gradingOne of the primary goals of a proficiency-based grading system is to produce grades that more accurately reflect a student’s learning progress and achievement, including situations in which students struggled early on in a semester or school year, but then put in the effort and hard work needed to meet expected standards. If you ask nearly any adult, they will tell you that failures—and learning to overcome them—are often among the most important lessons in life. Yet many traditional grading systems penalize students for a single failure or poor test performance. Failures are nearly always encountered on the path to understanding and success, and proficiency-based approaches to grading can help teachers, students, and parents to focus on the end goal—learning the most important knowledge and skills—rather than the struggles or mistakes made along the way.

Another advantage of proficiency-based grading is that learning progress and achievement are more clearly documented for students and parents. Consider, for example, this question: What does a C mean? While the grade is a deeply familiar symbol, and more or less everyone has received a C at some point, what does the grade actually convey about learning? What was taught in the course? What knowledge did those C students acquire? What skills did they learn? Can the students write well, do math, conduct research, think critically, communicate effectively, or use a computer? Did they work hard and make a lot of progress over the semester, or did they slack off and hardly try at all? The fact is that a C just doesn’t tell us much. When proficiency-based grades are connected to clearly articulated learning standards, educators and parents know, with far more precision, what a student has actually learned or failed to learn.

In this section, school leaders and teachers will find detailed guidance on developing a proficiency-based grading and reporting system.

Designing a Grading System

In every grading system, numbers or letters are merely signifiers, and their meaning is entirely derived from the reliability of the systems used to make a grading determination. In other words, the accuracy, authority, and dependability of all grades depend on the quality of the methods used to award them. If a school’s assessment and reporting system is flawed, the resulting grades will be questionable, misleading, or meaningless; if the system is based on consistently applied learning standards and aligned assessments, the consistency, reliability, and utility of the grades will increase dramatically because the grades will have common meaning from course to course, assessment to assessment, and student to student.

While the numbers or letters used to report, track, and record academic achievement matter far less than the system used to award a grade, the Great Schools Partnership nevertheless recommends that schools use grading and reporting systems that are familiar to parents, college-admissions officers, and prospective employers.

Most schools find that 4.0 scales work best in proficiency-based systems, mainly because 100-point scales represent too many fine-grained distinctions that are not discernable in a standards-based approach to assessment. For the purposes of scoring individual assessments, we recommend that teachers use a simple 4-point proficiency scale (1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0). While many schools use only four proficiency levels on their rubrics and scoring guides, some schools choose to add two levels of achievement below and above proficiency: 2.5 and 3.5. The additional proficiency levels allow teachers to recognize students who are progressing toward the next level of proficiency, but who have not yet met the standard. For example:

Proficiency Levels Proficiency Descriptions
4.0 Exceeds Proficiency
3.5 Proficient
3.0 Proficient
2.5 Partially Proficient
2.0 Partially Proficient
1.0 Insufficient Evidence

To determine a final end-of-term grade for a course or other learning experience, teachers will aggregate a student’s performance on summative assessments using a common formula, producing final grades that fall somewhere on the 4.0 scale. In proficiency-based systems, students may not achieve proficiency on all learning objectives for a unit or lesson, but their end-of-course grades will reflect an aggregate score between 3 and 4. While the students have earned a “passing” score for the course, graduation eligibility is based on both passing courses and demonstrating achievement of all graduation standards. Consequently, students who fail to achieve a sufficient percentage of performance indicators associated with a graduation standard may, in some cases, earn an aggregate “passing score” for a course even though they have not demonstrated aggregate achievement of a specific standard required for graduation.

When designing a grading system, we recommend that schools allow for sufficient gradations both above and below proficiency, regardless of where the cut-off score is placed on the 4.0 scale. Ideally, teachers want to be able to recognize both high achievement that exceeds proficiency, and academic achievement that is close to—but not yet—proficient. In the following 4.0 system, end-of-term grades may be represented as 3.2 or 3.6, for example (we recommend rounding all grades to a single decimal point):

Proficiency Levels Proficiency Descriptions
3.6–4.0 Exceeds Proficiency
3.0–3.5 Proficient
2.0–2.9 Partially Proficient
1.0–1.9 Insufficient Evidence

→ Download Designing a Grading System (.pdf)

Grading Principles and Guidelines

When building a proficiency-based grading and reporting system, schools should begin by developing—ideally, in collaboration with faculty, staff, students, and families—a set of common principles and guidelines that apply to all courses and learning experiences. The guidelines should represent the school’s grading philosophy, including how grading will be used to support the educational process. In “Starting the Conversation about Grading” (Educational Leadership, November 2011), Susan M. Brookhart makes the following recommendation:

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that getting sidetracked with details of scaling (letters, percentages, or rubrics? Zeros or not? No Ds or Fs?) or policies (What should we do with late or missing work? How can we report behavior? What will we do about academic honors and awards?) before you tackle the question of what a grade means in the first place will lead to trouble. Logic, my own experience, and the research and practice of others (Cox & Olsen, 2009; Guskey & Bailey, 2010; McMunn, Schenck, & McColskey, 2003) all scream that this is the case.

Grading scales and reporting policies can be discussed productively once you agree on the main purpose of grades. For example, if a school decides that academic grades should reflect achievement only, then teachers need to handle missed work in some other way than assigning an F or a zero. Once a school staff gets to this point, there are plenty of resources they can use to work out the details (see Brookhart, 2011; O’Connor, 2009). The important thing is to examine beliefs and assumptions about the meaning and purpose of grades first. Without a clear sense of what grading reform is trying to accomplish, not much will happen.

The following exemplar guidelines are offered as suggestions to schools as they implement a proficiency-based leaning system:

1. The primary purpose of the grading system is to clearly, accurately, consistently, and fairly communicate learning progress and achievement to students, families, postsecondary institutions, and prospective employers.

2. The grading system ensures that students, families, teachers, counselors, advisors, and support specialists have the detailed information they need to make important decisions about a student’s education.

3. The grading system measures, reports, and documents student progress and proficiency against a set of clearly defined cross-curricular and content-area standards and learning objectives collaboratively developed by the administration, faculty, and staff.

4. The grading system measures, reports, and documents academic progress and achievement separately from work habits, character traits, and behaviors, so that educators, counselors, advisors, and support specialists can accurately determine the difference between learning needs and behavioral or work-habit needs.

5. The grading system ensures consistency and fairness in the assessment of learning, and in the assignment of scores and proficiency levels against the same leaning standards, across students, teachers, assessments, learning experiences, content areas, and time.

6. The grading system is not used as a form of punishment, control, or compliance.In proficiency-based leaning systems, what matters most is where students end up—not where they started out or how they behaved along the way. Meeting and exceeding challenging standards defines success, and the best grading systems motivate students to work harder, overcome failures, and excel academically.

Additional Reading on Effective Grading Practices
Many educators, academics and grading experts have dedicated their career to untangling some of the thornier issues related to grading and determining how grades can facilitate, rather than impede, the learning process for students. We have included a selected list of books below for those who want to learn more about the grading practices that support student learning. Each work outlines practical strategies that educators can use to build an effective proficiency-based grading and reporting system that values and supports the learning process.

Susan M. Brookhart
Grading and Reporting: Practices that Support Student Achievement (2011)

Thomas Guskey
Answers to Essential Questions About Standards, Assessments, Grading, and Reporting (with Lee Ann Jung, 2012)
Developing Standards-Based Report Cards (with Jane M. Bailey, 2009)
Practical Solutions for Serious Problems in Standards-Based Report Cards (2008)
Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning (with Jane M. Bailey, 2000)

Tammy Heflebower, Jan K. Hoegh, and Phil Warrick
A School Leader’s Guide to Standards-Based Grading (2014)

Robert Marzano
Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading: Classroom Strategies that Work (2009)
Classroom Assessment and Grading that Work (2006)
Transforming Classroom Grading (2000)

Ken O’Connor
The School Leader’s Guide to Grading: Essentials for Principals Series (2012)
A Repair Kit for Grading: Fifteen Fixes for Broken Grades (2010)
How to Grade for Learning (2009)

Douglas Reeves
Elements of Grading: A Guide to Effective Practices (2010)
Making Standards Work: How to Implement Standards-Based Assessments in the Classroom, School, and District (2004)

Rick Stiggins
Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing It Right—Using It Well (with Jan Chappuis, Steve Chappuis, and Judith A. Arter, 2009)

Rick Wormeli
Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom (2006)

→ Download Grading Principles and Guidelines (.pdf)

Communicating the Grading System

In some communities, the transition to proficiency-based grading and reporting can become a source of misunderstanding, tension, and conflict. For this reason, it is critically important that districts and schools develop effective ways to explain new grading systems to their students, parents, families, and community. By being proactive and transparent in their communications about grading, schools can avoid difficult and time-consuming debates about grading symbols, and move on to more substantive conversations about teaching, learning, and proficiency.

What Districts and Schools Can Do

    1. Schools leaders and teachers should develop a strong and compelling rationale for the new grading system and be prepared to explain it to different audiences—specifically, why the new system is important and how it will support and improve the learning process for students. In all communications related to the grading system, always lead with the purpose and rationale—why it matters and why it’s good for students—and repeat the message multiple times. It’s easy for community conversations to get sidetracked by debates over grading symbols, so always bring the conversation back to the single most important issue: how the new grading system will improve teaching effectiveness and better prepare students for success in college, the modern workplace, and adult life.
    2. For schools that decide to use a 4.0 scale, remind families and community members that most colleges and universities use a 4.0 scale. The system has a long and storied academic history, and it will be immediately familiar and understandable to any college-admissions office in the world.
    3. Regardless of its design, every school should develop and publish a guide to its grading system for students, parents, and families. The guide should explain—in clear and understandable language—how the system works, what the grades mean, how it improves student learning, and how it helps teachers and support specialist more effectively diagnose learning needs. Make sure to include clearly annotated examples of progress reports, report cards, online systems, transcripts, and other reporting features that students, parents, and families will receive and have to interpret. For two examples of grading guides developed by schools, see the Casco Bay High School’s Family Grading Guide and Poland Regional High School’s Grading and Reporting at PRHS guide and 2013 Faculty Grading Guide.
    4. Develop communication assets that explain the new grading system using accessible language and concrete examples, particularly examples that make a strong case for proficiency-based learning and grading. Whether the communication strategy is a guide, website, video, or presentation, use charts, illustrations, side-by-side comparisons, and other features that simplify any complexities and facilitate understanding. While the grading guide will provide a detailed explanation of the new system, your communications materials should avoid technicalities and embrace the big picture: why it will improve teaching effectiveness and student preparation for adult life. For an example of one school’s approach, see King Middle School’s video on standards-based grading.
    5. Be proactive. Before announcing the new system, make sure you have your grading guide, website, videos, and presentations ready to go. Meet with parent groups, newspaper editors, and other influential community leaders and organizations in advance of the announcement to brief them on the new system. Try to identify any potential sources of confusion, debate, or resistance, and have a plan to address misunderstanding if it arises. Make sure your community hears your message before it hears someone else’s—after all, it’s your system and you know best how it works and why it matters.
    6. In some cases, it might be helpful to provide parents and families with a simple conversion chart that shows how the new proficiency-based grading system compares to more traditional systems. While such a chart may not represent a strict apples-to-apples comparison, it can nevertheless help families understand how the new grading system works. Such an approach can also help schools illustrate how the new proficiency-based grading system will raise the bar for students and better prepare them for life (*please note that the Great Schools Partnership only recommends that comparison charts be used only as a communications tool):
4.0 Scale Description Letter Grade 100-Point Scale
4.0 Exceeds Proficiency A+ 98–100
3.8 Exceeds Proficiency A 95–97
3.6 Exceeds Proficiency A- 93–94
3.4 Proficient B+ 90–92
3.2 Proficient B 87–89
3.0 Proficient B- 85–86
2.5 Partially Proficient C 75–84
2.0 Partially Proficient D 70–74
1.0 Insufficient Evidence F 69 and below

→ Download Communicating the Grading System (.pdf)

Selecting an Online Grading and Reporting System

Many schools that transition to proficiency-based grading and reporting use online systems to manage the process. In some cases, schools choose to adapt or modify their existing online grading platforms or student-information systems, while others decide to use systems that have been specifically engineered to support proficiency-based teaching, assessing, grading, and reporting.

Regardless of the system or systems selected, it is likely that the choice will present a variety of compromises. For example, modifying a student-information system could prove to be cumbersome and inefficient, while selecting a more specialized option could increase costs and require educators, students, and parents to learn and use two separate systems. What districts and schools need to determine is (1) what they need or want their system to do and (2) which option delivers the best balance in terms of functionality, features, and associated costs.

While the Great Schools Partnership encourages districts and schools to investigate technological solutions that can improve their operational efficiency and instructional effectiveness, we do not recommend or endorse any particular system.

To help schools navigate the decision-making process, we have compiled the following considerations. It is likely that the online systems you investigate will not have all of the functionality and options listed below. School leaders, teachers, and technology directors should determine their priorities, and then match those priorities to the best-suited systems.

We have also created a three-page rubric that can be downloaded and used during the research process.

Student Information

  1. The system can be synchronized with the school’s student-information system.
  2. The system can be synchronized with multiple student-information systems (in the event that a district or school needs to switch systems).
  3. Students and parents can remotely access information about student progress through a secure online portal.

Standards

  1. Educators can upload or bulk-import their own school or district standards.
  2. The system can support a hierarchical organization and presentation of cross-curricular and content-area standards (e.g., graduation standards, performance indicators, and learning objectives).
  3. The system allows schools to customize the language of the standards to fit the model they are using (e.g., graduation standards, performance indicators, and learning objectives vs. essential understandings, measurement topics/power standards, and learning targets).

Assessments

  1. Scores on assessment tasks can be used to measure progress across multiple standards.
  2. Each assessment-aligned standard or performance indicator receives its own score.
  3. Scoring guides aligned to standards are readily available on the site and allow for online scoring.
  4. Assessments can be uploaded and shared with colleagues.
  5. The system can differentiate between formative and summative assessments (if necessary or desired).
  6. The system has built-in functionality that allows for students to take assessments online (if desired).

Reporting

  1. Customizable report generation is available for districts and schools.
  2. Districts or schools can customize the levels of student progression (e.g., by grade level, grade span, or non-grade-level sequence).
  3. The system allows schools to customize grading scales.
  4. The system can apply and display multiple calculation methods for course reporting that are more accurate than averaging, including methods such as trend, power law, or decaying average.
  5. Entering student assessment scores is efficient and hassle free for teachers. For example, scores can be typed in (not just selected by clicking on a dropdown menu) or teachers can input scores by selecting particular students, assessments, standards, or courses.
  6. Teachers can report out content knowledge and skills separately from habits of work, behaviors, and character traits.
  7. Teachers can easily and visually review course data to identify trends and gaps in student learning.
  8. The initial presentation of student learning progress—whether it’s for teachers, students, or parents—is visually appealing and easy to read, interpret, and understand.
  9. Parents can quickly and easily navigate the system to identify areas of strength and areas of concern in their child’s performance.
  10. Missing or low-scoring assignments are clearly and visually identified.
  11. The system can generate transcripts that report out both course performance and standards performance.

Instructional Design

  1. The system has integrated curriculum-management tools that can be aligned to standards-based scoring and reporting.
  2. The system supports the ability to differentiate assessments for students.
  3. The system supports the ability to differentiate standards for students (if needed).
  4. Instructional units can be shared with other educators in the school or district.

Technical Support

  1. Training and professional development are available for the technology directors, school leaders, and teachers who will use the system.
  2. Customer support is tailored to the distinct needs of technology directors, school leaders, and teachers.
  3. Customer support is readily available and responsive when problems arise.
  4. The system providers have the technical expertise and willingness to work with other online systems and products.

Technology

  1. All sensitive student information and data are secure and password-protected in accordance with applicable state and federal law.
  2. The system has sufficient safeguards and redundancy to guard against data loss in the event of system failure.
  3. The system works and displays well on different devices (desktops, tablets, and smart phones).
  4. The system supports multiple integrated communication formats, such as email, text messaging, and voice.
  5. The system is designed to allow for modifications and upgrades as technologies and online standards evolve.
  6. The system is designed with the end users (teachers, students, parents in mind), and the user interface is attractive, intuitive, and easy to navigate.
  7. The system is actively being developed and improved based on user feedback.

