Bringing the Brilliance graphic

Bringing the Brilliance: St. Anthony - New Brighton Schools roadmap for proficiency-based grading

This is the first part in a three-part series on proficiency-based grading. St. Anthony - New Brighton (SANB) Schools has been embarking on utilizing proficiency-based grading at St. Anthony Middle School (SAMS) and will fully implement it in all schools by the fall of 2025.

“Rather than teach students to be curious about the academic content, to care about their progress as a learner, to invest in the health of the classroom community, to co-construct productive relationships with their peers or teacher, we teach them to care about points. We take children who come to school with an innate interest in learning and growing, and we teach them those things are only a means to the ultimate end: lots of points.” – Joe Feldman, Grading for Equity

What is proficiency-based grading?

Proficiency-based grading is a system that focuses on student learning, growth and mastery of skills rather than traditional letter grades. Many educators have embraced proficiency-based grading as an effective way to assess and track student progress, and it has numerous benefits for students and families alike. At St. Anthony - New Brighton Schools, we are in a multi-year adoption of proficiency-based grading, with full implementation by fall 2025. 

One of the primary advantages of proficiency-based grading is that it provides students, families and even colleges with a more accurate reflection of their abilities and knowledge. Unlike traditional letter grades, which are often subjective and include measures unrelated to specific learning objectives (like extra credit and turning in work late), proficiency-based grading measures what a student can do and how well they can do it. This system allows students to see where they excel and where they need to focus their efforts to improve.   

The focus on reporting on specific learning goals doesn’t mean that punctuality and other soft skills are not important - they just aren’t related to what we are measuring for student learning and should not be included in academic grades. However, we strive to find alternative ways to report on work habits and leadership skills. We firmly believe in ensuring students have skills to thrive emotionally and socially in adaptive environments and positively contribute as thriving citizens. Therefore, we also want to find ways to give feedback on these aspects of student success.

We know our students feel their best when they feel supported by their teachers and staff. Staff have an opportunity to introduce a growth mindset among students through the use of proficiency-based learning and grading. By focusing on mastery and growth of the standards and skills, rather than simply achieving a specific overall grade, students are encouraged to take risks, learn from mistakes and strive for continuous improvement. This approach creates a positive learning environment that encourages students to take ownership of their education and become more engaged in the learning process.

Proficiency-based grading gives families more detailed information about their child’s progress. For example, rather than only receiving a single letter grade, families can see a breakdown of their child’s proficiency in different areas, allowing them to better understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses and provide targeted support.

How this looks in a grade book may differ at each school building. There is no “one way” to implement proficiency-based grading on a report card. We know that there are components, such as GPA, that may still be needed at the high school level as students plan their post-high school options and differences based on what is developmentally appropriate for students to use. Each school will engage in a process to determine the layout of the grade book that is rooted in research and collaboration.

We’re so excited to be rolling out proficiency-based grading at all St. Anthony - New Brighton Schools! We’ve found that it is an effective way to promote student learning and growth. By focusing on mastery and growth, this system provides students with a more accurate reflection of their abilities, promotes a growth mindset and provides families with more detailed information about their child’s progress. 

Resources to learn more

There are several experts and researchers on effective and equitable grading practices from whom we have learned. Several, if not all, of them have written books that are well-known and respected among the educational community, but below are a few resources to check out if you are interested. 

  • Grading for Equity with Joe Feldman

    • During Episode 4's interview with Joe Feldman (of Crescendo Ed Group), we discuss the history of grading, why it hasn't changed, and how current grading policies widen opportunity gaps for students of color. Assessing students is incredibly important, most teachers detest grading, but the purposes of grading have gone far afield from the foundations of a solid education experience.

  • There’s a more equitable way to grade; districts should invest in it | EdSource

    • Grading in most classrooms remains tied to rubrics devised by individual teachers and rooted in century-old practices. Recently, amid a broader national trend, grading systems in schools have come under increased scrutiny as educators and policymakers debate the best ways to support students. This movement further gained traction during the Covid-19 pandemic as educators tried new grading approaches to help students.

