Opinion: Standard based grading sets students up for failure


Credit: Screenshot from WMS math website

WSPN’s Tess Alongi discusses the issues surrounding the standards based grading system employed at Wayland Middle School.

Tess Alongi

For the past couple years, standards based grading has been the primary way of evaluating students at Wayland Middle School, a system that measures students’ abilities with numbers one through four. Students who receive a four are considered to have mastered the skill, while students with a three have met expectations. Both a one and a two mean that a student has not mastered a certain objective.

I am currently a junior at Wayland High School and graduated from WMS in 2019. When I started high school it was a very big adjustment in terms of the homework and grading standards, but the biggest challenge for me was math. Was I in over my head academically or ill-prepared for getting a letter grade?

When I was in middle school, the standard based grading system was much newer and was really only used as an overall grade in math. Certain assignments in other classes would be graded on the scale, but I received a letter grade at the end of each grading period in my other classes. Even though standards based grading was primarily in one class, I still felt the effects of it in high school. I can only imagine how difficult the jump from middle school to high school would have been if I had to adjust from the two different grading systems in every class.

In middle school when I got a two, I would retake my test or relearn the material until I got a three. Eventually, my report card would say that I met expectations. When I received a three, it would be marked as “met expectations,” but the grade is essentially equivalent to a “C” letter grade. The C range is marked as, “satisfactory performance,” which means that students are meeting the expectations. If I received a C in a class, it would not be a failure, but I certainly wouldn’t be happy with the grade. I would not feel like I met the expectations of the class.

I believe that standards based grading is setting kids up for failure. When a student gets to high school, there are no redoing tests two or three times until they get an acceptable grade. This also sets students up for a false understanding of their abilities. Even if a student ends the grading period with “meeting expectations,” what’s not to say the student did not barely scrape by by redoing tests in order to get that passing grade.

On the WMS math website it states that standards based grading, “allows students and families to better recognize strengths and weaknesses, by specifically reporting on each individual standard,” and I strongly disagree with this statement. I believe that a letter grade allows students to better understand their abilities. If the math department believes that it is important to report on individual standards, they can do that with a letter grade. If students are in the accelerated math class at the middle school and are constantly redoing tests and assignments, they are being set up for a harsh awakening if they choose to take honors math in high school. If students received letter grades, consistent C’s in the accelerated math class would be an indication that they would benefit from taking college-prep level math in high school.

There are claims that the standard based grading at the middle school level makes it so that students don’t get as stressed by grades. To that, I would ask: is shielding students from the real world really the way to do it? In high school, college and other forms of school, students receive letter grades. All standard based grading is doing is not preparing students for reality and causing the already daunting jump from middle to high school to be even more difficult. I believe that the middle school gives students a false reality of a cushioned lifestyle, which only makes the transitions into real world situations harder.