Susan Riley | February 2015

Standards Based Grading in Any Classroom

When we talk about assessment for arts integration and STEAM lessons, one question always comes up: “how can I use Standards Based Grading?”

I’m so excited that this is the leap that people are making, because it’s so much easier to assess an arts integrated lesson using a standards based grading approach.  One of the concerns of many educators who are dipping their toes into arts integration is in how to authentically assess an arts integrated lesson if they are not an expert in the other content area.  This can be a concern for both classroom teachers (about the arts content) and arts educators (who may feel intimidated by the classroom content).  How can you assess students in a topic area where you are unfamiliar?

In this article, I’m going to share with you not only WHY using Standards Based Grading makes an arts integration lesson easier to assess, but also HOW to do so in a quick and efficient process.  This will make your conversations with students richer and make collaboration with your colleagues more meaningful.

What is Standards Based Grading?

Standards-Based Grading (SBG) is an approach to assessment that focuses on the content, skills and standards students must learn.  Here’s a few other distinctions:

  • The focus of SBG is on a student’s mastery of a standard, NOT a cumulative grade.
  • This means that students are being assessed based upon their level of work towards meeting a standard. This provides a snapshot of students’ learning of each standard discretely, rather than just in one lump grade at the end of a unit.
  • Additionally, intangibles that are not distinctly a part of the standard (time in class, effort, participation, etc) cannot be included in the grade.

Why Should we Use SBG?

Standards-Based Grading is meant to help provide alignment in the learning cycle. This creates many benefits including:

  • Higher quality feedback
  • Student participation in the assessment process
  • Streamlining the Student Learning Objectives/Student Growth Objective Process

Examples of Standards Based Grading

There are lots of ways this approach can look in your classroom.  One of the most effective tools I have found for Standards Based Grading is this chart:

what does my grade mean poster

This is a great tool to put up in your classroom where students can see it at all times.  It helps them to think about their own understanding, ask for help when they need it, and to give everyone a common framework for their efforts.

Start with a Scale

Need a place to start?  Try using this scale for your next assessment:

standards based grading scale, Education Closet


Standards Based Grading is a great way to provide opportunities for differentiation and offer a bigger focus on using standards as the base for assessing student process and product.  It can also finally allow students to take a key role in their own assessment.  Together, we can work towards understanding a complete picture of student learning.

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan