Standards Referenced Grading

How do you know what your student understands and can demonstrate?

In the Diocese of Sacramento, we have made a deliberate and conscious commitment to incorporate standards-based teaching and learning practices in our classrooms.  These practices support our essential obligation to provide our students with more than just a rigorous academic curriculum to prepare them for high school, college and beyond.  Catholic education must also prepare students to take their place in society as Disciples in Christ; instilling in them a sense of service and challenging them to live the Gospel through daily interactions with all whom they come in contact.  Therefore, our focus should be placed on both the student’s moral and intellectual excellence.  

There are several advantages of standards-based education:

  • It ensures consistent expectations across grade levels.
  • It helps teachers and students focus on the standards in their learning activities.
  • Assessments are aligned to standards and provide evidence of what a student knows and/or can do.
  • It provides feedback as to a student’s proficiency level allowing the teacher to better individualize instruction.
  • It provides parents with valuable information on how their child is progressing on the critical concepts and skills of the grade level as well as individual standards.

What is Standards-Referenced Grading?

Standards-referenced grading (SRG) is a system of grading where teachers provide feedback to students about their demonstrated level of understanding on a set of defined standards and levels of performance. The steps to SRG include:

  1. As students begin a unit of study, the classroom teacher begins by sharing descriptions of learning progressions with the students.  Learning progressions show what a student needs to know and be able to do by the end of the school year. (A sample progression is below.)
  2. Students generally start by learning important vocabulary and skills.
  3. Students then move up proficiency levels to the target level, which is considered “at grade level.” Here they are demonstrating knowledge of the diocesan standards. This usually involves higher level thinking skills.
  4. Some students may go beyond the target level, which is considered to be more in-depth and often involves real world applications.

Meaningful Feedback: Feedback has been defined as “just-in-time, just-for-me information delivered when and where it can do the most good” (Brookhart, 2008).  In other words, students know their learning goals and that the target is “at grade level” (a 3.0). By having clear learning targets, teachers can use the proficiency scale to discuss where a student is on the learning progression and give specific feedback as to how to improve. Feedback has a powerful impact on student learning; it is considered one of the top influences on student achievement (Fisher, Frey & Hattie, 2015).

Documents Progress: By receiving feedback based on a learning progression, students can track their own progress over time. The teacher and student have a clear picture of what the student has learned and where improvements can be made. When students track their own progress, student achievement increases significantly (Marzano, 2010).

Students Have Ownership of Their Learning: In SRG students have tremendous ownership over their learning. They are aware of what is required for success. They can propose ways to show the teacher what they know and can do related to the standards. Students should be able to answer and ask these questions for each lesson of the day:

  1. What am I learning?
  2. Why is it important to know and be able to do?
  3. How will I know if I am successful or not?

Sample Proficiency Scale (Learning Progression)

Analyzing Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning (4 ELA)


The student will:

  • Identify two opinions on a particular topic in a text and notice what reasons and evidence are provided for these opinions (for example, identify what opinion the Billionaire Resort’s general manager Stephanie Ravessoud disagrees with, list the reasons and evidence that support her opinion, and identify the opposing opinion in Ilya Gridneff’s “Kenya Tries to Balance Turtles and Tourism” at


In addition to score 3.0 performance, partial success at score 4.0 content


The student will:
ACER1—Explain how reasons and evidence support an author’s opinion (for example, identify reasons and evidence in Ilya Gridneff’s “Kenya Tries to Balance Turtles and Tourism” at that support the opinion that preserving turtles is good for Kenya’s tourism and for the environment).


No major errors or omissions regarding score 2.0 content, and partial success at score 3.0 content


ACER1—The student will recognize or recall specific vocabulary (for example, detail, evidence, example, fact, opinion, personal experience, quote, reason, statement) and perform basic processes such as:

  • Describe how an opinion is different than a fact.
  • Identify whether a statement is a fact or an opinion.
  • Explain why it is important to support opinions with reasons and evidence.
  • Identify types of evidence a text can use (such as examples, personal experiences, quotes, facts).
  • Annotate details that relate to an opinion in a text.
  • Annotate words or phrases that can accompany a reason or piece of evidence (such as because, for example, proof).
  • Identify different types of evidence in a text (such as a fact, an example, a quote).


