Grade Reform: You Can Still Hold Kids Accountable

One of the biggest pushbacks I get with Standards-Based Grading is that kids need to learn responsibility and without punitive grades from late work or missing assignments they will not be held accountable to their actions.

I've talked about this topic bfore when I explained why I don't grade everything but this the issue of how to create systems of accountability comes up all the time. I had a twitter conversation about it again last night so here are some of the things I have tried and some of the things to consider when working to hold students accountable in a standards-based classroom.

Make Them Turn In Something

Most of the books I have read on Grading Practices have stated that you need to collect something from every student when an assignment is due. I believe in this practice on big assignments and I find it's power lies in consistency and repetition. When it is time to turn in that assignment I ask for them all to take it out and put it on their desk, if they don't have it I give them a form to complete, if it is clearly incomplete I give them a form to complete. If you use an LMS to have them turn in work then give the forms out immediately after the turn in time for that task or assignment. The forms are about making them accountable to turn in something, they don't get to get away with not doing anything and the forms ask them to make a plan for when they will turn in the assignment as a reminder that the assignment is essential to their learning.

The forms are then stored in a file for that student and become a record of their reasoning for why they haven't done the work. You can use this information when contacting home or when conferencing with the students. Will there be students who don't care and don't take the form seriously? Yes, but if a student is truly not doing any of the work and you have them fill out the form, it acts as a starting point for conversation. You have given them the opportunity to explain their why, you've asked them to be accountable for their actions if they don't take those opportunities that is on them but now you have more pieces to the puzzle of why this student chooses not to do the work.

I think most teachers have that student in each of their classes that needs more help and support to get back on track than the individual teacher can give, these forms help paint a picture when we go to administration or counselors for help with a student like that. Now it's not just "I have a student who doesn't do anything, how can we help this kid?" Now you can walk into that meeting with "I have a student who doesn't do anything, here is what he has told me, how do we help this kid?"

Make a Meaningful Consequence For Them 

Just because you do not impact a letter grade doesn't mean there can't be consequences. If deadlines and due dates are important in your classroom then create consequences for not meeting them. The point of Standards-Based Grading is to make sure the grade is an accurate measure of what they know and can do, the point is not for it to be easier for the student but for the grade to be more accurate.

When creating your consequences it is important to remember that a point penalty on late work doesn't make students finish their work on time, it makes students copy and cheat. Because of this, it is important to measure and determine appropriateness, if the consequence is too harsh and too severe then students will continue the culture of cheating. For example, in my AP Class when measuring classwork and homework combined, they are allowed 2 missing assignments at a time with no consequence (these assignments are not assessments, they are the daily work in class) but once they hit three I email home. If they have 4 or more they get an invitation to an academic intervention which is just a tutoring session during Office Hours or after school. On formative assessments and summative assessments, there is less wiggle room. If it is missing, they get an email home immediately.

But these are the consequences that work for my students, yours may need something different. This is one of the areas where I truly believe there is not one perfect way to make this work for every class, instead, it depends on the students in the room.


If there is really a pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed a conference can sometimes turn things around. It gives students the opportunity to explain their actions and allows you a chance to help to clarify any misunderstandings or perceptions the student may have about a grade. This is a great place to bring out the No Work forms and discuss the patterns you see but in the end, try and get the student talking more than you, you are trying to find what the issue is. I believe in taking the approach of gathering knowledge and not the approach of the conferences being punitive. I want students to see it as their time with me to express themselves more than anything.

Celebrate the Awesome 

This one won't work for every student but just as you call home for negative behavior or document when things are missing remember to celebrate the awesome even more. I call and email home for outstanding work, when there is no missing work, or just because a student was kind and caring in my class that day. I don't call or email every single day but I make a point to make positive contact once a week. The easiest is through the mass email function our grade reporting system has, I'll click all who scored high on a summative assessment and tell their parents to take them out for ice cream to celebrate all the hard work they put in to earn that score.

I don't give pretty points on assignments but I will shout to the world about the amazing work my students did on Twitter or Instagram. Knowing there is recognition for hard work means something to a lot of our students so sometimes when the reward they knew before is taken away (they get full credit for turning it in on time) they may not participate at the level they used to.

And Finally, 

Again, this won't work for every student. But by having systems in place to address issues of compliance and work ethic it will help the culture of your classroom. Having systems of accountability will help students see the importance of timeliness without it impacting them academically.

If you've done any research on school-wide behavior and the tiers of intervention (which can both be applied academically and behaviorally) then you know that most systems that have been studied have found that a small percentage of school populations need more than the average classroom teacher can provide as an intervention. The more we as teachers can document, both through test scores and narrative data, what is happening with a student the more likely we are to get them the intervention they need. Going Standards-Based won't magically help these students, these students still need more than the average classroom can provide but going Standards-Based often makes it easier to see where the struggles really are since they are no longer masked behind 10 point worksheets and 100 point projects.

Do you have a way to keep students accountable in your class? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!


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