Standards-Based Grading Policy Does More Harm Than Good

Gustavo Damian Danemann Soto, Features Editor

   Students within the San Diego Unified School District have probably heard the term standards-based grading before. Beginning with its introduction into public schools across the county this school year, it consists of a system designed to reduce inequities and grade disparities, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. While clearly well-intentioned and a step in the right direction, standards-based grading ultimately comes with flaws we cannot ignore ( 

   UC High students have been bothered by several elements of this new strategy. “From a student’s perspective, [standards-based grading] is challenging for us because there isn’t any consistency,” said Junior Sydney Boerner. Sophomore Michael Kozma mentioned that while fewer students will be getting D’s and F’s, there will also be fewer A’s and B’s. “It’s essentially pushing us all into being C students, and preventing true achievement. It’s a half-baked attempt to say progress is being made,” Kozma added. Sophomore Julian Reinstein argued that “…the style of teaching standards-based grading proposes raises too many difficult questions.”

   In particular, the removal of extra credit has been widely debated. The PowerSchool website argues that “…extra credit will pad a student’s grade,” yet gives no evidence or arguments as to why. Based on the system’s intentions, it’s probable that the idea of removing extra credit is to make grades fairer for all, as more privileged students might have the ability to complete extra credit, while others may not. Some students may have to work or take care of siblings after school, meaning they don’t have the time or ability to do extra credit activities. The problem lies in that this removal takes away all students’ chances to raise their grades when the semester is coming to a close. Extra credit can help boost students’ grades, based on effort, rather than correct answers on a test. It could mean the difference between passing or failing at the end of a semester. “Extra credit needs to be brought back. There is no justification to explain why hard work and dedication to education should be villainized in students’ minds,” said Kozma (

   With standards-based grading, tests and exams become a much larger portion of the grade, as they are meant to show that a student has met the standards. Classes exploring a wide variety of complex and tricky concepts like science and math courses are most affected by this grading system. Classwork and projects may be relatively straightforward, but tests may be so long and complicated that it can be difficult to always get good grades on them. Subjects like social studies, which require a lot of memorization and more of a hyper-detailed understanding of the topics, will also become much harder to pass now that tests make up so much of one’s grade. Considering the fact that curriculum is not always being thoroughly covered, some teacher’s lack of focus on true comprehension, and many other factors not being considered part of the grade anymore, concerns regarding unsatisfactory and unfair grades are not only substantiated but will increase. 

   Standards-based grading has some solid blocks. The acceptance of late work is a much-appreciated consideration due to a plethora of situations that could cause a student to require an extension. On the other hand, there are certain factors that should remain a part of grading. “Class participation is essential because it measures class engagement and gives students an incentive to ask questions,” said Reinstein.

   Junior Amelia Rains mentioned that “…although standards-based grading helps teachers understand if their methods are working for students, it’s hard to enjoy what you’re learning.” It’s important for the district to be aware of the important motivator that makes students passionate for learning. Coming to school should be a chance to understand the mechanics of many concepts you see in your everyday life; however, this is impossible when students are graded on simply remembering facts and formulas and are not given the chance to adequately explore. Furthermore, how can teens build a strong work ethic and attitude when everyday classwork and participation won’t count towards their grade? How is this not begging for students to put less effort into school? High school in particular needs to prepare students for adulthood. By not enforcing dedication, many students will graduate unprepared.  “If education is about preparing students for the future, standards-based grading is not the greatest system for that,” said Reinstein.

   It’s evident why this grading method is important, and its principles are established for several good reasons. But after over a year of online learning, it’s questionable whether a system that contributes to lack of motivation and possible academic dishonesty is the best way to go. “It’s just a matter of combining the positives from both traditional and standards-based grading,” said Reinstein. By combining educator proposals, student needs, and research, a system that truly benefits all can be made.