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Aurora Institute

Press Release

Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education

January 15, 2014
Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education
CompetencyWorks brief highlights analysis for more reliable indicators of student achievement

A new report released today by CompetencyWorks, titled Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education, helps education leaders think through how to design grading policies that communicate academic performance to students and parents. As more schools and districts begin to develop competency-based pathways that allow students to progress based on demonstrated mastery of content knowledge and skills rather than just time spent in a classroom, it is imperative that they rethink their grading systems around competency.

Chris Sturgis, the report’s author and principal at MetisNet, said, “Our traditional grading system undermines learning because it allows students to “slide by” until they stumble over the gaps in their knowledge. It’s 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.”

As Progress and Proficiency points out, there are several weaknesses within the commonly accepted A-F grading system. First, it allows students to advance without fully mastering skills. Second, it is not a reliable indicator of knowledge and skills attained, often misleading parents into believing that their children are making progress toward college and career readiness. Finally, it is an ineffective tool for motivating students to perform.

Susan Patrick, President and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), said, “As districts and schools convert to competency-based learning, they quickly find the focus on advancing through mastery and performance means they need to address other practices in their schools around personalized, deeper learning. Innovators express that once grading is revised to reflect what a student can show and know instead of just accepting a subjective “mark”, it requires a redesign of classroom management practices and expanding support systems around personalizing learning for each student. This holistic reform toward student-centered learning has the potential to transform the models of teaching and learning, and how our students and parents acknowledge academic achievement.”

To assist leaders in their efforts, the report identifies six elements of competency-based grading followed in most, if not all, competency-based schools:

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.

To download a copy of Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education, please visit

For more information about CompetencyWorks, visit

About iNACOL

The mission of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) is to ensure all students have access to a world-class education and quality blended and online learning opportunities that prepare them for a lifetime of success. iNACOL is a non-profit organization focused on research; developing policy for student-centered education to ensure equity and access; developing quality standards for emerging learning models using online, blended, and competency-based education; and supporting the ongoing professional development of classroom, school, district and state leaders for new learning models.

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