student grading & reporting

Learning   Engagement   Achievement

A new way of assessing and reporting student achievement has been implemented at Indian Community School.  Our new standards-based system of grading and reporting has been developed to ensure that each student’s grades accurately reflect his/her level of proficiency toward grade level standards.  Our standards based instructional program clearly addresses the following: 

  • What should students learn?
  • How will students learn it?
  • How will students demonstrate what they’ve learned?

The use of consistent ICS Learning Targets, based on grade level standards for each subject area, will provide a focus on learning and clear information about students’ progress. This will help each student understand what level of proficiency is needed in order to earn a grade in each subject and grade level.

What is a Standards-Based Instructional Program?

A standards-based instructional program guides instruction so that lessons and assessments focus on student learning.  Additionally, it provides a common language to have conversations and collaboration with families and helps ensure equal educational opportunities for all students.  Learning comes first in a standards based system.  It is an ongoing teaching and learning cycle that ensures all students can demonstrate proficiency in grade level standards.  A standards based instructional program serves the following purposes:

  • To provide clear learning objectives for lessons, units, and assessments. 
  • To support student learning by helping students understand the relationship between their current performance and the desired, next level of performance.
  • To support student effort by helping students understand the relationship between the effectiveness of their effort and their growth over time.
  • To develop each student’s ability to think critically about his or her own work.
  • To encourage students to take risks in learning that result in the development of new skills and deeper understanding.
  • To inform teachers about student progress toward learning targets so teachers can provide responsive instruction.

Academic Standards – Academic standards provide transparent and comprehensive guidelines for successful learning beyond the classroom.  In Wisconsin, all state standards serve as a model.  School Boards adopt academic standards in each subject area to best serve their local community.  Indian Community School aligns curriculum, learning, and assessments to the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and Wisconsin Model Academic Standards as our roadmap for instructional practices.  Along with the Our Ways Teaching and Learning Framework, we use these standards as the foundation for teaching and learning which allows teachers to identify and communicate essential understandings and learning targets.  Alignment to standards ensures rigorous curriculum, promotes college and career readiness, and encourages the application of knowledge so that students can increase their understanding of the world.   

Wisconsin Academic Standards

Common Core State Standards

Next Generation Science Standards

Our Ways Teaching and Learning Framework™

Families can access ICS Course Overviews for their child’s classes by clicking here.

ICS Learning Targets – Our Learning Targets have been developed from grade-level academic standards, deconstructed into short-term goals of learning.  They are statements that clearly communicate to students, families, and educators what students are expected to know and do at the end of a lesson and/or unit of study.  These explicit goals for daily instruction highlight essential skills, concepts and knowledge to provide a clear focus for the development of lessons and assessments.  Learning Targets are written in student-friendly language, allowing students and teachers to create specific goals for learning that are personalized to each student’s individual needs.  

ICS Course Overviews – The development of Course Overviews provide the foundation of an equitable, consistent, school-wide, standards based instructional program.  The Course Overviews are documents for each course at every grade level that provide clear, measurable learning outcomes based on Board-approved standards.  Additionally, the Course Overviews provide the main source of communication to students and families outlining what a child should know and be able to do at each grade level.

Why is ICS changing to a standards-based system of grading and reporting?

Educational research suggests that establishing clear and measurable academic standards for student learning increases student achievement.  Grades are the ultimate form of feedback to students about their progress toward mastery of the standards. Grades need to be accurate and meaningful. Students and parents need a precise picture of what learning has been mastered and what learning still needs to occur.  At Indian Community School, a standards based system will allow us to more accurately and consistently communicate student achievement to students and families as it relates to state standards and ICS Learning Targets based on best instructional practices.  

What is standards-based grading?

Grades must be meaningful, consistent, accurate, and supportive of learning.  Students learn best through a system of clear learning targets, quality formative assessment, developmental feedback, and the opportunity to respond to that feedback in order to guide their effort toward higher levels of understanding.  The purpose of grades is to provide a basis of information and feedback to accurately communicate individual student achievement as related to the learning targets.  Standards based grading provides accurate information to students and families on a student’s individual progress and mastery toward meeting grade level standards. 

