Tag Archives: standards-based grading

Competency-Based Grading: A Paradigm Shift for Language Classrooms

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Conclusion

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.

112: Standards-Based Grading

Are your assessments and grades in your classes a reflection of what students are able to do with the target language? Are the communication modes in there?  Are there parts of your grade that are based on compliance to rules and routines? In this episode I am going to look into what grading based on standards in a proficiency based classroom looks like. And once again, luckily there is a very useful chapter on this topic in the newly published book “Honing Our Craft.”  It gives us all the info we need to engage with “Standards-Based Grading for Proficiency-Based Language Instruction.” That’s actually the title of chapter 7. 

Honing Our Craft

  • Edited by Florecia Henshaw (Director of Advanced Spanish at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) & Kim Potowski (Professor of Spanish Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • 12 chapters written by educators for educators, with a focus on bridging the gap between research and practical application.
  • Practical applications and suggestions for language educators that they can adapt to their particular contexts. 
  • Use this link and the discount code JOSHUA25HOC to save 25% on the book.

Standards-Based Grading for Proficiency-Based Language Instruction

Put Standards-Based Grading in Context

  • Traditional grading system:
    • Variability in what exactly counts towards the percentage average of a traditional grade. Some teachers include non-academic factors such as work habits (punctuality, participation, effort or completion) which have very little to do with measuring learning. (Dweck, 2014, Feldman, 2019, Townsley, 2019)
    • Score is no longer an accurate reflection of what the student can communicate in the target language.
  • 3 Core Principles of Standards-Based Grading
    • Focus should be on mastery of specific skills and grade describes that mastery
    • Multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning and receive specific feedback, typically tied to a rubric
    • Separate factors such as behavior, punctuality, homework completion and extra credit

Key Terms and Misconceptions

  • Proficiency: language ability in the real world, unscripted, without practice
  • Performance: can do with practice in an educational setting. 
  • Mastery: highest level
  • Goal is for students to gradually improve their performance from assessment to assessment through feedback, learning and revision.
  • SBG can be used with any set of standards
  • Rubrics: core principle of SBG to provide feedback for revision and multiple attempts to demonstrate learning.
  • Multiple attempts to demonstrate learning
    • Use feedback to foster the use of multiple attempts for students to demonstrate learning. 
    • Retakes are not identical to first assessment, nor should it be more difficult
    • System in place to have retake opportunities: practice, formative, HW, meet with teacher.
  • Grading behaviors unrelated to mastery
    • Homework leads towards mastery, not a completion grade. If students don’t see connection, why do it?  Make it a requirement for retakes?
    • Removes opportunity for implicit bias.


  • Focus on…
    • Standards and create rubric accordingly
    • Differentiation
    •  Feedback and the iterative process
    • Formative and summative assessments 
  • Do…
    • Plan units around your learning goals
    • Collaborate with colleagues for common rubrics, assessment and learning goals (standards)
    • Plan for reassessments and retakes (additional versions) and decide on what the requirements will be to retake.
  • Don’t…
    • Create retakes that are more difficult
    • Limit scores on retakes and reassessments.  Allow students to receive full credit. Count on the new grade, most recent representation of skills, learning or mastery.

Remember to use this link and the discount code JOSHUA25HOC to get save 25% on the book.

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

Teachers want to hear from you and what you are proud of in your classroom.
Join me as a guest on the podcast.

You  can also be a part of Leveling Up coaching episode if there is an area of your teaching that you like to improve or enhance.  Join me on the podcast for a Leveling Up Coaching Episode.  

Follow wherever you listen to podcasts.