The Future of Grades

How grades are calculated with proficiency based grading.

Addison Wallace

How grades are calculated with proficiency based grading.

For the past eight years the Granite School District has been researching and customizing proficiency based grading (PBG) to introduce to schools. According to the Granite School District’s website, PBG “focuses on a student’s ability to apply their knowledge and accurately reflects areas of academic strength and weakness,” and “encourage the student to act on feedback and the teacher to adjust and individualize instruction.”

This new system is based only on assessments that give a student a score on a scale of 1- 4, which indicates a level of proficiency. A student with a 3 is meeting the standard, 4 is above, 1 and 2 are below or approaching. Three assessments are required for each standard to calculate a grade. According to the Granite School District’s website, “final grade calculation places greater emphasis on most recent evidence of learning.”  Homework, extra credit, student behavior, participation, and attendance will no longer be allowed to be included in students’ grades. Although the 1-4 grading scale changes the requirements for a letter grade, the grades eventually translate to a 4.0 scale to keep up with the rest of the country’s standards.

The reason for the change is because the district believes grades should evolve with students. Granite School District Associate Director of Online Learning, Stephanie Wood, said, “it became a really natural evolution to say ‘our grades should also be reflective of what students know and do’ in relation to the standards.” Teaching, testing, and reporting grades all to one standard helps give schools a more accurate representation of what students actually know.

PBG was integrated into a couple of elementary schools a few years ago starting with about 20 teachers. This eventually grew to almost one hundred people giving their opinions. This beta group gave a lot of useful feedback to the district who then modified the requirements slightly. Wood thought this process was imperative to PBG because it helps teachers “play to the strengths of students, [because] we don’t all learn the same way, some of us are really good at speaking what we know, others are really good at writing what they know.” So having teachers evaluate the system and improve it to be more adaptable to all students, was very beneficial to developing it to where it is today.

The small group eventually lead to classes on how to use PBG for all teachers in the district. There have been multiple lessons and extra opportunities to aid teachers’ understanding of PBG. Lessons consist of how to use gradebook, create assessments, and how to teach to the standard. This spring the district started recording lessons to give 24/7 access. Each training is 2 hours and offered on multiple aspects of PBG, so teachers can go to an area they feel they need help in. There has also been extra faculty meetings each month this past year to give additional professional development on the topic.  Wood said the district has held multiple “parent and community nights at each of the schools. So if any member of the community wants to come out and learn about PBG” they can.

As with everything though, there are those who fear the change and what it brings. The district understands and wants students to “understand concepts and [be] prepared for whatever the next course might be, or they get to university or a community college and they are prepared to be successful in that class.” So one of the priorities is making sure PBG is working for students as well as teachers and helping people understand the reasoning behind the change. Wood said it’s about “having them see it’s not [scary]… we’re not trying to hurt students and take away grades,” but attempting to make grades a more accurate representation of a student’s knowledge at the current moment in time rather than two weeks ago on one test.

The Granite School District is just one of many districts in Utah that has been researching new ways of grading students and modifying the systems to fit their district and standards. Next year, many teachers at Cottonwood will implement PBG, but it will most likely not be fully in place until the following school year.