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