On Progress and Proficiency – A New Report on Redesigning Grading for Competency Education


This week CompetencyWorks released a new report, titled Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education, focused on helping education leaders think through the grading principles and policies to help communicate academic performance to students and parents. As more states, districts, and schools move towards competency education it is essential to rethink not only how we grade students but how we communicate grades. Today, student’s true academic abilities hide or slide through in the current A-F grade system allowing them to advance without identification of gaps in knowledge and skills. It is important to point out that this is an issue for students of all academic abilities. The report, authored by Chris Sturgis, offers several weaknesses in the accepted A-F grading systems including: it allows students to move on without mastery, it is not a reliable gauge of what knowledge and skills a student has actually attained, and it is an ineffective form of motivation for students (particular on driving deeper learning). As an aside and as a parent, it is difficult ascertain and often misleading to understand where our children truly stand vis a vis what they are being taught (not to mention new college and career ready standards or our apparent waning global competitiveness).

In the report Sturgis outlines six elements of competency-based grading:

  1. Embrace explicit learning progression or standards so that everyone will have a shared vision of what students should learn.
  2. Develop a clear understanding of levels of knowledge so that students and teachers share an understanding of what proficiency means.
  3. Ensure transparency so that educators, students, and parents all understand where all students are on their learning progression.
  4. Create a school-wide or district-wide standards-based grading policy.
  5. Offer timely feedback and meaningful assessments to students so that students can continue to progress and stay on track.
  6. Provide adequate information to support students, teachers, and school-wide continuous improvement.

Sturgis states, “(Our current system) is much better at ranking students than helping them understand what they need to do to succeed. In competency education, student learning is always the primary purpose. Challenging the traditional system of grading practices will prompt questions that will allow students and teachers to work together toward a shared vision of learning that provides support to students as they build and demonstrate new skills.”

The complete report is available on the CompetencyWorks website.