Op-Ed: Why SRG Will Fail

Jackie Ozanich, Managing Editor

Standards-Referenced Grading (SRG) is a relatively new grading system that has been integrated into CPS since 2016, and will soon be making its debut at the high school level. 

     SRG is a new way to grade. Rather than letter grades, where grades range from A’s to F’s. SRG is currently in the early stages of implementation in high schools, with 90/10, or 90% Evidence of Learning and 10% Workplace Readiness, being utilized. SRG is expected to be fully implemented at CPS high schools by the 2024-25 school year. 

     Several schools, such as schools in Wichita, Kansas, Topeka, KS, Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, NE, and Owatonna Middle School, MN, are using the SRG system, but CPS has specific grading practices that are to be used universally throughout the district: a consistent 4-point grading scale; academic achievement reported separately from behaviors; scores based on a body of evidence; and achievement organized and reported by critical concept. In secondary schools, critical concept scores are converted to a grade at semester’s end, students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency, and accommodations and modifications are provided for exceptional learners. These bring many new aspects to the grading system that are already seeing implemented in CPS secondary schools today, such as the requirement for students to have the opportunity to have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency (retakes or test corrections). 

      SRG is based on the idea that a student is not just a grade, instead of being graded on things such as conduct and behavior, a student should only be graded based on meeting state standards.

     CPS uses F.A.S.T. as the standard for teacher grading in the SRG system. According to the CPS Grading Practices Handbook, F.A.S.T. represents the district’s core belief: “Columbia Public Schools commits to all stakeholders to provide fair, accurate, specific, and timely information regarding student progress toward agreed-upon common standards, as well as feedback for next steps and growth areas. Grades communicate what students know and can do.”

F stands for “Fair: The same work, by the same student, should receive the same grade, even if the teacher or school is different,” which is an attempt to make the grading system equal across the district. A is for “Accurate: Grades are based solely on achievement, which means other factors, like behavior and attendance are not used to calculate a grade,” which encapsulates the meaning of SRG as a whole. S stands for “Specific: Grading policies should be so clear that students should be able to tell teachers what grade they have earned, even before the teacher calculates it,” which is to help clear up misunderstandings and improve communication between teachers, students, and parents. T stands for “Timely: Feedback to students is so timely that students can actually use that feedback, right away, to improve their performance on tests and assignments,” which expects teachers to give quality feedback right away.


     The idea behind SRG has many strengths, but fails to take into account current education realities, such as the current mental health crisis and staff shortages. It’s supposed to make students more than just a grade, and instead it will encourage students to settle for the 3. According to CPS’ SRG Policy, communication about grades will somehow magically be clearer, despite some teachers still being confused on what SRG actually is, and very few students and families understanding what SRG is. It prioritizes student learning of critical concepts, rather than behavior, which doesn’t prepare students for life after school, whether that be in the work force or higher education. It can even help ease the transition between middle school and high school, CPS administration claims, as it will clearly show what students need to improve on, which is not the main struggle when it comes to transitioning from middle school to high school. 

     Despite the many strengths behind the idea, I believe the execution of SRG will be very poor and will lead to its inevitable failure. Foremost, teachers don’t have time for SRG. There wasn’t a teacher shortage in 2016, but there sure is one now, and it will continue, thanks to Missouri being the second-lowest state in the country for teacher starting wages, according to NPR. Teachers are being expected to do more and more every day, such as having to take out the trash to make up for the janitor shortage, and being expected to grade and give feedback in not only a timely manner but “right away” is nearly impossible, especially for teachers who are grading essays or paper tests rather than the automatic grading of a Schoology test. On top of this, teachers will also have to face other consequences, such as explaining to parents a new and complicated grading system, and supporting students who struggle with self-worth as they reach for a near-impossible 4.

       SRG will be detrimental to students as well. They will no longer learn how to function in society, despite that being one common critique on the current school system, because SRG takes out the conduct and effort of grading, and students will no longer be motivated to do extra work nor behave appropriately. Conduct and effort will instead be reported separately, making it even harder for teachers to keep track of 120 individual students’ conduct and effort throughout a term. This will produce vague reports that will confuse students and families. Academic grades are also a problem, as students who struggle with test taking find this system daunting because they feel they will fail, as 90% of the grade is focused on mastery of assessments. 

     The biggest struggle for students will be the motivation, or lack thereof. SRG is an idea that was first published in the 1990s and adopted by CPS in 2016, years before a pandemic that would crush students’ spirits, mental health, and motivation. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still being felt with the lack of assignments turned in on time, with 75% of teachers saying morale is lower than it was before the pandemic, according to the Education Week Research Center. The SRG mindset of forcing students to find motivation is just not going to work. Students–especially good test takers–will learn to get by without doing their homework, which is ultimately setting them up for failure in higher education, where there is an average of 10–13 hours a week of homework, according to a survey conducted by the National Survey of Student Engagement. 

      The biggest problems of SRG is that school will no longer be about learning and that it prioritizes equality over equity. Except in classes like English, where critical thinking is part of the standards, school will no longer prioritize critical thinking or creativity, and instead solely focus on mastery. SRG requires the curriculum to be exactly the same, despite the student, teacher, or school. The student won’t be graded based on the student themself, but solely the work. 

      Even if CPS doesn’t want grades to matter, they still do. Colleges judge students based on transcripts and not reaching that near-impossible 4–which is achievable by teaching others the material or high-level application of content such as creating a complex analysis–can be the difference between admission or not. 

      Unfortunately, CPS is in way too deep. The district will inevitably adopt SRG in high schools, as they have planned to for the past nine years, and it will inevitably fail.