#4 Proficiencies and What They Mean

While I’ve written my last two blog posts about the Confederate flag, I realize that’s not something I’m really interested in. Sure, it’s prevalent, but I’ve been looking at something that affects me and my peers much more: the proficiency-based grading system.


When I first started at Lamoille, the school was transitioning.  Our grades were still represented by percentages, although some projects were graded 1-4.  The next year, my eighth grade year, the school had fully implemented the new 1-4 system. There was a lot of confusion around it, to the point that students stopped trying to do well because their grades meant nothing to them. Teachers all seemed to have a different perspective on what the grades meant; “4 is 100%,” “4 is an unachievable grade,” “3 means you’re proficient,” “2.6 is proficient.”


Now that my school has had a couple years with the grading system, teachers seem to understand it better, but interpretation varies between departments. A lot of confusion remains, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better.


This year the YATST (Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together) club at my school is working to create a Proficiency Bill of Rights, where we basically set up some guidelines for teachers to go by such as providing rubrics and performance indicators for assignments and making it possible for students to achieve a 4 (top grade) on any assignment.


Recently I’ve been interviewing students at my school for an article on proficiencies for the school newspaper, and the overwhelming response is that the grading system is not working as well for them as it should or can.  Talking to students from other schools, I get the sense that the issue is the same across the board. There’s a frustration with not understanding what grades mean, with inconsistencies, and a number of other things regarding the implementation of proficiency-based grading.


Since this topic sort of fits into the second prompt, I’ll quickly answer the questions the prompt addresses:


-why is this topic important?  What are the stakes?


This topic is important because it pertains to our education and future.  


-who are the stakeholders?


Students are the main stakeholders in this. It’s discouraging to not know whether we’re doing well in school or what our GPA means.  It’s also the question of how colleges will look at our grades, and whether they will impact our chances of being accepted.


-what would local action look like, and what would the desired impact be?


I think that my YATST club is moving in the right direction, trying to unify teachers and create a common understanding of the grades, which will hopefully make grading practices more similar and understandable.


-biggest questions about the topic:


Is there a mission statement/thesis/description of what the grading system is meant to achieve?


How does implementation differ based on department and school?


Who are some experts on this topic?


Adelle MacDowell

3 Responses to “#4 Proficiencies and What They Mean

  • Adelle,

    I admire how ahead of the game you are in posting this already! I also admire that you want to look into an issue that affects you and your peers personally and is attainable in terms of making change.

    Does your proficiency-based grading system impact curriculum, as well, or just grading? I ask because one thing you seem to be passionate about, judging from your previous posts, is making sure that your school is actually preparing students with important skills and learning (i.e. teaching them about race and the Civil War). I wonder if you might want to weave curriculum into your project somehow, or at least keep it in mind as you look into grading. They’re almost like two sides of the classroom coin!


  • Adelle,

    Wow, this is quite a change of direction. However, I’m really impressed by your self-reflection about what is important to you, as well as your courage to make a sharp turn in the middle of this process. I’ll also echo Greta and say it’s great that you got this post done so early in the week. Time management can be a challenge in this course, so this is good habit to get into.

    You’ve written a very detailed blog post that shows you already have a solid understanding of the issue. But I’m curious, what is your opinion of proficiency-based grading? Your writing discusses a lot of other people’s opinions and I detect some confusion and skepticism in your writing, but it doesn’t seem like you are in outright opposition. (Since you are taking this proficiency-based course, I’m assuming you don’t hate it.)

    Second, I’d encourage you to watch the video I’ve linked to below. One WtS group from last year looked at proficiency-based grading. After you watch the film, I wonder if you can brainstorm how you can build on their work and take it to the another level.


    Last year’s WtS film on proficiency-based grading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lzCi188-YY

  • Adelle, this is an interesting topic and you’ve outlined the student perspective well. My questions are these: how does the new method of assessment differ from grading of the past? What’s the point? And will others understand, ie colleges or employers, what these grades mean or what proficiencies have actually been gained?

    A difficult story though because it’s hard to bring a human narrative into it and hard to see what to change and how to make change.


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