Partial success at score 2.0 content, and major errors or omissions regarding score 3.0 content


With help, partial success at score 2.0 content and score 3.0 content


With help, partial success at score 2.0 content but not at score 3.0 content


Even with help, no success

What do the Numbers Represent on a proficiency scale?

The numbers on the proficiency scale represent a learning continuum and are not points that are averaged. Level 2 provides important vocabulary and skills. Next on the scale is the target, Level 3. Level 3 is the grade level standards and requires knowledge of additional skills and concepts. Level 4 is considered more in-depth and requires higher level thinking skills than the previous levels.

The proficiency scale scores represent the following:

4.0 Exceeds the Grade Level Standard

The student demonstrates an understanding of more complex content and thinking (not new content), including deeper conceptual understandings and applications.


In addition to the level 3.0 content, the student demonstrates some understanding of more complex content and thinking.

3.0  Meets Expectations of Grade Level Standard

The goal. The student demonstrates grade level proficiency on the standard or learning target and shows understanding of the content, details, vocabulary, procedures, processes,  and skills.


In addition to the level 2.0 content, the student demonstrates partial knowledge of the 3.0 content.

2.0 Approaching Grade Level Standard

The student understands the simpler content, details, vocabulary, processes, and skills, including foundational material.


In addition to the level 1.0 content, the student demonstrates partial knowledge of the 2.0 content.

1.0  Initial Progress Toward Grade-Level Standard

With help, the student partially understands some of the simpler and more complex content, details, vocabulary, concepts, processes, procedures, and skills.


Has minimal knowledge of details, vocabulary, concepts, process, procedures and skills.

0.0 Even with help, no success

No understanding or skill demonstrated.

The proficiency scales are used to clearly define learning targets that communicate the knowledge of skills necessary for students and parents to understand the level of mastery a student has achieved at any given time.

Level 1 would only apply to students who lack even the most basic knowledge in a given standard.  

Level 2 is the grade given when a student is not at the mastery level, but working on the necessary vocabulary and learning targets identified in the proficiency scale.  A student remains at Level 2 until they have demonstrated full master of the priority standard(s) being assessed.

Level 3 is the grade given when a student has demonstrated proficiency on a given standard.  It is important that a student is given more than one opportunity to provide evidence of mastery before the priority standard is given a grade on the report card.  These assessments are summative in nature, but don’t necessarily require a formal written test.  The most recent and comprehensive evidence is given the greatest consideration when determining a grade.

Level 4 represents an understanding and application of knowledge at a level beyond what is expected at a given grade level.  It is important to understand what level 4 means:

Level 4 is: Level 4 is not:

High on Bloom’s Taxonomy or Depth of Knowledge level

An “A”

Beyond what is taught in the classroom

Extra Credit

Something most students do not attain

A reward for non-academic factors

Often a result of high ability, high interest, or high background knowledge

The teachers instructional focus

Parent FAQ

Standards-Referenced Grading FAQ and Guide: 

Teachers within our diocese have customized the Marzano Critical Concepts to create proficiency scales specifically for the Diocese of Sacramento.  Proficiency scales are tools that show what knowledge and skills students need to master a topic. They break down learning into levels (e.g., Level 2: basic skills, Level 3: target goal, Level 4: complex applications). This helps teachers plan lessons and assessments, and it helps students understand what they need to learn.  These scales benefit teachers, students, and parents. Teachers can use them to guide instruction and feedback. Students can use them to track their progress. Parents can use them to understand what their children are learning.  All report cards are aligned to these proficiency scales.

Tk-2 Proficiency Scales:

Grades 3-5 Proficiency Scales:

Grades 6-8 Proficiency Scales: (Coming Soon)

Marzano Critical Concepts