Assessment Letter to the Editor

Grading for Growth Through Competency-Based Education

October 18, 2022 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

In his Sept. 14 piece, “The Danger With Giving Students Feedback,” Alfie Kohn cites a 2020 Duke study which found that the traditional practice of grading can damage student motivation and performance, especially among struggling students. The A-F letter-grading scale offers little room for improvement once the assignment, assessment, or course has concluded.

By contrast, competency-based evaluation systems, such as standards-based grading, give space for feedback as one step in a learning process. Learners engage with content at their own pace and move on once they’ve achieved competency. Transcripts are not punitive but provide a clear measure of what students have mastered as well as their progress. Teachers motivate learners by providing ample feedback and strategies to help students to continually improve over the course of their learning journey.

Innovative schools and districts across the country are using these evaluation strategies, and they are proving successful in schools from Arizona to Minnesota. Thirteen states nationwide have created student-centered-learning frameworks, and more than half allow schools to have the flexibility to implement these types of innovative education models. And schools are wisely taking advantage of the opportunity. The Canopy Project, which researches innovative school models, found at least 205 schools that are already grading based on mastery of knowledge and skills.

State policymakers can support the expansion of competency-based evaluation systems. Policies around assessment and accountability, grading, graduation requirements, college admissions, and financial aid can create unnecessary roadblocks for K-12 practitioners. Policymakers should examine existing policies to identify how to best support schools and districts seeking to shift toward personalized, competency-based learning.

Students, parents, and policymakers are increasingly calling for a K-12 education system that better prepares today’s children for tomorrow’s challenges. Competency-based evaluation moves us toward this system by promoting both motivation and achievement for all learners.

Jon Alfuth
Senior Director of State Policy
Washington, D.C.

A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 2022 edition of Education Week as Grading for Growth Through Competency-Based Education


Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Leading Systemic Redesign: Strategies from the Field
Learn how your school community can work together to redesign the school system, reengineer instruction, & co-author personalized learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Assessment Don’t Use State Tests ‘Punitively,’ Ed. Secretary Cardona Warns
As federal accountability restarts after two years, guidance from the department underscores how complicated that could be.
5 min read
Image of data, target goals, and gaining ground.
Assessment Latest Round of Federal Grants Aims to Make States' Assessments More Equitable, Precise
The U.S. Department of Education awarded over $29 million in competitive grants to 10 state education agencies.
2 min read
Assessment review data 599911460
Assessment Opinion Are There Better Ways Than Standardized Tests to Assess Students? Educators Think So
Student portfolios and school community surveys are but two of the many alternatives to standardized tests.
3 min read
Illustration of students in virus environment facing wave of test sheets.
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (Images: iStock/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty)
Assessment Letter to the Editor We Need NAEP
The president and CEO of Knowledge Alliance responds to a recent opinion essay's criticism of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.