CorePlanner Blog


Standards-referenced and Standards-based: What's the Diff?



In most high schools, students typically earn credit for passing a course, but a passing grade may be an A or it may be a D, suggesting that the awarded credit is based on a spectrum of learning expectations—with some students learning more and others learning less—rather than on the same learning standards being applied to all students equally.

And because grades may be calculated differently from school to school or teacher to teacher, and they may be based on different learning expectations (for example, some courses may be “harder” and others “easier”), students may pass their courses, earn the required number of credits, and receive a diploma without acquiring the most essential knowledge and skills described in standards.

In these cases, the curricula taught in these schools may be standards-referenced, but not standards-based, because teachers are not evaluating whether students have achieved specific standards.

In standards-based schools, courses, and programs, however, educators will use a variety of instructional and assessment methods to determine whether students have met the expected standards, including strategies such as demonstrations of learning, personal learning plans, portfolios, rubrics, and capstone projects, to name just a few.


In a standards-referenced course, grading may look like it traditionally has in schools: students are given numerical scores on a 1–100 scale and class grades represent an average of all scores earned over the course of a semester or year.

In a standards-based course, however, “grades” often look quite different. While standards-based grading and reporting may take a wide variety of forms from school to school, grades are typically connected to descriptive standards, not based on test and assignment scores that are averaged together.

For example, students may receive a report that shows how they progressing toward meeting a selection of standards. The criteria used to determine what “meeting a standard” means will defined in advance, often in a rubric, and teachers will evaluate learning progress and academic achievement in relation to the criteria.

The reports students receive might use a 1–4 scale, for example, with 3s and 4s indicating that students have met the standard. In standards-based schools, grades for behaviors and work habits—e.g., getting to class on time, following rules, treating other students respectfully, turning in work on time, participating in class, putting effort into assignments—are also reported separately from academic grades, so that teachers and parents can make distinctions between learning achievement and behavioral issues.

For an example of a standards-based report card, hop over to: