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Standards-Based Grading (SBG): Everything You Need To Know (2024)

Take a deep dive into standards-based grading, including its benefits and how to implement SBG in your school district.
SpacesEDU Team
Last Updated
January 14, 2023
Estimated Reading Time
10 minutes

Standards-Based Grading

When most people think of grades, they think of a percentage or a letter assigned to a course, assignment, test, or project. However, standards-based grading (SBG) is a different way of assessing student learning and student progress. SBG is a type of assessment that focuses on what students know and can do in relation to specific learning standards rather than a letter or numerical grade. This guide explores standards-based grading in detail, including what it is, how it works, the student and teacher benefits of this assessment style, and how to begin implementing this method in your school or district.

What is Standards-Based Grading?

At its core, standards-based grading involves grading based on standards. This type of assessment focuses on what students know and can do in relation to specific learning standards, often set at the state or district level.

For example, a math teacher may assess students based on standards like:

  • Understanding addition and subtraction concepts
  • Being able to add and subtract within 100
  • Multiplying and dividing with fractions
  • Expressing decimals as fractions

When using a standards-based system, every student is assessed on their individual understanding of these concepts. In other words, each student receives a grade or proficiency level that shows how well they know and can execute the specific standards, rather than grading based on task completion or how their performance compares to that of their classmates.

Student Benefits of Standards-Based Grading

As more districts shift away from a traditional grading system to one that is standards-based, it's important to explore the benefits that SBG can have on both students and educators.

First, this system allows students to receive more frequent feedback on their progress. With a traditional grading system, a student might only receive one or two grades for a semester-long course. However, with SBG, where the focus is on mastery of standards, students receive feedback more often, which they can use to improve their understanding, performance, and academic achievement.

Another benefit is that standards-based grading is often deemed more equitable than other systems. A traditional grading system can sometimes ignore students' diverse learning needs and that they start their learning journey at different places, with different experiences and skills. However, with a standards-based approach, assessments are more diverse and allow students to showcase their understanding in a way that speaks to them – ensuring success is attainable for all learners.

Finally, standards-based grading and competency-based education (CBE) can increase student agency and motivation to learn. With standards-based grading, students are given more autonomy, voice, and choice in their learning. Additionally, in a traditional system that prioritizes grading based on task completion, students may be frustrated and unmotivated to improve if they receive a low grade early on in a course. With SBG, students understand that proficiency is measured against specific standards, which can motivate them to continue learning and improving throughout a course.

Teacher Benefits of Standards-Based Grading

With a shift to standards-based grading, also comes advantages for your teachers.

To begin, this system can save educators time. While shifting to SBG requires an initial mindset and process change, as well as change management strategies, once set up, it can increase efficiencies, saving your teachers time. In a traditional grading system that values task completion, a lot of time is spent marking and grading homework, projects, and other assignments. However, with SBG, educators can draw from an ongoing bank of student work by implementing a tool like a digital portfolio. This allows teachers to simply assess how students are progressing towards meeting standards, which can save a significant amount of time in the grading process.

Additionally, standards-based grading makes it easier for educators to provide targeted support in a more personalized way. With SBG, assessments are aligned to specific standards, meaning teachers can more easily identify where students are excelling and where they may need support. This allows teachers to provide targeted feedback and instruction aligned to the standards that each student needs to work on. In turn, this helps students understand what they need to do to improve their performance.

Implementing Standards-Based Grading

There are many different ways that standards-based grading can be implemented in the classroom. Here are a few of the most common methods.

Mastery Grading

This is perhaps the most well-known method of implementing SBG. In mastery grading, students must demonstrate a complete understanding of a concept before they move on to the next one. In other words, they must achieve a "student mastery" level on each assignment or assessment related to a specific standard before progressing.

Why it works:

  • Helps ensure students have a strong foundation in each concept before moving on.
  • Eliminates the need for students to relearn concepts they didn't fully understand the first time around.

Grade Book

With an SBG grade book, student grades are often tracked in a grade book that contains all standards for the course or subject. Grades are then assigned to each standard based on how well students have demonstrated an understanding of each one.

Why it works:

  • Allows teachers to see at a glance which standards individual students need to work on.
  • Encourages students to take a more proactive role in their learning, as they can see which areas they need to focus on.

Standards-Based Report Cards

With a standards-based report card, students receive feedback based on how they've performed and grown over time with regard to the standards, rather than receiving an overall grade that indicates their performance in a subject area. This type of standards-based report card is often used in elementary schools.


  • Allows parents and guardians to see exactly which areas their child is struggling in and what they're excelling at.
  • It encourages students to take a more active role in their own learning since they can see which areas need more attention.

Standards-Based Grading: FAQs

What are some of the benefits of SBG?

Some of the benefits of SBG include increased student agency and motivation to learn, increased clarity and consistency in grading, and more personalized learning experiences and meaningful feedback.

How does SBG differ from traditional evaluation and assessment?

With SBG, each student is assessed based on their individual understanding of each standard. This differs from traditional grading, which is often based on task completion or how their performance compares to that of their classmates.

What are some of the challenges of implementing SBG?

Challenges of implementing SBG may include the initial time required to set up and maintain this new system, training teachers and students on how SBG works and how it's implemented, and the overall change management that's required when implementing something new to overcome resistance from stakeholders who are unfamiliar with the concept.

How does SBG vary by grade?

The type of SBG system you use may vary depending on the grade level you teach. For example, elementary schools often use standards-based report cards, while middle and high schools may use a standards-based grade book.

How do I get started with SBG?

If you're interested in implementing SBG in your district or school, you'll need a tool to support this change. Download our free K-12 Competency-Based Education Vendor Selection and Buying Guide to get started.

How do you grade with standards-based grading?

In SBG, grades are assigned based on how well students have performed on each standard, rather than by assignment. Leveraging a tool like SpacesEDU that includes a proficiency scale, proficiency reports, and a summary reporting space allows educators to easily keep track of student mastery.

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