P.K. Yonge biology instructors pilot new standards-based grading approach

P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School instructors Mickey MacDonald and Kerry Thompson are partnering to prepare the UF laboratory school’s biology students for this year’s inaugural end-of-course biology exam.


With traditional grading practices often rewarding students for work completion or class participation as a substitute for knowledge of content, Thompson and MacDonald are piloting standards-based grading to focus students on mastery of content knowledge and science practices.

Standards-based grading has been implemented in many IB programs across the country and abroad. This model grades student on a scale of 0-6. In the P.K. Yonge pilot, a grade of 3 is considered the minimum level of competency needed to pass the biology end-of-course exam.

A 3-grade indicates the student is able to recall information and has demonstrated beginning skills in explaining or applying knowledge gained. Grades of 4 and 5 represent higher level skills in explaining and applying knowledge. Students attaining a grade of 6 are able to recall, explain, and apply content knowledge consistently and well.

The instructors say the standards-based grading approach is a work in progress, but students appear to be “buying in.” The system provides more opportunities for students to revisit material not mastered in the original time frame—an important advantage for students when the end-of-course exam rolls around.

“The potential of this type of grading,” says Thompson, “is that we will have a better understanding of what students really know and understand.”

MacDonald says standards-based grading coupled with the use of the College of Education’s online learning management system, Purlieu, provides opportunities for ongoing assessments for learning and offers numerous resources for mastering content.