Reassessing in Standards Based Grading

I'm helping several teachers move toward standards-based grading practices this year. We work a lot on philosophy - why they'd want to use this grading mechanism over traditional scores, how to support learning, and the language of SBG in general with students - before we get into the how-to. That helps make sure everyone is in the right frame of mind.

Once they're ready to start, that's where the how-to work comes in. I know what I think about how to set up a class, but there is no gold standard when it comes to actually running the class. If you're looking to start, allow me to redirect you to Frank Noschese and his excellent blog as well as pretty much anything written by Rick Wormeli.

Today's post started as an email asking how I handled retests in my class. The following is more or less what I wrote back, with some edits for clarity and more general application.


I’m trying to up my standards based grading game. We briefly talked about this last semester, but I’m wondering...how can I most efficiently update students’ grades to show mastery when I’m having them do test corrections? Ideas welcome!!

This came in an email

Do you do paper-and-pencil corrections? How are you building your tests? I ask because there are a few ways you could consider, but each kind of depends on your own style and class processes.

Grading paper-and-pencil corrections

When I did this, it was usually something like:

  • a) write out the wrong answer,
  • b) write the correct answer,
  • c) why is is it right,
  • d) give a reference to the right answer,
  • e) which standard/outcome does this relate to?

So, they would go through the material, evaluate their responses, and then find the right answer and justify it. I was mainly concerned with the justification of the response, not so much that they found the right answer. I would grade their mastery on that justification, bumping them up or down a little bit.

To track it, you could download the MagicMarker (iOS only) app and mark them on Outcomes as if you were talking to them in class. It aggregates those scores into the Canvas Learning Mastery grade book and then you can evaluate the overall growth rather than give credit based on that one assessment.

Question Banks

This is definitely the most time consuming to set up, but once it's set up, you're golden. Getting questions in standards-referenced banks allows you to build out Quizzes that pull randomly, so you can give a retake or another attempt that updates those Learning Mastery grade book results. This is what I tended to do instead of paper/pencil once I had everything going.

Students would get their results and then focus on any standards that were less than a three in their Learning Mastery grades (out of four total). There'd be some kind of work involved so they weren't blindly guessing, but then they could take the test again because the questions were likely to be different with the bank setup.

Set up banks based on standard and then file questions in there. When you build the Quiz, you use Add new question group rather than Add question in Canvas. You can link the question group to a question bank and specify how many items to pull at X number of points.

Student defense and other evidence

This one is probably my favorite: just giving students a chance to plead their case...a verbal quiz, essentially. I'd use MagicMarker while we were talking to keep track of their demonstration. I would ask them to show me work we'd done, explain how they know what they know, and then prod them with more questions.

I typically did this if they were having trouble demonstrating understanding in other ways. I wanted to remove test anxiety or reading comprehension from the equation, but this was typically the last option for those kids. I'd then work with them to get over those test-taking humps (granted, this was more important to do in the AP class because they had to take the test and I needed them to be ready for it).


I think all of this boils down to get more data into Canvas (or your LMS if you can)...try not to rely on a single demonstration to judge understanding. My goal was to have students show mastery on standards by the end of the semester. So, if they're not getting one of them now, it still goes in as a zero but it serves as a reminder that they still have to do that standard. I was updating grades on the last day of the semester for my students. It's a weird way for them to think and it'll take some prodding by you so they don't forget that a zero can always convert to full credit. Usually what happens is a later unit will give them more context for whatever they're struggling with and cycling back after more scaffolding is more effective than trying to drill the issue immediately, if that makes sense.


If you're not using Canvas, there may be similar systems in your LMS that will help you track growth. I also have a Google Sheet template that you can use to track student growth. Shoot me an email if you'd like that and I'd be happy to send it along.