When educators talk about “proficiency-based learning,” they are referring to a variety of diverse instructional practices—many of which have been used by the world’s best schools and teachers for decades—and to organizational structures that support or facilitate the application of those practices in schools. Proficiency-based learning may take different forms from school to school—there is no universal model or approach—and educators may use some or all of the ten principles of proficiency-based learning identified by the Great Schools Partnership.
For this reason, educators are unlikely to find an abundant amount of research on “proficiency-based learning,” per se, because the term comprises educational models and instructional approaches that share many important commonalities, but that may also vary significantly in design, application, and results (as with any educational approach, some schools and teachers do it more effectively than others). The good news, however, is that there is a huge amount of research on the foundational school structures and instructional techniques that—when systematized in a school—are called proficiency-based learning, competency-based learning, mastery-based learning, or standards-based learning, among other terms.
On this page, we have provided a selection of statements and references that support the foundational features and practices of proficiency-based learning systems. In a few cases, we have also included additional explanation to help readers better understand the statements or the studies from which they were excerpted. The list is not intended to be either comprehensive or authoritative—our goal is merely to give school leaders and educators a brief, accessible introduction to available research.
1. All learning expectations are clearly and consistently communicated to students and families, including long-term expectations (such as graduation requirements and graduation standards), short-term expectations (such as the specific learning objectives for a course or other learning experience), and general expectations (such as the performance levels used in the school’s grading and reporting system).
2. Student achievement is evaluated against common learning standards and performance expectations that are consistently applied to all students regardless of whether they are enrolled in traditional courses or pursuing alternative learning pathways.
“Clear learning goals help students learn better (Seidel, Rimmele, & Prenzel, 2005). When students understand exactly what they’re supposed to learn and what their work will look like when they learn it, they’re better able to monitor and adjust their work, select effective strategies, and connect current work to prior learning (Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall, & Wiliam, 2004; Moss, Brookhart, & Long, 2011). This point has been demonstrated for all age groups, from young children (Higgins, Harris, & Kuehn, 1994) through high school students (Ross & Starling, 2008), and in a variety of subjects—in writing (Andrade, Du, & Mycek, 2010); mathematics (Ross, Hogaboam-Gray, & Rolheiser, 2002); and social studies (Ross & Starling, 2008). The important point here is that students should have clear goals. If the teacher is the only one who understands where learning should be headed, students are flying blind. In all the studies we just cited, students were taught the learning goals and criteria for success, and that’s what made the difference.” —Brookhart, S. M., & Moss, C. M. (2014, October). Learning targets on parade. Educational Leadership, 72(7), 28–33.
“The most effective teaching and the most meaningful student learning happen when teachers design the right learning target for today’s lesson and use it along with their students to aim for and assess understanding. Our theory grew from continuous research with educators focused on raising student achievement through formative assessment processes (e.g., Brookhart, Moss, & Long, 2009, 2010, 2011; Moss, Brookhart, & Long 2011a, 2011b, 2011c). What we discovered and continue to refine is an understanding of the central role that learning targets play in schools. Learning targets are student-friendly descriptions—via words, pictures, actions, or some combination of the three—of what you intend students to learn or accomplish in a given lesson. When shared meaningfully, they become actual targets that students can see and direct their efforts toward. They also serve as targets for the adults in the school whose responsibility it is to plan, monitor, assess, and improve the quality of learning opportunities to raise the achievement of all students.” —Brookhart, S. M., & Moss, C. M. (2012). Learning targets: Helping students aim for understanding in today’s lesson. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Setting objectives and providing feedback work in tandem. Teachers need to identify success criteria for learning objectives so students know when they have achieved those objectives (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Similarly, feedback should be provided for tasks that are related to the learning objectives; this way, students understand the purpose of the work they are asked to do, build a coherent understanding of a content domain, and develop high levels of skill in a specific domain.” —Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Setting objectives is the process of establishing a direction to guide learning (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). When teachers communicate objectives for student learning, students can see more easily the connections between what they are doing in class and what they are supposed to learn. They can gauge their starting point in relation to the learning objectives and determine what they need to pay attention to and where they might need help from the teacher or others. This clarity helps decrease anxiety about their ability to succeed. In addition, students build intrinsic motivation when they set personal learning objectives.” —Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Providing specific feedback that helps students know how to improve their performance requires teachers to identify and understand the learning objectives (Stiggins, 2001). If teachers do not understand the learning objectives, it is difficult for them to provide students with information about what good performance or high-quality work looks like…. Effective feedback should also provide information about how close students come to meeting the criterion and details about what they need to do to attain the next level of performance (Shirbagi, 2007; Shute, 2008). Teachers can provide elaboration in the form of worked examples, questions, or prompts—such as ‘What’s this problem all about?’—or as information about the correct answer (Kramarski & Zeichner, 2001; Shute, 2008).” —Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“[Learning targets] convey to students the destination for the lesson—what to learn, how deeply to learn it, and exactly how to demonstrate their new learning. In our estimation (Moss & Brookhart, 2009) and that of others (Seidle, Rimmele, & Prenzel, 2005; Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2009), the intention for the lesson is one of the most important things students should learn. Without a precise description of where they are headed, too many students are ‘flying blind’…. A shared learning target unpacks a ‘lesson-sized’ amount of learning—the precise ‘chunk’ of the particular content students are to master (Leahy, Lyon, Thompson, & Wiliam, 2005). It describes exactly how well we expect them to learn it and how we will ask them to demonstrate that learning…. Instructional objectives are about instruction, derived from content standards, written in teacher language, and used to guide teaching during a lesson or across a series of lessons. They are not designed for students but for the teacher. A shared learning target, on the other hand, frames the lesson from the students’ point of view. A shared learning target helps students grasp the lesson’s purpose—why it is crucial to learn this chunk of information, on this day, and in this way.” —Brookhart, S. M., Long, B. A., & Moss, C. M. (2011, March). Know your learning target. Educational Leadership, 68(6), 66–69.
“Students who have clear pictures of the learning target and of the criteria for success are likely to also have a sense of what they can and should do to make their work measure up to those criteria and that goal. Clear learning targets direct both teachers and students toward specific goals. Students can meet goals only if they are actually working toward them, and they can’t work toward them until they understand what they are. Once students understand where they are headed, they are more likely to feel that they can be successful, can actually reach the goal. Students’ belief that they can be successful at a particular task or assignment is called self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). Students who have self-efficacy are more likely to persist in their work and especially more likely to persist in the face of challenge (Pajares, 1996).” —Moss, C. M., & Brookhart, S. M. (2009). Advancing formative assessment in every classroom: A guide for instructional leaders. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Although they have different labels (standards, learning results, expectations, and outcomes), every state has standards that are determined at the state level. These standards are published and all teachers, parents, and students, should be familiar with them. This is essential because the research shows that ‘it is very difficult for students to achieve a learning goal unless they understand that goal and can assess what they need to do to reach it’ (Black et al., 2003).” —O’Connor, K. (2009, January). Reforming grading practices in secondary schools. Principal’s Research Review, 4(1), 1–7.
“Arguably the most basic issue a teacher can consider is what he or she will do to establish and communicate learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate success. In effect, this design question includes three distinct but highly related elements: (1) setting and communicating learning goals, (2) tracking student progress, and (3) celebrating success. These elements have a fairly straightforward relationship. Establishing and communicating learning goals are the starting place. After all, for learning to be effective, clear targets in terms of information and skill must be established…. For example, the Lipsey and Wilson (1993) study synthesizes findings from 204 reports. Consider the average effect size of 0.55 from those 204 effect sizes. This means that in the 204 studies they examined, the average score in classes where goal setting was effectively employed was 0.55 standard deviations greater than the average score in classes where goal setting was not employed…. For the Lipsey and Wilson effect size of 0.55, the percentile gain is 21. This means that the average score in classes where goal setting was effectively employed would be 21 percentile points higher than the average score in classes where goal setting was not employed.” —Marzano, R. J., & Brown, J. L. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Equipped with state standards that had been clarified and specified in the district’s written curriculum, teachers in the higher performing schools carefully studied, further detailed and effectively implemented those standards using tools such as curriculum maps, pacing guides, aligned instructional programs and materials, and formative benchmark assessments. Higher performing schools deeply integrated the state standards into their written curriculum, but viewed state standards as the floor for student achievement, not the target. Educators did not see those standards as a digression from the real curriculum, but as the foundation of the curriculum. With a focus on core learning skills, grade-level and vertical teams continually reviewed and revised the curriculum. That curriculum communicated high expectations for all students, not just the academically advanced.” —Dolejs, C. (2006). Report on key practices and policies of consistently higher performing high schools. Washington, DC: National High School Center. (NOTE: Based on an analysis of 74 average and higher performing high schools in 10 states that identified the fundamental teaching and learning practices shared across higher performing high schools.)
3. All forms of assessment are standards-based and criterion-referenced, and success is defined by the achievement of expected standards, not relative measures of performance or student-to-student comparisons.
4. Formative assessments measure learning progress during the instructional process, and formative-assessment results are used to inform instructional adjustments, teaching practices, and academic support.
5. Summative assessments evaluate learning achievement, and summative-assessment results record a student’s level of proficiency at a specific point in time.
“Providing feedback is an ongoing process in which teachers communicate information to students that helps them better understand what they are to learn, what high-quality performance looks like, and what changes are necessary to improve their learning (Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Shute, 2008). Feedback provides information that helps learners confirm, refine, or restructure various kinds of knowledge, strategies, and beliefs that are related to the learning objectives (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). When feedback provides explicit guidance that helps students adjust their learning (e.g., ‘Can you think of another way to approach this task?’), there is a greater impact on achievement, students are more likely to take risks with their learning, and they are more likely to keep trying until they succeed (Brookhart, 2008; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Shute, 2008).” —Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“The studies related to feedback underscore the importance of providing feedback that is instructive, timely, referenced to the actual task, and focused on what is correct and what to do next (Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Shute, 2008). They also address the use of attributional and metacognitive feedback. For example, a study by Kramarski and Zeichner (2001) investigated the use of metacognitive feedback versus results feedback in a 6th grade mathematics class as a way to help students know what to do to improve their performance. Metacognitive feedback was provided by asking questions that served as cues about the content and structure of the problem and ways to solve it. Results feedback provided cues related to the final outcome of the problem. Students who received metacognitive feedback significantly outperformed students who received results feedback, in terms of mathematical achievement and the ability to provide mathematical explanations. They were more likely to provide explanations of their mathematical reasoning, and those explanations were robust—they included both algebraic rules and verbal arguments.” —Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“As in many other areas of life, timing is everything (or at least important) when giving feedback. Recent research indicates that the timing of feedback depends to some extent on the nature of the task and on whether students are high performing or low performing (Shute, 2008). When students are engrossed in figuring out a difficult task, feedback should be delayed; however, when students can use feedback to complete a task, immediacy helps. Providing immediate feedback can encourage students to practice, and it helps them make connections between what they do and the results they achieve. Delaying feedback may encourage development of cognitive and metacognitive processing for high-performing students, yet it may cause frustration for struggling and less-motivated students (Clariana & Koul, 2006; Shute, 2008). Further, some studies indicate that students may benefit from delayed feedback when they are learning concepts and from immediate feedback when they are acquiring procedural skills (Franzke, Kintsch, Caccamise, Johnson, & Dooley, 2005; Mathan & Koedinger, 2002; Shute, 2008).” —Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Student-centered assessment also focuses on learning and growth. That means it does more than measure and report student learning or the lack thereof—although it does those things as well. Student-centered assessment promotes learning and growth by providing useful feedback to the students themselves, their teachers, and others about what the students need in order to progress toward the learning target. This quality of student- centered assessment echoes modern conceptions of formative assessment in that assessment is a moment of learning, not just grading, ranking, or sorting (Andrade & Cizek 2010; Shute 2008).” —Andrade, H., Huff, K., & Brooke, G. (2012). Assessing learning. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
“Formative tests differ in a very important way from practice tests, which usually involve students taking a test, passively listening as the teacher goes over the correct answers, then taking another test. It is not really hearing the correct answers to the test that makes formative use of testing work. Rather, it is the hard thinking that happens in between the tests that matters (Bloom 1984). This approach to testing is based on Benjamin Bloom’s approach to mastery learning, which emphasizes the value of formative assessment and corrective procedures that re-teach content to struggling learners in a new way (Guskey 2010). Research shows that mastery learning is related to learning gains, especially for struggling students, and that it has positive effects on students’ attitudes toward course content (Kulik, Kulik, & Bangert-Drowns 1990). In fact, after reviewing meta-analyses from over 40 areas of educational research, Chen-Lin Kulik, James Kulik, and Robert Bangert-Drowns concluded that ‘few educational treatments of any sort were consistently associated with achievement effects as large as those produced by mastery learning.’” —Andrade, H., Huff, K., & Brooke, G. (2012). Assessing learning. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
“Schools and districts across the nation are reporting impressive gains in student achievement through the use of teacher-created, criterion-referenced assessments (Bambrick-Santoyo 2008). Such assessments are developed by teams of teachers from within and across schools in particular grades and subject areas; they work together to develop items that directly measure the curricula enacted in their classrooms. The teachers use the same assessments on an interim basis throughout the school year (about every six weeks), get together to discuss the results at length, and share pedagogical approaches to helping one another’s students succeed. For example, if Ms. Garcia’s third graders all aced the question on 100s place value, but Mr. Lawson’s third graders bombed it, the teachers meet so that Ms. Garcia can share with Mr. Lawson how she worked with her students on 100s place value. The key to the success of these efforts is that teachers work together to develop the items, discuss the results, and then adjust their pedagogy accordingly when they return to their classrooms (Bambrick 2008).” —Andrade, H., Huff, K., & Brooke, G. (2012). Assessing learning. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
“Perhaps the most surprising aspect of…student-centered assessment is that it is motivating. Many people associate being evaluated with mild to moderate anxiety, not motivation, and research has shown that grades can be associated with decreased motivation and lower achievement (Butler & Nisan 1986; Lipnevich & Smith 2008). However, recent studies have shown that formative assessment—particularly detailed, task-specific comments on student work—can activate interest in a task (Cimpian et al. 2007) and result in better performance (Lipnevich & Smith 2008).” —Andrade, H., Huff, K., & Brooke, G. (2012). Assessing learning. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
“Assessment experts from the Forum for Education and Democracy (Wood, Darling-Hammond, Neill, & Roschewski, 2007) note ongoing formative assessments, including performance assessments, can be ‘responsive to emerging student needs and enable fast and specific teacher response, something that standardized examinations with long lapses between administration and results cannot do.’ Performance assessments can provide meaningful, real time information for students, teachers, parents, and administrators, and can be a spring- board for improving teacher practice. They also note, ‘As teachers use and evaluate [performance assessment] tasks, they become more knowledgeable about the standards and how to teach to them, and about what their students’ learning needs are (Wood, et al. 2007).’” —Brown, C., & Mevs, P. (2012). Quality performance assessment: Harnessing the power of teacher and student learning. Boston, MA: Center for Collaborative Education.
“Student learning is also enhanced during performance assessment as students adjust their strategies and make timely corrections in response to targeted feedback from their instructors. This ‘assessment for learning,’ differs from traditional assessments that function as a separate measurement of learning. Thus, local assessment systems that include performance assessment have the potential to improve both student learning and teacher performance. Further benefits of assessment systems with embedded performance assessment include greater teacher buy-in, increased teacher collaboration, and increased capacity to make mid-course corrections based on formative data (Wood, et al. 2007). When teachers are engaged as designers of performance assessments and skilled assessors of their students’ performance, the impact on curriculum and instruction can be profound.” —Brown, C., & Mevs, P. (2012). Quality performance assessment: Harnessing the power of teacher and student learning. Boston, MA: Center for Collaborative Education.
“The formative assessment concept…emphasizes the dynamic process of using assessment evidence to continually improve student learning; this is in contrast to the concept of summative assessment, which focuses on development and implementation of an instrument to measure what a student has learned up to a particular point in time (Shepard, 2005; Heritage, 2010; National Research Council, 2001). Deeper learning is enhanced when formative assessment is used to: (1) make learning goals clear to students; (2) continuously monitor, provide feedback, and respond to students’ learning progress; and (3) involve students in self- and peer-assessment. These uses of formative assessment are grounded in research showing that practice is essential for deeper learning and skill development but that practice without feedback yields little learning.” —Hilton, M. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
“In contrast to assessments of learning that look backwards over what has been learned, assessments for learning—formative assessments—chart the road forward by diagnosing where students are relative to learning goals and by making it possible to take immediate action to close any gaps (see Sadler, 1989). As defined by Black and Wiliam (1998), formative assessment involves both understanding and immediately responding to students learning status. In other words, it involves both diagnosis and actions to accelerate student progress toward identified goals. Formative assessment is sometimes referred to as ‘dynamic assessment,’ to reflect this active process.… Actions could include: teachers asking questions to probe, diagnose, and respond to student understanding; teachers asking students to explain and elaborate their thinking; teachers providing feedback to help students transform their misconceptions and transition to more sophisticated understanding; and teachers analyzing student work and using results to plan and deliver appropriate next steps, for example, an alternate learning activity for students who evidence particular difficulties or misconceptions.” —Hilton, M. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
“Individuals acquire a skill much more rapidly if they receive feedback about the correctness of what they have done. If incorrect, they need to know the nature of their mistake. It was demonstrated long ago that practice without feedback produces little learning (Thorndike, 1927). One of the persistent dilemmas in education is that students often spend time practicing incorrect skills with little or no feedback. Furthermore, the feedback they ultimately receive is often neither timely nor informative. Unguided practice (e.g., homework in math) can be for the less able student, practice in doing tasks incorrectly.” —Hilton, M. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
“A hallmark of formative assessment is its emphasis on student efficacy, as students are encouraged to be responsible for their learning and the classroom is turned into a learning community (Gardner, 2006; Harlen, 2006). To assume that responsibility, students must clearly understand what learning is expected of them, including its nature and quality. Students receive feedback that helps them to understand and master performance gaps, and they are involved in assessing and responding to their own work and that of their peers (see also Heritage, 2010).” —Hilton, M. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
“In a follow-up to ‘Inside the Black Box,’ Wiliam, Lee, Harrison, and Black (2004) examined the achievement of secondary students in math and science who were exposed and not exposed to formative assessment. Teachers involved in the study were trained and supported in their use of classroom-based formative assessment. The research team measured the effects of formative assessment on learning outcomes and found a mean effect size of 0.32 when exposed to the intervention. Also in 2004, Ruiz-Primo and Furtak measured the effect of three formative assessment strategies—eliciting, recognizing, and using information—in the science classroom. They found that the quality of teachers’ formative assessment practices was positively linked to the students’ level of learning.” —Greenstein, L. (2010). What teachers really need to know about formative assessment. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“We do know from research that Robert Marzano conducted for McREL that the school-level variable with the strongest apparent link to student success is ‘opportunity to learn’; that is, the extent to which a school (1) clearly articulates its curriculum, (2) monitors the extent to which teachers cover the curriculum, and (3) aligns its curriculum with assessments used to measure student achievement. Of these three variables, aligning curriculum to assessments appears to have the strongest link with student achievement.” —Goodwin, B. (2010). Changing the odds for student success: What matters most. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL).
“According to research, formative assessment practice has powerful effects on student learning and motivation (see Black & Wiliam, 1998b). Scholars in the area of educational assessment generally agree that when students are evaluated frequently for the purposes of monitoring learning and guiding instruction, they are more likely to be successful learners (Stiggins, 1998). The student who is aware of how he or she learns is better able to set goals, develop a variety of learning strategies, and control and evaluate his or her own learning process. Alternatively, summative assessments, which evaluate student performance at the conclusion of the instructional period, have little to no influence on student learning.” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. (*Note: This report is based on an analysis of 116 peer-reviewed and reputable articles, 92 of which are summarized in the report.)
