Collaboratively Developed Complexity-Based Proficiency Scales

Using a proficiency-based model of learning, students & teachers collaboratively design proficiency scales based on cognitive complexity.

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In order for students to engage in learning environments, student voice and choice is necessary... but so are high expectations of performance, learning, and achievement.  Teaching students (and teachers) to design effective and authentic proficiency-scales helps all stakeholders understand the desired effect/outcome of what is to be learned, and thus gives a tangible and authentic goal to be reached.  By setting up a learning environment in this way, students can offer their passions and ideas, while the educational institution can maintain consistent and high quality measurement of learning.  All content areas can be integrated into this process, either separately (as traditional silos) or together.

How does this idea help to spark student curiosity?

Curiosity comes from the learning environment, not the task itself. To spark curiosity we must make sure the environment supports and nurtures mastery, autonomy, and purpose.
It puts the power of the learning and measurement of expectations into the hands of the users: students and teachers. It's collaborative design, so the goals and expectations are created by the users. This idea is student-centered/focused, using the teacher as a guide/coach/facilitator in the learning process.

What grade level is this idea most appropriate for?

  • High School (9-12)

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Another visual about our common grading scale, and how we are quantifying it on a 4-point scale.


Join the conversation:

Photo of James Campbell

I like this concept because it could lead grading to be a conversation between student and teacher. Instead of teachers giving a grade, a student can formulate a grade based upon what they can do.
I wish I could see a student sharing their thoughts about the concept.
I wonder how this could translate into a grade.

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We are developing a common grading scale k-12 that uses the following "levels":
Not Yet Assessed/No Evidence

Right now, we are using a 4-point scale to provide a grade, but eventually I'd like us to just communicate he language instead of number.

If you have to convert to a percentage grade, here's what I recommend:

Innovating = 4 = 99%
Applying = 3 = 95%
Developing = 2 = Not Yet (more positive than incomplete)
Beginning = 1 = Not Yet

It's a hard scale to sell because understanding the expectation is to meet expectations, not allow students to move on before they've proven proficiency. But the language of "not yet" implies and communicates that additional opportunities for proficiency are possible. Hope is a powerful incentive and motivator.

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I wish that as a society we were not so grade driven & limited by time. We are reviewing our assessment models this year and moving towards more standards based learning. The immediate obstacles: that will take a lot of time to give feedback, and students may stay in Not Yet "too long" and how to you put this in a gradebook.

Thanks for sharing your grade translations.

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We are battling those same demons... time vs. learning. What's more important? The argument always comes down to "adult management" vs. "student learning," to which I always steer the discussion back to our purpose and mission. The kids know this... they figure it out early and often. And kids ALWAYS look back and love the teacher who never gave up on them. The worst part of that sentiment is that there were teachers who gave up on them... albeit unintentionally! In fact, the system itself was designed to focus more on who could do it faster... an industrial-age model. I believe that if we were to eliminate this aspect and focus on the learning, while integrating authentic and engaging topics/tasks/goals, kids would become so enamored and engaged with focused and purposeful inquiry, curiosity, and intrinsic motivation that our jobs as educators would simply be to sit back and make sure the environment is working smoothly. I believe sparking curiosity and interest comes from the environment students are in, and that environment needs to be focused on learning, not time-based achievement.

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I wonder how this might work with the GPA system?

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It all depends on your conversion scale, if you absolutely must have one... You shouldn't, according to research-based grading practices... But if you must, I'd make the 4 a 99% and a 3 a 95% (making the 4 an "honors-type distinction), and everything else incomplete or "not yet." It's a bold step, but we shouldn't let kids move on with less than what is expected. If it's calculating a GPA using a 4-pt scale, then first of all change it from GPA to GPM (Grade Point Mode), and as the students collect and track their evidence of progress, the teacher would look at the evidence (scores) and determine what the student has learned (growth, using mode and/or most recent) vs. including lower scores into the final grade when the student was new to the learning (averaging). The problem with GPA is the average-part. It uses an equation that naturally punishes learning, thus taking kids away from the growth-focus, thus destroying and creativity spark they may have had. Averaging grades is a horrible grading practice and needs to stop... like, yesterday.

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