What is Standards-Based Grading?

Standards-based Grading (SBG) is an alternative grading approach that is used to directly measure the quality of students’ proficiency towards achieving well-defined course objectives. SBG was first developed during the 1990s when all US states reformed public K-12 education by setting academic standards for what students should know and be able to do. Student achievement is explicitly broken down for students across established learning objectives throughout the duration of a course. Student development towards achieving the course objectives is directly tracked throughout the duration of a course to observe changes in development levels over time. Final course grades are then determined based on students’ development towards achieving all of the course objectives according to an established grading policy.


How does this differ from traditional grading systems?

Grading systems have been used to determine whether or not students are meeting relevant academic goals within their courses since the late 1700s. Most higher education institutions use a traditional, summative score-based grading system. Such grading systems rely on assigning and tabulating scores to multiple assignments, summing assignment scores, and determining a final course grade based on a predetermined scale. Course objectives within this approach are unconnected and often are not mentioned beyond the course syllabi. Such an approach inherently fails to meet the conditions for sound assessment of student work and learning because the resulting final course grades only display how well the students performed on completing the separate course assignments rather than how well they learned the course objectives.



Educators gain numerous advantages when they use standards-based grading. These benefits arise from personalized, clear, and meaningful feedback provided to students regarding their learning and development. Assessments are made regarding the quality of student work based on specific objectives that students are made aware of at the beginning of a course. This provides fairness and transparency by grading each individual student on the quality of their current work alone. How well other students in the course perform and previous levels of development by the student are nonfactors. This in turn promotes the encouragement of student learning and continuous improvement by placing responsibility for learning on the students themselves. Students are encouraged to focus on learning the content for the purpose of understanding rather than obtaining a certain grade. In addition, academic programs have the potential to directly extract the results from SBG used in courses for the purposes of assessing accreditation requirements, such as for ABET.


Video Resources

Standards-based grading YouTube Channel

Standards-based grading overview

Another SBG overview

Traditional versus standards-based grading

TEDx – Standards-based grading and the game of school


Literature Resources

  1. Andrade, H. A. (2000). Using rubric to promote thinking and learning. Educational Leadership, 57(5), 13-18.
  2. Armacost, R.L., & Pet-Armacost, J., 2003, “Using mastery-based grading to facilitate learning,” Proceedings of the 33rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Session T3A, pp. 20-25, November 5-8, 2003, Boulder, CO.
  3. Carpinelli, J., Kimmel, H., Hirsch, L., Burr-Alexander, L., Rockland, R., & O’Shea, M., 2008, “A rubric to evaluate standards-based lesson plans and students’ achievement of the standards,” Proceedings of the 2008 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, paper number AC2008-1148.
  4. Cox, K. B. (2011). Putting classroom grading practices on the table: a reform in progress. American Secondary Education, 2011, 40(1), 67-88.
  5. Guskey, T. R. (2001). Helping standards make the grade. Educational Leadership, 59(1), 20-27.
  6. Guskey, T. R. (2011). Five obstacles to grading reform. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 16-21.
  7. Heywood, J. (2014). The Evolution of a Criterion Referenced System of Grading for Engineering Science Coursework. Paper presented at the IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Madrid, Spain.
  8. Heflebower, T., Hoegh, J. K., & Warrick, P. (2014). A school leader’s guide to standards-based grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.
  9. Kellogg, R. S., Mann J. A., & Dieterich, A. (2001). Developing and using rubrics to evaluate subjective engineering laboratory and design reports. Proceedings of the 108th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  10. Marzano, R. J. (2010).  Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading. Marzano Research Laboratory: Bloomington, IN.
  11. Muñoz, M. A., & Guskey, T. R. (2015). Standards-based grading and reporting will improve education. Phi Delta Kappan, 96(7), 64-68.
  12. Parker, P. J., Bocher, B., Polebitski, A. (2014). Assessing student writing competencies in environmental engineering courses. Proceedings of the 121st ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, IN.
  13. Post, S. L. (2014). Standards-based grading in a fluid mechanics course. Proceedings of the 121st ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, IN.
  14. Potter, R., & Meisels, G., 2005, “Enhancing teacher preparation and improving faculty teaching skills: lessons learned from implementing “science that matters” a standards based interdisciplinary science course sequence,” Journal of Science Education and Technology 14 n2, pp. 191-204.
  15. Reeves, D.B., 2003, Making standards work: how to implement standards-based assessments in the classroom, school, and district, 3rd ed., Advanced Learning Press, Englewood, CO.
  16. Sadler, D.R., 1987, “Specifying and promulgating achievement standards,” Oxford Review of Education 13, pp. 191-209.
  17. Sadler, D. R. (2005). Interpretations of criteria‐based assessment and grading in higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 30(2), 175-194.
  18. Sadler, D.R., 2009, “Indeterminacy in the use of present criteria for assessment and grading,” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 34 n2, pp. 159-179.
  19. Scriffiny, P.L. (2008). Seven reasons for standards-based grading. Educational Leadership, 66(2), 70-74.
  20. VanHook, M. S. (2014). Standards-based grading. MSV Educational Network, 1(1).  Retrieved from http://www.msveducationalnetwork.com/educa%C3%A7%C3%A3o/artigos-e-recursos-para-educadores/