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What Standards-based Grading Looks Like in a Kindergarten Classroom

Article
April 10, 2024

By: Jillian Kuhlmann

It鈥檚 the first day back from holiday break in Lorena Villa鈥檚 kindergarten classroom, and she鈥檚 working with her learners to refresh their understanding of Mountainview Elementary鈥檚 grading scale. Pointing to brightly colored numbers on the wall, she engages in a call and response.

鈥淚 need a lot more practice 鈥 that鈥檚 if you鈥檙e at a number one,鈥 Villa says, continuing with pauses to let the children repeat after her. 鈥淭hen if you鈥檙e on the number two, you鈥檙e going to say: I am almost there. I am starting to understand this skill. But I still need more practice.鈥

When Villa gets to a three 鈥 the grading scale in kindergarten stops at a three 鈥 she raises her fist in the air and asks her learners what they will say. Their response is immediate, gleeful.

鈥淚 did it!鈥

Mountainview Elementary is one of three elementary schools in the in Rio Rico, Arizona. Like the rest of the district, they use a standards-based grading scale.

Third grader Juan Espiricueta Jr. can clearly articulate what the proficiency scales mean in his own words.

鈥淟evel one, I am beginning to learn. It means you鈥檙e starting to kinda get it, but you need more help. A two is: I can show evidence and can remember details. It鈥檚 where you already know it; you just need to remember a few things still. Level three is: you know it, you鈥檙e good at it, you鈥檙e right where you need to be. Four is advanced. I can demonstrate my learning in many ways. I could teach something or do something.鈥

Read more about how standards-based grading is helping empower educators and learners in SCVU35.

Villa鈥檚 learners may be young, but the move to standards-based grading felt natural as a kindergarten educator.

鈥淔or standards in kindergarten, it has always been emergent, meeting and proficient 鈥 we just talk more about what the numbers mean,鈥 said Villa. Whether they鈥檝e been in preschool or not, what they experience in Villa鈥檚 classroom is all they know. It sets the foundation for grading throughout their educational experience: a reflection of their learning, not just a letter or a number.

For Villa, standards-based grading encourages her learners to 鈥渞each higher,鈥 and provides her the necessary flexibility to facilitate learning at different levels. Following their refresher on the grading scale, Villa asked her students to think about where they were with a specific math standard and self-select from activities and stations throughout the classroom. Whether they were a one, two or three, there was something for them to work on alone, with a partner or in a group, and Villa was there to support and facilitate learning as needed. What followed was a focused, busy time, accompanied by the happy hum of children working.

Villa explained that routine and repetition from the first day of school helped her learners know what to expect and how to navigate the space.

鈥淚t鈥檚 a lot of repetition. 鈥榃hat do we do first?鈥 Let鈥檚 practice. And then what? If you feel you鈥檝e reached your goal, what can you do? 鈥業 can choose another one.鈥 They can work with another student. They can work in groups,鈥 Villa explained. 鈥淚 make them responsible for their learning 鈥 what rules can we set if we want to be working and using our flexible seating? What rules can we establish so that everybody鈥檚 working and having fun and learning at the same time?鈥

What鈥檚 powerful about this approach to grading, as evidenced by the learners in Villa鈥檚 classroom, is that students as young as five and six years old don鈥檛 just know what their grade means 鈥 they know what it reflects about their understanding and how they can grow.

For Villa, what they want for graduates starts with how they own their learning in kindergarten.

鈥淚t鈥檚 incredible to see a five or six-year-old say, I reached my goal! And I always ask, why do you think that? And they鈥檒l tell me, 鈥楤ecause I learned to put the numbers in order!鈥 Or, 鈥楤ecause I know how to do the sounds, I know my sight words!’ That gives me great pleasure. That鈥檚 what they know.鈥

THE AUTHOR

Jillian Kuhlmann
Senior Manager of Communications

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