“Promising practice in formative assessment for improving student achievement involves the application of diverse evaluation practices to everyday classroom instruction to engage students in their own learning. Effective formative assessment involves real-time questioning and frequent classroom discussion to gain an understanding of what students know (and don’t know) in order to make responsive changes in both teaching and learning (Black & Wiliam, 1998a).” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“Feedback is an essential component of the formative assessment process and is widely recognized in the literature as a critical support mechanism for student learning (Callingham, 2008; Cauley, Pannozzo, Abrams, McMillan, & Camou-Linkroum, 2006; Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, 2006; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Shepard, 2000; Stiggins, 2004). According to past research, effective feedback is specific, immediate, and focused on students’ thought processes, and goes beyond merely directing the student to the “correct” answer.” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“Formative assessments are more effective when they are aligned with learning objectives that (1) provide a trajectory of student learning at key points in the curriculum and (2) guide feedback to students about their performance (Ayala et al., 2008; Stiggins & Chappius, 2008; Valencia, 2008; Wiley, 2008). Furthermore, these learning objectives should be aligned with the unique learning styles, strengths, and developmental needs of individual students (Stiggins, 1998).” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“According to existing literature, high-quality formative assessment involves tasks that go beyond recall or recognition to include reasoning and justification of responses that teachers may or may not have anticipated prior to the assessment. More specifically, learning is enhanced when students are asked to formulate problems, organize their knowledge and experiences in new ways, test their ideas with other students, and express themselves orally and in writing (Newmann et al., 2001).” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“Sound formative assessment in the classroom is one of the most potent factors for influencing student achievement (see Black & Wiliam, 1998ab). It guides students’ judgments of what is important to learn, affects their motivation and self-perceptions of competence, structures their approaches to self-study, consolidates their learning, and facilitates the development of enduring learning strategies and skills (Crooks, 1988). Assessment experts generally agree that a balanced assessment system that addresses both state accountability and assessment for learning is necessary to maximize student achievement (Stiggins, 2002; Valencia, 2008). While less frequent evaluations for summative purposes should focus on describing what students can and cannot do, ongoing evaluation activity in the classroom should be directed toward providing students with feedback to facilitate their learning (Crooks, 1988).” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“In 1998, Black and Wiliam published a seminal work on formative assessment titled Assessment and Classroom Learning. The manuscript was based on an extensive research review of 250 journal articles and reports to determine if classroom-based formative assessment increases academic achievement (Black & Wiliam, 1998a). The results showed that well-designed formative assessment is associated with major gains in student achievement on a wide variety of conventional achievement measures (standardized, accountability tests), across all ages and all subject disciplines. Effect sizes ranged from moderate to high, with formative assessment having the greatest impact on low- achieving students (Black & Wiliam, 1998b).” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“Several others have discussed the relationship between formative assessment and student learning (e.g., Boston, 2002; Chappuis & Stiggins, 2002; Crooks, 1988; Stiggins, 1998). In general, there is wide agreement among assessment experts that when teachers use formative assessment as part of their everyday classroom instruction, students are more likely to attain higher levels of achievement. When students are assessed frequently during the learning process, it allows teachers to adjust their instruction to address learning deficiencies and misconceptions before it is too late. Successful formative assessment informs students about their own learning and guides their decision-making so they can become more successful learners in the future (Stiggins, 1998). Students who are aware of how they learn are better able to set goals, develop a variety of learning strategies, and both control and evaluate their individual learning processes.” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“Cauley et al. (2006) performed a large-scale literature review to identify specific classroom strategies for capitalizing on the relationship between formative assessment and student motivation. In general, research indicates that in order to foster feelings of self-efficacy and improve student motivation, assessments must grant students regular opportunities to improve on their work, with errors and mistakes considered a natural part of learning. Furthermore, teacher feedback on student performance should focus on the student’s effort and ability and should value the process or strategy toward producing an answer as opposed to the correctness of the answer itself. Lastly, students should be encouraged to use self-assessment strategies that will put them at the center of their own learning experience. In sum, both research and theory support a strong relationship between classroom-based formative assessment and student achievement. When students are involved in the assessment of their own learning, they become more motivated to learn, and when students want to learn, they learn better. The sound practice of formative assessment helps students understand their own strengths and weaknesses, provides them with a sense of control over their learning, and motivates them to obtain greater levels of achievement in the future.” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“There is an extensive body of literature on the nature and extent of feedback as related to its impact on student learning (e.g., Brookhart, 2008; Crooks, 1988; Kulhavy, 1977; Mory, 2004; Shute, 2008). Research suggests that positive learning outcomes are more likely when feedback focuses on features of the task, such as how the student can improve his or her performance in relation to standards and learning goals (Kluger & DeNisi, 1998; Hattie & Timperley, 2007). This task-oriented emphasis is advantageous over nonspecific evaluation (e.g., praise or criticism) or normative comparisons (Tunstall & Gipps,1996; for meta-analysis, see Bangert-Drowns et al., 1991). Specifically, it helps students become aware of misconceptions or gaps between desired goals and current knowledge, understanding, and skills, and then helps guide students through the process of obtaining those goals (Brookhart, 2008; Sadler, 1989). Research also suggests that effective feedback includes specific comments about errors and areas of improvement (Brookhart, 2008); however, too specific feedback compromises student exploration of his or her own learning (Goodman, Wood, & Hendrickx, 2004). Furthermore, immediate feedback is more effective than delayed feedback, and presearch availability (i.e., knowledge of correct responses prior to performing the learning activity) is counterproductive (Epstein et al., 2002; Kulhavey, 1977; Kulick & Kulick, 1988). —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“A critical aspect of high-quality formative assessment is that it is well aligned with classroom-based learning objectives as well as the individual needs, performance levels, strengths, and weaknesses of the students in the class. Research indicates that formative assessments should be aligned with learning objectives that provide a trajectory of student learning, and ideally, teachers and students should work together to develop learning objectives (Ayala et al., 2008; Stiggins & Chappius, 2008; Valencia, 2008; Wiley, 2008).” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“Recently, researchers have tried to tease out what makes some feedback effective, some ineffective, and some downright harmful (Butler & Winne, 1995; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Kluger & DeNisi, 1996). Other researchers have described the characteristics of effective feedback (Johnston, 2004; Tunstall & Gipps, 1996). From parsing this research and reflecting on my own experience as an educational consultant working with elementary and secondary teachers on assessment issues, particularly the difference between formative assessment and grading, I have identified what makes for powerful feedback—in terms of how teachers deliver it and the content it contains. Good feedback contains information a student can use. That means, first, that the student has to be able to hear and understand it. A student can’t hear something that’s beyond his comprehension, nor can a student hear something if she’s not listening or if she feels like it’s useless to listen. The most useful feedback focuses on the qualities of student work or the processes or strategies used to do the work. Feedback that draws students’ attention to their self-regulation strategies or their abilities as learners is potent if students hear it in a way that makes them realize they will get results by expending effort and attention.” —Brookhart, S. (2008, January). Feedback that fits. Educational Leadership, 65(4), p. 54–59
“[A]s a result of reviewing almost 8,000 studies, researcher John Hattie (1992) made the following comment: “The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement is feedback. The simplest prescription for improving education must be ‘dollops of feedback.’” —Marzano, R. J. (2007). Classroom assessment and grading that work. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Scholars have conducted many reviews of the research on classroom assessment. Some of the more comprehensive reviews are those by Natriello (1987); Fuchs and Fuchs (1986); Crooks (1988); Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, and Kulik (1991); Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, Kulik, and Morgan (1991); Kluger and DeNisi (1996); and Black and Wiliam (1998). The reviews lead to many conclusions that provide insights into effective classroom assessment; however, four generalizations are particularly germane… (1) Feedback from classroom assessments should give students a clear picture of their progress on learning goals and how they might improve; (2) feedback on classroom assessments should encourage students to improve; (3) classroom assessment should be formative in nature; and (4) formative classroom assessments should be frequent.” —Marzano, R. J. (2007). Classroom assessment and grading that work. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Formative assessment is another line of research related to the research on feedback. Teachers administer formative assessments while students are learning new information or new skills. In contrast, teachers administer summative assessments at the end of learning experiences, for example, at the end of the semester or the school year. Major reviews of research on the effects of formative assessment indicate that it might be one of the more powerful weapons in a teacher’s arsenal. To illustrate, as a result of a synthesis of more than 250 studies, Black and Wiliam (1998) describe the impact of effective formative assessment in the following way: The research reported here shows conclusively that formative assessment does improve learning. The gains in achievement appear to be quite considerable, and as noted earlier, amongst the largest ever reported for educational interventions. As an illustration of just how big these gains are, an effect size of 0.7, if it could be achieved on a nationwide scale, would be equivalent to raising the mathematics attainment score of an ‘average’ country like England, New Zealand, or the United States into the “top five” after the Pacific rim countries of Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong.” —Marzano, R. J., & Brown, J. L. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“One strong finding from the research on formative assessment is that the frequency of assessments is related to student academic achievement. This is demonstrated in the meta-analysis by Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, and Kulik (1991)…. To interpret [data from the study], assume that we are examining the learning of a particular student who is involved in a 15-week course…. If five assessments are employed, a gain in student achievement of 20 percentile points is expected. If 25 assessments are administered, a gain in student achievement of 28.5 percentile points is expected, and so on. This same phenomenon is reported by Fuchs and Fuchs (1986) in their meta-analysis of 21 controlled studies. They report that providing two assessments per week results in an effect size of 0.85 or a percentile gain of 30 points.” —Marzano, R. J., & Brown, J. L. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“At least 12 previous meta-analyses have included specific information on feedback in classrooms. These meta-analyses included 196 studies and 6,972 effect sizes. The average effect size was 0.79 (twice the average effect). To place this average of 0.79 into perspective, it fell in the top 5 to 10 highest influences on achievement in Hattie’s (1999) synthesis.” —Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007, March). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 88–112.
Grading + Reporting
6. 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.
7. Academic grades communicate learning progress and achievement to students and families, and grades are used to facilitate and improve the learning process.