→ Download Selecting an Online Grading and Reporting System (.pdf)

Habits of Work Grading and Reporting

In many traditional grading systems, behaviors such as attendance, tardiness, class participation, or the ability to complete work on time are factored into final grades alongside scores on tests and assignments. While attendance and class participation are vitally important to success in school, averaging together behaviors and learning can obscure academic progress and achievement, making it much harder to determine what students are excelling at or struggling with. Has the student failed to grasp critically important concepts, or did she simply not turn her homework in on time? Is it a learning problem or a behavioral problem? And what kind of support does the student need to address the issue and succeed in the course?

Proficiency-based systems are designed to identify specific learning gaps and academic needs, which teachers can then use to inform instructional adjustments, interventions, and academic support. For proficiency-based systems to be effective, learning progress needs to be monitored and reported separately from behavior. Student work habits, behaviors, and character traits are essential to academic success, which is why the Great Schools Partnership recommends that habits of work be monitored by teachers and reported for students and parents.

In many cases, schools develop a set of “habits of work standards” that teachers evaluate in every course and learning experience using a common rubric or a consistent set of scoring guidelines. Habits-of-work grades or performance levels appear alongside academic grades on progress reports and end-of-term report cards. If schools use online reporting systems, parents can login to monitor habits-of-work grades, and then provide their child with additional support as needed.

*NOTE: When developing standards, schools should be aware that, in some cases, skill-based, cross-curricular graduation standards and performance indicators could overlap with habits of work. The Great Schools Partnership recommends that schools either (1) develop habits-of-work standards that are distinct from their cross-curricular standards or (2) choose to integrate both cross-curricular skills and habits of work into a single unified set of standards (many schools take this approach). If the standards have already been developed, schools may want to review the standards and eliminate any redundancies.

The following examples can serve to illustrate the kinds of work habits, behaviors, and traits that the standards might address:

Ethical Awareness

      • Treats others with respect, understanding, and compassion
      • Accepts responsibility for personal decisions and actions
      • Understands the difference between ethical and unethical behaviors

Collaboration

      • Works actively and cooperatively with others to achieve group goals
      • Takes on a variety of roles and responsibilities within a group
      • Fulfills individual responsibilities and commitments to a group

Civic Mindfulness

      • Contributes positively to the class, school, and community
      • Helps others to feel safe, welcomed, and comfortable
      • Demonstrates stewardship toward the community and natural environment

We have also featured two habits-of-work grading and reporting models on this website—one from KIPP and Riverdale Country School in New York and another from Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine—that can provide a point of departure for schools looking to create habits-of-work grading and reporting systems.

We encourage schools to investigate and discuss these models, and consider adapting them for their local needs and contexts.

→ Download Habits of Work Grading and Reporting (.pdf)

Casco Bay High School Habits of Work Grading and Reporting

Casco Bay High School for Expeditionary Learning is a small public high school in Portland, Maine, with a student body that reflects the increasing diversity of the city. Since it was founded in 2005, Casco Bay has used a proficiency-based approach to teaching, assessing, grading, and reporting.

At Casco Bay High School, grades are intended to support and enhance student learning. To earn credit at Casco Bay, students need to demonstrate that they have acquired expected knowledge and skills by meeting ten to fifteen clearly articulated learning standards for each course. To create a learning culture focused on proficiency rather than student-to-student comparisons, Casco Bay does not rank students or weight GPAs.

For a detailed description of Casco Bay’s approach to grading, you can read the Casco Bay High School Family Grading Guide or watch the following videos about Casco Bay made by Expeditionary Learning:

Why Use a Standards-Based Grading System?

Understanding Grades in a Standards-Based System

Habits of Work Prepare Students for College—Standards-Based Grading

Descriptive Feedback Helps All Students Reach Proficiency—Standards-Based Grading

School-wide Structures for Standards-Based Grading

HOW Grades
At Casco Bay High School, habits-of-work (HOW) expectations—such as Behave ethically and treat others with respect, Persevere when things are hard, Seek challenge and solutions, or Meet deadlines and established criteria—are monitored, graded, and reported separately from academic standards. For Casco Bay teachers, students, and parents, strong habits of work are as important as the knowledge and skills students are expected to acquire.

