#2 A Wide Range of Views

I am fortunate to have several educators in my family who have experienced different types of grading systems. The conversations I had with them helped me better understand the purpose of these new grading laws and approaches, and see how they affect students and teachers. As  a student, and one who goes to a school that uses proficiency based grading, this is an important topic to me because I want to know how this is helping students improve and expand their education. I first interviewed my dad, who is the director at the Randolph Technical Career Center. The tech center uses proficiency based grading as a way to “determine if students are learning their new program skills”. My dad thinks that without this proficiency concept we wouldn’t be able to know what students could do. “This gives a student the opportunity to practice, learn, and meet proficiency.” However not everyone agrees that proficiency based grading would be beneficial. My aunt, a professor at Middlebury College, and who has also worked in high schools, doesn’t know a lot about proficiency based grading, aside from what I have told her about my school’s take on it. While she thinks it is a good idea in theory, she does worry that it could “put schools that have moved to proficiency grading in such a different place than everyone else”. I understand this concern, and agree that if only a few schools are on this grading system that it would take away from the purpose of what the system is actually trying to do and just separate them from the rest of the schools in the state who have not moved towards proficiency based learning.

All three also had different answers when asked what the purpose of grading was. My dad believes there are two reasons for grades in schools. The first is an old-fashioned concept, which determines if the student learned something. “Hopefully with the concept of proficiency based grading the concept is to know who needs more time for something, who can do something, and who may need more enrichment.” In my experience with proficiency based grading I do believe it has the potential to move schools away from the standard grading system that all three of my family members have experienced, and move away from the idea that a grade determines who you are. My uncle thinks the purpose of grading is for the students, because they want recognition for their work and want to be ranked. My aunt had a different response. She believes that grading has very little to do with the student and the idea of receiving a grade for an assignment pushes students away from actually wanting to learn. In my own experience I find that in my school most, if not all, students do the work for the grade and do not really think about the learning that they are getting out of it. I also agree with my uncle that many students want some sort of recognition and ranking for the work they do.

I also asked my family members about their opinions on flexible pathways. My Uncle, a former high school principal and current education professor, thinks that it doesn’t make a lot of sense, because in some ways, schools have always been “flexible” and this is not a new idea. When I asked my aunt about flexible pathways her response was quite different. She likes the idea of flexible pathways because “students need a lot of different access points to engage learning on their terms”. I don’t know a lot about flexible pathways and these two opinions, which are quite different from each other, have me curious about its purpose in Vermont schools.

The last question I asked my family members was if they thought schools could be more flexible, and what were the challenges in doing so. All three agreed that schools could be more flexible, but it is hard for high schools to make change due to limited resources, pressure from parents and colleges, and barriers from the government. From my experience with proficiency based grading I think it has the potential to be something, but because not a lot of schools have gotten on board with it, it has not reached its full potential yet. I am curious to see what other people think of these new laws and approaches on Vermont’s grading system are and how these approaches will impact our future.


Gingold, Jason, Tara Affolter and Steve Hoffman. “A Wide Range of Views.” Personal interview. 24 Sept. 2017.


Featured image is by Rafael Sato


2 Responses to “#2 A Wide Range of Views

  • Josie,

    I loved reading your thoughts on proficiency based grading and flexible pathways, and your family members thoughts on them. What a wealth of experience they have! I am curious about your uncle’s perspective that flexible pathways aren’t a new thing. Did he have examples of flexible pathways in schools?

    You mention that many students work for grades. I wonder what would make grades more meaningful or instructive for them? In my own experience as an educator, I find myself thinking more and more about how I can give students feedback that helps them learn and grow. Grades seem entirely too limited for this purpose, they just don’t give enough information.

    Thank you for writing!

  • Wow, Josie, I’m so interested to see you explore this some more! As Jeanie noted, it seems like you have some great resources to keep engaging with – aside from being on the front lines of all this as a student.

    There’s been some interesting conversation at my school (at least among faculty, though I suspect among students and families as well) about how a shift towards proficiency-based grading might be received by colleges. What do grades represent? Are they accurate? What’s a known and familiar system versus what truly shows someone’s skills?

    Have you read or heard much about Act 77, the Flexible Pathways Initiative? With this new state mandate, it seems like this will all continue to be a lively conversation all over Vermont.

    Cool image, too. It’s interesting, how it’s an adult leading a child. As a reader, it made me pause a bit and consider who grades are really for…

    Thanks for sharing your thinking; I’m looking forward to your next post.



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