The Must Have

Teachers are thieves.  We talk with other teachers and steal what is working in their classrooms for our own.  It’s a celebrated part of the culture and one of the reasons that I became a teacher.  It’s important as teachers to collaborate with others and to hone our craft by using and adapting things that are proven to work.

What I’m writing about today is one of these stolen ideas.

Three years ago when I was just starting to put together a plan for standards based grading, I was talking to a colleague about my frustrations with students “taking assignments off,” or intentionally skipping assignments because they had enough points already accumulated to get the grade they wanted.  This wonderful teacher told me that she had had the same problem, so she had made some assignments in her class “unmissable.”  For her major projects, she told her students that they would fail her class if they didn’t do them because they were so important for their learning.

I really liked this idea, so I tried it with my sophomore English class who was getting ready to write a paper.  I told them that they couldn’t miss it, or they wouldn’t pass the class.  They groaned and complained, but I told them it wasn’t a negotiation (because I had to be tough like that, right?).

What happened is that my students that didn’t want to do the assignment, didn’t really do it, but they turned something in that was hastily and poorly done.  None of them came close to the prescribed parameters of the assignment.  I had told them to write a 750-word essay about the novel Tree Girl, and many of my didn’t-want-to-do-it-in-the-first-place students wrote fewer than 250 words only loosely related to the novel that they obviously hadn’t read.

I was massively frustrated.

I want back to my dear friend who had suggested the “unmissable” assignment and shared what had happened.  She explained that I had missed a step: the must have.  What I needed to do, she explained, was to make the parameters of the assignment unmissable as well.  She told me to think of what constituted “complete” with regards to the assignment and write that as a list of “must haves” that the students need to complete before the assignment will count as complete.

My mind was blown by the simplicity of this concept and by its potential to increase student achievement by making project completion the goal, not “well some points are better than none.”  At that point, I created a simple assignment template that I have used ever since and that has become a key in my standards based grading toolkit.

Assignment Template


So, in my class, not only are all assignments required to be completed, but they are also required to be completed at a minimum level of completion that can give me meaningful data about how that student is performing on standards in my class.  It has been such a powerful revelation to my students, who now can’t take the lazy way out.  Once that option is removed, many students rise to the challenge and produce high quality, thoughtful work that showcases their learning, not their ability to game the system for the grade they want.


My Grading Policy

This is taken from my course syllabus and explains how I grade.


I believe that grades should tell a story of achievement and mastery. They should be a reflection of what a student has learned and what a student can do. The following guidelines will inform grades in this class:

  1. Entries in the grade book that count towards the final grade will be limited to course or grade level standards.
    1. These entries will stay the same throughout the year. Each quarter, the complexity of the work on each standard will increase, leading to a high level of proficiency by the end of the school year.
    2. Each entry in the gradebook will be marked from a 0-4. A 4 indicates that an advanced level of mastery has been attained. A 3 indicates a proficient level of mastery. A 2 indicates a student that is approaching proficiency for that standard. And, a 1 indicates a still emerging knowledge of that standard. If there is a blank standard or a 0, it would indicate that I don’t have enough evidence to make that determination yet.
  2. Mastery of standards will be determined by in class assessments and projects. These assessments and projects will usually be scored using a rubric that students will have access to during the whole process. Students will know what is expected of them and what mastery looks like.
  3. Because grades are based on mastery of concepts, not points attained, students must complete every assessment or project in order to get a grade for the course.
  4. Because of the limitations of the SIS system, student assessment and project scores will be aggregated in a program called the 3D Gradebook that parents and students will have access to. SIS will only show the current level of performance on each standard. I would encourage you to track student progress in the 3D Gradebook. SIS and the 3D Gradebook will be updated by Monday morning each week.
  5. The final score for each standard will be determined by taking the mode (or the most frequently occurring) of all the data points.
  6. There will not be any extra credit available in this class.

Late Work and Retakes

Because of the nature of the grading system, late work and retakes will be allowed in this course under the following conditions:

  1. Students who miss work because of absences will be eligible to turn in their work when they return. They simply need to speak with me when they come back to make arrangements.
  2. Students wanting to turn in work late, retake an assessment, or redo a project must first fill out a “Request to Reassess” form available in my classroom. This form will require them to state the reasons for wanting to reassess or turn in the assignment late, what their plan is for mastering the standards before completing the assessment, how they will show evidence that they have completed their plan, and what deadlines they will meet during the reassessment process.
  3. The “Request to Reassess” form needs to be reviewed and accepted by me before any late work or retakes will be accepted. I may ask the student to revise their plan before accepting the request.
  4. Late work or retakes may be different than the original assignment at my discretion. Any quizzes or tests will definitely be different. Most projects will not.
  5. Late work and retakes will not be accepted the last week of the quarter.
  6. All late work and retakes will be accepted for full credit as long as the above criteria are met.

Grading Scale

Because all scores are based on competency and between 0-4, the grading scale looks a little different. In SIS, the standards scores will be averaged and converted into a percentage. The percentage will determine the final grade based on the following scale:


Average Score Grade Percent
3.26 4 A 81.50% 100.00%
3 3.25 A- 75.00% 81.25%
2.84 2.99 B+ 71.00% 74.75%
2.67 2.83 B 66.75% 70.75%
2.5 2.66 B- 62.50% 66.50%
2.34 2.49 C+ 58.50% 62.25%
2.17 2.33 C 54.25% 58.25%
2 2.16 C- 50.00% 54.00%
1.76 1.99 D+ 44.00% 49.75%
1.26 1.75 D 31.50% 43.75%
1 1.25 D- 25.00% 31.25%
0 1 F 0.00% 25.00%