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Standards and proficiency-based grading — July 2018


Could you provide information on districts that have identified priority standards and proficiency scales as part of their grading/report card in grades TK–12?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on districts that have identified priority standards and proficiency scales as part of their grading/report card in grades TK–12. Because some school resources also appeared in our search results, we also have included them for your information. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Research References

Cox, K. B. (2011). Putting classroom grading on the table: A reform in progress. American Secondary Education, 40(1), 67–87. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “In a standards-based instructional program, what does a course grade convey? What should it convey? What is the role of homework in assigning grades? What is the role of common assessments? This case study examined the responses of two groups of high school teachers during a district wide reform of grading practices. The first was a focus group of seven advocates of non-traditional grading practices aligned with specific district grade reforms: (a) 50% minimal score for a failing grade, (b) retesting without penalty, (c) acceptance of late work, and (d) course-alike, standards-based grading agreements. The second group of nine teachers, including seven randomly selected teacher leaders from across the district, participated individually in semi-structured interviews. Findings confirmed earlier research on the role of individual teacher beliefs on grading practice and the emphasis that many teachers place on student effort when they assign grades. Additional findings have implications for leadership actions that may influence grading practices of secondary teachers.”

Franklin, A., Buckmiller, T., & Kruse, J. (2016). Vocal and vehement: Understanding parents’ aversion to standards-based grading. International Journal of Social Science Studies, 4(11), 19–29. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The implementation of a standards based grading (SBG) system has proven to be difficult even in school districts that tend to be progressive in their educational approaches. Parents are often resistant to the change in grading systems and seem to be a significant barrier to a school’s move to SBG. Researchers in this qualitative study went directly to the parents who most vocally and vehemently opposed the new assessment system and sought to understand their perceptions. Data from these interviews produced five themes: Confidence in the known, dislike for the unknown; poor communication leading to disappointment; confusion from lack of clarity; and frustration due to perceived outcomes. Data from this study indicate that school leaders ought to consider reframing grading reform and better align it with Dweck’s growth-mindset model and create a process that is less about enticing students with the currency of grades and more about helping students’ learning dispositions that would enable success in college and career. Further, in addition to vigilant communication, school leaders need to plan high quality professional development to clarify and refine the purpose of grading and align practices with that purpose.”

Guskey, T. R., Swan, G. M., & Jung, L. A. (2010, May). Developing a statewide, standards-based student report card: A review of the Kentucky initiative. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Denver, CO. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This paper describes a major initiative in the Commonwealth of Kentucky to develop a statewide, standards-based, student report card for reporting the learning progress of individual students at all grade levels (K–12). Led by a team of researchers with expertise in grading and reporting, 36 educators from three diverse school districts created two reporting forms: one for elementary and another for secondary level. These reporting forms were piloted by 41 teachers who distributed both the new form and the traditional report card to parents/guardians during the school year. Information gathered through surveys administered to teachers, parents/guardians, and students was used to determine satisfaction with the new forms and to guide revisions. Plans are currently in place to expand applications and professional development, enhance technical support, and establish a basis for statewide implementation.”

Hochbein, C., & Pollio, M. (2016). Making grades more meaningful. Phi Delta Kappan, 98(3), 49–54. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “To expand and improve evidence of grading practices, we seized an opportunity presented by the implementation of standards-based grading practices at 11 high schools in Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky. These high-needs schools faced substantial sanctions outlined by recently revised federal and state policies unless they made substantial improvements in state standardized test results. To dramatically increase the number of students meeting proficiency benchmarks, principals and teachers from the 11 high schools collaborated with district personnel to establish a competency-based instructional initiative. The teamwork between school and district-based educators resulted in Project Proficiency. For each grading period, Project Proficiency required teachers to focus on three key standards per grading period. School and district-based content specialists derived these 18 standards from the content of the state algebra curriculum. Teachers created formative assessments that measured student progress in each standard. If a student did not demonstrate competency, teachers developed interventions that focused specifically on the student’s identified needs. Finally, schools participating in Project Proficiency adopted testing procedures that supported reassessment of students until they reached proficiency. Compared to traditional grading, standards-based grading practices demonstrated stronger correlations between grades and standardized test scores, including among minority and economically disadvantaged students. In addition, students who experienced standards-based grading more often earned an A or B and scored higher on the standardized state test. Although we discovered statistical benefits to standards-based grading practices, we wondered how these differences translated into real students, grades, and test results.”

McMunn, N., Schenck, P., & McColskey, W. (2003, April). Standards-based assessment, grading, and reporting in classrooms: Can district training and support change teacher practice? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Whether school district support and training in standards-based assessment, grading, and reporting in classrooms can change teacher practice in these areas was studied in a Florida school district. This district, Bay District Schools of Panama City, has been working with the SERVE Regional Educational Laboratory on a project that involves teachers making changes in the classroom that support standards-based assessment, grading practices, and reporting procedures. The relationship between professional development for these purposes and actual changes was studied using a variety of data sources, both quantitative and qualitative. In all, 241 educators participated over the 3-year period of the evaluation. The collected evidence indicates that teachers are making efforts to implement changes in their classrooms with support from the school district and its professional development activities. The level of this change, however, has not met current school district expectations. Because additional work, and possibly alternative strategies, may be needed, the paper makes recommendations for improved professional development. An appendix contains documents used in the studies, including data collection instruments, school district documents, and professional development resources.”