The list below describes the habits of work traits that the Casco Bay faculty teach and assess. Teachers may provide additional criteria to define what a particular HOW trait looks like in their course or content area.

Work Ethically

      • Behave ethically and treat others with respect
      • Accept responsibility for personal decisions and actions

Work Collaboratively

      • Work actively and cooperatively to achieve group goals
      • Perform a variety of roles within a group
      • Fulfill individual responsibilities within the group

Be Accountable

      • Complete homework; prepare for class
      • Use class time effectively
      • Meet deadlines and established criteria

Persevere

      • Persevere when things are hard
      • Complete revisions when necessary
      • Access appropriate resources to solve problems

Be Community

      • Participate effectively and positively in class
      • Make sure class members feel safe and comfortable
      • Demonstrate Stewardship

Pursue Personal Best

      • Be willing to try new things; take constructive risks
      • Seek from setbacks and feedback
      • Seek challenge and solutions

KIPP and Riverdale’s Seven Highly Predictive Strengths

The following habits of work model is based on the Seven Highly Predictive Strengths identified by KIPP and Riverdale Country School in collaboration with Dr. Angela Duckworth, Dr. Chris Peterson, and Dr. Martin Seligman. The Seven Highly Predictive Strengths, reported in the Character Growth Card, provide a solid research-based foundation for schools looking to develop a habits-of-work reporting system.

Grit

      • Finishes whatever he or she begins
      • Stuck with a project or activity for more than a few weeks
      • Tried very hard even after experiencing failure
      • Stayed committed to goals
      • Kept working hard even when s/he felt like quitting

Optimism

      • Believed that effort would improve his/her future
      • When bad things happened, s/he thought about things they could do to make it better next time
      • Stayed motivated, even when things didn’t go well
      • Believed that s/he could improve on things they weren’t good at

Self-Control (school work)

      • Came to class prepared
      • Remembered and followed directions
      • Got to work right away instead of waiting until the last minute
      • Paid attention and resisted distractions

Self-Control (interpersonal)

      • Remained calm even when criticized or otherwise provoked
      • Allowed others to speak without interrupting
      • Was polite to adults and peers
      • Kept temper in check

Gratitude

      • Recognized what other people did for them
      • Showed appreciation for opportunities
      • Expressed appreciation by saying thank you
      • Did something nice for someone else as a way of saying thank you

Social Intelligence

      • Was able to find solutions during conflicts with others
      • Showed that s/he cared about the feelings of others
      • Adapted to different social situations

Curiosity

      • Was eager to explore new things
      • Asked questions to help s/he learn better
      • Took an active interest in learning

Zest

      • Actively participates
      • Showed enthusiasm
      • Approached new situations with excitement and energy

 

Download the Character Growth Card (.pdf)

Academic Recognition and Latin Honors

In a proficiency-based learning system, meeting or exceeding standards defines success, and every student should be given the same opportunity to achieve proficiency and excel academically.

For this reason, the Great Schools Partnership recommends that schools use systems of academic recognition that are based on consistently applied standards, such as Latin honors (Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Cum Laude), rather than relative measures of performance and peer comparisons, such as traditional systems of class ranking.

Widely used by colleges and universities, in addition to a growing number of high schools throughout the country, Latin honors not only have a long and storied academic tradition, but the system is familiar and understandable to parents, college admissions officers, and prospective employers.

Our rationale for advocating Latin honors is described below. Also see our district policy on Latin honors.

For additional reading on this topic, we recommend “Class Rank Weighs Down True Learning,” by Thomas R. Guskey (Phi Delta Kappan, March 2014, vol. 95, no. 6, pages 15–19).