A standards-based grading system includes the following guidelines:

  • Grades should be based only on academic standards.
  • Grades will be based on performance on summative assessments.
  • Grades are based on quality assessments and properly recorded evidence of learning.
  • Extra credit will not be given at any time.
  • Students will be allowed multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of learning targets in various ways. 
  • Teachers will determine grade book entries by considering multiple points of data emphasizing the most recent evidence to support their determination.
  • Students will be provided multiple opportunities to practice learning targets independently through homework or other class work. Practice assignments and activities will be consistent with classroom standards for the purpose of providing feedback. Practice assignments, including homework, will not be included as part of the final grade.
  • Retakes and revisions will be allowed after completing the assigned opportunities for practice.

How is traditional grading and standards-based grading different?

Traditional grading is subjective. On a traditional report card, an overall grade is given in each subject. That grade is a combination of homework, tests, work habits, as well as a student’s understanding of subject content. However, the focus tends to be more on assignment completion and missing work instead of understanding.  When a student receives a letter grade on his/her report card, it does not tell the parent, teacher, or student what the student specifically knows and is able to do.

A standards-based grading system provides clear and consistent grade-level learning targets for each subject area, focus for the learning activities that students experience, and a method for communicating specific information on how students are making progress toward the standards.  By using standards based learning and assessment, we better focus on three components of strong teaching: learning targets, assessment and feedback.  Learning targets provide clear statements of what standards will be covered and the expectation for each skill.  Assessment focuses on how well students have learned the skills from the learning targets.  Teachers can then be precise with the feedback provided to students because the learning targets are clear. Thus, teachers are better able to provide student feedback regarding growth achieved and areas where more growth is needed.  ICS is moving to standards-based learning and assessment, using a new standards-based report card, because it focuses more clearly on student learning and evidence, and how to provide important feedback to students to help them reach their goals.  

What is a standards-based report card?

The purpose of a report card is to accurately communicate a student’s ongoing achievement and performance toward the mastery of grade level standards.  A standards-based report card provides detailed information on how well a student is progressing toward mastery of end-of-year standards for their grade level, identifying specific areas of strength as well as areas in need of improvement. Standards-based reporting examines each subject area through specific learning targets rather than students receiving one grade that represents multiple criteria, including an average of multiple grades, student behaviors, and work habits.  Providing more detailed information allows parents and students to understand more clearly what learning is expected at each grade level. With this understanding, parents will be better able to guide and support their child’s learning in specific ways.  

How are grades determined?  

A standards-based grading system should be reliable and ensure each student’s grades accurately reflect their level of proficiency toward grade level standards and learning targets.  This system will develop clear, consistent success criteria for learning targets, help each student understand in each course or program what level of proficiency is needed to earn each grade, and provide frequent opportunities for each student to obtain feedback as to their progress toward the learning goals of their courses.


At ICS, mastery of the learning targets is assessed using five levels of competency 0-4.  The levels represent the degree to which a student is able to independently demonstrate each essential skill and concept.  On a standards based report card, a “3” is the expected goal for students, which indicates that the student is meeting the requirements of the academic standards for his/her grade level.  A “2” indicates that the student’s progression of skills and information is in the expected range, but still requires support and assistance to meet the requirements of the academic standard for his/her grade level.  The expectation is that most students will achieve a “3” by the end of the year for each grade-level standard.  All standards on a grade-level report card will be addressed by the end of the school year.  (Note: A mark of “N/A” on a report card indicates that the standard has not been adequately introduced, covered, or assessed during the marking period.)

Grades are based on a student’s performance on summative assessments.  Frequent opportunities are provided for each student along the way through formative assessments to obtain feedback as to his/her progress toward the learning targets.  The teacher responsible for a student’s instruction in a particular class shall determine the student’s grade based on the student’s performance on summative assessments.  All final decisions about disputed grades will be made by the Head of School following policy and guidelines.

What are student success skills?  

Factors related to student behaviors that may affect learning are communicated to students and families.  These include participation, work habits, effort, respect, and responsibility.  Student success skills are communicated on quarterly report cards, but are not included within summative assessment or course grades.  In addition to academic grades, a basis of information and feedback about student success skills are utilized to set goals and improve student performance.  These factors are scored separately from a student’s quarterly course grade.

frequently asked questions

How does a standards-based grading system compare to a system using letter grades such as A, B, C, D, and F?

