SBG explained to Parents

I work in a school that has a 1-5 grading scale yet many practices are aligned with a percentage / grade letter model. We’re working towards a more common understanding that may eventually shift descriptors but in meantime I find that there are many inconsistencies throughout the school. This results in parent confusion and questions. In the following, I attempt to begin with the school’s reporting scale and explain my version to parents. This process is a continuation of my efforts to write frequently (still managing a weekly email!) to parents to increase communication. Obviously, I struggle a bit with being succinct in my explanation. Suggestions? How do you provide a good description of your system to parents in a way that they will read and understand?

——to parents—-

As a teacher, I am sometimes asked what guides the units and reporting in class. Units are created in collaboration with other members of the Science Department so that students can reach a level of understanding appropriate for middle school. The standards used to develop student learning targets come from the Next Generation Science Standards. Over the course of the year, I hope to be able to provide you with detailed information regarding these standards and how they help guide the science work of your student. In the meantime, please feel free to look at the standards and let me know if you have any questions.

The following information has been copied from the school handbook regarding reporting:

The 1 to 5 scale describes a student’s growth in learning for that learning period. The scale numbers are not an average of a student’s scores for that learning period, but an evaluation of their overall achievement of the material studied. The learning periods that will be evaluated are the first quarter, the first semester (including both first and second quarters), the third quarter, and the second semester (including the third and fourth quarters). The five levels are described below:

1 to 5 Grading Scale


  • Minimal understanding of the required concepts, knowledge, and skills. Only able to apply these with high levels of assistance.
  • Limited understanding of the required concepts, knowledge and skills. Able to apply them with some assistance.
  • Fair understanding of the required concepts, knowledge and skills. Able to apply them in a reasonable number of situations.
  • Good understanding of the required concepts, knowledge and skills. Able to apply them consistently and accurately in familiar situations.
  • Excellent understanding of the required concepts, knowledge and skills. Able to apply them consistently and accurately in familiar and unfamiliar situations.


The scale above is written in a general form as it applies to the Middle School as a whole. For your student in Grade 7 Science, the scale has been modified to best fit the needs of students.  Assessments are a form of communication between teachers, students and parents and helps to describe a student’s understanding of concepts. Therefore, feedback needs to be directly related to a student’s progress on the topics.

Learning targets are broken down into levels of understanding that correspond with the 1-5 reporting scale. The general overview is provided below:

  • A “1” indicates that the student has provided little or no evidence to support their understanding on a topic.
  • A “2” indicates that the student is progressing but needs some guidance and support to explain foundational items on a topic.
  • Level 3 corresponds to the foundational information on a topic. This can be vocabulary, general topic understanding or a broad explanation of a concept. A “3” on a Level 3 concept indicates that the student has shown foundational understanding of the material. (On a Level 4 concept, a “3” indicates that the student has basic understanding of a concept but is still working to fully develop ideas related to the topic.)
  • Level 4 relates to the development of a good understanding of the material. At this level, students are asked to use the foundational ideas and vocabulary (Level 3) to connect concepts and fully describe their thoughts.
  • Level 5 indicates that a student has moved beyond what we are directly discussing in class and can apply his or her understanding to more challenging scenarios. Students are able to make thorough connections between concepts and connect ideas using a variety of examples.

Is homework a necessary part of a student’s performance? Homework can be beneficial to student improvement though it does not factor into the grade of the student. It is time to practice, to put thoughts together and to develop questions. It is not part of a grade.

The table below provides a more broken down description of the levels described below:

Level Indicators include…
Level 5.0
  • I fully understand the content/skills and can explain them in detail.
  • I can explain/teach the skills to another student.
  • I can have a conversation about the content/skills.
  • I can independently demonstrate extensions of my knowledge (go past what was taught in class).
  • I can create analogies and/or find connections between different areas within the sciences or between science and other areas of study.
  • My responses demonstrate in-depth understanding of main ideas and of related details.
Level 4.0
  • I understand the key points about the content/skills.
  • I am proficient at describing terms and independently connecting them with concepts.
  • I understand not just the “what,” but can correctly explain the “how” and “why” of concepts.
Level 3.0
  • I have a general understanding of the content/skills, but I’m also confused about some important parts.
  • I need some help from my teacher (one-on-one or small group) to do the skills correctly.
  • I do not feel confident enough to do the skills on my own and need my handouts and notes.
  • I can correctly identify concepts and/or define vocabulary; however I have difficulties making connections among ideas and/or independently extending my own learning.
  • My responses demonstrate basic understanding of some main ideas, but significant information is missing.
Level 2.0
  • I need lots of help from my teacher (one-on-one).
  • I have low confidence on how to do the skills and need more instruction.
  • I need my handouts and notes at all times.
  • I do not understand the concept/skills.
  • I cannot correctly identify concepts and/or define vocabulary.
  • I cannot make connections among ideas or extend the information.
Level 1.0
  • I do not provide any responses for which a judgment can be made about my understanding.

(Note on the table: I wish I could remember where I found it. I thank the individual(s) who provided many of the indicators.)


2 thoughts on “SBG explained to Parents

  1. I like the breakdown on a 1-5 scale as opposed to a 1-4 as it makes more sense to me because I’m used to a more traditional grading scale. I’m wondering where a straight memory say like a vocab word fits? Is that what you mean by knowledge? What about a student who displays a 3 on a given assessment is there a time limit on how long they have to show better mastery of the topic? My last question is could a student earn say a 3.5?

    • Thanks for the questions! I think that moving to a 1-5 scale does seem like an easier shift. At first. The problem I am finding is that most parents have their experiences rooted in a traditional grading scale. As such, they drop the 1-5 and move straight over to the A-F scale. I’m hoping for a school shift to a 4 scale with (hopefully) descriptors instead of numbers. Let’s talk about ideas instead of giving values. At the same time, I understand the need for transcripts as my students are quite mobile and need to be able to move into another system.

      At the moment, I put vocabulary at the base knowledge base (3). My time limits are the ones set by school reporting structures. When the system is working well, students have opportunities to initiate assessments and continue working on topics until the end of that marking period. Removing time constraints is important so that students have the time they need to make meaning. The challenging part is keeping certain students reviewing as the class may be on a different topic.

      I go for half points. I think it is helpful in student tracking. It also gives me a bit more information if I note that the majority are almost at a level (or not).

      Thanks again for the questions. I hope the replies were helpful.

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