Proficiency-Based Grading FAQ's

What is the history of Proficiency-Based practices at MAMS? Our school has been committed to a proficiency-based approach to teaching and learning since the 2010-2011 school year, well before the state legislature passed the proficiency-based diploma requirement law. At that time, our educators believed that teaching and assessing based on clear and high expectations was best for students. Further, teachers discovered that when they became very clear about where each student was at with key knowledge and skills, it allowed for a high level of intervention and extension of learning. Grading and reporting are important components of a proficiency-based learning system.  We endeavor to closely align teaching, learning, and reporting practices so that teachers, students, and families all benefit from this information.  That’s one of the principles of our proficiency-based learning system.  

Because the Learning Goals in our district are at the core of daily teaching and learning, it is important to connect these to our reporting of student achievement as well.  The Learning Goals, which are aligned to state standards and were identified by teachers in our district, are grouped by Graduations Standard, which were adopted by the Board in May of 2015. We feel that it’s important to begin reporting on student progress which leads to meeting Graduations Standards as early as possible.  For a visual organization of Learning Goals and Graduation standards, click here.

Additionally, the district’s Proficiency-based Steering Committee, comprised of staff, Board members, parents, and community members, lead the district in articulating a Grading Philosophy.  This Philosophy was adopted by the Board in June of 2016.  We have used these philosophy statements to guide our practices in grading and reporting.

We are committed to continuous improvement in how we are approaching grading and reporting, and will solicit feedback each year to ensure that we are achieving our proficiency-based principle that “Students, teachers, and families have a clear understanding of where a student’s learning is, and where it is headed.” Why change from a traditional grading system (0-100, letter grades)? Mt. Ararat Middle School transitioned to a proficiency-based grading system in 2011. We are made this change because it is better for student learning.  Here’s why: Proficiency-based scores provide more specific feedback than traditional grades.For instance, rather than an average grade for Algebra I, this form of grading provides more detailed information about students’ performance on multiple topics within algebra.

Our students’ day-to-day work is focused on Learning Goals. Proficiency-based grading and reporting informs families of the type of feedback students are getting.

Our Learning Goals are sequenced K-12, and by reporting on student performance on Learning Goals, families are able to monitor progress from very early stages.

What do MAMS' teachers see as the primary benefits of proficiency-based approach?

One of the main reasons we are so committed to a proficiency-based approach is because our staff believes it is what is best for students.  On the end-of-year staff survey in June, 2018, 86% of our staff were positively in support of this approach. In Fall, 2018, our teachers developed a concise list of what our teachers see has the primary benefit of a proficiency-based system:

Clear learning goals lead to increased student ownership and engagement in learning

All students are held to a high academic standards

The focus on specific knowledge and skills allows for effective and timely interventions and extension opportunities

We have seen a steady increase in student growth in math and reading scores over the past three years (2016 v. 2018 NWEA/STAR & MEA)

A clear progression of learning goals throughout K-12 fosters consistency of instructional programming across the grades and between the schools

Student work habits are also important learning goals and a strong focus on them during adolescent years is developmentally appropriate and necessary

Are we getting rid of grade point average (GPA) and class rank at the High School?  How does proficiency-based scoring and reporting affect students’ post-secondary plans?

Mt. Ararat Middle School has never used a GPA or Class Rank system, but the high school always has. Mt. Ararat High School is not getting rid of GPA or class rank.

Colleges and universities will continue to use information such as: GPA, rank, courses taken in high school, SAT/ACT scores, an essay, recommendation letters and the student’s application (which includes extra-curricular activities and leadership roles.)

The high school will continue to utilize a more traditional grading system (letter grades and 0-100 scale), but will categorize their grade book based on the learning goals. A growing number of colleges and universities have stated that  proficiency-based grades will not pose a disadvantage to students applying for admission.  To review a list of institutions in New England making this statement, click here.  In addition, the New England Board of Higher Education published a white paper in 2016 entitled “How Selective Colleges and Universities Evaluate Proficiency-Based High School Transcripts: Insights for Students and Schools

Are we the only middle school implementing proficiency-based grading and reporting?

No. Most middle schools in Maine utilize some form of proficiency-based grading practices. Starting in 2011, all high schools in Maine were required by law to begin awarding diplomas based on proficiency, starting with the class of 2021 (at least). With that law, all high schools in Maine began implementing a proficiency-based reporting system. However, in summer of 2018, the Maine Legislature passed a revised law that does not require proficiency-based high school diploma and instead allows individual school districts to determine how high schools award diplomas. With that change, many high schools, including Mt. Ararat High School, elected to return to a traditional grading system. Mt. Ararat Middle School is still committed to a proficiency-based teaching and learning system.

How do MAMS' parents feel about Proficiency-Based practices?
our Fall, 2018 Parent Conferences, we asked parents two simple questions about their level of support for proficiency-based teaching and learning and proficiency-based grading and reporting. The results are below. We heard from a majority of students’ parents on this survey. Just like with our students, we, as a group of professional educators, foster a "growth mindset" within ourselves.  We are always trying to improve and we need feedback to do that. We know we are not perfect, but we are always trying to do what is best for our students.  To that end, we plan to respond to this feedback with continued efforts to improve our grading practices so that parents are more clear on what is happening with their child at school.  More to come as those grading improvements progress. pbl survey

What does the research say about proficiency-based grading and reporting?

Great Schools Partnership has compiled research related to:

Academic progress and achievement are monitored and reported separately from work habits, character traits, and behaviors such as attendance and class participation, which are also monitored and reported.

