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640 Humboldt Avenue
St. Paul


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Standards-Based Grading at OWL

Standards-Based Grading

Grades at OWL are based on standards and are not competitive or based on a “curve.” Learning targets (goals for skills, knowledge, and reasoning) guide classroom instruction and assessment. Throughout each course, teachers assess how far students progress towards achieving each learning target, informally and formally, through class discussions, written assignments, projects, tests, and other means. At the end of a unit of study, or expedition, the teacher translates progress towards learning targets (Novice, Developing, Proficient, or Exemplary) into a letter grade. For much more information, see the grading guide:

Faculty Grading Guide

How do grades work at OWL?

Staff at OWL have spent countless hours of research and years of refinement to develop a system of standards-based grading and reporting that provides specific, measurable learning outcomes, clear communication to students and families regarding academic achievement, and a foundation in the skills and concepts required for students to become self- directed leaders of their own learning.

Standards-based grading and reporting at OWL (SBG&R) begins with our state standards. Instructors draw out the standards of focus for a particular unit, and use these to form the basis of a learning target (LT). A learning target is an objective or concept, written in kid-friendly language, that a student is expected to master in a given unit. These learning targets always start with the words, “I can...” and students monitor their own progress throughout a unit. On average, OWL students should expect three learning targets per class per quarter.

Teachers measure a student’s mastery of a learning target through assessments, of which there are two main types. A formative assessment is the daily work done in class or at home that provides the teacher with incredibly useful information about what concepts students comprehend and what needs to be re-taught or modified. The feedback that students receive on this work will also help inform them, along with their families, what additional work is required to show that they are proficient in a specific learning target. Formative assessments help a student “form” an idea of what needs to be done to improve, and what a teacher can do to help.

The other major type of assessment is a called a summative assessment. This is an exam, paper, project, or other measure that a teacher designs to assess if a student has truly mastered a learning target. A student’s performance on a summative assessment determines his or her learning target grade. Students can earn an exemplary , proficient, developing, or novice (E, P , D, or N) on a learning target based on their summative assessment.

Of course, not all students will be proficient on a skill for the summative assessment. OWL works hard to foster a culture of perseverance and revision. Students who show progress towards a learning target after initially failing to meet proficiency on a summative assessment will have the opportunity to revise projects or retake a test to show their mastery of the skill.

At the end of each quarter (as well as mid quarter progress reports) instructors will take a student’s learning target grades on our scale of exemplary to novice, and translate these to a letter grade using our faculty grading guide.

Extensive interventions and incentives are in place at the end of each quarter to ensure student success. Because of these systems, it is required that students submit all work on or before the final day of a quarter. In the event of extenuating circumstances that prevent a student from achieving proficiency on a learning target prior to this date, a form may be submitted to a teacher requesting a revision window , of up to two weeks, to show progress on a learning target was not previously proficient.

Standards-based grading is an adjustment for most of the stakeholders in our OWL community. If you have additional questions, you’re encouraged to attend our site council showcase on our grading and/or contact your student’s teacher or Crew leader for more information.


Before our transition to Open World Learning Community, and the EL Education model, our program used a grading system that provided written feedback in narrative form.

There were strengths to this system, but this type of grade was difficult to communicate out for college transcripts, job applications, and even car insurance rebates.

This feels...different

It is different from many of the grading principles that students, families, and teachers have experienced. However, despite its familiarity, a more “traditional” approach to grading has very little research to support its effectiveness.

OWL staff’s work with grading is centered around Ken O’Connor’s Repair Kit for Grading. This work outlines several ways to fix what he sees as a traditional grading system that is broken.


So homework doesn’t matter?

A central principle of standards-based grading at OWL is that behaviors should have no direct punitive impact on a student’s academic grade. Formative assessment is incredibly valuable to students, families, and teachers as it provides feedback on performance, but a student’s scores on homework and class work has no direct impact on a final grade.

Unfortunately, this is sometimes oversimplified as: “homework doesn’t count.” In reality, failure to complete formative assessments will almost certainly have a profound impact on a student’s grade. If he or she has not practiced the skill, they will most likely be unable to show proficiency on a summative assessment.

In addition, students who do not complete required formative assessments will not have access to test retakes and/or revisions until completing missing work or alternative assignments.

How do students earn As?

Students must show an understanding of a learning target that goes above and beyond “proficiency.” This can be done through E-work.

In most cases, a student’s path to exemplary will be clearly outlined in a project rubric. However, there are some opportunities for a student to complete additional or alternative projects or assignments that allow him or her to show their mastery of a learning target in novel or creative ways.

E-work is not extra credit.