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What Proficiency-based Grading Means for Your Student

There are significant differences between today’s standards-based grading system and the letter-grade system that most parents were raised on. To ensure that all students reach a certain level of proficiency, this system is designed to allow high-achieving students to progress more quickly through the curriculum. An accurate assessment of each student’s performance and the overall level of learning advancement achieved by the class can be made.

Fundamentals of a Grading System Based on Proficiency

The Translation of Grades is Clear.

Because of the inconsistency of the older letter-based grading system, it is difficult to determine what level of achievement a particular letter-grade represents and where the cutoff is between grades. Grading involves a significant amount of judgement and varies greatly across disciplines. Whereas 90% correct answers might be considered “A” work in the humanities, in the sciences this might be as low as 40% because there are more “wrong” answers and less room for mistakes to be made.

This ambiguity is eliminated by proficiency-based grading, which establishes lower limits on student achievement. Students are only allowed to move forward in the curriculum if they have demonstrated proficiency in the subject matter, according to a set of specific criteria. In this way, a teacher can determine which students are ready to move on to higher-level material and which students need additional help or remedial instruction in order to succeed. A student’s strengths and weaknesses can be better understood through the use of their grade, which is a descriptive qualification.

Evaluation of Grading Criteria Is Continuous.

Assigning different weights to homework and tests is no longer necessary with proficiency-based grading. The use of proficiency standards allows teachers to focus their lessons on a specific set of learning goals while also allowing students to be assessed on their progress toward those goals.


Standards-Based Grading in the Classroom: Examples

It was reported in New York University research that researchers in California were testing whether or not a standards-based grade assessment of English proficiency “measured the same constructs” as a standardised state test for English-language learners. Fourth graders from eight schools with “a majority population of English-language learners—50 percent or more” were sampled for the study. California’s urban areas housed all of the state’s public schools. The total number of students tested was 1,124. In the end, researchers found that “overall, [the] study concludes that the evidence gathered via [the] ELD Classroom Assessment tends to be consistent with that provided by the CELDT, the standardised measure”

Similarly, another study tested the Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE) standards-based grading system to see if it could accurately reflect the achievement of “at-risk American Indian eighth graders studying mathematics”. Research found that the conventional method of teaching mathematics is “ineffective for many students, particularly students from certain cultural minorities” (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000). For this study, researchers from two reservation middle schools in the southwestern United States tested 31 middle school students ages 13 to 16. While students who were taught according to CREDE’s pedagogy standards performed better than those who were taught using traditional methods, the study’s findings “only approached statistical significance” due to the study’s small sample size. Researcher hypothesised that “these same results might have proved significant had they been achieved by a larger sample.” As a result of this research (R.Soleste Hilberg; R.G. Tharp; and Leo DeGeest, 2000).

Advantages of a Grading System Based on Proficiency

The Design of the Curriculum Benefits Students of All Skill Levels

Allowing and encouraging gifted students to progress at their own pace, and creating the space for them to do so, is a benefit of curriculum re-structuring. Students who take longer to complete assignments and meet course requirements aren’t penalised for doing so. Changing assignments or evaluations does not necessitate a change in grading.

Grading Based on Proficiency reveals significant Quality

Standards set in the classroom help students develop the ability to self-assess their own abilities and progress. Self-esteem and self-sufficiency are enhanced when students continually improve their own performance levels. When it comes to the standards-based grading system, math teacher Patricia L. Scriffiny at Montrose High School in Montrose, Colorado, says it’s been a huge success. A large number of students have achieved high levels of success in their academic pursuits.

Grading Standards-Basedly Inspires Other Educational Changes

Grading and achievement standards that are clearly defined often lead to changes in school curriculum. As a result, parents and guardians can better understand their children’s strengths, weaknesses, progress, and achievements at every stage of their education. It is easier for students and parents to deal with student course failures because alternative assessments are available for students who have difficulty testing. Parents appreciate the opportunity for their children to retake tests when they are ready, and many students who were previously considered low achievers begin to excel after a period of time.

Standard-based and traditional algebra classes were evaluated in a study by the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. Traditional and standards-based students were found to be “positively related” to performance, but the methods used to measure these students make it difficult to compare them. Students’ achievement could be improved if instructional methods were combined with curricular alterations, the researchers concluded. However, all students may benefit from a change in instructional methods and curricula.

Aspects That Affect Your Child

Many parents have noted the similarity between proficiency-based grading and the evaluations of employees currently used in the workplace. Teachers’ ability to prepare students for life beyond the classroom can greatly benefit from these parallels. As a result, your child will receive a high-quality education while also keeping up with their peers.


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Mathematics Instruction in American Indian Schools, Equity & Excellence in Education, 33:2, 32-40

Dr. Daniel F. McCaffrey, along with Laura S. Hamilton, Brian M Stecher, Stephen P. Klein and Delia Bugliari of the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Vol. 32, Number 5, November, 2001.




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