The Advantages of Latin Honors

      1. Latin honors recognize the academic accomplishments of more students. Instead of honoring only a handful of students whose performance may be based on relatively small differences in GPA, Latin honors recognize all students whose performance exceeded high academic standards.
      2. Latin honors represent a much broader spectrum of academic accomplishment. The three levels of Latin honors—Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Cum Laude—can be adapted by schools to reflect their distinct academic standards, while also giving more students the opportunity to work hard and earn recognition for their achievements.
      3. Latin honors are more fundamentally equitable. When academic recognition is based on relative measures and student-to-student comparisons, rather than the same consistent standards, one student’s success is another student’s failure, and vice versa. And when “success” and “failure” are defined by fractionally small differences in GPA, the fundamental fairness of the system is called into question.
      4. Colleges, universities, and the general public are familiar with Latin honors. Instead of devising a new system of academic recognition that may be unfamiliar or confusing, schools can use Latin honors, which provide an established, understandable system with a long and storied academic tradition.

The Disadvantages of Class Rank

      1. Class ranking only recognizes a comparatively small number of students—the valedictorian, salutatorian, and top-performing percentiles—whose performance has been measured against other students, rather than the same consistently applied learning standards.
      2. In some cases, fractional differences in GPA often determine class rank. For example, a mere thousandth of a point difference in GPA may determine which student becomes the valedictorian or which students fall within the top tenth percentile. Such vanishingly small differences in academic performance can render class-ranking comparisons essentially meaningless, including graduating classes with ten or twenty-five “valedictorians” who all achieved numerically perfect academic records.
      3. Students may decline to take educationally valuable courses or pursue personal interests because certain courses may be considered too challenging (therefore presenting a greater likelihood of a lower grade) or because they present a mathematical disadvantage when it comes to calculating GPA and class rank (such as non-weighted arts courses, for example, in schools that use weighted-grade systems).
      4. Students may narrowly fixate on numerical indicators of academic performance and minuscule scoring discrepancies that might adversely affect their GPA. Consequently, they may also experience greater anxiety, academic pressure, or feelings of failure, rather than enjoying learning, challenging themselves academically, accepting and overcoming failures, or focusing on the larger purpose and benefits of education.

→ Download Academic Recognition and Latin Honors (.pdf)

Exemplar High School Transcript

Secondary-school transcripts serve as the official academic record for high school graduates, as well as other students who attended a school but did not earn a diploma. The Great Schools Partnership consulted with secondary administrators and college-admissions professionals to develop an exemplar transcript that balances the pedagogical principles of proficiency-based learning with the need to clearly communicate academic accomplishment to colleges, employers, recruiters, and others. While the creation of customized academic records may be complicated by the idiosyncrasies of a school’s student-information and grade-reporting systems, our exemplar transcript is intended to serve as a point of discussion and departure for schools looking to develop their own proficiency-based transcripts or adapt their transcript process to serve the distinct needs of a proficiency-based system.

The Great School Partnership’s exemplar transcript captures a variety of student learning experiences, including academic courses, internships, independent studies, and dual-enrollment opportunities. The level of proficiency earned, the duration of the learning experience, and the school year are also recorded, along with a student’s cumulative grade-point average, any Latin honors earned, and a summary of performance on both content-area and cross-curricular graduation standards. Importantly, we recommend that schools include all necessary explanatory information that colleges, employers, recruiters, and others will need to interpret and fully understand the transcript. For additional guidance and recommendations, see our exemplar transcript policy (.doc).

GSP Exemplar Transcript

Click on the image to download the exemplar transcript as a .PDF

Exemplar High School Profile

School profiles convey important descriptive information about the school, its academic program, and its community, and they are customarily included in student applications to colleges and postsecondary programs. College-admissions professionals consider school profiles essential to the admissions process because they provide the contextual information that admissions offices need to interpret and understand the academic accomplishments of individual students. With more than 24,000 public secondary schools in the United States alone, the Great Schools Partnership strongly recommends that all secondary schools create and publish annual school profiles.

The Great Schools Partnership consulted with secondary administrators and college-admissions professionals to develop an exemplar school profile that balances the pedagogical principles of proficiency-based learning with the need to clearly communicate a school’s academic and cocurricular offerings, the grading and honors systems it uses, and the statistical composition of its current graduating class. Our exemplar profile is intended to serve as a point of discussion and departure for administrators looking to develop or refine a school profile.

GSP Exemplar Student Profile

Click on the image to download the exemplar profile as a .PDF

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