND standards based grading this year. I work with a “master” (Cornally), so he is fun to chat with on a daily basis. I started looking for chemistry and standards based stuff, and I keep running into yours. Keep up the good work! I battled with the idea of standards based grading in my advanced chemistry class. I loved doing it in chemistry, but I still want them ready for college (where there is no SBG). I am quizzing once a week, and allowing them to retake one of them per quarter. A little bland, but we’ll see how it goes. Keep on keepin’ on!

    1. Ken,
      Welcome to blogging! My decision to pilot this in my advanced class was mostly because I’m the only teacher of the course, and was given permission because of that. I’m not optimistic that it will gain traction in our larger community, but I haven’t had an opportunity yet to share what I’ve done.

      I think that SBG can be excellent preparation for college. My goal with SBG is for students to be better able to assess their own progress in learning, and do what it takes to actually learn the material. The role of the instructor is irrelevant. I don’t find my course is any less challenging this year, I’m moving through the content at pretty much the same pace. The grades are pretty much the same. But this time, I am more confident that students are actually getting the chemistry, rather than binging and purging it from test to test. And I have a better handle on what they understand than I ever have before.

      I look forward to reading more about your experiences with chemistry SBG. Thanks for commenting!

      1. I’m trying to catch up on your blog so sorry my comments are so late in your process. But I felt a need to support you here – as a college prof dealing with first year students from a wide range of backgrounds, I agree, there is nothing inconsistent about SBG and college prep. I would say it serves college bound students quite well and as I read more about SBG on various blogs, I wonder how else can you grade? I and my colleagues do a loose form of SBG. When dealing with such a large number of students, it’s necessary to define performance standards and apply grades accordingly. One of my biggest challenges dealing with incoming students is that they are used to a more subjective approach to grading and are hurt by the expectation that their grades will be “adjusted” at the end of a semester or quarter. They underperform, all the while expecting things to be corrected later. It is a sad day when they realized I meant what I said and they did really know their grades all the way through. I am all for more SBG in 9-12 science. Nice work.

  3. Hello!

    I am trying to figure out a good place to start when it comes to tracking my students progress. I teach math and the curriculum is quite strict. I signed up for snap grades, and it seems pretty neat. Have you been able to set up assignments similarly to how Frank Noschese’s spreadsheet is set up? I believe I will need to have an assignment with all of the descriptors (standards) I am going to be assessing within that one assignment.

    Also, how do you keep track of formative assessments?



    1. Josh,
      I prefer SnapGrades because it fits my current implementation, and my students. I set up my own standards in the “Admin Mode”, and each time I enter an assignment, I can “check” the boxes next to the applicable standards and enter their scores simultaneously for the whole class. I can enter reassessments as assignments. Excluding the quarter exams, I consider all of my assignments as formative, and I enter informal observations in the same way as formal quizzes and labs.

      I am able to (and students are able to) monitor their current status for each standard. With the paid version, I am able to send regular reports via email (or text) after assessments to whole classes, or to individuals after reassessments. Though the interface isn’t as sleek as ActiveGrade, if your settings are just right the reports are crisp and clean (as I showed in this post). Its n It works for me, and for second semester seniors who can’t seem to be motivated to track their own progress.

      Also, since 50% of my classes are non-SBG, the SnapGrades interface works beautifully (and better) for traditional grading. Its nice to have everything in one place.

      I find Google Docs most useful at the end of the quarter, when I have to translate to regular grades. I enter the topic (bold) scores for each student, and use my ABCDF rubric to assign a grade. But I think the true power of the Google Spreadsheet is in allowing students to track their own progress. I will place more emphasis on this next year.

      1. Hello!

        Thanks for the response. I found the place to add the standards, very cool. I do not see how to set up an assignment so that I can check off which standards to assess for it. Would you mind explaining this a bit more? For 20 bucks, this would be really nice to have as a resource for students and parents to be able to see their progress, since that is the whole point of standards based.



        1. Hello again!

          I did figure this part out that I mentioned above. Do you know if I can assess each individual standard that I checked for that one assignment? Or is it only an overall score for the assignment that included all of those standards?



          1. Josh,
            On the assignment page, below the standards, there’s a checkbox that says “score objectives separately” (above quick scores). Check that, and you should be able to enter individual scores

  4. Interestingly, I just wrote an entry on my own blog about some of The Dangers of Criteria-Based Grading. Not that I’m advocating throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but I am concerned about the problems I encountered in the implementation of SBG at the school I taught in this year.

    From your descriptions of some of your labs, it looks like you’re avoiding those pitfalls, but I think they’re important to keep in mind for anyone considering converting to SBG.

  5. Thanks so much for this post. According to the timestamps, I’m a little behind. I’ve been reassigned to teach chemistry next year–for the first time. My experience is in physics and math. I’ve been dabbling in developing SBG style assessments based on Marzano’s work since a colleague and I studied his book on our own. I love how much better I know what the students are actually learning. Although I have structured my assessments this way, I have not taken the full leap into SBG. I would be the first in my district to implement full SBG.

    I noticed that you split standards into several subtopics–do you grade each student on each subtopic as well and give a 0-4 grade for each, or just for the larger standard?

    About how many standards do you assess each student per semester or per year?

    Do you know of other great resources for Chemistry SBG, especially standards? I like the detail and rigor of yours. Many that I’ve seen are very broad or don’t seem challenging enough. Or is it best to write your own for your course?

    Do you recommend going full-SBG as a “first-year” chem teacher? Or should I take a year to teach through the curriculum first?

    Thanks for sharing! Your blog is great!

  6. We are currently heading this direction at Neenah High School. I was wondering if you would be willing to share your list of standards. We know what we want the kids to be able to do, but are struggling to convert our traditional learning objectives into standards that we can use with SBG.

    Thanks so much.

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