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  • Writer's pictureMark Schober

Grading Scales, Rubrics, and Adding it All Up

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

Once you have created your learning objectives and determined assessment questions that address those objectives, you next need to choose how will you rate student performance on those objectives. Finally, you will need to choose how to aggregate all of the scores into a current grade or a final grade. You’ll have to consider the constraints of your school’s learning management system and grading software, and you have to consider your workload. SBG generates a lot student performance data, and you need to be cautious about how each choice you make can affect the quantity of data generated and the amount of time it will take you to process it.


Two-Level Rubric

The simplest rubric system is a binary yes/no; perfect/not quite there yet. It’s what I use for my physics class, and I’ve chosen it because I have a relatively large number of objectives (~35) and not all objectives are equally important. It also works because my students are highly motivated, and when they do well, but not well enough to earn a proficient rating, they don’t need partial credit to encourage them to practice and reassess -- they want to perfect their understanding.

P = proficient (1)

L = learning (0)

—  = unable to assess (no gradebook entry)

I want to see a certain number of proficient scores on each objective, and I want to see more proficiencies on some objectives than others. So in my system, there’s no averaging of scores for an objective or across objectives, it’s just a count of proficiencies earned out of the total number of proficiencies I want to see during the year. A student’s gradesheet is a double-sided piece of paper that they can use to track their progress. I also keep a gradesheet of their progress, and we compare before the end of each grading period to correct any errors or omissions.

Three-Level Rubric

I based my scale off of Kelly O’Shea’s scale which I liked for its simplicity.

2 = Mastery shown (this is a “yes”)

1 = Developing mastery— could be an error in process, arithmetic, units, etc, but something about the approach was correct. (this is a “no”)

0 = No mastery shown— so many errors or confusions that the student does not seem at all close to mastering this skill. (this is a “no”)

– = No data —  student misinterpreted a question so much that the skill I’m trying to test is not observable in their response, or I don’t see their response as good evidence either way, or their response simply did not involve the skill. It is sometimes possible to have a completely correct solution without showing a particular skill that I was expecting to see.

Notably, Kelly divided her learning objectives into two levels, “A” objectives and “B” objectives. The foundational ideas, B objectives are what build a student’s grade from 70-90%, and the more sophisticated synthesis tasks, A objectives, are what allow students to earn grades from 90-100%. This makes aggregating the overall score a bit more complicated, but it is a good way of acknowledging that some objectives are more sophisticated than others. See Kelly’s blog for the details.

Four-Level Rubric

Kelly O’Shea’s four-level system uses numerical values that translate into conventional grades easily. (see Taking a student’s best score on each objective, averaging them, and moving the decimal one point to the right yields a conventional grade.

10: Good understanding. All (or all of the relevant) sub-skills are shown. The errors (if any) are merely cosmetic.

8: Developing understanding. Several of the sub-skills are shown. There are some errors or omissions in the work.

6: Beginning understanding. Some of the sub-skills are shown. Significant conceptual errors may be present.

5: No attempt made or work shows no understanding of this skill.

Here is a 4-point scale that I originally used for my astronomy and modern physics class:

4 = correct with exceptional clarity and organization

3 = answer correct

2 = principles applied with partial success

1 = basic principles identified

0 = no understanding demonstrated

I applied the same rating scale for every objective, and at end of the semester I added up the best score a student had earned on each objective to get a total score, and that score was compared against a numerical scale that I had set. Earning all 3’s results in a B, some 4’s are needed to earn an A.

I've now switched to Kelly’s 10-8-6-5 scale for the astronomy class using the following rubric:

10 = principles applied perfectly with attention to details* 8 = principles applied demonstrating understanding 6 = principles identified 5 = no understanding demonstrated

* Details. My problem solutions (a) are mathematically accurate, (b) include units on all numbers, and (c) report answers to appropriate precision given the precision of the measurements or provided values.

Robert Marzano advocates a four-level marking system, and has developed lots of detail as to why. Once he goes into a detail about fractional points (2.75 vs. 3.0) he loses me -- that kind of splitting hairs is a logistical nightmare. Don't do it! If you adopt a multi-level marking system, it is important to have a small number of learning objectives, or you will be buried in bookkeeping. What he is also suggesting is that for every one of your objectives, you write tasks characteristic of each level for that objective. While that is nice and could bring some consistency between different teachers of the same course, it’s a crazy amount of work of the sort that district curriculum coordinators might tackle.

