• Andrea Paulakovich

Standards-Based Grading

Shove facts in, so they can regurgitate the facts out. Talk about killing creativity! Introduce the idea of Project Based Learning and Standards Based Grading. Imagine a project that is cross curricular. A project that provides choice. A project that engages students with real-world, relevant content. This can be a reality and can completely change the educational paradigm. 


As I sit in a Career and Technical Education Conference, I am listening to a presenter from Leavenworth, Kansas. She is presenting the idea that Standards Based Grading and Project Based Learning is what is best for kids. She doesn't have to convince me. I have been drinking the Kool-Aid for the last five years. The question is: "How do we change the minds of educators who believe the antiquated methods are best for students?" I will attempt to address their questions with sound research, teacher and student testimonies, and examples I have witnessed across my district.


Question #1: If I give Project Based Learning, I won't have time to cover all my curriculum.

I have heard this question time and time again. Instead of providing an answer when this question was asked...I spoke with curriculum coordinators to hear their response. This year I have the privilege of working with an innovative chemistry teacher who is seamlessly utilizing PBL in his classroom. Before he became immersed in this practice, he needed to know that he would be supported in his endeavors. After explaining his idea for a Passion Project to our science coordinator, she said that is what she would want for all students. You see...it is not about covering curriculum. Our curriculum is not a checklist we need to check off by the end of the year. Rather, it is a guide that reveals what is important about our curricular areas. As innovative educators, it is our job to take the curriculum and transform the content to meet the varied needs and interests of our students.We can do this by utilizing Project Based Learning, effective lesson design, relevant materials, authentic audiences, and continued checks for understanding. Then, and only then, is our course about knowledge versus compliance.


Question #2: How do I grade in a PBL classroom?

If you want to hear an expert talk about Standards Based Grading, watch any and all videos from Rick Wormeli. He is considered the guru of Standards Based Grading. Here are a few ideas I have seen implemented across my district:

  • I challenge you to read this article: "The Cast Against Zero"

  • Here is a system used by a group of English teachers:  4=95%  3=85%   2=75%   1=65%   0=50%

  • I have seen a teacher leader use the following terms in her gradebook: Communication, Professionalism, Leadership, Project Management, and of course, content standards. It is no longer a list of compliance activities worth a variety of meaningless points: 5 points for a signed syllabus, 10 points for completing a worksheet, 25 points for a quiz, 50 points for a group project. Now...your grades are a true reflection of student learning.

  • Do not grade practice, grade their final product. Ensure the final product shows mastery of the standards you have taught, modeled, practiced, practiced, practiced, and provided plenty of feedback.

Food for Thought: 

  • Teach students it is about the process, not about a grade.

  • "You're not always going to be awesome at everything, but you have to learn from it."

  • "If you always worry about the A, you are probably less willing to try something new not knowing how it will go.

Question #3: There are several teachers in my building who just provide projects, but they don't truly show mastery of anything. How do we ensure teachers provide quality projects?

I have had the pleasure of learning about PBL from a variety of experts. Here are a few websites you should check out:

  • This website shows how to create interdisciplinary projects that incorporate soft skills, state standards, and are created around different careers. Check out: www.definedstem.com

  • 20 Time Project "20Time is a simple concept that any teacher can execute. Give students one day a week to work on a project of their choosing. What kind of project? One that serves a real audience."

  • Project Based Learning


Question #4: "Why should I teach Project Based Learning. My method works."


Food For Thought: 

  • "He didn't learn the stuff, but I taught him responsibility." -Rick Wormeli

  • "Do you want your legacy as a teacher to be about teaching students a lesson. Admonishing them for failing. Or leaving a legacy?" -Rick Wormeli

  • PBL is about long-term retention, problem-solving, collaboration, attitude, soft skills. 

  • Students learn to investigate, engage, and gain knowledge. 

You can integrate a variety of content areas into a PBL classroom. Here is an example of how a Graphic Design teacher, Speech teacher, ELA teacher, Social Science teacher, worked together...

Seniors were given the following prompt: It is time for your 20 year reunion. Prior to the reunion, you are asked to create a website about your life. Where have you traveled, what have you learned, how did you grow? These blogs will be sent to all the attendees prior to the reunion. This will help spark connections and conversations at the reunion. Your blog must include the following:

1. Research 

  • Students spent time in their ELA classes learning about how to properly research, curate, and cite their sources. 

  • Students spent time in ther Social Science classes researching destinations around the world. They were to pick at least two places they had visited over the past 20 years. This information would be included in their website in narrative format.

  • This information will be condensed and will placed under a tab that will require you to write about where you have been in the last twenty years.

2. Design Website

  • Students were required to design a website that considered colors, fonts, placement of words, and the content for each page.

  • Students were required to have the following information on their website: two destinations you had visited over the past twenty years, a biography of your life from age 18 to age 38, and a "What I learned" portion that offers advice to high school seniors. What have you learned? What did you experience that helped you grow?

3. Presentation

  • Students were required to present their website in a Pecha Kucha presentation. They were assigned to take 5 snapshots from their website and then have one minute per slide to present the information. 

4. Terminology

  • Students were required to effectively use terminology from their vocabulary journal. This journal was a list they compiled from all of their classes from freshmen year through senior year. 


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