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School Views: Standards-based grading and college admissions

Phil Qualman
School Views
Philip Qualman

Last year, we began our work to shift toward a standards-based grading model that will ultimately be used at all Eagle County School District schools. This year, a number of our schools are piloting programs to help achieve our end goal while others are taking a slower approach and only piloting with certain classes.

Research shows that standards-based grading provides a more consistent and meaningful understanding of where a student is on the learning path. Traditional grading practices often punish students for behaviors and factors beyond their control. Grades based on academic proficiency more fairly reflect student achievement.

This work is rooted in our pursuit of equity and promotes the most aspirational thinking of what our students are capable of as learners, regardless of their race, first language, family’s income, or their previous educational experiences. Grading in Eagle County School District dignifies our students by telling them exactly where they are academically and what they need to be successful.



However, some have voiced concerns about how these changes will impact their child(ren) and specifically their goal of attending top colleges. Know that these concerns about standards-based grading’s effect on the admissions process don’t fall on deaf ears, and we are here to answer your questions.

I recently attended the Colorado Western Slope College Fair in Aspen. It was a unique opportunity to speak directly with admissions representatives from over 250 schools. And while I wasn’t able to speak to each of them, I did make my way around the fair and spoke with as many as I could asking them similar hard questions that have been asked of me. What does your school think of standards-based grading systems? Will making this switch disadvantage students as they look toward college admission? In the selection process, how does your school weigh and compare school districts that utilize standard-based grading systems?

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The answers were all extremely similar: standards-based grading does not negatively impact students during the college admissions process. Each admissions officer I spoke with talked about how schools across the country use varying grading scales, from 0-4 scales like Eagle County School District, to more traditional A-F scales, to districts that simply do not grade at all. Some even use 0-10 and others 0-12.

Colleges and universities have grown accustomed to and account for these differences when comparing applicants. Furthermore, most representatives shared that their institutions consider grade point average, so for students coming from a district that uses a 0-4 grading system, it’s one less calculation that the admissions counselors need to make.

Another sentiment that rang true among higher education representatives was that it’s important that school profiles clearly explain the grade scale. Most also referenced the importance of students taking challenging courses. Transcripts that show Advanced Placement or concurrent enrollment classes demonstrate that students are interested in challenging themselves with tougher expectations.



Hearing directly from admission officers at the collegiate level was definitely reassuring, but I understand that it may not alleviate all concerns parents have. If you have additional questions, reaching out to your school principal, myself, or one of our assistant superintendents is always a communication channel available to you.

I see the concerned comments on social media and hear them throughout the community, however, I find the majority of these concerns to come across as misleading or simply have a misunderstanding of what standards-based grading really is.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me for a clarifying conversation. Visit our website to review a myriad of resources available and remember, my door is always open and I am more than willing to sit down with any parent or community member to discuss what standards-based grading is, what it is not, and why we firmly believe that it is a positive shift throughout the district that will provide long-term benefit for our students.

Phil Qualman is the superintendent of Eagle County School District. Email him at philip.qualman@eagleschools.net.


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