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FITS and Learner Centered Grading FAA/Industry Training Standards

by Tom Glista, FAA FITS Program Manager
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

My last article touched on one aspect of FITS training methodology, Scenario-Based Training. This article will discuss another aspect of FITS training methodology, Learner Centered Grading (LCG). LCG improves learning by engaging the student and increasing the student’s motivation to learn. In the world of flight instruction, we deal with adult learners (andragogy). This is opposed to pedagogy, or child learners. For my collegiate friends, andragogy assumes that the point at which an individual achieves a self-concept of essential self-direction is the point at which he or she, psychologically, becomes an adult. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction (self-concept and motivation to learn). Experience (including mistakes) provides a basis for learning. Learning activities and/or experiences provide the opportunity for a learner to more quickly develop expertise. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life (readiness to learn). Adult learning is better when problem-centered rather than content-oriented (orientation to learning) is used. LCG takes advantage of the way the adult learns by involving them in the grading process.

Why do we grade students? There are many reasons: Reward or punish the student (both can be motivating factors). Keep the parents (who may be paying the bills) informed. Warn the next instructor. Delay the check ride until the student meets performance standards. There are other things we need to think about concerning grading. How does the student react to grading? Does student reaction affect the grading scale? Is grading a control issue? Could grading be more objective? How is the overall lesson grade different from the task grade? How do we grade decision making? LCG helps answer these questions.

Traditional grading might be A, B, C, D, or F; or Outstanding, Very Good, Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory, or Not Observed. These are inherently subjective. The FITS training methodology separates LCG (which is a more objective way of grading) into two sections: Maneuvers Grades and Single Pilot Resource Management (SRM) Grades.

Maneuvers Grades:

  • Describe – At the completion of the scenario, the Pilot-in-Training (PT) will be able to describe the physical characteristics and cognitive elements of the scenario activities. Instructor assistance is required to successfully execute the maneuver.
  • Explain – At the completion of the scenario the PT will be able to describe the scenario activity and understand the underlying concepts, principles, and procedures that comprise the activity. Instructor assistance is required to successfully execute the maneuver.
  • Practice – At the completion of the scenario the PT will be able to plan and execute the scenario. Coaching, instruction, and/or assistance from the certificated flight instructor (CFI) will correct deviations and errors identified by the CFI.
  • Perform - At the completion of the scenario, the PT will be able to perform the activity without assistance from the CFI.  Errors and deviations will be identified and corrected by the PT in an expeditious manner. At no time will the successful completion of the activity be in doubt. (“Perform” will be used to signify that the PT is satis­factorily demonstrating proficiency in traditional piloting and systems operation skills. Perform meets the minimums of the Practical Test Standards.)
  • Not Observed – Any event not accomplished or required.

SRM Grades:

  • Explain – The PT can verbally identify, describe, and understand the risks inherent in the flight scenario. The PT will need to be prompted to identify risks and make decisions.
  • Practice –The PT is able to identify, understand, and apply SRM principles to the actual flight situation. Coaching, instruction, and/or assistance from the CFI will quickly correct minor deviations and errors identified by the CFI. The PT will be an active decision maker.
  • Manage/Decide – The PT can correctly gather the most important data available both within and outside the cockpit, identify possible courses of action, evaluate the risk inherent in each course of action, and make the appropriate decision. Instructor inter­vention is not required for the safe completion of the flight.


How does LCG become more objective than traditional grading? Each lesson in curricula should list each task with a LGC grade that is appropriate for that level of lesson. For example, your pilot-in-training is a student pilot in a private pilot course. During flight number 2, the PT is able to maintain altitude, plus or minus 200 feet, in a steep turn. Traditionally, they would get an outstanding. But, if the same PT was about to take the private pilot practical test, it would be unsatisfactory. In the FITS curricula, the appropriate maneuvers grade for steep turns in lesson 2 might be explain or practice (in other words, at the appro­priate level for that lesson). In final flight before the practical test, the appropriate grade would be performing (meeting the requirements of the practical test standards). LCG allows flight students to know exactly where they are in their training and, if a different instructor is assigned to teach a lesson, then the new instructor knows the level of performance of the pilot in training.


So, how do we apply Learner Centered Grading? Let’s take an example of grading a single maneuver, a cross-wind landing.

In the Maneuvers Grading:

  • Describe level-The PT can describe that they must bank the airplane into the wind in order to stay over the runway and also use opposite rudder to keep the longitudinal axis aligned with the runway (but they cannot do it to save their life).
  • Explain level-They understand that as the airspeed decreases during landing, additional aileron and rudder inputs are required. They understand the aerodynamic issues involved in crosswind technique (they still cannot perform a crosswind landing).
  • Practice level-The PT is starting to get it, but the instructor must once in a while intervene.
  • Perform level-The PT can con­sistently do crosswind landings to the practical test standard. Although mis­takes might be made, the PT catches them and makes appropriate corrections.

