Standards Based Grading in Middle School

Edited to note that while this post was written for Social Studies, these practices can carry over easily to any other subject. Both the Math and the ELA teacher at my grade level have adopted very similar practices. 

I’ve already written about my new grading practices for AP U.S. History.  I wanted to make sure that I also told you how I changed my grading practices for my middle school Social Studies classes.  I started this grading system in the 2015-2016 school year, and it was a great success.  (I have since been using the same system for all subsequent years.)

I’ve seen that students are engaged and active in their learning, and they put more effort into their assessments, and into thinking critically.  I have lots of students redoing assignments to make them better, and I see much more growth than I would have under my traditional grading system.  Honestly, I see nothing but positive benefits to this system.

Combining Skills and Content

My grading policy for my grade 7 Social Studies classes is a simplified version of the policy I created for my AP classes.  Social Studies offers up a strange combination of content and skills.  (There are quite a few skills and content standards required for Social Studies in NY state).  Instead of attempting to separate them for assessment purposes, I combine some content and one or two skills into a “lesson.”  At the end of every lesson, students are given an exit ticket to assess what they have learned from the lesson.  The exit ticket might consist of a few questions or a graphic organizer.  Each exit ticket is graded according to a simple rubric.  At the bottom of the page, there is a checklist that has two options – Complete or Incomplete.  As long as a student has provided complete and correct answers, they earn a complete.  Homework completion is not averaged into a student’s grade. Students don’t bother to cheat on their homework because they won’t earn credit anyway. Most of the time, exit tickets are completed during class time.

Do students still complete homework?

I haven’t seen any difference in homework completion once I made the switch.  Those students who are involved and active in school will do the work whether or not it’s graded. Students who are less involved quickly learn that they will not do well on assessments if the homework was not complete.


Each unit has several lessons, and when I give a test or a quiz, each lesson is assessed on a separate section of the test.  One test might have 4 or 5 separate sections, and a quiz might have one or two.  For every section of the assessment, I include a simple rubric at the bottom of the page.  The rubric includes numbers from 0 – 5 and there’s a simple description of what that number means.  The explanation is the same for each section of the test, even if the questions change.  This has made grading much quicker.  I just read and circle and the explanation is already provided.

Sometimes I will assess a unit with a different type of project – not an essay or an exam.  To see examples of alternative assessments, check out the following.

Example Alternative Assessments:

World War One InquiryIn this inquiry, students investigate the ideals of the 14 points, and whether Woodrow Wilson actually followed the ideal of the 14 points within the policies he created for the people of the United States – resistance to the draft, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and African American soldiers in WWI.

Progressive Era Report CardStudents will complete stations that discuss the issues the Progressives were attempting to address and the possible solutions, laws, and amendments that came out of this time. (There are two separate station activities). As an assessment, students will complete a Progressive Era report card that determines the relative success relating to three of the major topics. 

Hamilton Rap BattleThe unit plan includes three formative lessons that build the students’ skills and background knowledge about Washington’s presidency, the political differences between Hamilton and Jefferson, the U.S. response to the French Revolution, and the Whiskey Rebellion. It culminates with a summative project that requires the students to write a “rap battle” about the Whiskey Rebellion. The students will craft an introduction and conclusion by Washington, and the arguments regarding the Whiskey Rebellion from Hamilton and Jefferson. 

Shay’s Rebellion Monument ProjectWith this inquiry, the students investigate the reasons for Shays’ Rebellion and the response. At the end of the inquiry, the students design a monument for Daniel Shays, and with this monument design, the students must think about long-standing themes in U.S. History – freedom, rebellion, and heroism.

Each offers a different way to assess students besides a test or a quiz. In general, about half of the assessments are tests and the others are some variation of a project or inquiry.

Managing Redos

One of the central tenets of SBG is allowing students to redo assessments if they have scored a lower grade.  I allow students to redo tests and quizzes as long as they have completed all of the formative assessments, and earned a “complete” on each one.  Students are required to fill out a “request to retest” form, and sometimes, if I think they need some extra review, I might require them to meet with me to go over the answers they gave on the first assessment.  Typically speaking, on the redo, I might change the content, the questions, or, I might keep the questions the same, but change the content.

