District‎ > ‎Departments‎ > ‎Learning Services‎ > ‎Grading and Reporting‎ > ‎

Questions and Answers About Standards-Based Grading

Duluth Public Schools

Grades K-5 Standard Based Report Card

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated December 2015


During the 2015-16 school year, the Duluth Public Schools will implement a standards based report card for elementary students.  The report cards are designed to report on each child’s performance in relation to specific criteria.  The goals of standards based report cards include the ability to:

  • reflect academic achievement

  • provide meaningful feedback

  • be honest, fair, transparent, credible, useful, and user friendly

  • be aligned with the Duluth Public Schools curriculum

  • reflect consistency among courses, grade levels, departments, and schools

  • separate non-academic factors like participation or effort

Q.  Why are we changing the report card?  

A.  Just as physicians research new methods and tools to more accurately measure a patient’s health, educators use research to develop accurate measurements of student learning.  Averaging a student’s scores and reporting them in one subject’s grade does not give us an accurate picture of achievement, help us diagnose potential problems, or communicate clearly with families.  For example, a mark of a “C” or “satisfactory” in Mathematics does not tell us where the child’s strengths and weaknesses lie among the various concepts in mathematics.


In a standards based system, students are working toward meeting established goals (standards). If a student is not on track to meet a standard, supports can be put in place, and students can be given additional opportunities to show their understanding.


Q.  What does standards based mean?

A.  Standards are academic learning goals expected in each subject.  Standards are further divided into grade level criteria, called benchmarks. Standards and benchmarks are determined by the  State of Minnesota, a local district committee, national organizations, or a combination of these.  A standards based report card represents an individual student’s progress in relation to year-end goals.


Q. How will the standards based report card be different than the previous report cards?

A. The most obvious difference that families will notice will be the numbers on the report card rather than letter grades (A-F or E, S, N). The numbers represent the level to which a student has progressed toward a certain part of the standard.


Previous Report Cards

New Standards Based Report Card

Grades represent progress at a certain point in the year.

Marks represent progress toward a goal based on a standard that they are not expected to meet until the end of the year.

Grades were often a single score of all of the skills/knowledge in a given subject.

Subject area skills and knowledge are separated and scored individually, providing more specific information

Grades often included homework completion and work habits.

Marks indicate what students have learned. Work habits are scored separately within the category of Characteristics of Successful Learners.

Every subject received a single score, each grading term.

Only about half of the standards’ skills and concepts will be reported each semester. If a particular area has not been addressed in class during first semester that item on the report card will be blank.



Q.  What marks will I see on my child’s report card?

A.  In all academic subjects, teachers will report on a four point scale which designates a student’s progress on the standards:  Beginning, Developing, Meeting, or Mastering. A definition of these marks is found below.


4 = Mastering - The student’s knowledge, understanding, and application of the concepts,  skills, and processes extends beyond the requirements of the standard.

3 = Meeting - The student has thorough knowledge, understanding, and application of the concepts, skills, and processes the standard requires.

2 = Developing - The student is gaining understanding of the concepts, skills, and processes the standard requires, but has not been able to consistently demonstrate the learning.

1 = Beginning - The student is just starting to understand the concepts, skills, and processes the standard requires and needs consistent support.


Student’s work habits, behavior, and social skills are reported separately.  The descriptions of student performance in these areas are reported in a section of the report card titled Characteristics of Successful Learners.  These marks refer to frequency: Mostly, Sometimes, or Rarely.


Q.  Does a 1 mean my student is failing?  Does a 4 equal an A?

A.  Typically, letter grades represent an average of all of a student’s work in a given subject area without regard to the specific learning taking place.  A 4 on a standards based report card does not represent an A grade, nor does a 1 constitute a failing grade.  The numbers indicate the level at which a student has demonstrated their knowledge and skills in relation to the standard. Students have achieved the learning outcome or goal when they receive a 3 on the report card.

It is important to note that a 4 is quite rare, even by the end of the year.  Fours indicate that a student has gone beyond the skills required by the standard in order to apply that knowledge in new and different ways.  


Q.  How are marks determined?  

A.  Throughout the semester, students will have shown their learning independently in a variety of ways (e.g., tests, projects, quizzes, or performances).  The homework and in-class daily work is practice in the process of learning the concepts or skills required by the standard.   


Q.  Why are we only given a report card twice per year?

A.  The accuracy of reporting on standards depends on a collection of evidence. A January report card allows teachers enough time to collect sufficient evidence for a more accurate and informed grade.  In between report cards, teachers will meet with parents to report progress during conference time. As parents or guardians, you are always welcome to contact your child’s teacher.  


Q.  Can I help my child work to meet or master standards?

A.  Support from parents is crucial in a student’s success.  Along with encouraging your child to practice good academic skills such as completing homework or practice work, you can consult our learning supports guide found on the district webpage.  This guide is produced as a magnet and distributed to families at the beginning of the school year and can also be found at www.isd709.org within the “For Parents” section.


Q. What if I have more questions?

A. If you would like further information regarding standards based grading and reporting, please call the Duluth Public School Curriculum Department at 218-336-8700 ext. 1138 or visit their website at www.ISD709.org