Standards-Based Assessment

Standards-Based Assessment (SBA) is a method of evaluating student skill mastery. SBA is intended to help students, families, and teachers understand accurately how students are doing as they work on developing their skills. It is not an assignment-based or productivity-mindset way of understanding what children can do.

Traditional grading does not consistently describe student skill. “ABCDF” grading drives students toward “A,” and leaves no room to differentiate exceptional skill levels, and can inadvertently create conditions of comparison and judgment that are counterproductive to learning.

“Why…would anyone want to change current grading practices? The answer is quite simple: grades are so imprecise that they are almost meaningless.” – Robert Marzano 

We use research-best practices-based descriptions to report a student’s skill for each standard required by the Virginia Department of Education and the Arlington Public Schools.

These Performance Level Descriptors (PLDs) are:

Meets Standard The student consistently demonstrates mastery of the standard.
Approaching Mastery The student is in the process of mastering the standard.
Developing Mastery The student demonstrates initial understanding of the standard with support.
Insufficient Evidence The teacher does not have evidence to determine a student’s mastery level for this skill.


Journey Toward Mastery

For each standard, in each grade level, Collaborative Learning Teams (CLTs) create meaningful, clear benchmarks students will reach to show they have met the standard established by Virginia and Arlington.

Schools in Arlington, like all in Virginia, are tasked with ensuring that all students master the skills and acquire the content knowledge outlined in the Virginia Standards of Learning, or SOLs.

SBA differs from traditional “grading” by eliminating problematic “Fail” and “zero” indicators. Instead of starting from “zero,” students begin with the accurate description of “no evidence,” meaning students simply have not yet gotten to that part of learning. Most students will move through “Developing Mastery” as they learn and develop their skills.

In fact, most students will spend most of their time during the course of learning at the “Developing Mastery” stage, as they are developing skills and content knowledge fluency.

Once a student meets the standard of skill established by Virginia and Arlington, the student’s skill is reported accurately as “Meets Standard.”

Because every student is unique, SBA accepts any demonstration of skill as valid, so Oakridge teachers use a wide array of student work examples, artifacts, conferences, and analyses to meaningfully understand each learner. Oakridge seeks to create authentic learning experiences and to help students create demonstrations of their skills within authentic contexts.

This “omnimodal” assessment method allows any student to demonstrate skill mastery in any way. It accounts for student uniqueness and promotes nonjudgmental, noncompetitive learning, and conforms with the standards-based instructional methods we use at Oakridge, such as with the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Units of Study.

It is developmentally inaccurate to think that all children are maximally gifted or skilled in all areas at all times. That said, while not all students will reach “Exceeds Standard” for all standards, teachers will always provide opportunities to extend and deepen knowledge and mastery, to encourage flourishing students to create new and innovative ways of showing exceptional mastery in areas that interest them. Because we utilize omnimodal assessment methods, the ways in which students create something new will vary from child to child, based on their talents, preferences, interests, personalities, and original ideas.


Both the literature on assessment and our educational philosophy at Oakridge values each unique child. Standards-Based Assessment eliminates unhealthy, stressful, and inaccurate extrinsic motivation frameworks like traditional grading in favor of accurate, low-stakes reporting of student skill mastery.


“The Case Against Grades” by Alfie Kohn:

“The Case Against Rewards and Praise” by Harvard Education  Letter:

“The Case Against Grades” by Michael Thomsen:

“Self-esteem based on external sources has mental health consequences,” American Psychological Association:

“A is the Best One” by Caroline Greig:

“Standards-based grading made my kid average” by Lisa Westman: