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Standards-Based Grading and Reporting

Standards-Based Grading and Reporting is means of sharing feedback to students and families that is based on established learning standards. Standards-Based Grading and Reporting focuses on what students understand and what they can do with that understanding.

Context & Explanation

A “standard” (sometimes called a “learning standard” or a “content standard”) is a description of what a student should be able to understand and be able to do. The Virginia Department of Education sets standards for all schools in the Commonwealth, and Arlington Public Schools establishes a framework of expectations for instructing those skills.

In APS, teachers collaborate to understand what is needed to advance each student’s learning from wherever they begin, to mastering those skills. Research-based techniques and designs form the heart of our work with each student, as each of our highly-qualified professional educators plays a unique and powerful role in our Professional Learning Community, called a PLC.

Within our Professional Learning Communities, each grade level and content area collaborates as a Collaborative Learning Team, or CLT, bringing research, skills, professional learning, tools, resources, and a variety of support staff – including coaches and a variety of Special Education professionals and service providers – to bear on our goal: To ensure every child learns every required skill in a meaningful, authentic way. Our CLTs use an array of resources, data, evidence, and professional networks to enhance their skills and help them to target each student’s unique learning needs.


Standards-Based Grading

Standards-Based Grading (SBG) is a method of evaluating student progress in relation to a set of standards. SBG is intended to help students, families, and teachers understand how students are doing as they work on developing their skills. It is not an assignment-based or productivity-mindset way of understanding what children can do.

Research-based descriptions are used to report a student’s level of proficiency towards each standard required by the Virginia Department of Education and the Arlington Public Schools. Arlington Public Schools uses the following Performance Level Descriptors (PLDs):

Performance Level Description
Meets Standard The student shows full and consistent understanding of the standard independently.
Approaching Standard The student shows partial and/or inconsistent understanding of the standard independently.
Developing Standard The student shows initial understanding of the standard with support.

For each standard, in each grade level, teachers create and use meaningful proficiency benchmarks for students to show they have met the standard established by the Virginia Department of Education. On rare occasion, when a standard is introduced, but sufficient evidence has not yet been collected, “insufficient evidence” may be communicated rather than indicating a performance level.

A Journey in Learning

SBG differs from traditional “grading” by eliminating problematic “Fail” and “zero” indicators. In traditional grading, mathematical averages and calculations are used to create a numerical “score,” which does not accurately represent a student’s skill. In these mathematical systems, students who take longer to reach mastery receive lower “grades” or “scores” than students who begin with a high level of mastery. This has the inadvertent effect of discriminating against students who need more time or have unique ways of understanding. Instead of starting from “zero,” students begin with the accurate description of “developing,” meaning students simply have begun to develop that part of their learning. Most students will move through “Developing” and “Approaching” as they learn and develop their skills.

In fact, many students will spend much of their time during the course of learning at the “Approaching” stage, as they are developing skills and content knowledge. Once a student meets the standard of skill established by Virginia and Arlington, the student’s skill is reported accurately as “Meets Standard.”

Because every student is unique, SBG accepts a variety of demonstrations of skill as valid, so teachers use a wide array of student work examples, artifacts, conferences, and analyses to meaningfully understand each learner. Teachers seek to create authentic learning experiences and to help students create demonstrations of their skills within authentic contexts.



“The Case Against Grades” by Alfie Kohn: http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/case-grades/

The Case Against Rewards and Praise” by Harvard Education Letter: http://hepg.org/hel-home/issues/10_2/helarticle/the-case-against-rewards-and-praise

“The Case Against Grades” by Michael Thomsen: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/05/the_case_against_grades_they_lower_self_esteem_discourage_creativity_and.html

“Self-esteem based on external sources has mental health consequences,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/dec02/selfesteem.aspx

A is the Best One” by Caroline Greig: https://www.macalester.edu/educationreform/actionresearch/GreigAR.pdf

Standards-based grading made my kid average” by Lisa Westman: https://lisawestman.com/2017/03/15/standards-based-grading-made-my-kid-average/

Standards-Based Reporting

At the conclusion of each Marking Period (four times per year), consistent with Arlington Public Schools policy, families of students in Grades 1 through 5 receive a Standards-Based Progress Report. Students in Kindergarten receive these reports at the conclusion of each Semester (twice per year). Progress Reports are available through ParentVue based on published dates in theAPS School Calendar.

We report on the Standards established for instruction in public schools in Virginia, by the Virginia Department of Education, and as organized by the Arlington Public Schools Curriculum documents. These Progress Reports provide families with their student’s current state of proficiency within each Standard. These Progress Reports are “snapshots in time,” showing the current learning at the time of the report.

You will note the absence of letter grades in the Standards-Based Progress Report. As explained throughout this section and in the literature, Standards-Based Grading does not utilize traditional letter grades. In APS, we provide discrete information about student’s current level of proficiency for each Standard, providing more detailed and accurate information about each child’s learning.

Progress Report

The Progress Report is generated from teacher entries in each content area in our Student Information System (called “Synergy”). The information and teacher comments on the Progress Report are generated directly from teacher input.

Elementary Implementation


Discovery Elementary School began standards-based instruction, grading, and reporting in Fall 2015.  Ashlawn and Oakridge joined in Fall of 2018.

Standards-based grading and reporting focuses on what students understand and does not utilize traditional letter grades. Standards-based grading and reporting practices –

  • Align to best practices in teaching and learning
  • Promote consistency
  • Focus on what students know and can do
  • Are specific
  • Involve students

These APS schools utilized a progress report that provided families with their student’s current level of mastery for various standards. Standards-based instruction, grading, and reporting expanded:

  • Fall 2019 to 8 elementary schools (Abingdon, Barrett, Fleet, Hoffman Boston, McKinley, Nottingham, Randolph, & Tuckahoe)
  • Fall 2021 to 6 elementary schools (Arlington Science Focus, Barcroft, Innovation, Long Branch, Montessori Public School of Arlington, & the elementary Virtual Learning Program)
  • Fall 2022 to 1 additional elementary school (Carlin Springs)
  • Fall 2023 to 4 additional elementary schools (Claremont, Drew, Escuela Key & Taylor)

As the implementation of standards-based reporting is expanded at the elementary level, we will continue to communicate with families, support teachers and administrators, and gather stakeholder feedback.

Parent Guides

Additional Resources

Community Info Session 2019 – Presentation 

Why Standards-based Grading and Reporting?


Please contact Sarah Putnam, APS Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction.