What You Need to Know About Standards-Referenced Grading in Art

If you’ve heard anything about grading in any subject lately, it is probably all about standards-referenced grading. Today we’re specifically talking about standards-referenced grading in the art room. First, a little background.

In a standards-referenced system, a student’s status is reported (or referenced) relative to the performance standard for each area of knowledge and skill on the report card. For instance, in the art classroom, a learning standard might be the use of elements and principles to convey an idea or meaning. A student’s report card reflects his or her progress towards this standard. Students don’t just get one aggregated grade, but a series of scores on multiple standards. A little different, huh? Today I’ve put together 4 key things you need to know about standards-referenced grading in the art room.

Standards-Referenced Grading
1. Behavior and effort are reported SEPARATELY from academic standards.

Trying hard and being a good citizen are critical. So critical, in fact, that they should get their own space on the report card. Likewise, academic content should have its own space as well. No more saying, “You didn’t get it, but I’ll give you a B because you tried so hard.” That certainly doesn’t set a student up for success at the next level.

2. Homework is not part of the mix.

Homework is practice. It’s just the same as orchestra students taking their instruments home to prepare for class and concerts. Homework, wisely chosen homework, can be assigned, but it is not part of a student’s grade. Any homework you assign should prepare students for the work you do in class with them.

3. Standard-referenced grading moves us away from the subjective grading of art products.

In a standards-referenced grading system, we move closer to evaluating the learning students do as they work towards mastery of the most vital art skills. Ever have a piece of student work turn out terribly, even though the student provided plenty of evidence that he or she understood the skill? The beauty of this system is that students can provide evidence in any number of ways over as much time as needed (within reason).

4. Most importantly, grades mean something.

Grades go beyond a system that can be gamed and manipulated by both students and teachers to a method of communication around student progress and next steps.

Interested in learning more about standards-referenced grading for your class? Start with this article on formative assessment (at the heart of SRG), then move over to Ed Leadership, The Robert Marzano Lab, and Rick Wormeli’s site.

Do you use a standards-referenced grading system? How does it work for you?

What questions do you still have about this way of grading?

Sarah Dougherty


My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • chris

    We have been using standards-referenced assessments and grading for many years. This spring we began the long process of changing our rubrics and checklists to reflect the new national art standards. We are also assessing the Universal Constructs recommended by the Iowa DOE & part of the Iowa Core.

    They work well & are criterion based. In elementary we have a separate category when reporting progress for effort & behavior that is not a part of the art grade.

    • Chris, it is great to hear from teachers who are using this system with success! Curriculum and assessments are constantly shifting — taking on the Universal Constructs and new national standards is a huge task! I’d love to hear more about that. Keep in touch with me at [email protected].

  • Vicky Siegel

    My district is also working on this with the program BYOC (Build Your Own Curriculum). We are still using the WI Model Academic Standards for Art and Design- since right now the new national standards are not in the program to use or even choose from! We are working on trying to get them as a possibility, though! After this year, then we will change report cards to assess the standards and a separate grade, too, for their behavior/character (which we do already).

  • Brandy

    I just moved to Florida and am still learning the workings of the county and state. I have to say that I am unimpressed so far. We currently give a single grade for art-does not reflect behavior at all. Later this year we will be implementing End of Course assessments for all subjects including art (per state directive). As of yet we have had no training or information given, and some of them haven’t even been written (I know because I am being pulled from my class next week to help write some) My understanding is that our evaluation(and thus our pay) will be tied to student scores. Scores for tests we can’t prepare them for or track progress for through grading. I am feeling the pressure to change the way I teach and “teach to the test”. I used to love my job…

    • Brandy, this makes me sad to hear! Know that the ideas and implementation behind standards referenced grading are meant to elevate our work and the achievements of students. It sounds like your issues are administrative and systemic. Hang in there and work to improve your condition as best you can!

    • Alexsa Shever

      Hi Brandy… I think we are in the same county. I am about to input our grades now and I am feeling the same way I felt the year you wrote this. Have you done anything to better the situation? If so, I am open to suggestions!!! Thank, Alexsa~

  • Mrs. Brey

    Wish I would have seen this in august! Our school asked us to move to standards based grading at the beginning of this school year. After teaching for 10 years the traditional “averages” way, I switched to standards based grading and LOVE it! Students who aren’t as comfortable with art classes previously know exactly what they have to do to get the grade they want, and I have the option to require certain practice works before grading their summative projects for each standard. The wonderful part of this whole process has been being able to grade on specific skills. With our core content standards there are specific skills students are supposed to be able to do at each level, and with standards based grading I can clearly show parents which skills students have attained, which they are progressing with, and which skills they are struggling to attain.

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  • Ryan Creech

    Does anyone have a good example of an SBG/SRG rubric with the lesson? I desperately want to make this switch, but would like to see what it looks like in our art classrooms.