Matters of proficiency

Proficient or not proficient…that is the question.  In learning, that’s all that matters, right? If you are proficient at something, move on.  If not, continue to practice and improve until proficiency is achieved.

In my standards based classroom, I use a 4 point / level scale for summative assessments.  Formative work is never graded or scored, I just give feedback for growth.  But should there be just two levels instead of four? Proficient on my current scale is a three.  A four is distinguished, while two is approaching proficiency and one is emerging.  But why do I need all these descriptors when all that really matters is whether they can do what I am asking them do to in the language?

I have thought about this long and hard the past few weeks and here is my answer.  Because I have to give letter grades at the end of the grading period, I need these different levels.  I must use the standard A, B, C, D, and F to communicate proficiency no matter how I would share it in a perfect world.  Now, my scale does not perfectly correlate to these levels, but I do need a way to determine whether the student is performing above, at, or below the expected level of mastery of the standards.  The part I am unsure of is whether I like it or not.

Is proficient not enough? What does proficient mean to you? I define it for my students as the level of language production / interpretation I expect from a Spanish 1 or 2 student.  To achieve the level of distinguished (4) you would have to go above and beyond what I expect.  Is this right? If distinguished is where we would ideally like all kids to be, should that be the level of proficient?  If so, does the standard need to be rewritten to elicit the optimal responses?  I realize I will always have some students that go above and beyond my expectations, so is this additional level necessary to show their achievement?  Furthermore, do I need the lower tiers to show when they are approaching the proficient level rather than just emerging?

My mind will continue to ponder these questions as I make standards based grading work within a traditional system.  What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let the discussion continue!

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  1. Joy Kirr September 30, 2013 at 6:25 PM - Reply

    We haven’t worked with SBG…yet. We’ve been teased that it’s coming, but we can’t figure out how to get PD for learning HOW to grade using SBG. But I heard a different word for the “4.” I’ve heard “mastery.” Would that help? Wouldn’t students (or parents) want mastery of each standard, instead of just proficient? I don’t know… just jumping in to the conversation! 😉 Either way, I’m glad we’re moving towards standards-based grading, and getting further and further away from habit-based grading.

  2. Jim Cordery September 28, 2013 at 10:00 AM - Reply

    You make some interesting points, Garnett. I am starting with a 4-point SBG scale. I want to show that there is always room for growth. I think SBG is creating a culture of learning in the classroom where the focus is not on percent grades. Whether it is a 2 or 4 point scale is a great discussion. The bottom line is you’ve shifted to concentrating on learning. This is the only thing that matters. Great job. Love our convos on #satchat

    • Garnet Hillman September 30, 2013 at 7:46 AM - Reply

      It is great to learn with you on twitter, we are better together! When the classroom is learning focused, kids stop playing “the game” of school. Thanks so much for reading and commenting Jim, look forward to chatting with you soon!

    • swartz creek October 1, 2013 at 6:03 PM - Reply

      I agree with Jim and LOVE the COL reference!
      Garnet-Your students are so fortunate that your focus in on their learning and not compliance. The thoughtful questions you included in this blog post are evidence that you get it…you are in the ‘distinguished’ category of SBG, SBT, and SBL. 🙂
      ~Michele Corbat (@MicheleCorbat)

  3. Jasper Fox Sr. September 27, 2013 at 8:18 PM - Reply

    Great post as always Garnet! This has been one of the first structural revisions I have made this year in implementing SBG. Originally I wanted to utilize the four tier scale we’ve discussed on #sbgchat but I kept asking myself how I would arrive at “distinguished” level. The answer was elusive and it became obvious that it was too subjective to be accurately determined. I have the luxury of not being constrained into a numerical grading scale, so I’ve decided to have two levels “proficient” and “in progress”.

    • Garnet Hillman September 30, 2013 at 7:44 AM - Reply

      I would love to get to a two tiered scale, proficient and in progress are great descriptors. How are your students and parents reacting to just 2 levels? Thanks Jasper!

  4. Mr. Pardalis September 26, 2013 at 7:22 PM - Reply

    We were just having this conversation today during our first faculty meeting edcamp. Many of us really like the idea of using standards based grading, but struggle to fit it into that alpha mode. I keep telling myself that “It’s the learning that matters most.” I also say it to the students so often that they are laughing and repeating it with me. I also use the 1-4 scale on most of my ELA pieces, but end up putting a corresponding numerical grade due to the fact that we have an online gradebook that the parents access.
    So you are not alone. SBG in the traditional system are a tough fit, but SBG allows for students to put the learning at the forefront. So it is worth the continual “pondering of these questions” until we find that healthy balance between the traditional system and standards based grading.
    Thanks for the great insight.

    • Garnet Hillman September 30, 2013 at 7:43 AM - Reply

      Thanks Joel, love your insight on this matter as well. Learning is put at the forefront with SBG and no matter what we have to do to fit it into the traditional system at least we have our priorities straight! Appreciate you reading and commenting, I really respect your opinion.

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