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Standards Based Grading Rehab

Assessment-based Individualized Learning

Individualized Learning

We’ve all heard the figure of speech: “They can’t see the forest for the trees.”

We teachers tend to have the opposite issue: “We can’t see the trees for the forest.”

Teachers want to see students as individuals (and we often claim that we do so), but we have been culturally inculcated to see our students more in terms of groups. Sit in any staff room at lunch time and you’ll hear the following: “My fifth period is so low.” “My kids are so caring this year.” “My last period is out of control.” “I love my EL kids in that class.”

Now, teachers don’t really see every student as reflective of the whole, but the groups do provide a means generalization and comparison. When teachers generalize and compare, they have some notion in mind regarding the object of comparison. Such objects may include other classes, past years’ classes, “the ways we used to do things,” or often “how it was when I was a student.”

This identification of students in terms of comparative groups influences both our instructional and evaluative practices. The underlying notion of the bell curve permeates our group thinking and teacher experience tends to reinforces the notion that some of any group will really get it; some won’t get it at all; and most will sort of get it. We design our lessons, units, and tests accordingly although few would readily admit to doing so.

Teachers might say, “I teach to the middle.” “My lessons are designed to teach grade-level standards.” “My smart goals include ‘25% basic, 50% proficient, and “25% advanced.'” “This is an honors class (or remedial class) and so…” “I’ll get called into the principal if I have too many D or F grades.” “My colleagues will be upset if I give too many A‘s.” “We have common final exams, so my results (or grades) have to match those of my colleagues.” Administrative pressure, peer pressure, and “being a team player” values reinforce group think.

Our traditional ABCD, and F grading system is tied to seeing students as groups. Were teachers able to teach and grade students as individuals in terms of progress toward content and skill standards, a considerable amount of rehab would need to take place. A 12 step program to change the way we teach and evaluate students might look like this:

The 12 Steps of Standards-based Grading Rehab

1. We admitted we were powerless over group think, generalizations, and arbitrary comparisons—that our instruction and evaluation had become unmanageable, ineffective, irrelevant, inaccurate, and ethically questionable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, that is the belief in the value of the individual.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our teaching over to God and standards assessment-based individualized instruction.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and admitted that we don’t know everything and that we are not perfect teachers with no room for improvement.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our educational malpractice.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of our professional practice and be willing to change long-established and cherished beliefs and practice.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all: to students, to parents, to colleagues, to administrators, and to our profession.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other teachers and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Principles Copyright  1952, 1953, 1981 by Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing
(now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.)


Mark Pennington is an educational author and re-thinker of his own teaching practice. Mark’s assessment-based individualized learning, featuring diagnostic and formative assessments is included in his grades 4–8 ELA and reading intervention programs found at www.penningtonpublishing.comCheck out and use these sample diagnostic assessments to individualize and differentiate your instruction and evaluation:

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