I usually have any students who wish to take a redo stay after on the same day after school.  This means that I only need to make two versions of the test – the original, and the redo.

When I see protests against SBG, it’s generally among those who have been burned by constant retesting from some idealistic admin. I’ve been able to set my own policy, and I always note that the offer for a redo is “at the discretion of the teacher.” It’s never guaranteed and students shouldn’t accept it as a given. Beyond that, it’s basically impossible for a kid to keep redoing the same test over and over. I’ve found that I’ll have one or two kids try this tactic in the first quarter. They quickly wear themselves out as they learn that it’s just easier to study and produce their best work the first time around.

Converting the “Standards Based Grade” to a 100 Point Scale

At the end of the quarter, I have the students figure out their own grades.  This gives them some awareness of how their averages are figured out, and it also makes the process easier for me!  They simply list all of the grades they have accumulated throughout the quarter in order.  All the 5’s, then the 4’s, and so on, so forth. They then find the middle chunk of those grades to figure out their converted “average” grade for the quarter.  My school district still runs on a 100 point grading system, so my SB grades need to be converted to one number.  I then enter that grade in the school book manually.

That’s about it!  I’ve been using SBG with my middle school classes for six years, and I’ve absolutely loved this new system.  I’ve gathered together everything I’ve created for SBG in my classes and created a little bundle of resources.  You can find the bundle through this link – Standards-Based Grading SBG Social Studies U.S. History

If you have any questions on Standards-Based grading for middle school, please leave them in the comments section below.

17 Responses

  1. I am wondering how you go about listing assignment in the gradebook. My district has conventional gradebooks, not standards based. I am trying to figure out the best way to set things up.

    1. I have a traditional grade book also. Each grade from an assessment is added in separately. I might have four or five grades for any assessment. I then have students figure out their own grades manually. I like students to see the process and the grade book can’t calculate the averages anyway.

    1. I Don’t have categories- just summative and formative. I use NY State Social Studies standards. We have about a million standards total, so I just try to make sure that I hit at least one (usually two or three) for each section.

  2. How would I go about implementing SBG if the county provides us with a common assessment for every unit? Every 6th grader in the county takes the same, multiple choice unit exam.

    1. That’s difficult. Teachers should be in control of the assessments given in their classrooms. Do you have any options for the way you count the grade? Are you allowed to give redos? You should also talk to the country as to whether this is the best practice for students.

      1. I agree, especially because some of the test questions I don’t get to cover in class because there isn’t emphasis on that content in the standards! But yes, I am able to determine how I want the grade to count and I allow students to redo tests if they make below a certain score. I am a first year teacher, so just like my 6th graders, I am still learning the best way to do things.

  3. Just curious. Do you have any standards progress/tracking sheets for students to monitor and track standards or objectives they’ve mastered throughout the year? I’m trying to visualize what this might look like and looking for inspiration 🙂

    1. I have sheets that require students to keep track of each grade. However, I don’t track progression on a particular skill throughout the year. I would love to be able to do so. If I could cut the amount of content I’m required to teach in each of my classes, I certainly would. It’s just a matter of time available.

    1. Hi Maggie, an example of my generic rubric is contained in by SBG product linked at the bottom of the post. It’s a standard 5 point rubric. The more information and analysis students provide, the higher up on the scale they score. Thanks for your question!

  4. I’m wondering if you are teaching remotely and how you see SBG working remotely vs. in person. Any suggestions for people attempting to switch to this type of grading while teaching remotely? Thanks in advance

    1. I’ve taught hybrid and remote still using SBG. It’s important to teach synchronously so that students do complete the lessons. I’ve also had students complete a lot more projects and less tests.

  5. Do you have a set number of formative assessments you do per quarter or is there a minimum number you have? I really want to try this with my 8th grade science class next year.

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