Proficiency-Based Grading FAQ's

Grading and reporting are important components of a proficiency-based learning system.  We endeavor to closely align teaching, learning, and reporting practices so that teachers, students, and families all benefit from this information.  That’s one of the principles of our proficiency-based learning system.  

Because the Learning Goals in our district are at the core of daily teaching and learning, it is important to connect these to our reporting of student achievement as well.  The Learning Goals, which are aligned to state standards and were identified by teachers in our district, are grouped by Graduations Standard, which were adopted by the Board in May of 2015.  These Standards are part of the graduation expectations for the class of 2021 (current ninth graders) and beyond.  We feel that it’s important to begin reporting on student progress which leads to meeting Graduations Standards as early as possible.  For a visual organization of Learning Goals and Graduation standards, click here.

Additionally, the district’s Proficiency-based Steering Committee, comprised of staff, Board members, parents, and a community member, lead the district in articulating a Grading Philosophy.  This Philosophy was adopted by the Board in June of 2016.  We have used these philosophy statements to guide our practices in grading and reporting.

We are committed to continuous improvement in how we are approaching grading and reporting, and will solicit feedback each year to ensure that we are achieving our proficiency-based principle that “Students, teachers, and families have a clear understanding of where a student’s learning is, and where it is headed.”

  1. Why change from a traditional grading system (0-100, letter grades)?

We are making this change because it is better for student learning.  Here’s why:

  1. Proficiency-based scores provide more specific feedback than traditional grades.For instance, rather than an average grade for Algebra I, this form of grading provides more detailed information about students’ performance on multiple topics within algebra.

  1. Our students’ day-to-day work is focused on Learning Goals. Proficiency-based grading and reporting informs families of the type of feedback students are getting.

  2. Our Learning Goals are sequenced K-12, and by reporting on student performance on Learning Goals, families are able to monitor progress from very early stages.

  1. Are we getting rid of grade point average (GPA) and class rank?  How does proficiency-based scoring and reporting affect students’ post-secondary plans?

    1. We are not getting rid of GPA or class rank.

    2. Starting with the class of 2021, we plan to issue transcripts that include both traditional letter grades (calculated as they have always been) and proficiency-based grades.  This provides colleges and universities with even more information than they have received before.  We plan to continue calculating a grade point average (GPA) and class rank based on the traditional grading system, and include that on the transcript as well.

    3. Colleges and universities will continue to use information such as: GPA, rank, courses taken in high school, SAT/ACT scores, an essay, recommendation letters and the student’s application (which includes extra-curricular activities and leadership roles.)

    4. We will report using both traditional and proficiency-based report cards for current ninth graders.  Reports for grades 10-12 will remain unchanged.

    5. A growing number of colleges and universities have stated that  proficiency-based grades will not pose a disadvantage to students applying for admission.  To review a list of institutions in New England making this statement, click here.  In addition, the New England Board of Higher Education published a white paper in 2016 entitled “How Selective Colleges and Universities Evaluate Proficiency-Based High School Transcripts: Insights for Students and Schools

  1. Are we the only district implementing proficiency-based grading and reporting?

All high schools in Maine are now required by law to begin awarding diplomas based on proficiency, starting with the class of 2021 (at least).  Though proficiency-based grading and reporting is not specifically required, we believe that the more we can align our practices K-12, the better students and families will understand their child’s progress toward meeting diploma requirements.

  1. What does the research say about proficiency-based grading and reporting?

    1. Great Schools Partnership has compiled research related to:

      1. Academic progress and achievement are monitored and reported separately from work habits, character traits, and behaviors such as attendance and class participation, which are also monitored and reported.

      2. Academic grades communicate learning progress and achievement to students and families, and grades are used to facilitate and improve the learning process.

      3. Students are given multiple opportunities to improve their work when they fail to meet expected standards.

  1. What should I look for in my child’s proficiency-based report card?

    1. Scan for 3’s and “OP” (on-pace) scores - this means that your child is meeting expectations for those Learning Goals at this time

    2. Scan for scores that are higher than 3, or are “EP” - exceeding pace - this means that your child is exceeding expectations at this time

    3. Scan for scores that are lower than 3, or are “BP” - behind pace - this means that your child is not yet meeting expectations, and could be a concern at this point

  • Your child’s teacher is the best source of information, and should be contacted if you have concerns or questions.

  • Here’s a copy of the proficiency-based report card guide - Elementary, MS/HS

  1. How do teachers determine a score for a Learning Goal?

    1. For every Learning Goal, teachers have worked to create performance scales, which identify the knowledge and skills associated with scores between 0 and 4.  In order to determine a score, teachers match student performance to the scales and assign a score accordingly. (Grade 5 math example) (

    2. More and more, teachers are supporting students in using scales (or variations of the teacher-created scales) to help them understand where they are in their learning, and what they’ll need to demonstrate growth (for instance, what it will take to go from a 2 to a 3, or a 3 to a 4?)

    3. Though teachers find unique ways to teach Learning Goals, the scales are the same across the district, and so we can build consistency in how teachers score student work or performances.

    4. For information about scoring work habits / habits of work, see here.

  1. Aren’t students motivated by grades?  Are they motivated by proficiency-based grades?

    1. We are preparing students for a world in which jobs require “critical thinking, sophisticated communication skills, handling non-routine complex tasks, and working collaboratively to solve problems.”  Students will be ready for this when they:

      1. “are motivated to learn independently of external rewards and punishments.

      2. are self-directed learners who know how to assess their own learning needs.

      3. are inclined to seek out and use resources to assist them in learning.

      4. exhibit a willingness to try, persistence, and a belief that effort will pay off in eventual success.”

    2. When students are more engaged in their learning and they experience success, we see an increase in their commitment to continuing to grow.

    3. Because proficiency-based grades are aligned closely to our daily teaching and learning, students are growing in their awareness of their achievement and by using a scale (or adaptation) they have a clear path toward meeting or exceeding a Learning Goal.


  1. What are the Work Habits?

Habits of work are those behaviors that lead to success in learning.  By separating the scoring for habits of work from academic scores, teachers can provide feedback which helps parents and students to improve or celebrate these behaviors.

  1. The Elementary Work Habits:

    1. K-2: Works Independently; Organizes materials; Completes and returns homework; Shows respect for self, others, and observes rules; Works well with others; Follows directions; Uses time wisely, and completes work on time

    2. 3-5: Engages in class; Puts forth best effort to produce quality work; Conducts self respectfully; Completes assignments on time and is prepared for class

  2. The Middle School’s Work Habits are defined here.

  3. The High School’s Habits of Work are defined here.

  1. How is the Honor Roll currently determined at the Middle School and High School Levels?

    1. At the Middle School:

      1. The honor roll is determined this way:

        1. To qualify at the end of the quarter, students must have 95% of their Work Habits scores as 3s & 4s with no 1s.

        2. To qualify for the “High Honor Roll” at the end of the quarter, students must have 95% of their Work Habits scores as 4s with no 2s.

      2. Read a full description of the why and how here.


  1. At the High School:  

    1. Students must maintain a full course load each semester (5 courses for Seniors and 6 courses for underclassmen) and meet the following standards for quarter grades:

      1. High Honor Roll - GPA at least 3.7, no grade lower than A-, and Habits of Work averages must be at 3 or above with nothing lower than a 3.0.

      2. Honor Roll - GPA at least 3.0, no grades lower than a C, and Habits of Work averages must be at 3 or above with nothing lower than a 2.5.

  1. How much has the district paid for Empower software?

After exploring and piloting options, a committee selected Empower as the software to use for proficiency-based scoring and reporting.  The district has used state funds specifically provided for transitioning to a proficiency-based learning system to pay for Empower licensing, training, and hosting.  In school years 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, the total cost was approximately $7000 of state-provided funds per year.  In the 2017-2018 school year, the cost was approximately $9000 due to K-9 implementation.  This was accomplished with approximately $1000 of local funds and $8000 of state funds.

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