  • Grading: Why You Should Trust Your Judgment by Thomas Guskey and Lee Ann Jung

    • Although computerized grading programs have advantages, teachers' judgment has been shown to be more reliable.

  • The Case Against Percentage Grades by Thomas Guskey

    • It's time to abandon grading scales that distort the accuracy, objectivity, and reliability of students' grades. Assessment and grading have become a major focus in education reform. But one basic component of most present-day grading systems stands as a major impediment to making grades fairer, more accurate, and more meaningful. That component is percentage grades. Percentage grades are the foundation of many state grading policies. Nearly every online grading program available to educators calculates percentage grades. Yet despite their popularity, percentage grades are difficult to defend from a procedural, practical, or ethical perspective.

  • Undoing the Traditions of Grading and Reporting by Thomas Guskey

  • Seven Practices for Effective Learning by Jay McTighe and Ken O’Connor

    • Teachers in all content areas can use these seven assessment and grading practices to enhance learning and teaching.

  • Gearing up for Fast Grading and Reporting by Ken O’Connor

    • Over the last 10 years, classroom assessment specialists have been encouraging schools to make major changes in their grading and reporting systems. The problems with traditional grading are many, among them being the focus on mechanical processes and mathematical precision, often calculated to several decimal places. This focus unfortunately leads students — and parents — to fixate on the numbers rather than on the learning. Students become obsessed with how many points they need to earn on the next test to keep a B instead of what they need to learn to really master the subject. 

  • How We Got Grading Wrong, and What To Do About It by Laura Varlas

  • Eight Essential Principles for Improving Grading by Jay McTighe

    • Done well, grading can play a key role in a balanced district assessment system.

  • Providing Feedback That Moves Learning Forward by Dylan Wiliam

    • This is the fourth of six videos produced for South Australia's Department of Education and Child Development about ten years ago. The video focuses on the formative assessment strategy of "Providing feedback that moves learning forward". The Powerpoint slides are here:

  • Avoiding Unintended Consequences in Grading Reform by Dylan Wiliam

    • Before we enact grading reforms, let's understand why the policies we're scuttling were adopted in the first place.

  • What Grading and Assessment Practices Could Schools Use in the Year Ahead? By Susan Brookhart

    • With the context of schooling so disrupted, many traditional methods of grading have been disrupted as well. For example, counting student participation or completion of practice work is difficult when students have unequal access to the internet for class time. What can research tell us about grading and assessment practices schools could use in the year ahead? This brief discusses grading and assessment practices that research suggests have the flexibility needed during this time of disruption, to support student learning and measure that learning in a meaningful way. Its goal is to support grading changes that will improve both learning and reporting.

  • Standards-Based Grading: A Rose By Any Other Name by Susan Brookhart

    • Do the grades we assign to students truly reflect their learning? The answer to this question, after over a hundred years of research on grading and almost 200 years of practice, is “Not Always.”  (About that 200 years – grading in U.S. K-12 education seems to have arisen in the mid-1800s with the rise of the common school.  Grading in higher education is older than that.)  There is lots of evidence that report card grades, and the assignment grades on which they are based, differ between schools and from teacher to teacher within schools.

  • Elements of Grading Part 1: Effective Grading Practices by Doug Reeves

  • Elements of Grading Part 2: Homework as Practice by Doug Reeves

  • Elements of Grading Part 3: Classroom Assessment by Doug Reeves

  • Elements of Grading Part 4: Standards Based Grading by Doug Reeves

  • 3 Big Shifts for Standards-Based Grades by Matt Townsley

  • Research Supporting Proficiency-Based Learning: Grading + Reporting

  • Personalized Learning Boosts Student Engagement, Reduces Pandemic Learning Loss – The 74

Check out our next installment where we looked at what we learned from implementing proficiency-based grading at SAMS.