The two systems provide very different information.  Letter grades represent an average score of all skills and concepts by combining how well the student met a teacher’s expectations, how the student performed on assignments and tests, how much effort the teacher believes the student put in, and how the student is doing in comparison to other classmates. Letter grades do not tell parents which skills their child has mastered or whether they are working at grade level. Letter grades may include both academic and nonacademic factors. In contrast, standards based grades provide information only on the specific skills and concepts a student has mastered and those that they are still working on. Nonacademic factors, such as behavior, work habits, and class participation are reported separately from the academic standard proficiency level.

Is a “4” the same thing as an “A”?

A “4” is not equivalent to an “A”. Remember, a mark of “3” indicates that a student is meeting grade-level expectations with independence and excellence. With high and challenging expectations, a “3” is exactly where a student should be by the end of the year.

Why are all the learning targets not listed on the report card?

A standards-based report card is not the same as a list of standards. Although a student receives grades for all of the ICS Learning Targets for their grade level subjects, the report card summarizes the standard strands for each grade level.  A full list of learning targets for each grade level and subject are listed within the Course Overviews here on our website.   Additionally, you can access all of your child’s grades for every learning target through your family’s PowerSchool account. 

Click here for information to access Powerschool

What examples of assessments do teachers use to assign grades?

With a standards-based approach, teachers evaluate student learning in a variety of ways using classroom observations and classwork, along with formative and summative assessments. Formative assessments, such as homework, quizzes, and pre-assessments, are used to check for understanding, set goals and inform instruction throughout the learning process.  Summative assessments, such as unit tests, rubrics, and performance assessments, are used to evaluate learning at the end of a unit or project. The combination of these pieces of evidence, provides a more detailed picture of student progress towards grade level expectations.  Only summative assessments are used for grading purposes.

How do I help my child “get a 4?”

“Getting a 4” is not about what more a student does. It is what a student knows, and at what level they extend what they know to a higher level of skill and application.  Extra credit does not exist in a standards-based instructional program; however, many opportunities are provided for students to demonstrate proficiency on a learning target.  A student who receives a “4” is characterized by self-motivation and the ability to apply skills with consistent accuracy, independence and a higher level of quality.

What about Grade Point Averages?

A standards-based system does not translate directly to a traditional grade point average.  Therefore, students at ICS will not be evaluated with a grade point average.  ICS will still provide students and families with the necessary documentation for a successful high school application.  In the event a high school requires a GPA for admittance, ICS will communicate with the high school and work with individual students and families to ensure the needed information is provided.  Students will still be able to qualify for ICS scholarships based on the criteria of a standards based rating system.


Assessment: Any method used to evaluate, measure, and document the academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, or educational needs of students.

Benchmark Assessment: An assessment used to determine if specific, key developmental and/or academic milestones have been met at specific times during the year. (math facts, reading level, etc.) 

College and Career Ready: Focuses on students having critical thinking skills, communicating effectively, collaborating with others, and solving real work problems in additional to having knowledge in academic content areas. (Wisconsin Department of Instruction – College and Career Readiness)

Common Assessments: A form of assessments used to ensure that same content (grade level, department, or content area) performance evaluations are consistent, reliable, and effective. This allows for comparison across classrooms, courses, and learning experiences. Common assessments share the same format and are administered in consistent ways.

Course Overview – A curriculum document that provides the foundation of an equitable, consistent, school-wide, standards based instructional program.  The Course Overviews provide clear, measurable learning outcomes based on standards and learning targets and outline what a child should know and be able to do at each grade level for every subject. 

Curriculum: Intentionally designed set of learning experiences to introduce, support, and challenge each child’s understanding of articulated standards. The curriculum is the relationship among standards, learning targets, learning activities, success criteria, valid and reliable assessments, and teacher’s and students’ utilization of strategies and resources to build knowledge, skills, and dispositions. 

Descriptive Feedback: Specific, formative information provided to learners in the form of written comments or conversations that help the student understand what is needed to improve. It is specific, timely, and communicated in language that is understood by the learner. It opens the opportunity for mistakes to be viewed as learning opportunities when time is provided for students to take action. 

Essential Question: A question that lies at the heart of a discipline or a curriculum and is utilized by teachers to promote student inquiry.  Essential questions are  1) Open-ended – it typically will not have a single, final, and correct answer;  2) Thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion and debate;  3) Calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction, and cannot be effectively answered by recall alone;  4) Points toward important, transferable ideas within and across disciplines;  5) Raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry;  6) Requires support and justification, not just an answer;  7) Recurs over time; the question can and should be revisited again and again. (Essential Questions by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins – 2013)

Formative Assessment: An assessment or learning activity designed to inform the teacher and learner about areas of strengths and needs for improvement related to the learning targets.  A formative assessment is not used for grading purposes, but instead used to guide and modify next steps in teaching and learning.  Examples of formative assessments include unit pre-assessments, homework, quizzes, mid-unit check-ups, and student self-assessments.

