Tag: grading and transcripts

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

October 20, 2016 by

What's NewVirgel Hammonds of KnowledgeWorks explains the difference between traditional and competency education. You can watch the video to learn more.


  • Clark County School District in Las Vegas will open the nation’s first Marzano Academy, adopting strategies from Dr. Robert Marzano (co-founder of Colorado-based Marzano Research).
  • Lindsay Unified Public Schools, a rural, public school in California’s Central Valley, is hoping to share its competency-based approach and change management practices.

State Updates

  • The U.S. Education Department approved the extension of New Hampshire’s competency-based assessment pilot.
  • The Maine Cohort for Customized Learning and Thomas College’s Center for Innovation in Education held a one-day summit to provide teachers with a statewide opportunity to share and collaborate, problem solve and create new action steps to address the largest implementation issues.
  • Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have a historic opportunity to redesign systems of assessments and rethink accountability to support personalized learning. This article explores how Virginia is moving toward next generation accountability and and performance assessments.
  • Illinois is developing a new state plan under ESSA, the new federal K-12 education law.
  • Westminster Public Schools in Colorado began implementing competency education in 2009. This article explores how competency education is at odds with Colorado’s statewide accountability system.

School Updates

  • Deer-Isle Stonington Elementary School is adopting a proficiency-based grading system, which the high school is already working with (read more about Deer-Isle Stonington’s High School here).
  • In this article, Michael Horn explores the inputs and outcomes in credit recovery at LA Unified.
  • America Heritage (Idaho Falls) is embracing mastery-based education as one of 20 statewide “incubators” or pilots aimed at providing mastery-based education to students in 2016-17.
  • California’s Del Lago Academy created a competency-based approach which allows students to collect badges to prove their skills to colleges and employers, reinforcing the pipeline to college and career.
  • Superintendent of RSU5 in Maine, Dr. Becky Foley, explains the shift toward student-centered learning in their district as they continue to implement competency education from PreK-12. 


What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

September 21, 2016 by

What's NewUpcoming Competency Education Webinar

iNACOL and CompetencyWorks are hosting a Special Edition Webinar to reflect on the field of K-12 competency education and explore emerging issues. This webinar is free to attend—register here to receive login instructions. Competency-based education experts Susan Patrick and Chris Sturgis will lead the discussion on important developments and trends across competency education. Join the webinar to help identify the field’s emerging issues and provide insights to inform the future direction of competency-based education.

CBE in the States

Designing Systems of Assessments

Thought Leadership


Separating the Facts from the Myths in the Competency-Based High School Transcript

September 12, 2016 by

Sample Report CardDistricts are creating a variety of grading practices and transcripts that are being described as standards-based and competency-based grading practices. Some are hybrids retaining elements of traditional grading. Many convert to traditional points in order to produce a GPA and rank students. Most importantly, some districts attempt to create new grading practices without putting adequate supports and policies to personalize education into place. At CompetencyWorks, when we think about grading, we think about the question, “How will you ensure that students are progressing?” Grading is one of the practices that is needed, in addition to many others. (See Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education.) Increasingly, colleges and universities are supporting proficiency-based transcripts. (See information on the Collegiate Endorsement of Proficiency-Based Transcripts.) In the following article, Brian Stack, principal at Sanborn Regional High School, addresses misconceptions based on their experience with redesigning grading. 

– Chris Sturgis

After many years of experience as a high school principal in a competency-based high school, it is the transcript that generates the highest degree of inquiry from outsiders seeking to understand our system, and for good reason. In both traditional and competency-based models, the high school transcript represents a student’s ultimate cumulative record of learning, a record that must be communicated in a clear and concise manner to both admissions officers at post-secondary institutions as well as potential employers. Over the years I have encountered several misconceptions and myths about what a transcript for a competency-based program should look like. It’s time to dispel these myths and set the record straight.

Myth: Reporting measures such as grade point average (GPA) and class rank cannot be computed in a competency-based school.

False! These two measures can be included on a competency-based transcript. There is often a fear from outsiders and newcomers that because most competency-based schools report assignment grades using a four or five point letter rubric scale, there isn’t an opportunity to compute a GPA. This is simply not true. In my school, a student can only earn one of five letter grades on individual assignments based on their performance level as indicated on a rubric, but in the background, those letters correlate to the numerical values of 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4. As the student completes multiple assignments, we are able to compute an overall course grade and thus a GPA that is a numerical value between 0 and 4. From the GPA, it is then easy to compute a class rank statistic. This, however, leads to another popular myth.


Will Eliminating the “F” Eliminate Bad School Design?

