Standards-Based Grading

NOTE: The Chicago Tribune recently published an article titled "No more A’s on report cards" about District 401's move to standards-based grading. Click here to read the article.

District 401 has transitioned to standards-based grading (also known as standards-based reporting) for kindergarten through 5th grade.

Beginning in 2020-21, new report cards incorporating this approach will be issued for all of the District's K-5 students. Click the following links to see examples of these report cards:

Please note that although the examples above are from Elmwood Elementary School, the report cards at John Mills Elementary School follow the same format and use the same standards.

How We Got Here

The implementation of standards-based grading for K-5 comes after several years of preparation that laid the groundwork for these changes.

During 2019-20, a group of teachers from Elmwood Elementary and John Mills Elementary piloted the new report cards with a portion of the K-5 student body. At the same time, multiple public forums were held to familiarize parents with the new way of assessing student learning. 

All of this followed two years of work by the District's Standards-Based Grading Committee, which met monthly to develop a standards-based report card for those grade levels. The committee focused on the importance of developing a tool that would communicate with parents, students and staff a measure of a student's academic and behavioral progress that goes significantly beyond a traditional "letter grade" report card.

A Video on District 401's Transition

In the following video, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Leah Gauthier (who at the time was Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction) provides an update and overview on the District's transition to standards-based grading.

What Is Standards-Based Grading?

Standards-based grading communicates how students perform on a set of clearly defined learning targets called "standards."

The purpose of standards-based grading is to identify what a student knows, or is able to do, in relation to these learning targets, as opposed to simply averaging grades or scores over the course of a grading period.

Once in place, the new system will provide detailed information about how a student is progressing toward standards in specific content areas.

The new report card will communicate much more than an "A," "B" or "C" about a student. Instead of traditional letter grades, standards-based grading uses numbers on a proficiency scale of 1 to 4. These scores indicate the extent to which a student is on track to meet all applicable end-of-the-year learning standards.

What the Numbers Mean

These numbers do not correlate with letter grades.

In a proficiency scale, the numbers 1-4 indicate the following levels of performance:

► 1 means "Below Grade-Level Standards,"
► 2 means "Developing Grade-Level Standards,"
► 3 means "Meets Grade-Level Standards"
► 4 means "Exceeds Grade-Level Standards"

Using proficiency scales helps communicate to students that learning is a process.

Some concepts and skills are more difficult than others to learn. A score of 1 or 2 while learning a new skill or concept is appropriate and not intended to be punitive. A score of 3 is the target; it shows proficiency and is to be celebrated! A score of 4 indicates a student has reached proficiency and applied knowledge beyond the grade-level standard.

Calculating Scores

Standards-based grading measures a student's mastery of grade-level standards by looking at recent and consistent performance.

A student who may have struggled at the beginning of a grading period may still demonstrate mastery by the end of the grading period.

This differs from traditional grading, where a student's performance for the entire quarter is averaged together and students are graded on something they used to not know rather than on their present level of performance and knowledge.

Work Habits and Behavior

Standards-based report cards separate academic performance from work performance and behavior in order to provide parents a more accurate view of a student's progress.

Effort, participation, cooperation, attendance and homework completion are reported separately.

Again, this differs from traditional grading, where factors such as late work, homework completion and behavior during an activity could factor into an overall average score.

Remember, Numbers Don't Equal Letter Grades

As the District implements the new report cards, it's important for parents and students to understand that the numbers used in standards-based grading do not correspond to letter grades. Specifically:

  • The 1-4 scale should not be compared to the traditional A-F grading scale.
  • A mark of “3” cannot be considered a "B," nor should a “4” be considered an "A."
  • The "Meets Grade-Level Standards" score of 3 shows that a student is performing at grade level. If that performance is maintained, the student will meet the end-of-year standard.

Standards-based grading measures the mastery of multiple learning targets. A student's performance is measured against those standards rather than against the performance of other students. The goal is for everyone to meet or exceed the standards.

To Learn More | Podcast

District 401's podcast, "Parkside Chat," devoted a November 2019 episode to standards-based grading. The episode focused on the process behind the shift away from traditional grades to standards-based reporting and how such a shift provides improved feedback, more relevant instruction and student ownership of education.

Teachers and students from John Mills Elementary discussed the process with Parkside Chat host Dr. Jessica Iovinelli, who at the time was the District's Director for Instructional Technology.

Click below to listen. For a direct link to this episode on, please click here.

To Learn More | Video

For additional information about standards-based grading, we invite you to view the following video produced by TeacherEase, a company specializing in standards-based learning.