Standards-Referenced Reporting

Standards‐Referenced Reporting Overview 

as presented to the Board of Education April 2014, August 2014 

Student achievement is our primary mission at Harrisonville Schools, and we take our responsibility to ensure that all students are learning at a high level very seriously. The District Comprehensive School Improvement Goal #5 states: “All teachers in the district will use a common philosophy of grading and assessment by August 2018.”

Grades and their role in education have been debated for many years. Over the past five years, site-based teacher and administrator teams have participated in ongoing professional development through the Greater Kansas City Professional Development Network to study and pilot improvement strategies in grading and assessment. Teachers from McEowen Elementary and the High School have piloted isolated aspects of improved grading and assessment practice. Harrisonville Middle School made this a “front burner” goal and has focused their staff professional development almost exclusively on standards-based grading and assessment.

What we learned through this work and study is that what is most important is feedback to students, and grades are part of that. In order for students to improve, they need accurate and specific feedback about their performance as it compares to an expected standard. There is a lot of educational research that supports that giving students good feedback will increase their academic achievement. In fact, a researcher named John Hattie reviewed hundreds of research studies on this topic and found that effective feedback can increase student achievement by as much as 34 percentile points. 

Traditional grading practices are not effective in giving students this kind of feedback. Some of the issues with the traditional grading system are as follows:

Grades based on comparison to other students. Often grades are assigned by comparing how one student performed to another student’s performance. A better approach is to compare student performance to an expected standard. For example, we expect that a sixth grade student should be able to read a piece of non‐fiction text at the sixth grade level and then state the main idea of the passage. When we grade students on this important skill, their grade should be based on how they perform compared to that standard rather than on whether they state the main idea better or worse than another student in the class.

A single score that represents many skills. We use one grade to represent performance on a number of different skills. For example, a math test may have items on it that require students to understand three separate skills, but the student gets one grade on the test. This “muddies the water” for students because they may not understand which skills they have mastered and which they have not. 

The inclusion of non‐achievement factors in the academic grade. We include “non‐ achievement” factors in the academic grade. Non‐achievement factors are things like attendance, behavior, time management, work completion, etc. These skills are extremely important, and we definitely want to give feedback to students and parents about them; however, that feedback needs to be reported separately from the academic grade. When we give students feedback about their skills in reading, that feedback should be about reading, not about whether or not the student turned reading assignments in late. When we report both academic and non‐achievement factors separately, we give students and parents more specific information about how the student is performing.

Relying on the 100 point scale. The final issue with traditional grading is that we rely on the 100-point scale. This is the system on which most of us were graded in school. Look at this example and think about how you would assign points to each of these categories.

Assign Point Values (must add up to 100):

You might have assigned the values as follows:

Section A – 40 points

Section B – 40 points

Section C – 20 points 

Your rationale might have been that the easy and medium difficulty questions should have the most weight and that the hardest questions should not count as much because the teacher did not directly teach that material. This is a logical thought.

Here is another example of how you might have assigned values:

Section A – 20 points

Section B – 40 points

Section C – 40 points

Your rationale might have been that the easy parts should count the least and the more complex thinking should have greater weight because these items show that the student truly understands the material. This is also a logical thought. There are many ways to look at how to divide the sections of this assessment.

Let’s now look at a student’s performance. Sam scored as follows on this test:

Section A – All correct

Section B – Half correct

Section C – None correct

 On the first example, Sam would have scored 60/100. On the second example, Sam would have scored 40/100. When we do this exercise with teachers in the same grade levels, the same content areas, etc. we have gotten scores ranging from 20 – 90. Which teacher would you choose?

 What we learned is that it is difficult to make scores on the 100 point scale clearly understandable and meaningful pieces of feedback for students. This led to a search for a better way. We began studying the work of Dr. Robert J. Marzano, Dr. Tom Guskey, Ken O’Connor, Grant Wiggins, as well as journal reviews of research on the topic of grading and assessment. Marzano proposes the use of “proficiency scales” or rubrics that describe an expected level of performance.

Here is a silly example of a rubric.

 Clean Refrigerator Rubric


Entire refrigerator is sparkling and smells clean. All items are fresh in proper containers (original or Tupperware with lids), and organized into categories.

3 – “Proficient”

Refrigerator is generally wiped clean. All items are relatively fresh in some type of container (some Tupperware lids are missing or don’t fit) and are sitting upright.


Some of the shelves are wiped clean although there are some crusty spots. There are some suspicious smells. Items are in containers, but there seems to be some green stuff growing in some of the Tupperware.


Items stick to the shelves when they are picked up. The smells linger long after the refrigerator door is closed. Several items need to be thrown out—Tupperware and all.

Rubrics can help paint a picture about an expected level of performance that everyone can easily understand. If my refrigerator is currently a 2, I know what I have to do to make it a 4. This is effective feedback.

The following is a general rubric that can be used to describes student performance or proficiency in any content or skill.

4 - “Advanced”

In addition to exhibiting level 3 performance, in‐depth inferences and applications that go BEYOND what was taught in class

3 – “Proficient”

No major errors or omissions regarding any of the information and/or processes (SIMPLE OR COMPLEX) that were explicitly taught

2 - “Basic”

No major errors or omissions regarding the SIMPLER details and processes BUT major errors or omissions regarding the more complex ideas and processes

1- “Below Basic”

With HELP, a partial knowledge of some of the simpler and complex details and processes

0 - “Level Not Determined”

Even with help, no understanding or skill demonstrated

Using this general rubric as a guideline, the grade-level and content teams have begun working to create topic or skill‐specific rubrics for English/Language Arts, mathematics, social studies, and science, as well as some of the exploratory content areas. We are exploring the possibility of creating rubrics for behavior and time/task management for all grade levels or an employability rubric for secondary students. These factors could potentially be reported for each student along with academic grades.

Moving away from traditional grading practices can cause concern for everyone involved in the early stages. It is important to note what will NOT change as a result of re-designing our district process for feedback and grades. Secondary students will still receive a letter grade and traditional GPA. Students are still ranked for the purpose of certain honors, scholarships, and college applications. The most noticeable change for secondary students is a clearer focus on what is necessary to be proficient and letter grades will be a more accurate representation of their true academic and skills achievement. Students in primary grades will more than likely not realize any change. All we ever needed to know about grading and feedback, we can learn from Kindergarten!

For more information:

Dr. Steve Ritter
Director of Academic & Student Services
Administration Building
816-380-2727 ext. 1703