July 9, 2016 by

F GradeThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on July 6, 2016.

The dreaded “F” is going out of vogue in schools. This week’s Washington Post article, “Is it becoming too hard to fail?”, chronicled a host of K–12 school systems that are moving away from the age-old tradition of failing students whose work doesn’t cut it, in hopes of keeping students motivated and on the road toward graduation.

The article, however, does not answer the most important question that these new policies must consider: by eliminating the “F,” are students in turn less likely to fail?

There is an obvious tautology to this question. The answer depends on how we measure failure, if not by letter grades. The reality is that in our current system some students may not master a semester’s worth of Algebra or social studies in the time allotted before a final exam determines their grades. Simply eliminating bad grades does not minimize that fact. Commentators like Mike Petrilli are right to point out the risk, then, that making it impossible to fail reeks of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

But skeptics of eliminating failing grades must likewise acknowledge that our current grading system perpetuates school designs that are already failing to ensure students’ long-term success. Indeed, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, just 37 percent of high school seniors are prepared for college-level math and reading. These low levels of performance are disappointing but not surprising if we pause to think about the fundamental structure of our K–12 education system. By design, we move students forward grade by grade based largely on the amount of instructional hours they have spent in class—dubbed “seat time”—rather than their mastery of academic skills and content. This structure permeates even week-by-week instructional methods: as schools rush to cover the bevy of standards on state tests each spring, and as teachers instruct students spanning a wide range of mastery levels, classes tend to move forward to new course material regardless of whether students have proven that they understand the concepts covered in the days and weeks prior. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

July 5, 2016 by

What's NewJobs for the Future recently announced 9 new Students at the Center Distinguished Fellows. These are leaders in policy, practice and research from the New England area, each carefully selected for their vision, contributions and impact in student-centered learning:

  • Arthur Eduardo Baraf, Principal, Liberty Building, Metropolitan Regional Career & Technical Center (THE MET)
  • Dana L. Mitra, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Pennsylvania State University Department of Education Policy Studies
  • Frank Labanca, teacher, educational researcher and change agent, Westside Middle School Magnet Academy, Danbury Public Schools
  • Jennifer Fredricks, Professor, Connecticut College, Department of Human Development
  • Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)
  • Kim Carter, Founder and Executive Director, Q.E.D. Foundation
  • Lori Batista McEwen, Outgoing Chief of Instruction, Leadership, and Equity, Providence Public School Department
  • Mary Bellavance, Instructional Coach, Biddeford Middle School
  • Michelle L. Puhlick, Executive Director of Planning & Partnerships, Hartford Public Schools

The Students at the Center Distinguished Fellows become core members of the newly formed Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative, a bold new effort to investigate and evaluate what we know about student-centered learning and affect meaningful change at scale.

Upcoming CompetencyWorks Webinar: CompetencyWorks and iNACOL are co-hosting an upcoming webinar: A Reflection on the Field of Competency Education and Emerging Issues. This webinar is free to attend—please register here for login details.

Advancements in New England


What Does it REALLY Mean to Do Standards-Based Grading? (Part 2)

June 28, 2016 by

Click Image to Enlarge

Read Part 1 of what it means to do standards-based grading here

There is so much written about grading that I’m hesitant to offer my thoughts on what is needed to do it well. And this article is certainly not a “how to” step-by-step plan on implementing standards-based grading. I’m compelled to write about it because I keep hearing about districts trying to use grading changes as the entry point to competency education. If folks are going to do that, then this blog might be helpful. Just be mindful–most in the field will recommend that you do not lead with grading. (Please take the time to check out Part 1, where I do my best to differentiate standards-referenced, standards-based, and competency-based grading.)

What does it really require to implement standards-based grading?

From what I can tell based on my conversations with competency-based schools across the country, the following are the major activities, structures, and practices that need to be in place before you introduce new grading policies and practices.

#1 Provide Additional Time and Instruction to Support Students Who are Not Yet Proficient

If you are going to commit to getting students to proficiency on all the standards for a grade level or a performance level within a course or a school year, you are going to have to be prepared for those students who are going to be “not yet proficient.” One piece of that is to have ways to provide “timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.” (That’s the fourth element of the working definition for competency-based education.)

