Courtney Bell explains standards-based learning for story on phasing out letter grades

February 8, 2024

WCER Director Courtney Bell

WCER Director Courtney Bell

WCER Director Courtney Bell, a UW–Madison School of Education professor of learning sciences, shared insights on standards-based learning in a recent Wisconsin State Journal story about phasing out letter grades in a pilot program underway in some Madison East High School classes. 

The story explains that instead, students in those classes are being graded on a scale that ranges from “emerging” to “advanced” and is aligned to how well they are meeting specific learning standards for each class.

While cautioning that parents may have concerns to be addressed, Bell noted that standards-based learning dates to the 1980s. 

"For decades, schools have been using some version of standards-based grading," she said. "In education, we always relabel things, and we want to talk about it as bright and shiny and new and different. And rarely that’s true.”