In the SRM Grading of cross­wind landings:

  • Explain level-The PT knows that the airplane has a maximum demonstrated crosswind component and should not attempt to land in those conditions. The PT may also understand that, if the conditions warrant, he or she should go-around.
  • Practice level-The PT, with coaching/questioning from the instructor, will start making appropriate decisions on which runway to land or go around, if he/she finds the conditions are above his/her or the aircraft capability.
  • Manage/Decide level-The PT understands not only the airplane lim­its, but also his/her own limits. The PT makes appropriate decisions on which runway to land and goes around if the conditions are not what the PT expected. The PT will gather all appropriate information (i.e., if at the destination no runway is appropriate, they call another airport or flight service and go to an appropriate alternate), without coaching from the instructor.


Here is another example in the context of a flight lesson scenario. The pilot-in-training is a private pilot working on an instrument rating. The PT departs the home airport and flies most of this first leg correctly. While approaching the destination airport, Air Traffic Control (ATC) issues a pilot discretion descent to 3,000 feet (which is 100 feet above the initial ap­proach altitude).  The PT waits too long to start the descent. ATC clears the PT for a GPS approach. The PT realizes he/she is too high and begins a rapid descent. At the final approach fix, the PT is still 400 feet above the final approach fix altitude and 20 knots too fast. One-half mile from the missed approach fix, the PT decides to go around because he/she is high and too fast. The PT conducts a beautiful missed approach procedure, makes all appropriate calls to air traffic, and enters the holding pattern flawlessly. Because of time constraints, and since the weather is VMC, the CFI cancels IFR and the PT does a good VFR approach and landing. What kind of grades, both overall and for each task, should this pilot in training receive?

This is how I would grade the pilot. Yours may be slightly different. For Maneuvers Grades: VFR approach and landing-Perform. Missed approach-Perform (it was perfect). Aircraft control-Practice (the aircraft was high and fast). GPS approach-Not Observed (never completed it).

Holding-Perform. SRM Grades: Missed approach-Manage/Decide (the pilot knew there were problems, and instead of trying to salvage the approach and possibly overshooting the runway or landing fast and losing control, he/she decided to go missed), Single Pilot Resource Management-Explain (Descent planning is where all the problems started). Grade for the lesson-Practice.


The last part of LCG is the self evaluation as well as the instructor evaluation of the pilot in training. This process feeds the adult learners deep psychological need to be perceived by others as being self-directing. When adult learners find themselves in a situation in which they are not allowed to be self-directing, they experience a tension between that situation and their self-concept. Adult learners have a variety of experiences of life which represent the richest resource for learning. If adult learners are not allowed to be self-directing, their reaction is bound to be tainted with resentment and resistance. After each lesson, the PT and the instructor separately fill out a grading sheet for that lesson. Then both grading sheets are compared during the post flight critique. Discussing the differences in the way the instructor and pilot-in training graded each task, both the instructor and PT will know what and how each was thinking during the lesson. It also allows the PT to uncover/articulate their own mistakes, recognize the limit of their own knowledge, analyze a situation or events, and to value their own observations.

Major learning, especially development of aeronautical decision making and risk management skills, can take place with appropriate debriefings and LCG. This is done by the use of probing questions. In the GPS approach scenario above, use questions such as: What went wrong? When should you have started your descent?

Is there a way to lose altitude and slow down more effectively? (This could lead into a discussion on engine thermal shock.) What system do you use to determine
when you should start your descent? (This could lead to discussion on the use of
the SRM techniques and use of the descent planning page on the multifunction
display or MFD.) Why didn’t you try to land anyway? If you had attempted to
land, what might have been the consequences? (This could lead to a discussion
of NTSB overrun accidents.)


The FITS Web site contains many generic syllabi, including Private/Instrument
combined, Transition, Recurrent, and Flight Instructor (learning FITS), as well as an avionics guide, and is located at These documents contain objectives, tasks, and LCG schema. We are in the process of developing generic private, commercial, instrument, and flight instructor FITS syllabi. I recommend you try LCG. From the surveys we’ve collected, the data indicates that both the PTs and instructors begin to like using the LGC method, and the PT’s progress faster through their flight training as fewer flights have to be repeated Fly safe.

Tom Glista is an aviation safety inspector with Flight Standards Services’ General
Aviation and Commercial Division.

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