Reflecting on Standards-Based Grading

For our final assignment in my VanderCook class, Teaching Music in a Common Core World, we were asked to look reflect on the work we did for our choice assignment earlier this week. I chose to look at standards-based learning, grading, and reporting.

Prompt Complete a comprehensive reflection paper. Include a recap of the concepts and strategies learned from the assignment that you created and completed over the last week. Please explain why this project was important to you and how it helped deepen your understanding on the topic you chose.

Response I chose to further research standards based grading for our student’s choice assignment because of my school district’s transition to this model of grading. As I mentioned in the previous assignment, our district is in the midst of a multi-year transition to standards-based learning, grading, and reporting that began during the 2008-2009 school year. It is currently expected that all teachers will have implemented the Fair and Consistent Practices (guidelines mentioned in the previous assignment) by the 2015-2016 school year. Looking beyond the implementation of these guidelines, our district, in collaboration with Infinite Campus, will develop summary statements to be displayed along with grades in subjects as they progress through the curriculum review process.

During the 2013-2014 school year, secondary teachers were tasked with implementing at least one of the six guiding principles detailed in the Fair and Consistent Practices. Each semester, we were to continue experimenting with implementing different guiding principles to be ready for the full implementation by the 2015-2016 school year. As a professional learning community, we decided to implement all six guiding principles immediately into our grading and reporting practices. This was a struggle at first, not because of any philosophical differences amongst our staff, but because of the amount of work necessary to convert from our traditional grading practices. Luckily, the 2013-2014 school year was the first year of our district’s transition to a two-high school feeder system.

My research into our standards-based grading and reporting practices for this class led me into a further unpacking of the guiding principles set forth by our district:

  1. Course grades will accurately communicate only academic achievement of the standards.

  2. Extra credit and bonus points will not be included in students’ academic grade.

  3. Students will engage in independent learning/homework as a component of the Ankeny Instructional Framework.

  4. Students are expected to complete all required work by due dates.

  5. All students will have multiple and varied assessment opportunities to demonstrate achievement of the standards.

  6. Zeros will not be assigned for missing evidence. An I (for “Insufficient Data”) will be recorded when a student has not submitted required evidence of learning.

My unpacking process involved rephrasing the district’s philosophical justifications for the guiding principles in my own words. To further inform my understanding, I looked into the resources our district’s Standards-Based Grading and Reporting subcommittee used: Ken O’Connor’s How to Grade for Learning, Rick Wormeli’s Fair Isn’t Always Equal, Solution Tree’s Learning by Doing, and a variety of other resources.

At the 2014 Iowa Bandmasters Association Conference, Chris Strohmaier of West Des Moines Valley Southwoods Freshman High School gave a presentation on standards-based grading from research he had conducted in his own classroom and for his masters thesis at Boston University. I was able to use a lot of Chris’ implementation in his own classroom as a comparison for how our PLC was doing with implementation. Specifically, I looked at the power standards our district developed during the music department’s curriculum review in 2011-2012. I also looked at how we decided we were going to teach and assess each of these power standards at each grade level 6-12.

My biggest take-away from this process has been the desire to rethink how we are working with our power standards. They are currently listed as:

The student will be able to:

  • Rhythm/Beat/Meter Competency

    • Dictate a performed rhythm (play and/or write)

    • Perform a given rhythm with characteristic tone

    • Identify a performed rhythm

    • Identify meter

    • Maintain a consistent pulse

    • Breathe in time with proper technique and in musically appropriate places in performance

  • Tonal Literacy

    • Perform a major scale with characteristic tone

    • Identify do through key signatures

    • Identify tonal center

    • Dictate a performed tonal sequence

    • Perform a tonal sequence with characteristic tone

    • Identify a performed tonal sequence

    • Identify a harmonic sequence

    • Perform a harmonic sequence with characteristic tone

  • Expression

    • Identify, label, define, and perform dynamics articulation and tempo marking

    • Make expressive decisions based on historical context, genre and style

  • Ensemble

    • Apply learned musical performance, literacy, and critical thinking skills to the music- making process with various sizes of ensembles

These are the power standards for instrumental music in grades 6-12. Currently, there is no differentiation between any of these grade levels. It is my understanding that it is the job of the teachers in each of these grade levels to unpack the power standards to determine what each look like at each particular grade level. Our PLC has begun that process, but by going through it, we see the need to revise our power standards. Our power standards are also not currently linked to the old National Standards for Music Education, nor are they linked to the new National Core Arts Standards. I believe this is something we will have to look at as a PLC during our next curriculum review process. I am also curious about how we can begin to align what we are doing with the Common Core State Standards.

Our district is a big proponent of answering the following three questions:

  1. What do we want our students to know and be able to do?

  2. How will we know they have learned it?

  3. What will we do when they have/haven’t learned it?

By looking at the process we have begun as a PLC, we have answered the first question. I believe we now need to begin aligning our answers to the National Core Arts Standards and the Common Core State Standards/Iowa Core Curriculum.

We have begun to answer Question 2 by developing a series of six-week assessments that come from students’ lesson materials and assessing them using rubrics developed from solo and ensemble ballots for winds and percussion. However, these assessments do not cover all of the power standards listed as an answer to the first question. Our next step is to branch out our assessments to cover all of our power standards.

As a PLC, we are really wrestling with the answer to Question 3. We do not currently have a system of interventions to help students who have not demonstrated the knowledge or ability we ask in the power standards. We also do not currently have anything in place to enrich the students who are proficient in our power standards. However, I think as we get better at answering the first two questions, developing interventions and enrichments will be much easier.

I have learned a great deal through the process of looking at standards-based grading and reporting over the past week. My understanding of the practice has been greatly deepened by our look into the Danielson Framework, the National Core Arts Standards, student learning objectives, and the Common Core State Standards. This course has made me feel good about the work my PLC and I are doing, but it also makes me understand we have a long way to go.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.