Academic grades communicate learning progress and achievement to students and families, and grades are used to facilitate and improve the learning process.

Students are given multiple opportunities to improve their work when they fail to meet expected standards.

What should I look for in my child’s proficiency-based report card?

Scan for 3’s and “OP” (on-pace) scores - this means that your child is meeting expectations for those Learning Goals at this time

Scan for scores that are higher than 3, or are “EP” - exceeding pace - this means that your child is exceeding expectations at this time

Scan for scores that are lower than 3, or are “BP” - behind pace - this means that your child is not yet meeting expectations, and could be a concern at this point. Your child’s teacher is the best source of information, and should be contacted if you have concerns or questions.

Here’s a copy of the proficiency-based report card guide - MS

How do teachers determine a score for a Learning Goal?

For every Learning Goal, teachers have worked to create performance scales, which identify the knowledge and skills associated with scores between 0 and 4.  In order to determine a score, teachers match student performance to the scales and assign a score accordingly.

More and more, teachers are supporting students in using scales (or variations of the teacher-created scales) to help them understand where they are in their learning, and what they’ll need to demonstrate growth (for instance, what it will take to go from a 2 to a 3, or a 3 to a 4?)

Though teachers find unique ways to teach Learning Goals, the scales are the same across the district, and so we can build consistency in how teachers score student work or performances.

Aren’t students motivated by grades?  Are they motivated by proficiency-based grades?

We are preparing students for a world in which jobs require “critical thinking, sophisticated communication skills, handling non-routine complex tasks, and working collaboratively to solve problems.”  Students will be ready for this when they:

are motivated to learn independently of external rewards and punishments.

are self-directed learners who know how to assess their own learning needs

are inclined to seek out and use resources to assist them in learning.

exhibit a willingness to try, persistence, and a belief that effort will pay off in eventual success.”

When students are more engaged in their learning and they experience success, we see an increase in their commitment to continuing to grow.

Because proficiency-based grades are aligned closely to our daily teaching and learning, students are growing in their awareness of their achievement and by using a scale (or adaptation) they have a clear path toward meeting or exceeding a Learning Goal.

What are the Work Habits?

Work Habits are those behaviors that lead to success in learning.  By separating the scoring for habits of work from academic scores, teachers can provide feedback which helps parents and students to improve or celebrate these behaviors. Our school is proficiency-based and student centered; the focus is on learning as an ongoing process, not merely a snapshot in time.

The mission of our school fosters learning from mistakes; this is rooted in the belief in a growth mindset where failure is seen as a vital component of the learning process; our recognition system should support that, not undermine it.

A component of the MSAD 75 Grading Philosophy is that grades reflect proficiency at a given point in time, rather than an average of scores. In a proficiency based system, we cannot expect all students to be in the same place academically at the same time.  As a school, we have various benchmarks for each student, depending on where they are at academically. Therefore, we cannot based our recognition on learning goal scores because it undermines these tenets of proficiency-based learning.

The mission of our school also fosters clear expectations.  Our clearest expectation for all students is our School Wide Code of Cooperation.  When students are Focused, Respectful,and Responsible, these “Work Habits” are correlated to successful academic performance.

How is the Honor Roll currently determined at the Middle School?

Our student recognition will consist of an “Honor Roll” and “High Honor Roll”, published at the end of each quarter. Here are the eligibility requirements for Honor Roll:

To qualify for the “Honor Roll” at the end of the quarter, students must have ALL (but one) of their Work Habits scores as 3 or higher with no 1’s.

To qualify for the “High Honor Roll” at the end of the quarter, students must have ALL (but one) of their Work Habits scores as 3.5’s with no 2’s and have ALL (but one) of their Learning Goal scores from that quarter as 3 or higher with no scores below 2.

The past few years we have held a number of parent information sessions regarding our grading system.  We also held several student focus group sessions. From these sessions, it was clear that some students and parents has questions and concerns regarding our previous Recognition Protocols (Honor Roll).  In response to this feedback, last year we assembled a committee of students, parents, and school staff to study proposed improvements to our Honor Roll.  We also discussed ways that we can improve how teachers could be more consistent about how we teach and score Work Habits across the school.  The above protocol is result of these collaborative improvement efforts.

Why is the school using work habits instead of academic performance to establish inclusion on the regular honor roll?

In a student-centered, proficiency-based system there is a direct and positive correlation between work habits and academic performance on learning goals Our protocol needs to reinforce, not undermine our middle school mission and support the following values: Time is not a factor for achievement Students make progress, but at different rates Students are individuals, and their learning is individual Students will learn perseverance and grit in their learning Work habits honor what students can do to be successful in any kind of learning

Why is the cut off "all but one" for the Honor Rolls?

Because we foster a growth mindset, we understand that an occasional mistakes happen and are part of learning.

Will MAMS continue to use Empower for its grading software? Yes for now. As a group of professional educators, we are committed to continual growth and being responsive to stakeholder feedback. It is evident that many parents struggle with some components of our grading system and there have been many concerns about the ease-of-use of the Empower program. To that end, MAMS staff have started the process of exploring ways to improve our grading system, including examining the feasibility of other grading programs. More to come on this as this work continues. How much has the district paid for Empower software? After exploring and piloting options, a committee selected Empower as the software to use for proficiency-based scoring and reporting.  The district has used local as well as state funds specifically provided for transitioning to a proficiency-based learning system to pay for Empower licensing, training, and hosting.  In-house training and professional development on the software and other topics related to proficiency-based learning continue during our professional learning times (such as late starts and professional development days.)

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