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


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
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.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by Learning.com

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 Cardona Says Standardized Tests Haven't Always Met the Mark, Offers New Flexibility
The U.S. Department of Education is seeking to reinvigorate a little-used pilot program to create new types of assessments.
7 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in his office at the Department of Education on Sept. 20, 2023 in Washington.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in his office at the Department of Education on Sept. 20, 2023 in Washington.
Mark Schiefelbein/AP
Assessment Opinion The 4 Common Myths About Grading Reform, Debunked
Grading reformers and their critics all have the same goal: grades that truly reflect student learning. Here’s how we move forward.
Sarah Ruth Morris & Matt Townsley
5 min read
Venn diagram over a macro shot of A- on white results sheet. Extremely shallow focus. Letter grades are highlighted.
E+/Getty + Vanessa Solis/Education Week
Assessment If ChatGPT Can Write Virtually Anything, What Should a National Writing Exam Test?
That's a question the board that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress is confronting amid AI's rapid ascendance.
6 min read
Image of a person using a computer, with glasses, papers, and pencil on the desk too.
Assessment From Our Research Center Few Educators Say A-F and Numeric Grades Offer 'Very Effective' Feedback for Students
Fewer than 1 in 6 educators—13 percent— say that A through F or numeric grades are a “very effective way” to give feedback to students.
3 min read
Cropped image of teacher standing in front of a blurred classroom of students with test results in hand showing the letter A in red.