Grade: The symbol (number or letter) reported at the end of a period of time as a summary statement of student performance. (Ken O’Connor – 2013)

Homework: Intended to be formative practice, whether guided or independent, that is not an assessment of learning. The purpose of practice is for a student to improve their understanding.  Homework may be scored, rated according to a rubric, and supported with feedback; however, it should not be counted in the grade as students are still practicing and emerging in their understanding of content standards. 

Learning targets:  Statements deconstructed from grade-level standards into short-term goals of learning that clearly state what students are expected to know and do at the end of the lesson.  Learning targets are measurable objectives from which all lessons, activities, and assessments are aligned.  They are written in student-friendly language – “I can…” and communicated to students and families.  Learning targets are posted in the classroom, referred to before, during, and after each lesson, and visible on assessments to show progress.  

Performance Task: Any learning activity or assessment that asks students to perform to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding, and proficiency.

Portfolio: A purposeful collection of significant samples of work accompanied by clear criteria for performance which evidence effort, progress or achievement.

Pre-Assessments: A type of formative assessment that is administered before students begin a lesson, unit, course, or academic program. Students are not expected to know the academic content or skills evaluated by pre-assessments. Pre-assessments serve three primary functions 1) to establish baseline data to monitor and measure learning; 2) to inform teacher’s efforts to best align curriculum and instruction to students’ learning needs; 3) to clarify for students as to where they are now in relation to learning targets and success criteria for next levels of learning.

Proficiency levels: Indicators of student proficiency in achievement relative to standards and learning targets. A student who is proficient consistently demonstrates understanding of core skills and concepts and meets performance expectations

Rubric: An formative or summative assessment tool that articulates different levels of demonstrated proficiency as related to the learning targets. 

Score: The number or letter given to any student test or performance that may contribute to the later determination of a grade. (Ken O’Connor – 2013)

Standards: Concise, written descriptions that serve as goals for teaching and learning in the classroom.  Standards specify what students should know and are expected to learn in each grade and each subject area.  Standards communicate to students, parents, educators, and citizens what students should learn at a given point, and become the basis for the way teachers are trained, what they teach, and what students are assessed on to measure if learning goals are met.  Locally elected school boards adopt state and/or national academic standards in each subject area to best serve their local community.

  • Content standards describe the knowledge that students should be able to understand.
  • Process standards describe the procedural skills that students should be able to do.

Standard Strand: A grouping of related standards that are common to one area of content.

Standards Based: A system that measures student outcomes relative to standards.

Standards-Based Grade: A symbol (number or letter) that represents a student’s demonstration attainment of standards. 

Standards Based Grading: Reporting the most recent, and best, evidence of a student’s individual understanding and/or demonstration of the standards and learning targets as related to success criteria. This is in contrast to traditional grading systems that focus on accumulation or averaging of points obtained from homework, quizzes, and tests across each grading/reporting period.

Standards-Based Learning: Utilization of standards and learning targets to prioritize, design, and align curriculum, instruction, assessment, and feedback across courses, units, and lessons. 

Standards-Based Report Card: Provides a clear picture of a student’s achievement on specific learning targets.  Regular, timely communication to families provides a basis of information and feedback about academic achievement and student success skills in order to set goals and improve student performance.

Student Success Skills: Parts of feedback or communication to students/families related to student behaviors that may affect learning.  These include participation, work habits, effort, respect, and responsibility.  Student success skills are communicated on quarterly report cards, but are not included within summative assessment or course grades. 

Success Criteria: Explicitly states what quality performance looks like as related to the learning targets so students and teachers can assess work using a shared language of quality. Success criteria answers the question “What do I need to do to demonstrate an understanding?” 

Summative Assessments: A valid, reliable measure of a student’s understanding and skills of articulated standards, learning targets, and success criteria at the end of a learning sequence. Summative assessments are given at the end of a unit or conclusion of a specific instructional period. Summative assessment results are often recorded as scores that are then factored into a student’s grade.