8. Students are given multiple opportunities to improve their work when they fail to meet expected standards.
“Although grades have served as a common and important measure for assessing students, grades have lacked a uniform or standard meaning. According to a wide array of research, secondary teachers relied on a variety of factors to determine students’ grades (Brookhart, 1993; Cross & Frary, 1999; Guskey, 2009; McMillan, 2001; Stiggins, Frisbie, & Griswold, 1989). For example, teachers utilized assessment of processes such as effort, behavior, class participation, homework completion, ability level, and growth (Brookhart, 1993; Cross & Frary, 1999; Guskey, 2009). Cizek, Fitzgerald, and Rachor (1996) observed, ‘It seems that classroom assessment practices may be a weak link in the drive toward improving American education’ (p. 162). From both the importance and subjectivity of grades emerged a movement in secondary education to grade students solely on achievement in key academic standards within a curriculum (Guskey, 2009; Marzano, 2010).” —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“To make systemic change within secondary education, measurement researchers stated that grades need to be based solely on levels of achievement within a class (Allen, 2005; Cross & Frary, 1999; Guskey, 2009). The vast majority of prior research on grading in secondary education indicated that most teachers do not focus grading on achievement. Brookhart (1991) initially described the grading process in secondary schools as a ‘hodgepodge of attitude, effort, and achievement’ (p. 36). Most of these research studies involved surveying teachers on the various factors that they take into account when giving a student a grade in their class. For instance, Brookhart (1993) found that 84 surveyed teachers used the image of grades as currency to encourage student effort, participation, and appropriate behavior within the classroom. Cross and Frary (1999) further explored Brookhart’s findings of the variety of factors used in the grading of secondary students. On the basis of their survey of 307 teachers, the researchers confirmed teachers’ use of many non-achievement factors in grading students when they concluded: ‘Because of the importance placed on academic grades at the secondary level, either for educational or occupational decisions, grades should communicate as objectively as possible the levels of educational attainment in the subject. To encourage anything less, in our opinion, is to distort the meaning of grades as measures of academic achievement, at a time when the need for clarity of meaning is greatest.’” (Cross & Frary, 1999, p. 56). —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“McMillan and Nash (2000) further investigated the influences on teacher decision-making with respect to grading and the justification that teachers gave when assigning grades. The authors surveyed 700 teachers and then interviewed a sample of these teachers. From the teacher responses, the researchers identified various classroom factors involved in grading. Although achievement, as defined by student understanding, was one of the primary categories, several other categories emerged. Such categories included the teachers’ philosophy of teaching and learning, their desire to ‘pull for students,’ their accommodations for individual differences among students, and finally student engagement and motivation. Supporting Brookhart’s (1991) assertions, McMillan and Nash (2000) concluded that teachers used grades as the main tool to encourage and monitor student engagement. Although teachers verbalized the need to measure student achievement through grading, ‘most teachers used a variety of assessments . . . including homework, quizzes, tests, performance assessments and participation’” (McMillan & Nash, 2000, p. 26). —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“To better understand and explore the various factors used in grading, McMillan (2001) surveyed 1,483 teachers and identified four distinct factors most often seen in secondary grading practices. These factors included academic achievement, external benchmarks, academic enablers, and extra credit. In addition, McMillan discovered that teachers assessed higher-ability students in a motivating and engaging environment by measuring higher cognitive skills, while the same teachers gave lower-ability students more rote learning assessments, more extra credit, and less emphasis on academic achievement. Discovery of such differential grading suggested that grading practices in secondary schools maintained or possibly increased achievement gaps between student subgroups. Whereas teachers graded higher-ability students based upon achievement, they graded many at-risk students utilizing a wider range of factors. This wider range of factors potentially inflated students’ grades, making them less valid indicators of standards’ achievement, which subsequently obscured the students’ needs for additional instruction, practice, or remediation.” —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“The results of the survey research of secondary teachers’ grading practices exhibited that teachers used a variety of factors to grade students. Student achievement emerged as only one of the factors used by teachers to assess student work. Therefore, grades are not necessarily a valid measure of students’ level of achievement in secondary education. Despite this lack of validity, educators utilize grades to make critical decisions about students’ future, such as entry into elite clubs and organizations, access to scholarships, and admissions into college. If grades measure several factors, including a student’s ability to navigate the social processes of school, and not just academic achievement, the validity of grades becomes a major concern in American education. For grades to be a valid measure of student achievement, teachers must assess students on their achievement based on required curriculum standards.” —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“Conley (2000) first examined the relationship between grades teachers give their students and proficiency scores given to the same students by external raters. Conley found little correlation between teachers’ grading system and student proficiency. He specifically noted that students judged proficient through an analysis of their work by external raters were not necessarily the students with high grades. ‘The stepwise regression analysis examines teacher grading systems and student proficiency scores and found very little relationship between the grading system a teacher used and whether or not a student was proficient’ (Conley, 2000, p. 18). Conley surmised that the low correlation suggested that separate constructs besides standards-based achievement were used in grading. Specifically, he noted that homework in mathematics classes and in-class assignments in English classes comprised a significant portion of a student’s grade, although these assignments might not measure proficiency on mandated standards.” —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“This relationship between test scores and grades was the topic of several research studies over the past decade. Lekholm and Cliffordson (2008) studied the grades of nearly 100,000 students from Sweden and their association with students’ scores on national tests. Although results from their analysis indicated that the greatest variance in grades came from actual achievement levels in the subject area, other factors outside of achievement influenced the grades given to students. One of the most significant findings of their research revealed that schools with students from lower socio-economic levels assigned grades that were higher than the students’ standardized test scores. Therefore, the at-risk students in these schools evince a lower correlation between grades and test scores.” —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“Two other studies examined the correlation between grades and standardized tests, as well as the differences in the association between grades and test scores for minority, low socio-economic, and non-minority students. Brennan, Kim, Wenz-Gross, and Sipperstein (2001) and Haptonstall (2010) discovered modest correlations between teacher-assigned grades and standardized state assessments. However, both studies found a lower correlation between grades and standardized test scores for minority students, English language learners, and low socio-economic students than their counterparts. The findings suggested not only that grades did not strongly correlate with achievement scores on standardized tests, but that minority students and low socio-economic students were possibly given higher grades than their achievement levels warranted.” —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“Together, the findings of Brennan et al. (2001), Haptonstall (2010), Lekholm and Cliffordson (2008), and McMillan (2001) supported a theory of grade inflation with minority and disadvantaged students. As a result of teachers including factors such as effort, behavior, and attendance, minority and disadvantaged students earned grades that overestimated academic attainment. According to Brennan et al. (2001) and Haptonstall (2010), the practice of grading at-risk students on factors other than achievement level supports the existence of a significant achievement gap between minority students and their White counterparts. Despite intense focus on the elimination of the achievement gap in American secondary schools, few education leaders have examined grading policies as a potential source of the problem.” —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“The researchers analyzed descriptive statistics of student grades and test scores to determine the percentage of students who received an above average grade in their mathematics or science course (A/B) and also scored proficient or distinguished on the corresponding KCCT [Kentucky Core Content Test] test. If students’ grades were a valid indicator of their learning subject content, then students who scored an A or a B in their content class should have scored proficient or above on the state accountability assessment. With the students who experienced traditional grading methods, in both mathematics and science, this assumption did not prove true. In the non-PP Math cohort, 466 students (40%) received an A or a B in their Algebra 2 class, yet only 26% of them scored a proficient or distinguished on the 2010 KCCT mathematics assessment. Within the PP Science group, 514 students (40%) received an A or a B in their science class, of which 28% scored a proficient or distinguished on the 2011 KCCT science assessment. Within two traditional grading cohorts, success in the classroom as defined by grades did not translate into success on the KCCT assessment. For students who experienced standards-based grading in PP Math, 568 (45%) received an A or a B in their Algebra 2 class, with 55% of them scoring proficient or distinguished on the 2011 KCCT mathematics assessment. When teachers utilized standards-based grading methods, not only did the number of As and Bs increase, but the rate of passing the state assessment among students who earned these grades approximately doubled as compared to the two traditional grading cohorts.” —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“[T]he results of this research study indicated that the use of standards-based grading with PP classrooms increased the association between grades and standardized test scores among students within the 11 high schools that implemented the program. Students who were more successful in the content class that used standards-based grading were more likely to score proficient on the KCCT assessment than students evaluated on traditional grading practices. The most significant finding to refute traditional grading methods derived from the 75% of students who received above average traditional grades in their specific content class, yet scored below proficient on the corresponding KCCT assessment. When evaluated by standards-based grading, nearly twice as many students scored proficient when successful in their core content class. These findings provided strong evidence to suggest that standards-based grading approaches should be central to an educational reform movement.” —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November). The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“Our evidence from this study suggests that student performance on standardized tests is associated with the use of standards-based grading. As part of PP, nearly twice as many students scored proficient on the mathematics assessment when they experienced standards-based grading in their Algebra 2 class. Furthermore, correlations between the grades and standardized test scores of minority and disadvantaged students were greater in standards-based grading classrooms than in traditional grading classrooms. As suggested by prior researchers, standards-based grading practices might be a necessary, but insufficient initiative to reduce the achievement gap in American education (Brennan et al., 2001; Haptonstall, 2010; Lekholm & Cliffordson, 2008; McMillan, 2001).” —Pollio, M. & Hochbein, C. (2015, November) The association between standards-based grading and standardized test scores as an element of a high school reform model. Teachers College Record, 117(11).