Here is my mash-up of several of Marzano’s charts into one that I share in order to inspire a much more nuanced sense of what each level in a four-level grading system might mean and how to assess for each level of understanding. Pick out of this what is useful, and if you want to learn more, check out his book, Designing & Teaching Learning Goals & Objectives.


Given the additional student performance data from your rubrics, it should occur to you that this won’t fit into a conventional gradebook. In a conventional gradebook, students are listed in rows, assessments in columns, and assessment scores are recorded at the intersection of the two. With SBG, you’ll have multiple scores for each assessment. An SBG gradebook lists students in rows, and the learning objectives as the column headers. The assessments live in a third dimension, as each objective can be assessed multiple times, acting like layers on top of the student-objective grid. Software has been written just for this task, but there are also ways of recording scores on paper, as well.

Ideally, the nuanced objective-by-objective scores would constitute the preferred grade report because it provides so much more information than a single letter grade provides. Unfortunately, our educational systems tend towards simple grade reporting and eschew subtlety, and, therefore, once the data is recorded, we need to find a meaningful way of aggregating the data to generate overall grades. The rubrics above and their linked explanations suggest systems for coming up with an overall grade, and most SBG gradebooks accommodate these calculation schemes for you.

No matter which system you use, I believe that it is vitally important for each teacher to have a voice in the student objectives, rubric, and system of grade aggregation. You need to fully believe in what you are doing, and a system that has been forced upon you will be frustrating in all the ways it is not optimal and in your inability to improve it. SBG does not lend itself well to top-down implementation. To fully integrate SBG into their instruction and assessment, teachers need the flexibility to modify, revise, and adapt their implementation of SBG based on their daily experience of implementing it in the classroom.


As some of the free-to-teachers Standards-based gradebooks like ActiveGrade were bought up by other companies, Josh Gates created a standards-based gradebook from scratch that does all of the things you would want. It supports multiple teachers, individual or shared objectives, and Josh has been wonderfully responsive to providing customizations to meet your needs. It's definitely worth looking at closely.

Paper Each student will need a page with objectives listed in rows, and assessments listed in columns. For every objective measured in an assessment, the scores for each objective are recorded in a column. The nice thing about a paper gradesheet is that each student can be given a blank gradesheet to record their progress during the course, encouraging them to think about their learning in terms of the objectives. I use paper gradsheets for my physics and astronomy classes and it works great. 

PowerSchool (formerly Haiku and ActiveGrade)

PowerSchool is the most widely used learning management system in the country and it has the capability to support SBG, but you might need your school’s PowerSchool administrator to turn on the SBG functions. In most schools, the PowerSchool administrator is the only one who can set the objectives, rubric, and grade aggregation system, so you’ll need to spell out what you need very clearly. Here’s the directions for the administrator to actually make those modifications to the PowerSchool settings:

In order to experiment with PowerSchool without the constraints of your site administrator, you can create a solo teacher account where you have control over all parameters, but your account won’t have access to your school database with student and parent information that would allow students and parents access to the gradebook. You, of course, could add all of that information in your spare time.   :)

Q. How do I create a Solo Teacher account in PowerSchool Learning?

A. Go to and click New to PowerSchool Learning? Let's get started! at the bottom of the page.

That's it! Once you click that link, select I am a Teacher, and we'll walk you through the account creation process.

JumpRope – free for individual teacher users

JumpRope does everything you need SBG software to do, but some components still require the Adobe Flash plug-in, but the programmers are working to eliminate any hassle from that. It's also backed by the NYC department of education, so NYC teachers should can lean on that connection for support.

Schoology -, supports SBG if your school pays extra money for the Enterprise version.

Skedula -, supports SBG.

Kiddom - - Standalone SBG software that is developing integrations with Edmodo, Schoology, Engrade, and PowerSchool LMS’s.

Google Classroom, Edmodo, and Whipple Hill, do not support SBG at this point. Yeah, my school uses Whipple Hill. Therefore, I use the wonderfully reliable technology of paper.

Originally posted on my previous website July 4, 2018.

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