Many schools in their first year of conversion expect after school or lunch time to suffice for teachers to be able to work with students. However, they quickly figure out that isn’t going to work and begin scheduling for Flex Hours each day. Noble High School has taken this the farthest with fine-tuned operations and multiple opportunities to make sure students are getting exactly the help they need every week. From what I can tell, it is impossible to do standards-based grading if you don’t have really strong mechanisms for providing additional instruction for students who are not yet proficient. (See The Learning Edge: Supporting Student Success in a Competency-Based Learning Environment.) (more…)

What Does it REALLY Mean to Do Standards-Based Grading? (Part 1)

June 27, 2016 by

2016-04-13 11.11.40I read a lot of clips about how districts are advancing competency education around the country, and it always seems to me that when there are any negative reactions they are in response to new grading practices, usually referred to as standards-based grading. It strikes me that negative reactions pop up when districts either use grading as an entry point (which puts all the focus on the grading and not on why competency education is valuable) or they’ve put some of the pieces of standards-based grading in place but not the entire framework necessary to make it more trustworthy than traditional grading.

How does a district implement high quality standards-based grading, and when is the right time? I’ll do the best I can to synthesize what I’ve been learning from districts, but please do not hesitate to disagree or add more nuance to these thoughts.

Before I dive deep, allow me to once more review the three types of grading systems using standards (at least that I know about): standards-referenced, standards-based, and an emerging concept of competency-based.

What is the difference between standards-referenced and standards-based grading?

In his book, Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading, Robert J. Marzano explains the difference. “In a standards-based system, a student does not move to the next level until he or she can demonstrate competence at the current level. In a standards-referenced system, a student’s status is reported (or referenced) relative to the performance standard for each area of knowledge and skill on the report card; however, even if the student does not meet the performance standard for each topic, he or she moves to the next level. Thus, the vast majority of schools and districts that claim to have standards-based systems in fact have standards-referenced systems.”


When Grading Harms Student Learning

February 23, 2016 by

GradesThis post originally appeared at Edutopia on November 23, 2015.

There are so many forces at work that make educators grade, and grade frequently. For sports eligibility, coaches constantly look at grades to see if a student is at an academic level that will allow him or her to play. Colleges review transcripts to examine what type of courses students took and their corresponding grades. Teachers must follow policy that demands them to enter a certain amount of grades every week, month, or marking period. There’s no stopping it. However, we need to reflect upon policies and practices like this – and possibly consider regulating them. Is grading the focus, or is learning the focus? Yes, grades should and can reflect student learning, but often they can get in the way and actually harm student learning.

The Dreaded Zero

I used to give out zeros in the hopes that it would force students to do work and learn. This was a terrible idea! I’m so happy that I received the professional development and resources to challenge my thinking on how I was graded as a student. Myron Dueck notes that students need to care about consequences, and many students simply don’t care about zeros. In fact, some of them will say, “Fine, I’ll take the zero,” which totally defeats the intended purpose and in fact destroys any leverage that I have to help students learn. Zeros do not reflect student learning. They reflect compliance. Instead of zeros, we should enter incompletes, and use these moments to correct behavioral errors and mistakes. Often, one zero can mathematically destroy a student’s grade and pollute an overall metric that should reflect student learning. Here, grading is getting in the way of truly helping a student, as well as showing what that student really knows.

Points Off for Late Work

I’m guilty of this one as well. Similar to using zeros, when students didn’t turn in work on time, I threated them with a deduction in points. Not only didn’t this correct the behavior, but it also meant that behavioral issues were clouding the overall grade report. Instead of reflecting that students had learned, the grade served as an inaccurate reflection of the learning goal. Well, I certainly learned from this experience, and instead began using late work as a time to actually address the behavioral issue of turning in late work. It was a teachable moment. I had students reflect on what got in the way, apply their problem-solving skills to these issues, and set new goals. Students should learn the responsibility of turning in work on time, but not at the cost of a grade that doesn’t actually represent learning. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

January 1, 2016 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMThe Next State of Learning project, newly launched by the Innovation Lab Network (ILN) at CCSSO, aims to capture the stories of states who are scaling and sharing innovations within their districts. The project will capture the stories of how states in the ILN are scaling and sharing innovation within their districts.

Thought Leadership

  • Why do we continue to teach students grade-level standards based on their age when their skills are actually two, three, or more academic levels lower (or higher)? Chris Sturgis tackles this issue about reframing education and teaching students where they are in their learning (not where they “should” be).
  • Andrew Miller wrote an article providing teaching strategies to avoid “learned helplessness” in students and empowering students to be self-directed learners. These strategies include making learning resources available, asking questions “for” (not “about”) learning, not giving students’ answers and allowing for failure.
  • KnowledgeWorks outlines the essentials of competency-based education, including transparent learning outcomes, mastery rather than seat time, real and relevant assignments, and a community-based strategic design plan.
  • This story on Coyote Springs Elementary in Arizona describes the implications when schools make other important skills and competencies such as the 4 C’s (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) a core part of the design of the school.


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