Part 3: The 6 dos and don’ts of a proficiency-based grade book

By Cristin Bleess
Instructional Strategist

In the first two installments of our proficiency-based grading series, we discussed how I came to use a proficiency-based grading system and ideas on how to set up a proficiency-based grade book. Today, I want to share some thoughts on what types of grades we want to include (or not include). Remember, our goal with transforming our grade book is to have our grades truly represent what our students know and can do in the target language.

Here are the 6 dos and don’ts of a proficiency-based grade book:

1. Take most recent evidence into account more heavily than past assessments (especially within cumulative type assessments). The more recent information is a truer representation of where students are currently at. Students are in the course to learn, and what they didn’t know at the beginning shouldn’t be held against them.

2. Retakes should be allowed, but not as a freebie. Students need to show increased learning before being able to retake an assessment. They should go over their original assessment, see what area(s) they need to improve on and come up with a plan to do so. When they prove they are ready, they can do the retake. The first attempt and the retake grades should not be averaged; the student should receive the grade of the latest attempt, whether that’s higher or lower (see above point on most recent evidence). 

3. Only summative assessment grades (end-of-unit assessments/projects) should count toward the final grade. Formative assessments (homework, quizzes, etc.) are opportunities for students to see how they can use the language, taking risks and being creative, without the risk of getting a bad grade. It’s an opportunity for them to see where they are and what they still need to work on and for you to see what still needs to be reviewed and practiced. 

4. If you’re still using numbers in your grade book, avoid giving zeros. A grade of zero is almost impossible to recover from. Think of it this way: students have a 10% chance of getting an A (90-100%), a 10% chance of getting a B (80-89%) and a 10% chance of getting both a C (70-79%) and a D (60-69%). But, they have a 60% chance of getting an F (0-59%)!! Is that fair? A 50% and a 0% are both Fs, so why not just give a 50%? That way a student still has a chance of at least passing. 

5. Non-achievement factors like behavior and participation should be left out of the grade book. Doing well in both areas may help a student do better, but they do not reflect their actual content knowledge. If you want to record this type of data, do so in a separate category that has zero weight.

6. Do not include any kind of extra credit. If we want our grades to accurately reflect what our students know and can do in the target language, bringing in a box of Kleenex or some markers won’t help your students’ content knowledge increase and will give an unfair representation of their ability. Getting a good grade should be an equal opportunity for everyone. Giving extra credit to go to an authentic restaurant or a cultural event does not allow for that to happen. Students can’t attend those events for any number of reasons, and they shouldn’t be left out of the opportunity to get extra credit because they don’t have a ride to the event, have to work, don’t have money to attend, have other obligations, etc. 

I encourage you to play around with your grade book and proficiency-based grading, talk it out with colleagues, look for suggestions from others in the same boat (the Facebook Group Standards Based Learning and Grading is great for this!). Making the switch will not always be easy, but it will change your classroom and help to get students focused on the learning and not the earning of grades.

Cristin Bleess has been a language teacher for over twenty years both in the US and abroad. She has been involved in professional development at the local, state, and national level and is currently an Instructional Strategist at Wayside Publishing.

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