Implementation of standards-based grading at the middle school level

Urich, Laura
Major Professor
Scott McLeod
Committee Member
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Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

The purpose of this study was to learn about the experiences of teachers as they transition from traditional grading practices to standards-based reporting (SBR). In order to achieve this overall objective, the following research questions framed this qualitative study:

1) What understandings related to practices do middle school teachers have as they transition from traditional grading practices to standards-based reporting?

2) What kinds of supports do teachers need as they transition from traditional grading practices to standards-based reporting?

3) Is there a change in teachers' clarity regarding what their students know, understand, and do as they transition from traditional grading practices to standards-based reporting?

Twelve teachers from a Midwestern suburban middle school were interviewed individually and in focus groups to provide insight into the research questions. Interviews were conducted face-to-face and analyzed. Six themes emerged from the data. First, in a SBR grading scheme, a grade truly represents what a student knows, understands, and is able to do. Second, SBR helps teachers achieve clarity in what their individual students know, understand, and are able to do. Third, active engagement, trust, and support from administration is valued and needed by educators transitioning to SBR. Fourth, resources such as time, professional literature, collaborating with peers, aligning rubrics with the curriculum, observing others implementing SBR, and adopting a reporting tool that is SBR-friendly are essential components of support. Fifth, formative assessment, flexible grouping, and differentiation are instructional practices that naturally lead to SBR. Sixth, opportunities for parent education and effective communication with stakeholders are imperative for a successful SBR transition.

The teachers in this study appeared to be happier and more satisfied with their work in moving students forward in their learning when implementing SBR, evidenced by students learning at higher levels as well as teacher clarity in students' instructional needs. The success of the implementation of SBR was due, in part, to a slow, multi-year process of transforming practices that naturally led to SBR such as formative assessment, flexible grouping, feedback, and differentiation. Equally important to changes in instruction was a collaborative culture committed to engaging all students in learning at high levels.

Recommendations for future research are to study schools at the secondary level that have fully implemented SBR, schools that have adopted a dual system of letter grades and SBR, and college level students who have graduated from a secondary SBR system.