“Decades of research point to indisputable evidence that grading penalties are far less effective than feedback and personalized learning. Responsive teaching has always reacted to the needs of learners over the agendas of teachers: it is less about delivering a grade than about delivering timely, accurate, and specific feedback (Reeves, 2010).” —Duek, M. (2014). Grading smarter, not harder: Assessment strategies that motivate kids and help them learn. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Unfortunately, many educators have fallen into the trap of believing that punitive grading should be the chief consequence for poor decisions and negative behaviors. These teachers continue to argue that grading as punishment works, despite over 100 years of overwhelming research that suggests it does not (Guskey, 2011; Reeves, 2010). Just because a student does her homework doesn’t mean that she did so to avoid a grading penalty. As Guskey’s (2011) extensive research shows, students do not perform better when they know that ‘it counts.’” —Duek, M. (2014). Grading smarter, not harder: Assessment strategies that motivate kids and help them learn. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“In order for students to move ahead to more difficult standards when they achieve proficiency with current standards (as in an authentic standards-based grading system), educators need to assign grades that clearly communicate students’ current levels of performance for the standards they are working on. To achieve this type of feedback, grades must be based solely on students’ current levels of performance with specific standards. Unfortunately, many grading practices currently used in the United States base grades on an assortment of additional factors beyond academic performance, such as a student’s level of effort, innate aptitude, rule compliance, attendance, social behaviors, attitudes, or other nonachievement measures (Friedman & Frisbie, 2000; Ornstein, 1995). Including these measures in students’ grades creates systems in which ‘grades are so imprecise that they are almost meaningless’ (Marzano, 2000, p. 1). Genuine standards-based grading practices separate what students know and can do from how they behave and other nonachievement measures. Thus, while there are many ways that schools can improve student achievement, changing grading practices may be the most expedient way to address multiple issues at once.” —Heflebower, T., Hoegh, J. K., & Warrick, P. (2014). A school leader’s guide to standards-based grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.
“Douglas Reeves (2008) stated, ‘If you wanted to make just one change that would immediately reduce student failure rates, then the most effective place to start would be challenging prevailing grading practices.’ The most effective grading practices provide accurate, specific, and timely feedback designed to improve student performance (Marzano, 2000, 2007; O’Connor, 2007). Rick Wormeli (2006) explained what a grade ought to be: A grade is supposed to provide an accurate, undiluted indicator of a student’s mastery of learning standards. That’s it. It is not meant to be a part of a reward, motivation, or behavioral contract system. If the grade is distorted by weaving in a student’s personal behavior, character, and work habits, it cannot be used to successfully provide feedback, document progress, or inform our instructional decisions regarding that student—the three primary reasons we grade. Unfortunately, many grades do not fit this description.”—Heflebower, T., Hoegh, J. K., & Warrick, P. (2014). A school leader’s guide to standards-based grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.
“More than a third of all teachers believe that grades can serve as a meaningful pun- ishment, despite extensive evidence showing this is not the case (Canady & Hotchkiss, 1989). David Conley (2000) found little relationship between the grade a teacher gave and whether or not a student was proficient. Multiple studies have shown that teachers who teach the same subject or course at the same grade level within the same school often consider drastically different criteria in assigning grades to students’ performance (Cizek, Fitzgerald, & Rachor, 1995; McMillan, Myran, & Workman, 2002). Reeves (2008) stated: Three commonly used grading policies . . . are so ineffective they can be labeled as toxic. First is the use of zeroes for missing work. . . . Second is the practice of using the average of all scores throughout the semester. . . . Third is the use of the ‘semester killer’—the single project, test, lab, paper, or other assignment that will make or break students.” —Heflebower, T., Hoegh, J. K., & Warrick, P. (2014). A school leader’s guide to standards-based grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.
“These practices create inconsistencies in assigning grades that would likely never be tolerated in other venues, such as sports or medicine. Reeves (2008) added, ‘The same school leaders and community members who would be indignant if sports referees were inconsistent in their rulings continue to tolerate inconsistencies that have devastating effects on student achievement.’ Thomas Guskey (2011) compared the current practice of combining multiple measures into overall omnibus grades to combining unrelated health measures into a single score: If someone proposed combining measures of height, weight, diet, and exercise into a single number or mark to represent a person’s physical condition, we would consider it laughable. How could the combination of such diverse measures yield anything meaningful? Yet every day, teachers combine aspects of students’ achievement, attitude, responsibility, effort, and behavior into a single grade that’s recorded on a report card—and no one questions it.” —Heflebower, T., Hoegh, J. K., & Warrick, P. (2014). A school leader’s guide to standards-based grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.
“Andy Fleenor, Sarah Lamb, Jennifer Anton, Todd Stinson, and Tony Donen (2011) described grades as a game and explained that, sometimes, the best grades simply go to the students who do the most work: Quantity should not trump quality. Grades should be based on what students know and can do, rather than on how much work they can (and will) complete. Students should receive regular and specific feedback about what they know and don’t know. Offering regular, specific feedback and grading that are based on learning and not behavior will have an immediate positive impact on your school. It will redefine students’ role in the learning process, completely alter communication patterns with students and parents, and ultimately will improve performance top to bottom. As Fleenor and his colleagues pointed out, resolving grading-system problems can have positive impacts throughout an educational system.” —Heflebower, T., Hoegh, J. K., & Warrick, P. (2014). A school leader’s guide to standards-based grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.
“Grades should provide feedback to students, document their progress, and help teach- ers make decisions about what instruction a student needs next (Wormeli, 2006). When grades fulfill these goals, the effects on a school or district can be significant. Reeves (2011) found that effective grading policies reduced student failures, leading to a cascade of unexpected benefits: reduced discipline problems, increased college credits, more elective courses, improved teacher morale, fewer hours of board of education time diverted to suspensions and expulsions, and added revenues for the entire system based on a higher number of students continually enrolled in school.“ —Heflebower, T., Hoegh, J. K., & Warrick, P. (2014). A school leader’s guide to standards-based grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.
“[M]odern grading practices are rife with complexity and contradiction. They are remnants of archaic conventions, and hybrids of newer methodologies not yet tried by time and application. They are student or teacher oriented, inaccessibly rigid or unhelpfully absent of structure and definition. Amid these distinctions, points-based grading reveals itself as an objective failure, insufficient in meeting the needs of any student focused on attaining a comprehensive, impactful education, and any teacher concerned with identifying and meeting the needs of his or her students. The most effective teaching and grading methodologies refrain from extremes, combining useful features from a number of partially successful practices, in order to create a premium system of education capable of adapting to the requirements of those who use it. Standards-based grading emerges from the study of these methodologies as a system worth advocating; neither intransigent nor unstructured, it accommodates different learning styles, sets attainable goals, and provides teachers with the opportunity to meet students wherever they are in the process of achieving those goals. Perhaps most importantly, standards-based grading separates and elevates the advent of learning from points and numbers in a gradebook, lending new inspiration to the ages-old pursuit of education.” —Iamarino, D. L. (2014, May). The benefits of standards-based grading: A critical evaluation of modern grading practices. Current Issues in Education, 17(2), 1–12.
“There are certainly many things that inspired teachers do not do; they do not use grading as punishment; they do not conflate behavioral and academic performance; they do not elevate quiet compliance over academic work; they do not excessively use worksheets; they do not have low expectations and keep defending low-quality learning as ‘doing your best’; they do not evaluate their impact by compliance, covering the curriculum, or conceiving explanations as to why they have little or no impact on their students; and they do not prefer perfection in homework over risk-taking that involves mistakes.” —Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. London: Routledge. (NOTE: Visible Learning for Teachers is based on more than 900 meta-analyses, representing well over 50,000 research articles, 150,000 effect sizes, and 240 million students.)
“Standards-based grading and reporting have been topics of discussion for years, primarily because of the current system’s shortcomings (Brookhart & Nitko, 2008; Guskey & Bailey, 2001; Reeves, 2011). In the traditional system, students acquire points for various activities, assignments, and behaviors, which accrue throughout a grading period. The teacher adds up the points and assigns a letter grade. A variation on this theme is to keep track of percentage scores across various categories of performance and behavior and then translate the average percentage score into a letter grade or simply report the average percentage score (for example, 62.9 percent). These practices provide little useful information about a specific student. A student might have received an overall or ‘omnibus’ letter grade of B, not because he had a solid grasp of the target content, but because he was exceptionally well behaved in class, participated in all discussions, and turned in all assignments on time. Likewise, a student may have received a percentage score of 62.9, not because she displayed significant gaps in understanding regarding the target content, but because she received a zero for tardiness on assignments or for disruptive behavior. In addition to this lack of specificity, one teacher’s criteria for assigning a letter grade of A, for example, might be equivalent to another teacher’s criteria for assigning a letter grade of B, or even lower. In an effort to cure the ills of current grading and reporting systems, many schools and districts across the United States have attempted to implement a standards-based system.” —Marzano, R. J., & Heflebower, T. (2011, November). Grades that show what students know. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 34–39.
“Although educators would prefer that motivation to learn be entirely intrinsic, evidence indicates that grades and other reporting methods affect student motivation and the effort students put forth (Cameron & Pierce, 1996). Studies show that most students view high grades as positive recognition of their success, and some work hard to avoid the consequences of low grades (Haladyna, 1999). At the same time, no research supports the idea that low grades prompt students to try harder. More often, low grades prompt students to withdraw from learning. To protect their self-images, many students regard the low grade as irrelevant or meaningless. Others may blame themselves for the low grade but feel helpless to improve (Selby & Murphy, 1992).” —Guskey, T. R. (2011, November). Five obstacles to grading reform. Educational Leadership, 69(3), p.16–21.
“In determining students’ grades, teachers typically merge scores from major exams, compositions, quizzes, projects, and reports, along with evidence from homework, punctuality in turning in assignments, class participation, work habits, and effort. Computerized grading programs help teachers apply different weights to each of these categories (Guskey, 2002a) that then are combined in idiosyncratic ways (see McMillan, 2001; McMillan, Myran, & Workman, 2002). The result is a ‘hodgepodge grade’ that is just as confounded and impossible to interpret as a ‘physical condition’ grade that combined height, weight, diet, and exercise would be (Brookhart & Nitko, 2008; Cross & Frary, 1996). Recognizing that merging these diverse sources of evidence distorts the meaning of any grade, educators in many parts of the world today assign multiple grades. This idea provides the foundation for standards-based approaches to grading. In particular, educators distinguish product, process, and progress learning criteria (Guskey & Bailey, 2010).” —Guskey, T. R. (2011, November). Five obstacles to grading reform. Educational Leadership, 69(3), p.16–21.
