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Best Practices for Using Standards-based Grading in Engineering Courses

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Tips of the Trade: Best Practices, Expanded Advice, and Strategies for Implementable Course Improvement

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

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Paper Authors


Adam R Carberry Arizona State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Adam Carberry is an assistant professor at Arizona State University in the Fulton Schools of Engineering Polytechnic School. He earned a B.S. in Materials Science Engineering from Alfred University, and received his M.S. and Ph.D., both from Tufts University, in Chemistry and Engineering Education respectively. Dr. Carberry was previously an employee of the Tufts’ Center for Engineering Education & Outreach and manager of the Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program (STOMP).

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Matthew Siniawski Loyola Marymount University

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Dr. Matthew T. Siniawski is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Loyola Marymount University. His research interests in the field of engineering education focus on service learning and design education assessment and grading.

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Sara A. Atwood Elizabethtown College

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Dr. Sara A. Atwood is an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. She holds a BA and MS from Dartmouth College, and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley.

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux is a Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Food Science from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Food Process Engineering from the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University. She is a member of Purdue’s Teaching Academy. Since 1999, she has been a faculty member within the First-Year Engineering Program, teaching and guiding the design of one of the required first-year engineering courses that engages students in open-ended problem solving and design. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and assessment of modeling and design activities with authentic engineering contexts. She is currently a member of the educational team for the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN).

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Assessment of student achievement using a grading system is a major task required of engineering educators. Most higher education institutions use a traditional, summative score-­based grading system that relies on educators to assign an end ­of semester letter grade representative of student achievement in the course. The default is to assign student grades by tabulating scores from multiple assignments, summing assignment scores, and determining a final course grade based on a predetermined scale. Such an approach inherently fails to meet the conditions of sound assessment of student learning because the resulting final course grades only display how well students performed on completing separate assignments rather than how well they learned specific course objectives. It cannot then be assumed that all students who receive the same final grade have mastered the same content. An alternative approach is to directly measure the quality of students’ proficiency toward well­ defined course outcomes through a learning outcomes ­based approach, heretofore referred to as standards ­based grading (SBG).

This paper assesses the use of SBG by six instructors at different institutions to identify best practices for integration. Five components were identified as keys to successful implementation: 1. Establish learning outcomes for a course prior to creating course activities/assignments, i.e., backwards course design 2. Develop a clear set of broad learning outcomes that can be used to develop specific sub­outcomes or objectives to be measured 3. Avoid courses where the learning outcomes cannot be summed into a manageable number 4. Utilize a simple 3 to 5 point scale with rubrics that clearly explain to students how to be successful on a given assignment 5. Provide detailed feedback on assignments to continually make students aware of their achievement level toward each course learning outcome

A number of barriers and obstacles were also identified by the instructors that must be overcome. These included faculty, student, and administrative push back to change, confusion toward a smaller, unfamiliar grading scale, difficult integration with course management software (e.g., Blackboard and Canvas), consistency across instructors in multi­section courses, increased initial faculty workload, and fit with certain engineering courses.

Perceived benefits of effective implementation of SBG for students by the six faculty participants included opportunities for students to self­-evaluate/assess, fail early to address weaknesses in order to ultimately succeed, recognize intended course outcomes throughout the course, and improve study and learning habits.

Carberry, A. R., & Siniawski, M., & Atwood, S. A., & Diefes-Dux, H. A. (2016, June), Best Practices for Using Standards-based Grading in Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26379

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015