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Improving Behavior with Standards-Based Grades

Looking to improve classroom behavior? Try carrying the consistent and clear components of classroom management into the learning framework.

image:A teacher helping a student.

Whether you’re in your first or thirty-first year of teaching, behavior can be one of the biggest challenges in the classroom. We’ve previously shared the importance of being Consistent and Clear for a Great Year when it comes to creating a classroom management system. Imagine the benefits that would overflow into the behavioral realm if your teaching and grading style reflected the same consistent and clear mantra.

By implementing a standards-based grading system, teachers inadvertently affect the behavioral element of the classroom too. When you get to the root of many behavior problems, they come about from a student trying to deflect attention from his/her struggles in learning. When a student is having difficulty with material and concepts presented in a lesson, adding the great unknown of an arbitrary and subjective point system is enough to have him throwing in the towel or throwing down the pencil or throwing disparaging remarks. A standards-based grading system can lessen the angst that can be a catalyst for poor behavior.

Clear Expectations

A large chunk of those first days of the school year are spent going over classroom expectations (e.g., arriving on time, bringing required materials, respecting others). These guidelines are continually reinforced and revisited throughout the school year. While having a clear set of expectations isn’t the only component to getting a classroom running smoothly, without them, teachers would be setting up an environment filled with disorganized chaos. The same can be said for how activities, projects, and other learning forums are presented. The clear expectations that coincide with a standards-based grading system eliminate the disorganized chaos that can form in a student’s mind when he/she doesn’t know how to tackle a learning goal.

Aligning to the standards and utilizing standards-based grades helps students focus on a learning target and set attainable learning goals which will alleviate the angst of the unknown. After teaching middle school for nearly twenty years, one of the biggest complaints from students coming out of other classrooms was when they couldn’t determine the learning objective. If there was no target in place, students felt they were floundering trying to determine what would make the grade. These classrooms often housed teachers who spent most of their time issuing complaints about student behavior. Coincidence? I think not.

When clear expectations are set through standards-based grading, students have an attainable goal in sight. It may take students varying amounts of time and efforts to meet said goal, but a clear path will be visible where high expectations can be set. Posting learning targets and utilizing rubrics are great ways to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to learning expectations.


We’ve all heard the stories from a student about an “out to get me” teacher. A student may feel that points are docked or lost on an assignment due to a personality conflict rather than an academic shortfall. A variety of point values for lessons and activities can make it hard for teachers to consistently evaluate the standard of focus, and struggling students often give up on the lesson objective and exhibit distracting behaviors to mask this choice. Standards-based grading lessens the subjective element found in a traditional point system.

When clear expectations have been set for a learning goal, students will start to find comfort in their ability to explore individual pathways toward meeting the goal. It’s no secret that students are constantly comparing their work to others. Some can take on a defeatist attitude that manifests into a behavioral issue because they feel their end product will be subpar.

A standards-based grading system that focuses on mastery of a concept rather than the bells and whistles of a final product can remove some of the overwhelming factors that come to be when students compare work. With this system in place, the pressure to wow a teacher with more glitz and glitter than your counterparts is replaced by a drive to show what you know in a way that makes sense to you. Standards-based grading helps direct the teacher’s focus to the standard being addressed and perpetuates a consistent and objective grading criterion.

The clear expectations and consistency that go hand-in-hand with standards-based grading will do wonders for classroom management. When the learning environment is consistent and clear, the fear of the unknown is replaced by the drive to succeed. Student performance will improve as deflecting behaviors are replaced by academic gains.

If you enjoyed the thoughts and ideas shared here, check out the trainings and tools (for teachers and for families) that we offer.

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