Standards-Based Grading

Alpine School District
Enrollment: 80,000

Case Studies > Standards-Based Grading

Traditional letter grades have been around since the beginning of the 20th century. Today’s parents received As, Bs, and Cs from their teachers when they were in school, and most parents expect to see similar letters on their child’s report card. 

Lately, more and more school districts are making the transition from traditional letter grades to a standards-based grading model. Some of the reasons for changing include adding more meaning to grading and providing better feedback to students. 

For years, Alpine School District, located in the Silicon Slopes of Utah, struggled to justify its traditional grading model. The district felt as though letter grades were losing meaning and leading to less personalized instruction. “Traditional grading in elementary school doesn’t tell the kids, parents, or teachers the whole story. It doesn’t guide instruction,” explained Georgia Omer, a teacher on special assignments assigned to K-12 curriculum and Skyward.

With the future of more than 80,000 students in their hands, Alpine’s administration team knew a change needed to be made. To evaluate its grading process, the district developed an internal team of educators and technology professionals. The group concluded that for students to receive the most effective instruction, Alpine should challenge the status quo and move to standards-based grading (SBG). With the help of Skyward’s Student Management Suite, the district did just that. 

Creating Buy-In

Making a change to grading can seem like a daunting task, especially when the first impressions of so many stakeholders are at risk. Taking this into account, Alpine hired a marketing firm to ease any concerns and communicate the benefits of SBG. 

“The marketing firm made a video for us that we sent to every parent in the district about the move to standards-based grading,” explained Omer. “That way they knew the changes to expect, why we were making the switch, and the benefits that would come with switching.”

Still, Alpine’s leadership knew a more familiar face would strengthen the communication regarding SBG. That’s where teachers came in. 

“Teachers use the Message Center weekly to communicate different aspects of standards-based grading,” stated Omer. “They reaffirm to parents that if their student receives a 3, which is standard mastery, that it is worth celebrating.”


Expected Levels of Performance

In the past, traditional grading made it hard for teachers to evaluate how well a student or class was performing on a given subject. But with SBG, students, teachers, and parents are given a much clearer picture that tells if a student has demonstrated mastery on a given subject.

With Skyward, staff have mapped out the paths each student must take to demonstrate mastery. To begin, Alpine’s teachers collect assessments being used throughout the country and directly import them into Skyward’s Event Maintenance and Expected Levels of Performance (ELP) features. From there, teachers set an event for a given point in the school year. For instance, if a teacher has a standard that requires students to count to 100 by the end of a school year, the teacher can use Skyward to add an event earlier in the semester, which explains counting to 30 is mastery at that given time. This eases expectations on students and allows them to stay on track throughout the school year.

“Skyward is our main hub, especially for standards-based grading. It feeds everything we do,” said Omer. “Without these features, staff would struggle with the same evaluation and intervention issues they experienced with traditional grading.”

When parent-teacher conferences come around, teachers have also found that Skyward is saving them both time and resources. With SBG in Skyward, teachers no longer share countless papers and tests. Instead, they pull up a student’s performance chart in Skyward and explain to the parent where their child has met mastery, where they have exceeded mastery, and where they fall short of mastery. 

“Standards-based grading simply provides a better picture of where kids are. The biggest thing teachers and parents want to know is what their students can do with what they know,” explained Omer. “Application matters and Skyward shows them specifically where students need help.”

Report Cards

One feature that is adding even more value to the education experience is the standards-based report card. Alpine replaced the typical A, B, C model with a more customized and informative report on student performance. The district’s new report card showcases the essential standards taught at Alpine, which communicates the curriculum that is taught at each school. If students fall behind in those essential standards, parents are assured that teachers will intervene.

Just as significant, Alpine used Skyward to customize its report card and replace ambiguous terms such as trimester one and trimester two for more accurate titles such as progress report one, progress report two, and end-of-year mastery. As a result, report cards convey the entire purpose of SBG—student progression. 

“The report card is the face of communication to a lot of families. It tells the story, and thanks to our standards-based report card in Skyward, we are now telling the complete story,” said Omer.

Having high-quality standards-based report cards helps students realize their potential to improve too. With a detailed and intuitive report, students are experiencing more “aha” moments and finding that they have additional areas to improve on. “I have CEOs of several big technology companies say the report cards we’ve created in Skyward are the best they’ve ever seen and they know exactly where their student is at now,” stated Omer. 

“One CEO, in particular, noted that his child received A’s his whole life because he was never a problem in school,” explained Omer. “Once their child hit sixth grade, teachers discovered the student couldn’t add. The parent told me the report card in Skyward has changed his life because he can finally identify exactly where his child needs help.”


Transitioning Schools

Due to Alpine’s large size, many locations throughout the district are title one schools where students frequently change schools. In the past, this meant teachers had to rely on letter grades, which failed to inform them of where students left off in their education. Thanks to Alpine’s district-wide use of SBG and Skyward, data follows each student regardless of the schools they attend. As a result, teachers know exactly which lesson plans students succeeded at and which ones required extra attention.

“We no longer lose instructional minutes trying to figure out where that kid was at before they came to their current school,” said Omer. “With the click of one button in Skyward, teachers have every score from the previous school and know where the student was at with every single standard.”

In addition, teachers at Alpine utilized an existing strategy called ‘early out Mondays’, which took on a new meaning with the implementation of SBG. During this period, teachers send personalized messages to parents through Skyward’s Message Center to inform them of what is going on in their child’s class and what they should look for. Afterward, teachers come together as a team and examine which of their classes are at mastery and which ones are below. This helps every teacher determine where they can improve on a given standard and the best practices they can experiment with. In the end, these practices ensure no student falls too far behind and reinforces the personalized instruction that comes with SBG.

Looking Ahead

As if Alpine SD isn’t innovative enough, the district is continuing to explore how it can use Skyward to expand SBG in the higher grades. To do so, the district needs to tie standards and mastery levels to GPA requirements and transcripts for colleges. One option the district learned about at iCon, Skyward’s international conference, is the ability to create a hybrid grading scale that leverages decaying averages and combines a traditional grade book with a standards grade book. 

While taking on this latest endeavor seems like a tall order, one thing is clear to Omer: The district will make the jump when it is ready. “We look into futuristic goals, keeping Alpine School District’s Vision for Learning at the forefront. We don’t just troubleshoot what’s going on from week to week. Instead we look at where we want to be and where Skyward is taking us.”

Follow-up resource: Student Management Suite 

Bring a new level of transparency to your grading process with the Skyward Student Management Suite.

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