The Standards-Based Grading Zone

While I consider myself to be a supporter of the main ideas put forth by proponents of standards-based grading, I would be foolish to not head the concerns that have arisen while discussing, at length, this topic with many of my colleagues.

From these concerns I offer you this: a satire concerning the long term effects of removing penalties when deadlines are not met.


You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into the Standards-Based Grading Zone. 

It’s dusk as young man rushes home, across three states, to his pregnant wife and their soon to be newborn son. Flashing lights on the highway spell out the words, “CONSTRUCTION AHEAD! EXPECT DELAYS.” In an attempt to bypass traffic, he exits at the next available pull off, unaware that he has just crossed over into the Standards-Based Grading Zone.

A small town in middle America. The sign says, “Standard.” The father-to-be, tired from the long drive behind him and unsure of his location on the map decides to find a place to settle in for the night. Beneath a burned out street lamp he sees what appears to be the entrance to a hotel. “A good night sleep and an early start in the morning,” he whispers as motivation to himself and pulls the car to the edge of the street. A loud hiss comes from the other side of the car. Laying his head on the steering wheel, he lets out an aggravated but tired sigh. After wading through bags and boxes of trash, that for an unknown reason are lining the curb, he surveys the punctured tire. “A good night sleep, a quick stop in at a local tire shop, and an early start in the morning,” he says in an attempt to brighten his mood.

Inside the hotel, a few lights flicker and a sign on the counter says, “Ring bell for service.” *DING, DING, DING* Nothing. *DING, DING* Again, nothing. *DING, DING, DING, DING* “Be with you in a moment,” Says a voice from the back room, “Have a seat on the couch.” A little irritated the traveler steps towards the couch.

“A few weeks over due on the cleaning,” he says under his breath and slumps down on the couch where a cloud of dust form around him.

Several minutes pass before he calls out, “Excuse me? Are you still back there?” No replay. “Sir?” Silence. “Hello?”

“Yeah, Yeah. Just a sec. I’ll be right out. Relax a minute.”

Confused, but too tired to make an issue out of the terrible service, he lays his head back on the dust saturated couch and closes his eyes.

7 hours later, a beam of light sneaks its way through the dirty window of the hotel and forces the man awake. He glances at his watch. “So much for an early start. My goodness! Did I really sleep on this couch all night?” Standing up and brushing the dust from his clothes he calls, “HEY! Did you really just let me sleep on that dirty couch all night?”

“I will be out with your bill, in a moment sir.” The same voice from the previous night says back.

Holding back his anger at the situation he quietly says to himself, “Don’t fight it. Just leave. Get the car fixed and leave. Don’t be late for your son’s birth over this.”

There is an auto shop a hundred yards up the road. Inside a man sits behind the counter watching an early morning news show covering an event from two weeks ago on a small T.V. “Hello sir, I blew a tire last night just up the road, by the hotel. I was wondering if you would be able to fix it for me. You see, my wife is having a baby and I need to get on the road so I don’t miss the birth of our son.” A finger on the preoccupied man’s hand pops up as if to say, “just a moment.”

Thirty seconds pass before the man behind the counter shifts his eyes from the T.V. and says, “I’m sorry. Now, what was it I could help you with?

“I blew a tire last night just up the road, by the hotel. Can you fix it?”

“Sure can! Do a mighty fine job at it too!”

“Excellent! When do you think you can get it done?”

“Just as soon as I can.”

“Err. When will that be? My wife is having a baby. I need to get on the road.”

“Waiting on a tow truck.”

“Where is it?”

“Being repaired”

“Listen, I can just pull the car up here to your shop.”

“No need to go to all that trouble son. I said I would do a mighty fine job and I intend on doing just that. As soon as my tow truck is fixed.”

“Do you have a phone?”

“Pay phone is up the block a bit.”

He runs out the door and up the street. He sees the pay phone and dodges around piles of trash and overgrown shrubs. A tree lies fallen across his path, he jumps over it and trips on the uneven, broken sidewalk on the other side. Shooting pain fills his leg. He screams. Pushing himself up, he limps to the pay phone. “Out of Order.” Confused he drops to the ground. A young boy passes by and asks if he is alright.

“I think I broke my ankle. Can you call someone to help me?”

“Absolutely sir! Just as soon as I can.”

There is a small town, where there are no deadlines. No due dates. No time frames. In this town, a man lays broken on the sidewalk late to the birth of his son. If you care to find him, simply exit the highway and head straight, to The Standards-Based Grading Zone.


Bryce Brothers

Bryce Brothers

Flagstaff, Arizona

I teach 12th grade English full time as well as coach Speech and Debate in the Flagstaff Unified School District. Although I am only in my second year of teaching, I consistently participate in as many professional development opportunities as I can. I love all of my students and have the best job in the world. Teaching has not always been the direction I wanted to go with my life. In fact, I tried just about everything else I was physically able to do. Eventually, fate caught up with me and teaching became my passion and purpose the first time I stepped into an education course at NAU. In addition to being a full-time teacher, I am also a husband and father.

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