In the ever-evolving landscape of education, we often find ourselves questioning traditional grading systems. As teachers committed to fostering language proficiency and learner autonomy, we should be at the forefront of embracing innovative approaches. I’d like to dive into into the concept of competency or even proficiency-based grading, drawing inspiration from the insightful work of Jude Krushnowski, whose contributions to this topic in the book “Honing Our Craft” offer valuable guidance.
A Shift in Grading Paradigm
Traditional grading often leaves room for ambiguity. It’s not uncommon for factors like punctuality, participation, or effort to influence a student’s grade. This approach results in what some have aptly termed a “hodgepodge grade” where attitude and effort muddle the assessment of actual language proficiency. Imagine two students with different grades, primarily due to non-academic factors, and consider how this affects equity in our classrooms.
Standards-Based Grading Principles
Competency, Proficiency or Standards-Based Grading (SBG), hinges on three core principles:
- Mastery Focus: SBG prioritizes the mastery of specific language skills, allowing grades to precisely describe that mastery level. The goal is for students to progressively enhance their performance through feedback, learning, and revision.
- Feedback and Rubrics: SBG thrives on providing multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning, typically tied to well-defined rubrics. These rubrics help us evaluate various aspects of language proficiency, such as task completion, comprehensibility, and text type.
- Separation of Factors: SBG firmly separates academic achievement from non-academic factors like punctuality or homework completion. This division ensures that our grades genuinely reflect language proficiency.
Using Standards in Language Classrooms
SBG can seamlessly integrate with any set of standards, including world readiness standards and ACTFL Can Do Statements. The heart of SBG lies in rubric design, which offers multiple categories to assess various language skills. We categorize performance levels as emerging, partially sustained, mostly sustained, and fully sustained, providing students with clear benchmarks for improvement.
Multiple Attempts and Eliminating Bias
SBG encourages multiple attempts for students to demonstrate their learning, emphasizing the importance of feedback in the revision process. These retakes should not be identical to the initial assessment but rather an opportunity for growth. This practice not only reduces academic dishonesty but also promotes a fairer grading system.
The Questions Around Homework
Homework should contribute to mastery, not serve as a mere completion grade. By connecting homework to retakes, we provide students with a tangible reason to complete assignments while simultaneously eliminating the opportunity for implicit bias to creep into our grading.
In practice, planning units around learning goals, collaborating with colleagues on common rubrics, and establishing clear reassessment guidelines are essential. Additionally, we should focus on formative and summative assessments, considering whether formative assessments will count towards grades or merely serve as prerequisites for summative assessments or retakes.
As educators, our primary aim is to facilitate the development of language proficiency and communication skills in our students. Competency, Proficiency or Standards-Based Grading grading aligns seamlessly with this mission, offering a transparent and equitable representation of what our students can truly do. It’s time to embrace this paradigm shift in education and empower our students to communicate with confidence.
You can also listen to my podcast episode on this topic.
Jude Krushnowski (2024) “Chapter 7: Standards-Based Grading for Proficiency-Based Language Instruction” in Henshaw, Florencia G., et al. Honing Our Craft: World Language Teaching Today. Klett World Languages, 2024.