Proficiency-Based Grading FAQ's

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.  These Standards are part of the graduation expectations for the class of 2021 (current ninth graders) and beyond.  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 a community member, 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)? We are making 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.

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

We are not getting rid of GPA or class rank.

Starting with the class of 2021, we plan to issue transcripts that include both traditional letter grades (calculated as they have always been) and proficiency-based grades.  This provides colleges and universities with even more information than they have received before.  We plan to continue calculating a grade point average (GPA) and class rank based on the traditional grading system, and include that on the transcript as well.

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.)

We will report using both traditional and proficiency-based report cards for current ninth graders.  Reports for grades 10-12 will remain unchanged.

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 district implementing proficiency-based grading and reporting?

All high schools in Maine are now required by law to begin awarding diplomas based on proficiency, starting with the class of 2021 (at least).  Though proficiency-based grading and reporting is not specifically required, we believe that the more we can align our practices K-12, the better students and families will understand their child’s progress toward meeting diploma requirements.

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/HS

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.

The “Honor Roll” will be based on Work Habits scores (4, 3, 2, 1) in Empower from that quarter.

To qualify for the “Honor Roll” at the end of the quarter, students must have 95% of their Work Habits scores as 3’s & 4’s with no 1’s.

To qualify for the “High Honor Roll” at the end of the quarter, students must have 95%

of their Work Habits scores as 4’s with no 2’s.

Why is the school using work habits instead of academic performance to establish inclusion on the 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. 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” 95% for the Honor Rolls?

For each student, 95% equals one “2” (Honor Roll) or one “3” (High Honor Roll) score on work habits.  Because we foster a growth mindset, we understand that an occasional mistakes happen and are part of learning.

UPDATE (February, 2018):  While it is difficult to create a recognition protocol that pleases everyone, we really value parent feedback and are always striving to improve our practices and put our students first.  To that end, we will be starting to explore ways to incorporate academic learning goal scores into our honor roll protocol by the end of the year.  Stay tuned on this!

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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