S10-AS4-1 - Exploring the effect of standards-based grading on student learning

2. Research-to-Practice Full Paper
K. Clay McKell1 , Andrew Danowitz1
1 California Polytechnic State University

This is a Research to Practice Full Paper.  Standards-based grading (SBG) is an assessment framework that rewards students for demonstrating mastery of course learning objectives.  It also calls for feedback on formative assessments that allow students to target their deficiencies in a course area without being entangled with other confounding factors commonly found in summative assessments like test-taking aptitude or even class attendance.  SBG is closely related to mastery learning and stands in contrast to traditional points-based grading methods that average a student's performance over time (and topics), and some research suggests that SBG-based courses, when ideally implemented, can lead to increased standardized test scores and enhanced retention of course learning objectives over time.

In this work, we describe our experience attempting to implement SBG in a sophomore-level Continuous-Time Signals and Systems course offered by an Electrical Engineering Department.  For our implementation, the data show that student learning of course topics is comparable between the experimental SBG section (N = 33) and a control traditional points-based grading section (N = 34) as measured by performance on a Continuous-Time Systems and Signals Concept Inventory pretest and posttest.  Additionally, student opinion of the SBG class was mixed as reported in end-of-term evaluations; in these evaluations, students judged the SBG course to be less educationally effective than the traditional section.

In this paper, we present the full results of this experiment and explore reasons why our SBG implementation did not achieve the improved student outcomes found in other research.  Through this work, we hope to help other educators avoid common pitfalls and mistakes that can hamper implementations of this promising classroom innovation.