Junior High

High School


Standards Based Grading

What is Standards-Based Grading and Reporting?

Standards-based grading is a method used to assess student proficiency based on their knowledge of a standard. Teachers evaluate student performance and give feedback as students work toward clearly defined learning targets. Students who are not initially proficient are encouraged to retake assessments until they can demonstrate proficiency. A students grade is then based on their level of understanding on the identified standard, in Davis School District this is the DESK standard, for each content area. The primary focus for students and educators is proficiency.

Why Standards-Based Grading?

Students today experience stress and anxiety at higher rates than ever before. Much of this stress comes from uncertainty about how to successfully meet all of the expectations from their teachers. Standards-based grading unifies and simplifies the grading process from teacher to teacher providing a clear direction for students about learning expectations. Students who have participated in classrooms using standards-based grading agree that they overwhelmingly prefer this method to traditional grading practices. Teachers believe that standards-based grading allows them to identify students based on their individual needs and be able to differentiate for students. As teachers transition to standards-based grading, students will begin to recognize their academic growth, build confidence in themselves as a student, and feel empowered to work with teachers to ensure their learning success.


Why standards-based grading and reporting?

Davis School District has been moving toward implementation of Mastery Based Learning in  K-12 for a few years now. We started in the elementary school setting and are now starting to move towards junior and senior high.  We began the journey in response to several concerns; two important ones follow:

  • Though the State of Utah prescribes academic standards in which students are expected to become proficient (and assesses that learning via end-of year tests), districts do not typically report to students and parents on that learning. Grades, particularly at the secondary level, are rooted in task completion, classroom compliance, penalties related to deadlines, and extra credit options.
  • The incongruence between student grades assigned at the classroom level and related state assessment scores in those class subjects has also become increasingly apparent. (For example, a student scores 3, proficient, in math but earns an F grade in class or scores a 1, not proficient, in science but earns an A in class.)

Davis School District is committed to student learning. As the State Accountability System has focused on academic proficiency for students, we have acknowledged the need to differentiate proficiency from academic growth and to report more specifically to students and parents on learning gaps and standards missed versus areas of mastery and excellence and skills/strategies to move all students’ learning from one to the other. This is in alignment with the Utah State Board of Education and their movement to competency-based education.

The primary research identified through Davis School District pilot schools comes from Dr. R.J. Marzano, Classroom Assessment & Grading that Work; Dr. T.R. Guskey, On Your Mark; and Dr. Tom Schimmer, Grading From the Inside Out. All are renowned scholars and authors on educational leadership and school-wide reform with proven research on the effects of standards-based grading for school and student improvement.

What are DESK standards?

Davis Essential Skills and Knowledge (DESK) standards were created by committees of educators, parents, and students to align student learning across Davis School District. These committee members researched state and national standards to determine what students should know and be able to do within each content area, at each grade level. DESK standards vertically align knowledge and skills so that students demonstrating proficiency in all standards should be prepared to be successful in the following course. Parents can access DESK standards through the DSD Teaching & Learning Department.

What will this look like in the classroom?

Standards-based grading classrooms embrace a growth mindset model that allows students to learn from their mistakes and demonstrate learning over time. The model below is taken from developmental research at the University of Florida. Teachers follow this basic model in all content areas. This model allows students to understand concepts in a positive environment that turns mistakes into a learning experience. It also maintains the expectation that with practice every student can find success.

standards-based instruction model

How will this affect the grade?

Students receive a variety of assessments for each standard in each of their classes. Each assessment will have a clearly defined rubric modeled after the school-wide rubric. The rubric allows the student to understand the expectation and how to achieve proficiency on the assessment. A student's performance on a series of assessments (both formative and summative) will be used to determine the student's overall grade in the course.

Practice assignments are just that, practice, and thus serve primarily as a source of feedback and instructional support for both students and teachers. Parents should use practice scores as a reference of how to help their student at home. Teachers may require students to complete all practice work prior to allowing them to retake an assessment.

DSD Proficiency Scale Elementary


dsd profeiciency scale


How can we improve the grade?

Students can improve their grade through practice and reassessment. If a student's grade is lower than desired, it is because they do not understand a priority standard in that content area. Parents and students should review the student's scores in myDSD and the practice assignments associated with that standard. Students should review or redo practice assignments until they have reached proficiency or mastery. Then students interested in improving their grade should speak with the teacher to schedule a time to retake an assessment. Deadlines for retaking assessments will be established by the school's grading calendar (midterm and end of term). We encourage all students to take advantage of retakes in order to improve their grades.

To ensure student learning on priority standards, extra-credit is not offered.

How will this affect Special Education students?

Students who currently receive Special Education services will continue to work on IEP goals just as they have in the past. Teachers, special education or general education, will continue to support student learning with the use of accommodations determined by the IEP team.

What Is Standards-based Grading?