Do you wish there was more clarity when it comes to measuring student progress and learning?

What if there was a way to utilize grading and assessment as a method to focus on student learning rather than performance?

Schools often struggle to transform their grading and reporting practices in order to make them more meaningful and learner-centered. Moving from traditional grading practices, to a target-based or competency-based approach, puts student learning and feedback at the center.


Target-based grading requires teachers to report against specific learning targets and/or other competencies that your system values (ie: SEL and/or dispositional learning). Our approach creates conditions for educators, parents, and students to understand what students are expected to learn and provides them with feedback towards clear learning targets.


Teams of teachers break prioritized standards into specific learning targets, which become the basis for instruction and assessment.

Units of instruction and assessments are designed to help students meet specific learning targets rather than the general standard. Teachers are able to identify the learning target against which they are checking proficiency for every assessment they give. 

Reassessment becomes a much more manageable task as students are only reassessed on targets with which they struggled and are not required to retake the entire assessment. 

Teachers are able to utilize the information from assessments to determine next steps.


1- Review state standards and select priorities

Teachers in course alike/vertical/departmental and/or collaborative teams, clearly identify what knowledge and skill expectations exist within the standards. Teams then determine priority and supporting, using the criteria of Endurance, Leverage, Readiness and External Exams established by Reeves (2004) and Ainsworth (2003). Endurance: Is this standard valuable over time (beyond a single test date)?
Leverage: Is this standard useful in multiple disciplines?
Readiness: Does this standard prepare students for future grade levels and content levels?
External Exams: Does this standard adequately prepare students for national or state assessments?

2 - Meet with a guiding coalition to ensure coherence

The priority standards are reviewed by a guiding coalition to ensure curriculum coherence. The team’s aim is to ensure that instruction flows consistently from grade level to grade level and from course to course. Teams look at the number of days in the school year and determine an appropriate number of standards that can be taught, assessed, retaught and reassessed to ensure deep levels of learning for all students within a given timeframe. Students set goals around priority standards and are taught how to monitor their goals using self and peer assessment and reflection.

3 - Develop learning targets aligned to priority standards and core dispositions

Once the standards have been prioritized, they need to be deconstructed into high quality learning targets using our Unpacking for Success Protocol. We recommend using Norman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or some other type of taxonomy such as Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrices. When writing learning targets, teams should check to ensure they are written in student-friendly language and meet the goals of the corresponding standard.

4 - Create formative, criteria-based tasks aligned to proficiency targets

Teams begin looking at assessment alignment to ensure what is being measured within the assessment actually measures priority standards and aligned learning targets. In this step, each question and formative task is aligned to a standard or target.

5 - Design and deliver units of study

Gather evidence from common formative and summative assessment. Teams use backwards design to build units of instruction that are learning-target specific, in which all instruction aligns with corresponding targets. Once instruction has occurred, teams need to gather evidence of proficiency through administering the assessments and collectively analyzing the results to take collective action.

6 - Analyze evidence, amplify feedback and guide students to set learning goals

Impact teams meet frequently to analyze the results derived from the assessments. This step helps teams in determining where to provide levels of support (via their RTI process) within the collaborative system of support, and helps establish collective ownership of the learning of all students. Allowing students to reassess is a critical component of transitioning to meaningful grading and reporting practices within a target-based system that supports high levels of learning.


In my personal experience with target-based grading, I have found it beneficial, and beyond that, a useful tool to help me learn throughout high school. Target-based grading, unlike old grading systems, does more than just tell me I have the info wrong or right; it tells me what I am doing right, and what I am doing wrong.

John Garofalo, Twelfth-Grade Student

Winneconne High School, Wisconsin


Order the book, Grading for Impact, and the Target-Based Learning cards by Tom Hierck and Garth Larson


Hierck and Larson carefully present the rationale for target-based assessment and grading and then lay out a ‘how-to roadmap’ that any school system can successfully follow to implement these powerful ideas.

Larry Ainsworth, Author and Educational Consultant

Bring Learner-Centered Grading to your school or system!
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The Core Collaborative

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