Pollio, M., & Hochbein, C. (2015). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores in a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11), 1–28. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Background/Context: From two decades of research on the grading practices of teachers in secondary schools, researchers discovered that teachers evaluated students on numerous factors that do not validly assess a student’s achievement level in a specific content area. These consistent findings suggested that traditional grading practices evolved to meet the variety of educational stakeholder expectations for schools, teachers, and students. Purpose/Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine the role of standards-based grading in a high school reform by assessing the relationships between differing grading approaches and standardized test achievement. Setting: The study examined student performance from 11 high schools operating in a large metropolitan school district. Population/Participants: The sample of students included two cohorts of 1,163 and 1,256 11th grade students who completed an Algebra 2 course and the state standardized test. Intervention/Program: Each of the high schools implemented a locally designed reform known as Project Proficiency. A key component of the reform included utilizing standards-based grading to assess student proficiency of the content. Research Design: This study utilized a non-equivalent control group design and quantitative analyses to compare the association between classroom grades and standardized test scores. Data Collection and Analysis: The data for the study included the students’ final grades, standardized test scores, and basic demographic information. Findings/Results: Results indicated that the rate of students earning an A or B in a course and passing the state test approximately doubled when utilizing standards-based grading practices. In addition, results indicated that standards-based grading practices identified more predictive and valid assessment of at-risk students’ attainment of subject knowledge. Conclusions/Recommendations: The article demonstrates the benefits of using standards-based grading in reforms attempting to improve the academic performance of secondary schools, but also notes how restriction of grades to mastery of standards will challenge educators’ perception of their abilities and students’ efforts. The article also notes the methodological limitations of prior grading research and suggests the need for more robust studies assessing grading practices, student achievement, and school performance.”

Swan, G. M., Guskey, T. R., & Jung, L. A. (2014). Parents’ and teachers’ perceptions of standards-based and traditional report cards. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 26(3), 289–299. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “The purpose of this study was to determine parents’ and teachers’ perceptions of standards-based and traditional report cards. Participants included 115 parents/guardians of students from a single, midsize school district that had implemented a standards-based report card. During the first two marking periods, all parents/guardians received both a traditional report card in which teachers assigned a single overall grade for each subject and a standards-based report card that included marks for individual standards within subjects. After midyear, parents were asked to complete a survey that asked which form they preferred and the reasons for their preference. Three hundred and eighty-three teachers from two nearby midsize school districts considering the adoption of the same standards-based report card completed a similar survey. Parents overwhelmingly preferred the standards-based form. The teachers considering the adoption of a standards-based report card were positive overall, but significantly less than the parents who had received them.”

Townsley, M., & Varga, M. (2018). Getting high school students ready for college: A quantitative study of standards-based grading practices. Journal of Research in Education, 28(1), 92–112. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Some high schools are moving towards standards-based grading in an attempt to produce consistent grading practices; however, the change’s impact on college readiness is not clear. The purpose of this study was to explore the effect of high school’s grading practices as it relates to ACT scores and grade point averages (GPAs). Existing data were collected from two comparable high schools using different grading practices in a Midwestern state as determined by state department of education-provided demographics: enrollment, socioeconomic status (as defined by percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch), and ethnicity. Stepwise multiple linear regressions were used to determine if GPA and the method of high school grading practices, standards-based grading or traditional grading, used predict ACT scores. The findings revealed GPAs remain unchanged and ACT scores may be negatively impacted when high schools utilize standards-based grading practices. In addition, traditional grading practices were a small factor combined with GPA in predicting ACT scores.”

Welsh, M. E., D’Agostino, J. V., & Kaniskan, B. (2013). Grading as a reform effort: Do standards-based grades converge with test scores? Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 32(2), 26–36. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Standards-based progress reports (SBPRs) require teachers to grade students using the performance levels reported by state tests and are an increasingly popular report card format. They may help to increase teacher familiarity with state standards, encourage teachers to exclude nonacademic factors from grades, and/or improve communication with parents. The current study examines the SBPR grade-state test score correspondence observed across 2 years in 125 third and fifth grade classrooms located in one school district to examine the degree of consistency between grades and state test results. It also examines the grading practices of a subset of 37 teachers to determine whether there is an association between teacher appraisal style and convergence rates. A moderate degree of grade-test score convergence was observed using three agreement estimates (coefficient kappa, tau-b correlations, and classroom-level mean differences between grades and test scores). In addition, only small amounts of grade-test score convergence were observed between teachers; a much greater proportion of variance lay within classrooms and subjects. Appraisal style correlated weakly with convergence rates, but was most strongly related to assigning students to the same performance level as the test. Therefore using recommended grading practices may improve the quality of SBPR grades to some extent.”

Additional Organizations to Consult


From the website:ASCD is dedicated to excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.”

REL West note: ASCD has published the following two documents which are relevant to this request:

Glover, E. (2007). Real principals listen. Educational Leadership, 65(1), 60–63. Retrieved from

Townsley, M. (2014). Redesigning grading—districtwide. Educational Leadership, 71(4), 56–60. Abstract retrieved from

CompetencyWorks (a project of the International Association for K–12 Online Learning) –

From the website: “CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K–12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K–12, higher education and the workplace.”

REL West note: CompetencyWorks has published the following two documents which are relevant to this request:

Sturgis, C. (2014). Progress and proficiency: Redesigning grading for competency education. Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning. Retrieved from

Townsley, M. (2014). What is the difference between standards-based grading (or reporting) and competency-based education? Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning. Retrieved from


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

(“proficiency-based grading”); (“standards-based” AND “report card”); (“standards-based” AND “grading”); (“standards” AND “grading” AND “district”)

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.   

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.