what does an A mean?

Making placement decisions is tough.  Student X has a B because they ace the tests, but don't hand in work on time.  We could deny an honors placement, but student Y would be too disruptive in a standard class.  Student Z doesn't really understand the material, but works really hard to get an A and has a great attitude for an honors class.  Parents S, T, and U want their children to be in all honors classes because that's where they belong even though they have Cs right now.  And parent V?  well, let's just give an honors placement because it would be too difficult to explain why not.

We try to say you must have [required grade] to get an honors placement, but then there's all the exceptions.  When a student has an A, but our professional opinion sees danger and undue frustration ahead if that student goes into honors, then we shouldn't be shrugging our shoulders and saying "well, we can't deny them if they have an A."  If we say a student needs [required grade] to get an honors placement, then what does that grade mean?  How can we make a decision when a B might mean "got 85% of the stuff right" or it might mean "got 100% of the stuff right but handed it in 5 days late"?

I don't believe that standards based grading would change the situations mentioned above.  Student X will still hand in work late.  Student Y will still be disruptive.  Student Z will still smile and sweet talk into teachers hearts.  And parents S through V?  They will still, and always will, want the best for their children.  But what I hope standards based grading will do is let those of us who must make placement decisions know what went into that A or B grade.  Then, based on the type of honors course, we can consider skills reporting too.  Is it a writing intensive course?  Does it require creativity and problem solving?  Does it require hours of primary document reading?  As a department, a group of colleagues could actually make sure that lower level courses are looking for indicators of the skills required in upper level courses.  I'm imagining a kind of alignment that would set up students for success and challenge them in more appropriate ways.


  1. Nice post. I am hopeful that implementing SBG will also help me identify strengths of various students. As a result, each student could use their strengths to plan for their futures. Yet at the same time, weaknesses could be identified and addressed.

  2. Thanks, Harry. You make a really good point. I think your students are lucky to have a teacher to wants to know them so well, and help them know themselves.