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A B or not a B? A Proposed Framework for Discussing Grade Aggregation in Standards-Based Assessment

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Assessment of Student Learning – New Engineering Educators Division

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


J. Blake Hylton Ohio Northern University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Hylton is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Ohio Northern University. He previously completed his graduate studies in Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, where he conducted research in both the School of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Engineering Education. Prior to Purdue, he completed his undergraduate work at the University of Tulsa, also in Mechanical Engineering. He currently teaches first-year engineering courses as well as various courses in Mechanical Engineering, primarily in the mechanics area. His pedagogical research areas include standards-based assessment and curriculum design, the later currently focused on incorporating entrepreneurial thinking into the engineering curriculum.

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Matthew Walker Ohio Northern University

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Matthew Walker is a sophomore Computer Engineering student at Ohio Northern University. He is also minoring in Applied Mathematics. He is the President of the student chapter of the American Society for Engineering Education and has a passion for teaching. His previous classroom experiences include a year of being in the education college and working in the field with high school math classes that range from Algebra II to Calculus BC

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While grading and assessment has long been a discussion point among educational researchers, there has been a recent resurgence in concern over the efficacy of traditional point-based grading systems. Amidst this discussion, standards- or outcomes-based assessment, first proposed in the 1940s and now widely used across K12 education, has seen a renaissance in higher education circles. With this rise has been a surge of methodologies and summation schemes, proposing different approaches to implementing standards-based assessment. This work seeks to explore some of those approaches through a series of case-studies, examining the impacts of various schemes on the overall course grade of several hypothetical students in an introductory engineering course.

Standards-based grading centers around the idea that student scores are tied directly to their performance against pre-defined standards, in turn tied to the stated course learning objectives. Students are assessed repeatedly on their achievement of these objectives while also being provided with clear, meaningful feedback on their progress. Additionally, standards-based assessment has been proposed as having a positive impact on perceived fairness and transparency of the assessment experience as well as benefits for program assessment. As this approach has gained in popularity, there has been a parallel proliferation of approaches by which to translate objective-based assessment scores to a traditional course letter grade. Methods are wide ranging in approach and there is little research as to the comparative impacts of the various translation schemes.

In this paper, we examine the literature and identify a few key trends in these translation approaches. A framework built around four key dimensions (type, approach, weighting, and scope) is presented to categorize potential standards-based assessment methods. To better illustrate how the framework may be applied, hypothetical student profiles for a high-, mid-, and low-achieving student were generated for an introduction to engineering course and a total of nineteen different methods were developed in various permutations of these dimensions and applied to the hypothetical student scores. The results of these exemplars was examined and trends and insights were discussed, along with areas in need to future study.

While there is clearly no single right answer to this challenge, some general conclusions are drawn about the impacts of various standards-based grading approaches. Ultimately, this work seeks to provide aspiring adopters of a standards-based assessment scheme with the necessary information to design the approach best suited to their course and their students.

Hylton, J. B., & Walker, M. (2018, June), A B or not a B? A Proposed Framework for Discussing Grade Aggregation in Standards-Based Assessment Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29655

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