“Reporting separate grades for product, process, and progress criteria also makes grading more meaningful. Grades for academic achievement reflect precisely that—academic achievement—and not some confusing amalgamation that’s impossible to interpret and that rarely presents a true picture of students’ proficiency (Guskey, 2002a). Teachers also indicate that students take homework more seriously when it’s reported separately. Parents favor the practice because it provides a more comprehensive profile of their child’s performance in school (Guskey, Swan, & Jung, 2011b).” —Guskey, T. R. (2011, November). Five obstacles to grading reform. Educational Leadership, 69(3), p.16–21.
“Grades based on students’ standing among classmates tell us nothing about how well students have learned. In such a system, all students might have performed miserably, but some simply performed less miserably than others. In addition, basing grades on students’ standing among classmates makes learning highly competitive. Students must compete with one another for the few scarce rewards (high grades) to be awarded by teachers. Doing well does not mean learning excellently; it means outdoing your classmates. Such competition damages relationships in school (Krumboltz & Yeh, 1996). Students are discouraged from cooperating or helping one another because doing so might hurt the helper’s chance at success. Similarly, teachers may refrain from helping individual students because some students might construe this as showing favoritism and biasing the competition (Gray, 1993).” —Guskey, T. R. (2011, November). Five obstacles to grading reform. Educational Leadership, 69(3), p.16–21.
“We know that averaging grades falsifies grade reports (Marzano, 2000; O’Connor, 2009, 2010; Reeves, 2010; Wormeli, 2006). Henry receives an F on the first test but then learns the material and receives an A on a new assessment of the same material; unfortunately, the average of these two, a C, is recorded in the grade book. This is not an accurate report of Henry’s newfound proficiency in the topic. If we trust the new test as a valid indicator of mastery, Henry’s earlier performance is irrelevant. Although this example uses two grading extremes (A and F), averaging grades, no matter the distance between the two or more scores, decreases accuracy. Looking at the most consistent levels of performance over time makes for a more accurate report of what students truly know, and it provides higher correlations with testing done outside the classroom (Bailey & Guskey, 2001; Marzano, 2000; Reeves, 2010). It’s unethical and inaccurate to include in a grade digressions in performance that occur during the learning process, when a grade is supposed to report students’ mastery at the end of that process. It’s also inaccurate to rely solely on single-sitting assessments for the most accurate report of what students know and can do. Instead, we look for evidence over time.” —O’Connor, K., & Wormeli, R. (2011, November). Reporting student learning. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 40–44.
“Schools have used grades for a variety of purposes: communication, self-evaluation, sorting and selecting, motivation, and program evaluation (Guskey, 1996)—and therein lies the problem. Some teachers emphasize one purpose, and some emphasize another. Consequently, they use different criteria for determining grades, which can result in students who achieve at the same level receiving different grades. To achieve consistency, schools and districts must achieve consensus about the primary purpose of grades and then publish a purpose statement that is available to all. Our premise here is that ‘the primary purpose of…grades [is] to communicate student achievement to students, parents, school administrators, postsecondary institutions, and employers’ (Bailey & McTighe, 1996, p. 120).” —O’Connor, K., & Wormeli, R. (2011, November). Reporting student learning. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 40–44.
“According to Carifio and Carey (2009), ‘Many schools lack a coherent and uniform grading policy, resulting in extensive variations in student assessment from teacher to teacher, and even between students taking the same course with the same teacher.’ It’s therefore crucial that all schools and districts have public, published policies and procedures that all teachers are expected to follow and for which they can be held accountable if students, parents, or administrators identify concerns with their grading practices.” —O’Connor, K., & Wormeli, R. (2011, November). Reporting student learning. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 40–44.
“In choosing an appropriate reporting form based on purpose, educators must seek a balance between detail and practicality. A standards-based report card should present a comprehensive picture of students’ academic strengths and challenges. It also might include space to record students’ self evaluations, depending on the defined purpose. But regardless of the form, a standards-based report card should be compact and understandable and should not require inordinate time for teachers to prepare or for parents to interpret (Linn & Gronlund, 2000).… [R]eport cards consisting of multiple pages with long lists of skills and multiple categories of information are not only terribly time consuming for teachers to complete, they typically overwhelm parents with information they do not know how to use. More often than not, such report cards simply overwhelm parents.” —Guskey, T., & Baily, J. M. (2010). Developing standards-based report cards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
“A practical solution to the problems associated with these different learning goals, and one used by increasing numbers of teachers and schools as they develop standards-based report cards, is to report separate grades or marks to each. In this way, the habits, efforts, or learning progress are kept distinct from those representing assessments of achievement and performance (Guskey, 2002b, 2006c; Stiggins, 2008b). The intent is to provide a more accurate and more comprehensive picture of what students accomplish in school.” —Guskey, T., & Baily, J. M. (2010). Developing standards-based report cards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
“While teachers and schools in the United States are just beginning to catch on to the idea of separate grades for product, process, and progress goals, many Canadian educators have used the practice for years (Bailey & McTighe, 1996). Each marking periods, they assign as ‘achievement’ grade to students based on their performance on projects, assessments, compositions, and other demonstrations of learning. This achievement grade represents the teacher’s judgment of students’ levels of performance or accomplishment relative to explicit product goals or standards established for the subject area of course. Decisions about promotion, as well as calculations of grade point averages and class ranks at the high school level, are based solely on these achievement or product grades.” —Guskey, T., & Baily, J. M. (2010). Developing standards-based report cards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
“Pulling out the nonacademic factors from grades based on product goals also will likely improve the relationship between grades and the scores students attain on large-scale assessments (Conley, 2000; D’Agostino & Welsh, 2007; Welsh & D’Agostino, 2009; Willingham, Pollack, & Lewis, 2002).” —Guskey, T., & Baily, J. M. (2010). Developing standards-based report cards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
“Because of concerns about student motivation, self-esteem, and the social consequences of grading and reporting, most teachers base their grading procedures on some combination of [product, process, and progress] learning goals (Brookhart, 1993; Frary, Cross & Weber, 1993; Friedman and Manley, 1992; Nava & Loyd, 1992; Stiggins, Frisbie & Griswold, 1989). In many cases, they combine elements of product, process, and progress into a single grade or mark. Evidence indicates that teachers also vary the goals they consider from student to students, taking into account individual circumstances (Burstuck et al., 1996; Natriello, Riehl & Pallas, 1994; Truong & Friedman, 1996). Although they do this in an effort to be fair, the result is a ‘hodgepodge grade’ that includes components of achievement, effort, and improvement (Brookhart, 1991; Cross & Frary, 1996). Interpreting the grade or report card thus becomes extraordinarily difficult, not only for parents but also for administrators, community members, and even the students themselves (Friedman & Frisbie, 1995; Waltman & Frisbie, 1994).” —Guskey, T., & Baily, J. M. (2010). Developing standards-based report cards. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
“It is essential to be clear about the primary purpose of grades, which is to communicate students’ achievement of learning goals. As Brookhart (2004) noted, grades have a secondary purpose that includes providing teachers with information for instructional planning and providing teachers, administrators, parents, and students with information for placement of students. She also noted that the main difficulty driving grading issues is that grades serve a variety of conflicting purposes. Bailey and McTighe (1996) agreed that the primary purpose of grades is to communicate student achievement to students, parents, school administrators, postsecondary institutions, and employers.” —O’Connor, K. (2009, January). Reforming grading practices in secondary schools. Principal’s Research Review, 4(1), 1–7.
“‘Grades typically carry little meaning because they reduce a great deal of information to a single letter’ (Atkin et al., 2001, p. 64). As Trumbull and Farr noted in standards-based systems, assessments often ‘employ scoring systems that rate students on different aspects of performance. If writing is evaluated according to sub-domains like ‘content/ideas,’ ‘cohesion/structure,’ and ‘mechanics,’ then to reduce scores on these three scales to a single grade is to obscure important performance differences’ (Trumbull & Farr, p. 29).” —O’Connor, K. (2009, January). Reforming grading practices in secondary schools. Principal’s Research Review, 4(1), 1–7.
“Most teachers have combined achievement with behavior to varying extents in determining grades because they believe it demonstrates what they value and will motivate students to exhibit those behaviors. McMillan (2001) noted that ‘the findings from this study, along with other results from other studies, show that this practice is still pervasive’ (p. 30). Gathercoal (2004) noted that ‘due to the excessive entanglement between achievement and behavior, achievement grades are often misinterpreted’ (p. 153).” —O’Connor, K. (2009, January). Reforming grading practices in secondary schools. Principal’s Research Review, 4(1), 1–7.
“Guskey (2009) noted, ‘no studies support the use of low grades as punishment. Instead of prompting greater effort, low grades more often cause students to withdraw from learning’ (p. 14). Motivation is enhanced when students are provided accurate information about achievement, have clear learning goals, and study in an environment that supports learning by not including diagnostic and formative assessment in grades and by being positive and supportive, not negative or punitive.” —O’Connor, K. (2009, January). Reforming grading practices in secondary schools. Principal’s Research Review, 4(1), 1–7.
“If you wanted to make just one change that would immediately reduce student failure rates, then the most effective place to start would be challenging prevailing grading practices. How can I be so sure? Try this experiment in your next faculty meeting. Ask your colleagues to calculate the final grade for a student who receives the following 10 grades during a semester: C, C, MA (Missing Assignment), D, C, B, MA, MA, B, A. I have done this experiment with thousands of teachers and administrators in the United States, Canada, and Argentina. Every time—bar none—I get the same results: The final grades range from F to A and include everything in between. As this experiment demonstrates, the difference between failure and the honor roll often depends on the grading policies of the teacher. To reduce the failure rate, schools don’t need a new curriculum, a new principal, new teachers, or new technology. They just need a better grading system.” —Reeves, Douglas B. (2008, February). Leading to change: Effective grading practices. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 85–87.
