My school and every other public high school in my state is undergoing a process to move to a proficiency based graduation and therefore grading system over the next handful of years.
The major conversation of my district’s Proficiency Based Steering Committee last year (as I understand it because I’ve stepped away from this group), has been around grading. I know that I’ve struggled with the idea of grades for a long time and have been thinking about grading as we transition to PB over the next few years.
As we are in the process of transitioning to a PB system, I think we can make some subtle changes in grading that would make the transition go more smoothly. I’ve been really thinking about using a smaller set of scores in grading this year.  As I look at student assessments, there really is not a difference between a 76.4% and a 78.8% or a 19.1/25 and a 19.7/25  Yet I often grade to this level of detail in assessments. But does this level of difference really help move my students learning further along..? Do I really know that much more about how much my students know by scoring in this way..? Why do I grade to this level of detail..?
How many different “levels” of scores should we give..?  I feel like 101 (0%-100%), with 61 levels of failure, is really way  too many and skewed towards failure. I feel like 5 (0, 1, 2, 3, 4) is really not enough to provide the necessary feedback to kids about where they stand in relation to a learning objective/target/standard.  It seems like 8 or 9 (0.0, 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0 or 0.0, 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0) gives a good level of detail and an adequate amount of difference between the scores. I’m not sure that there is really much to be gained about a 0.5. Would be the equivalent of putting your name on an assessment and passing it in..? Is that worth reporting..?  I’ve also toyed around with the idea of a 2.5- and 2.5+, with the 2.5+ being really close to the standard, but not quite being there yet. The student can meet the standard, but they need just a little amount of help from me. So 8-10 different levels seems to make sense to me.  If we use -/letter grade/+ (F, D-, D, D+, etc…) that my school currently employs, that is 13 different categories, which is really close to 9-10.  I see no real difference between F and D-, either way your performance is pretty terrible; which gets it down to 12 different categories; and that is getting even closer to 9-10.
The goal that I’ll be hoping to work toward by the end of the first semester this year is using a set of scores that attempts to mimic the spirit of standards based grading, while still adhering to the percentage based scores that our students are familiar with. I’m also going to try to set the expectation that if you give me what I gave you, the best you can possibly do is get an A- (90). If you are striving for the solid “A” or “A+” (3.5 or 4.0), than you will need to give me more than I gave you. This will require me to build these opportunities into my assessments, which I will need to do as I sit here running off my first test where I did not do this. I’m definitely not there yet!
My first attempt at the development of a score set is (in my school <60% is a failing score, D = 60%-69%, C = 70%-79%, B= 80-89%, A= 90-100%)
0, 55, 68, 73, 78, 83, 88, 90, 95, 100+
As I sit here writing this, I wonder about the need of the 55, maybe I would eventually move to a 63, but then students would pass class without attaining even a basic level of performance. I think that is a symptom of what is currently wrong with our grading system.
What do you think? What are your thoughts or suggestions?

About ryanwoodside

I help students learn science. I teach at Windham High School in Maine.
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4 Responses to Grading

  1. Alisa says:

    My school has taken the giant leap and, with the exception of seniors, is operating under a totally proficiency based grading and reporting system with only four options; 1,2,3,4. It definitely has changed the way I give feedback to students. In our system, formative assessments are tracked but do not count toward overall GPA. Only summative assessments count towards proficiency and only the BEST score (of at least three different assessments in at least two different modalities) is what is calculated in the GPA. For now I will just let that marinate with you!

    • ryanwoodside says:

      It is really interesting that the only scores that are counted are the best of three different assessments. The two different modalities is also interesting. At what level are these scores combined? Are you talking about a disciplinary core idea? Sample state graduation standard? What was the thinking behind only counting the best scores for GPA? Are the other scores used for other record keeping?

  2. Jessica DiBiase says:

    I am one of the people I the forefront of my schools switch to proficiency grading, and I have found that numbers box us in to what we are truly intending todo which is make sure kids have learned what we want them to learn and that it stays with them for a long time. My principal always asks ‘ how do you know hey learned it?’ In a traditional system where grades are averaged you cannot know for sure if the students have gained knowledge enough in each of the standards. It is a hard sell and a huge mind shift to have parents and students wrap thier heads around, not having 1 grade for a class, but the key is that we (everyone in the community) wants students to leave school with a greater understanding of subjects and the world, and with traditional averaging of grades it is difficult to ascertain what students really know. This is a bit rambling but if you would like to see a presentation that my principal gave surrounding proficiency based grading I (or have him) send you a copy. Sorry for rambling I have some pretty strong feelings on this.

  3. ryanwoodside says:

    Hi Jess,
    I agree that the traditional grading paradigm is generally not very clear about what students know and can do. I’m also toying around with only using letter grades and maybe +/- after seeing an image on Twitter over the weekend. I’d definitely be interested in your principal’s presentation.

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