Standards-Based Teaching and Learning

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Standards-Based Teaching and Learning at Castilleja

Life in an independent school is guided by two forces: opportunity and responsibility. On the one hand, we have the opportunity to shape the student experience in the manner that best helps us achieve the mission of our schools. On the other, we have the immense responsibility to make sure that each student learns and progresses in meaningful ways. To balance those drives, classroom practitioners must continuously design student experiences built on intentional, research-based approaches to teaching and learning.

At Castilleja, our transition to standards-based teaching and learning in 9th and 10th grades is grounded in a desire to further evolve our approach in supporting our community of learners in a research-driven, systematic way.

What is a Standards-Based Approach to Teaching and Learning?

A standards-based approach to teaching and learning (often called ‘competency-based’ or ‘mastery-based’) orients the student experience around growth in two ways: via thoughtful course design constructed around learning objectives and via prioritizing individualized student feedback. Unlike a more traditional course design that might take a chronological approach to content delivery, a course designed for standardsbased teaching and learning makes student learning goals the driver of the classroom experience. More traditional courses determine final grades by calculating a student’s average grade on assessments, homework, and participation. A standards-based system benchmarks student progress toward the stated goals of the course (or the “standards”). In effect, a standards-based philosophy guides both how the course flows and how students are assessed. This approach to course design culminates in a final grade at the end of the semester that authentically reflects what students have learned.

In a standards-based environment teachers define clear standards and learning goals, molding their instruction and pedagogy around the needs of students. This pedagogy honors adolescent development by centering learning instead of behavior, and gives grace to developing brains as they learn to set goals and priorities. The goal is to increase students’ sense of self-efficacy as they become increasingly capable of delving deeply, independently, and confidently into complex academic topics in high school and beyond.

Standards-Based Grading vs. Traditional Grading for an English Class:

The tables below illustrate how a student would be graded in a standards-based and a traditional grading scenario.

Standards-based grading provides students with more chances to succeed and master a skill.

Traditional grading can often cause stress, and slightly impairs grades, without properly crediting any progress made along the way.

TRADITIONAL GRADING EXAMPLE 1st 2nd 3rd Average Homework 100 100 100 100% Tests 50 65 75 63.3% Essays 90 80 95 88.3% Quizzes 85 75 80 80% Final Grade: 82.9% or B-
“I like the standards based approach because I have time to figure it out and don’t have to be perfect.”
—10th Grade Student
STANDARDS-BASED GRADING EXAMPLE Standard Communication 2 3 3 4 4 Connections 2 3 4 4 Analysis 1 1 2 4 4 Persuasion 3 2 3 3 Structure 1 3 4 3 4 Final Grade: A Assignment1Assignment2Assignment3Assignment4Assignment5Overall

Progress is Personal

Students learn differently and at their own pace. No two students are the same and each student arrives with different priorities, experiences, and goals. A standards-based approach is a systematic way of honoring the different paths that our students may take, and takes a longer view of student progress. Assessments are no longer high-stakes moments that make or break a grade, but rather one of multiple opportunities for students to show what they know. Each student has a personalized plan built around direct feedback from their teachers as they work to meet the course standards.

Confident Thinkers

Learning how to learn is the most crucial element for success beyond Castilleja. Learning is not a simple regurgitation of facts and formulas; it is the operationalizing of a strategic set of cognitive skills that can be deployed in any context to any new situation. Strong learners have the tools to meet any challenge that is put into their paths, and a standards-based learning environment is built upon creating the space and time for students to develop the skills to learn collaboratively and independently. As students progress toward their goals, they gain the confidence as learners to hold uncertainty because they know they have the tools to manage whatever comes their way.

Room to Grow

In a standards-based learning environment, the long arc is a guiding metaphor. In a standards-based practice, learners receive multiple opportunities to show what they know, and they meet learning goals over the course of an entire semester. Multiple chances to achieve competency in a standard means more opportunities to try new approaches to learning and different ways to study. Instead of using a system of averages, a standards-based practice focuses on a student’s best score instead of averaging all attempts to meet a learning target. As students juggle their classes, sports, and their extracurriculars in addition to their family commitments, a standards-based model gives students breathing room to make priorities.

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Working Smart

A standards-based model of teaching and learning is all about individual needs and progress. Students need to learn to identify their own needs, growth and strengths so that they can better calibrate their effort and strategies towards meeting their learning goals/standards. The transparency of a standards-based practice allows a student to have a clear sense of their progress, and invites them to chart their path forward and the speed at which they want to travel. For some, this means taking more time to try a new strategy or approach and for others this means recognizing that they have achieved the learning goal and that they can focus elsewhere.

“Some students become hyperconscientious— they work harder than necessary for the mastery they need or the grade they want.
When this happens, adults can say: ‘You’ve developed an incredible work ethic, and that is fantastic. The next step in your evolution as a student is to become strategic about how you deploy our efforts.’”
—Dr. Lisa Damour

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Will standards make my student focus more on grades?

In this new system focusing on a grade requires a student to focus on learning. In a standards-based classroom a grade is an authentic indicator of learning and progress towards transparent learning goals.

Q: Does this make each assessment feel more high stakes?

This approach to teaching and learning is designed to make assessments an integral part of the learning process. Assessments are opportunities to check in and see what a student understands and what progress a student has made towards a well-defined, clear standard. Insight into what a student understands and progress towards a standard allow both the teacher and the student to determine the next steps to insure learning and growth. In some cases, a student will have met the standard with an early assessment and in other cases they may engage in multiple cycles. When both students and teachers shift from seeing assessments as the end point of the learning process then assessments will no longer feel high stakes.

Resources and Additional Reading

Q: Is it true that not demonstrating one standard may prevent my student from an A in the course?

In a standards-based classroom, an A is defined by meeting a set of standards that the course is designed to support. In some classes, a topic or skill may be introduced but not fully explored, and the standard around that topic will be defined accordingly. Teachers are thoughtfully designing learning experiences and assignments around clearly defined standards. In these classrooms, a pathway to an A is transparent and fully aligned with standards that are shared at the beginning of the semester and referenced throughout the classroom experience.

Q: Why is my student’s teacher using a different standardsbased system than another teacher teaching the same class?

Standards-based teaching and learning is grounded in key principles of transparency, multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning and clearly defined learning goals. All of our 9th and 10th grade teachers have these principles in common. The specific system they use is a personal choice, which is the case in non-standards based courses as well.

Guskey, T. R., & Brookhart, S. M. (2019). What we know about grading: What works, what doesn’t, and what’s next. ASCD. Kohn, A. (1999). From degrading to de-grading. High school magazine, 6(5), 38-43.

Great Schools Partnership:

“The mental health and wellness of students should be of paramount importance to educators; in fact, there is nothing more important for us than to reduce stress and anxiety that our students feel. Decades of research tells us that the standards-based learning practices help accomplish this.

Muñoz, M. A., & Guskey, T. R. (2015). Standards-based grading and reporting will improve education. Phi Delta Kappan, 96(7), 64-68.

Research review in Edutopia March 2023 by Youki Tereda

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