“[T]he most effective grading practices provide accurate, specific, timely feedback designed to improve student performance (Marzano 2000, 2007; O’Connor, 2007). In the best classrooms, grades are only one of many types of feedback provided to students. Music teachers and athletic coaches routinely provide abundant feedback to students and only occasionally associate a grade with the feedback. Teachers in visual arts, drafting, culinary arts, or computer programming allow students to create a portfolio to show their best work, knowing that the mistakes made in the course of the semester were not failures, but lessons learned on the way to success. In each of these cases, ‘failures’ along the way are not averaged into a calculation of the final grade. Contrast these effective practices with three commonly used grading policies that are so ineffective they can be labeled as toxic. First is the use of zeroes for missing work. Despite evidence that grading as punishment does not work (Guskey, 2000) and the mathematical flaw in the use of the zero on a 100-point scale (Reeves, 2004), many teachers routinely maintain this policy in the mistaken belief that it will lead to improved student performance. Defenders of the zero claim that students need to have consequences for flouting the teacher’s authority and failing to turn in work on time. They’re right, but the appropriate consequence is not a zero; it’s completing the work.” —Reeves, Douglas B. (2008, February). Leading to change: Effective grading practices. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 85–87.
“A grade is supposed to provide an accurate, undiluted indicator of a student’s mastery of learning standards. That’s it. It is not meant to be a part of a reward, motivation, or behavioral contract system. If the grade is distorted by weaving in a student’s personal behavior, character, and work habits, it cannot be used to successfully provide feedback, document progress, or inform our instructional decisions regarding that student—the three primary reasons we grade. A student who is truly performing at the highest instructional levels with the highest marks, even though it took him longer to achieve those levels—for whatever reason—is not served by labeling him with false, lower marks and treating him as if he operates at the lower instructional levels just because it took him a little longer to get to the same standard of excellence. All decisions and responses based on such marks would be false and ineffective. He’s achieved excellence, and his digressions should not be held against him. Otherwise the grade is an inaccurate portrayal.” —Wormeli, R. (2006, Summer). Accountability: Teaching through assessment and feedback, not grading. American Secondary Education, 34(3), 14–27.
10. Students are given opportunities to make important decisions about their learning, which includes contributing to the design of learning experiences and learning pathways.
“For more than two decades, researchers have attempted to identify and define the characteristics of learners who are successful in school and prepared for success after high school. Costa and Kallick (2000, 2008) laid early groundwork for this discussion by defining habits of mind in terms of a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems to which the answers are not immediately evident. In doing so, they identified 16 patterns of intellectual behavior, including many that have regularly recurred in subsequent research, standards, and discussions of college and career readiness; these include, among others, persisting, questioning, striving for accuracy, using precise language and thinking, applying the past to new situations, creating, and metacognition. In 2011, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills argued that ensuring student success in college and careers requires the integration of four essential skills into the core academic subjects: critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation (p. 2). A research report by Casner-Lotto and Barrington (2006) ranked six key skills that employers identify as crucial to success in the workplace: critical thinking and problem solving was iden- tified as the most important, while the other five were information technology application, teamwork and collaboration, creativity and innovation, diversity, and leadership. In the more recent literature, terms such as soft skills (Adams, 2012), developmental college and career readiness skills (Savitz-Romer & Bouffard, 2012), cognitive strategies and academic behaviors (Conley, 2007), non-cognitive factors (Farrington, Roderick, Allensworth, Nagaoka, Keyes, Johnson, & Beechum, 2012), and non-academic skills (Sparks, 2010) have emerged through the attempt to expand our understanding of college and career readiness beyond academic standards.” —Hess, K., Gong, B., & Steinitz, R. (2014). Ready for college and career? Achieving the Common Core Standards and beyond through deeper, student-centered learning. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
“Metacognitive skills are more abstract than organizational skills, but equally important. Students with a grasp of metacognition can reflect on their own learning, develop identities as learners, and frame their own learning and career goals. Because traditional curriculums do not typically include metacognitive activities, many students do not learn how to capitalize on their learning or develop self-efficacy (Savitz-Romer & Bouffard, 2012). Educators can develop metacognitive skills through carefully-planned activities such as reflective writing, learning portfolios, and conferencing with adults, peers, and outside mentors.” —Hess, K., Gong, B., & Steinitz, R. (2014). Ready for college and career? Achieving the Common Core Standards and beyond through deeper, student-centered learning. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
“The most abstract intrapersonal disposition in this skill set is academic perseverance. Although some researchers caution that more research is needed to determine the causal relationship between perseverance and performance (Farrington, et al. 2012), several studies of motivation and perseverance suggest that grit, defined by researchers as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, may be a better predictor of college and career success than either IQ or test scores (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). People with grit work strenuously towards challenges, maintaining effort and interest over time, whatever the adversities they face. Because vague extrinsic goals, such as getting a college degree or high-paying job, can rarely sustain learners in the long run, perseverance depends on intrinsic motivation, which gives individuals the stamina to reach personal long-term goals (Duckworth, et al.).” —Hess, K., Gong, B., & Steinitz, R. (2014). Ready for college and career? Achieving the Common Core Standards and beyond through deeper, student-centered learning. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
“Deeper learning happens when students must regularly transfer and construct new knowledge through disciplined inquiry. The second phase of curriculum redesign entails systematically embedding increasingly challenging learning tasks at all grade levels. These may take the form of multi-faceted projects or extended performance tasks, but they should force students to think critically and creatively about content and give them time to do so. Useful resources for designing and evaluating such tasks include: Newmann, King, and Carmichael’s (2007) framework for authentic intellectual work; various models for examining the demands of cognitive rigor (Hess, Carlock, Jones, & Walkup, 2009; Paige, Sizemore, & Neace, 2013); and research-based learning progressions that outline how individuals develop content expertise over time and how to design tasks that reflect that development (Bechard, Hess, Camacho, Russell, & Thomas, 2012; Corcoran, Mosher, & Rogat, 2009; Daro, Mosher, & Corcoran, 2011; Duschl, Schweingruber, & Shouse, 2007; Hess, 2010; Hess, 2011; Hill, 2001; Masters & Forster, 1996; NRC, 2012b; Wilson & Bertenthal, 2005).” —Hess, K., Gong, B., & Steinitz, R. (2014). Ready for college and career? Achieving the Common Core Standards and beyond through deeper, student-centered learning. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
“When students have strong self-efficacy (belief in their ability to learn and perform well) and high expectations for success, they are more likely to persevere in the face of challenge (e.g., Bandura, 1997; Schunk & Pajares, 2009). These beliefs can be stronger predictors of success than measured levels of actual ability and prior performance.” —Shechtman, N., DeBarger, A. H., Dornsife, C., Rosier, S., & Yarnall, L. (2013). Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
“Beliefs about ability and expectations for success can be fragile, especially when students face a new challenge they have never encountered before. Research by Dweck and colleagues points to the importance of a ‘growth mindset,’ the belief that ability is malleable and can be increased with effort and learning (Dweck & Leggett, 1988). This is contrasted with a ‘fixed mindset,’ the belief that ability is a fixed quantity that one either possesses or does not. When faced with academic tasks that are routine and do not entail challenge, students with fixed and growth mindsets tend to exert similar effort. However, when tasks become challenging, students with growth mindsets are more likely to persist. Studies have also shown that these mindsets themselves can be malleable and that, when students are taught to have a growth mindset, they are more successful academically (Blackwell et al., 2007).” —Shechtman, N., DeBarger, A. H., Dornsife, C., Rosier, S., & Yarnall, L. (2013). Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
“Part of developing resilience in the face of challenge is understanding that challenges are inevitable and not an indication of personal failure. A theme that came up in some of our interviews is that many students, both higher and lower achieving, experience a breakdown when they encountered some of the inevitable challenges of schooling—such as increasing difficulty and abstractness of concepts, and decreasing structure in the middle grades, and need for new strategies for success. Intervention studies have shown that students can be taught to attribute challenge to external factors that are ‘bumps in the road’ rather than limitations in their own level of ability (e.g., Wilson & Linville, 1985; Walton & Cohen, 2007; Cohen et al., 1999).” —Shechtman, N., DeBarger, A. H., Dornsife, C., Rosier, S., & Yarnall, L. (2013). Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
“There is an extensive body of research showing that students will persevere more in the face of challenge when tasks have value for them—they find them interesting or see them as serving short- or long-term goals that are important to them. Students may need support in knowing how to connect the dots between the work they are doing and the purposes it may serve in their lives, or support in discovering and fostering interests.” —Shechtman, N., DeBarger, A. H., Dornsife, C., Rosier, S., & Yarnall, L. (2013). Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
“Extensive research shows that when students feel a sense of belonging in their school and classrooms—through relationships with peers, teachers, and other adults—they are more likely to engage in schooling. Students’ sense of belonging is closely tied to their perceptions of competence and autonomy, intrinsic motivation, and willingness to adopt established norms and values (e.g., Osterman, Johnson, & Bybee, 2000). There is growing consensus that the nature and quality of students’ relationships with their teachers and peers play critical roles in engaging students to learn (Wentzel, 2009; Ladd, Herald-Brown, & Kochel, 2009). Feelings of lack of trust, respect, or fairness from teachers or alienation and rejection from peers can be a strong determinant of disengagement from school.” —Shechtman, N., DeBarger, A. H., Dornsife, C., Rosier, S., & Yarnall, L. (2013). Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
“Blackwell, Trzesniewski, and Dweck (2007) studied an intervention designed to change attributions among low-income minority seventh grade students in an urban school. At the beginning of the school year, the students took part in eight workshops on brain function and study skills, over eight weeks. Students in the experimental group were taught that the brain can get stronger when a person works on challenging tasks, while those in the control group learned only study skills. At the end of the academic year, the students in the experimental group earned significantly higher mathematics grades than those in the control group (a mean increase of 0.30 grade points), reversing the normal pattern of declining mathematics grades over the course of seventh grade. Noting that the effectiveness of interventions targeting attributions has been replicated with different student populations, Yaeger and Walton (2011) observe that these studies support the hypothesis that changes in attributions can lead to a positive, self-reinforcing cycle of improvement. Students who attribute a low grade to transitory factors, such as a temporary lack of effort, rather than to a lack of general intelligence or mathematics ability, are more motivated to work harder in their classes. This leads to improved grades, which, in turn, reinforce students’ view that they can succeed academically and make them less likely to attribute any low grades to factors beyond their control.” —Hilton, M. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
“In a recent review of the research on self-regulated learning, Wolters (2010) observes that, although there are several different models of such learning, the most prominent is that developed by Pintrich and colleagues (Pintrich 2000; 2004). In this model, learners engage in four phases of self-regulation, not necessarily in sequential order: forethought or planning (setting learning goals); monitoring (keeping track of progress in a learning activity); regulation (using, managing or changing learning strategies to achieve the learning goals; and reflection (generating new knowledge about the learning tasks or oneself as a learner).… The construct of self-regulated learning has been used to design instructional interventions that have improved academic outcomes among diverse populations of students, from early elementary school through college. These interventions have led to improvements in class grades and other measures of achievement in writing, reading, mathematics, and science (Wolters, 2010).” —Hilton, M. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
“Research on academic motivation shows that students learn more deeply when they attribute their to performance to effort rather than to ability (Graham and Williams, 2009), when they have the goal of mastering the material rather than the goal of performing well or not performing poorly (Anderman and Wolters, 2006; Maehr and Zusho, 2009), when they expect to succeed on a learning task and value the learning task (Wigfield, Tonks, and Klauda, 2009), when they have the belief that they are capable of achieving the task at hand (Schunk and Pajares, 2009; Schunk and Zimmerman, 2006), when they believe that intelligence is changeable rather than fixed (Dweck and Master, 2009), and when they are interested in the learning task (Schiefele, 2009).” —Hilton, M. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
“Studies of metacognition have shown that people who monitor their own understanding during the learning phase of an experiment show better recall performance when their memories are tested (Nelson, 1996). Similar metacognitive strategies distinguish stronger from less competent learners. Strong learners can explain which strategies they used to solve a problem and why, while less competent students monitor their own thinking sporadically and ineffectively and offer incomplete explanations (Chi et al, 1989; Chi and VanLehn, 1991). There is ample evidence that metacognition develops over the school years; for example, older children are better than younger ones at planning for tasks they are asked to do (Karmiloff-Smith, 1979). Metacognitive skills can also be taught. For example, people can learn mental devices that help them stay on task, monitor their own progress, reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and self-correct errors.” —Hilton, M. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (Eds.). (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
“Studies related to setting objectives emphasize the importance of supporting students as they self-select learning targets, self-monitor their progress, and self-assess their development (Glaser & Brunstein, 2007; Mooney, Ryan, Uhing, Reid, & Epstein, 2005). For example, in the Glaser and Brunstein study (2007), 4th grade students who received instruction in writing strategies and self-regulation strategies (e.g., goal setting, self-assessment, and strategy monitoring) were better able to use their knowledge when planning and revising a story, and they wrote stories that were more complete and of higher quality than the stories of control students and students who received only strategy instruction. In addition, they retained the level of performance they reached at the post-test over time, and when asked to recall parts of an orally presented story, the strategy plus self-regulation students scored higher on the written recall measure than did students in the other two groups.” —Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Providing opportunities for students to personalize the learning objectives identified by the teacher can increase their motivation for learning (Brophy, 2004; Morgan, 1985; Page-Voth & Graham, 1999). Students feel a greater sense of control over what they learn when they can identify how the learning is relevant to them. In addition, this practice helps students develop self-regulation (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). Students who are skilled at self-regulation are able to consciously set goals for their learning and monitor their understanding and progress as they engage in a task. They also can plan appropriately, identify and use necessary resources, respond appropriately to feedback, and evaluate the effectiveness of their actions. Acquiring these skills helps students become independent lifelong learners.” —Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Studies have shown that ‘contracts’ can have positive effects on students’ ability to set objectives for their learning (Brophy, 2004; Greenwood, 2002; Kahle & Kelly, 1994; Miller & Kelley, 1994; Tomlinson, 2001). These contracts provide students with control over their learning and provide opportunities for teachers to differentiate instruction to better accommodate students’ learning needs (Tomlinson, 1995)…. [C]ontracts can include teacher-identified or student-identified learning objectives. They can take the form of a learning plan that provides options for the kinds of activities students do on particular days and at specific times. In addition, they also provide students with guidance about what they need to accomplish, help students organize their time, and provide ongoing opportunities for students to seek or provide their own feedback.” —Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“The purpose of self-assessment is to identify areas of strength and weakness in one’s work in order to make improvements and promote learning, achievement, and self-regulation (Andrade & Valtcheva 2009). As defined by Paul Pintrich (2000), self-regulation is the tendency to monitor and manage one’s own learning. Research suggests that self-regulation and student achievement are closely related: Students who set goals, make flexible plans to meet them, and monitor their progress tend to learn more and do better in school than students who do not (Zimmerman & Schunk 2011). Self-assessment is a key element of self-regulation because it involves awareness of the goals of a task and checking one’s progress toward them. As a result of self-assessment, Dale Schunk (2003) found that both self-regulation and achievement can increase.” —Andrade, H., Huff, K., & Brooke, G. (2012). Assessing learning. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
“Classroom assessment practices such as self-assessment, peer assessment, and portfolios have the potential to not only help students learn core content knowledge and skills, but also to develop important self-regulatory habits (Allal 2010; Andrade 2010).” —Andrade, H., Huff, K., & Brooke, G. (2012). Assessing learning. Boston, MA: Jobs for the Future.
“Effective education requires the fusion of skill and will such that intrinsic interest and motivation are given at least as much attention as cognitive outcomes (Crooks, 1988). Research suggests that when students share in the assessment process, they perceive more control of, and more responsibility for, their own learning (Rieg, 2007). Allowing students to help determine the criteria by which their work is judged gives them a feeling of empowerment and makes evaluation of their work seem less punitive and more constructive (Brookhart, 1997; Rieg, 2007). In turn, the positive effects on self-efficacy and motivation are likely to promote learning and achievement. Consistent with this notion, Haydel & Roeser (2002) found that students who believe they can affect their learning through persistently engaging in the educational process score better on standardized tests.” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“Research has repeatedly demonstrated that student motivation and achievement are maximized when learning targets and standards are high but attainable (Crooks, 1988). In many instances, however, this is not possible if all students are working simultaneously on the same tasks and trying to meet the same targets (Crooks, 1988). Thus, it is also important that assessment be aligned to the needs of individual children in order that each child is appropriately challenged (Brimijoin et al., 2003). Consistent with this notion, studies have shown that student learning is enhanced when the material is taught at students’ individual readiness levels, connected with their interests, and presented according to their strongest learning styles (Crooks, 1988).” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S. & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“Research also suggests that students remember information best when it connects to their lives and when it is taught within a broader meaningful framework. This type of instruction encourages transfer of knowledge, where students extend their learning and apply it to new circumstances (Shepard, 2005). According to a study by Darling-Hammond, Rustique-Forrester, and Pecheone (2005), students in states currently using assessment systems that evaluate a full range of state standards, including higher order thinking and performance skills, show higher levels of achievement and lower dropout rates.” —lark, T., Englert, K., Frazee, D., Shebby, S., & Randel, B. (2009). Assessment: A McREL report prepared for Stupski Foundation’s Learning System. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
“Connections to experts outside of school can also have a positive influence on in-school learning because they provide opportunities for students to interact with parents and other people who take an interest in what students are doing. It can be very motivating both to students and teachers to have opportunities to share their work with others. Opportunities to prepare for these events helps teachers raise standards because the consequences go beyond mere scores on a test (e.g., Brown and Campione, 1994, 1996; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, in press b). The idea of outside audiences who present challenges (complete with deadlines) has been incorporated into a number of instructional programs (e.g., Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1997; Wiske, 1997). Working to prepare for outsiders provides motivation that helps teachers maintain student interest. In addition, teachers and students develop a better sense of community as they prepare to face a common challenge. Students are also motivated to prepare for outside audiences who do not come to the classroom but will see their projects.” —Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
“Many models of curriculum design seem to produce knowledge and skills that are disconnected rather than organized into coherent wholes. The National Research Council (1990:4) notes that ‘To the Romans, a curriculum was a rutted course that guided the path of two-wheeled chariots.’ This rutted path metaphor is an appropriate description of the curriculum for many school subjects: ‘Vast numbers of learning objectives, each associated with pedagogical strategies, serve as mile posts along the trail mapped by texts from kindergarten to twelfth grade. . . . Problems are solved not by observing and responding to the natural landscape through which the mathematics curriculum passes, but by mastering time-tested routines, conveniently placed along the path’ (National Research Council, 1990:4). An alternative to a ‘rutted path’ curriculum is one of ‘learning the landscape’ (Greeno, 1991). In this metaphor, learning is analogous to learning to live in an environment: learning your way around, learning what resources are available, and learning how to use those resources in conducting your activities productively and enjoyably (Greeno, 1991:175)…. Knowing where one is in a landscape requires a network of connections that link one’s present location to the larger space. Traditional curricula often fail to help students ‘learn their way around’ a discipline. The curricula include the familiar scope and sequence charts that specify procedural objectives to be mastered by students at each grade: though an individual objective might be reasonable, it is not seen as part of a larger network. Yet it is the network, the connections among objectives, that is important. This is the kind of knowledge that characterizes expertise. Stress on isolated parts can train students in a series of routines without educating them to understand an overall picture that will ensure the development of integrated knowledge structures and information about conditions of applicability.” —Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
“Transfer is affected by the degree to which people learn with understanding rather than merely memorize sets of facts or follow a fixed set of procedures…. Learners, especially in school settings, are often faced with tasks that do not have apparent meaning or logic (Klausmeier, 1985). It can be difficult for them to learn with understanding at the start; they may need to take time to explore underlying concepts and to generate connections to other information they possess. Attempts to cover too many topics too quickly may hinder learning and subsequent transfer because students (a) learn only isolated sets of facts that are not organized and connected or (b) are introduced to organizing principles that they cannot grasp because they lack enough specific knowledge to make them meaningful.” —Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
“Learners of all ages are more motivated when they can see the usefulness of what they are learning and when they can use that information to do something that has an impact on others—especially their local community (McCombs, 1996; Pintrich and Schunk, 1996). Sixth graders in an inner-city school were asked to explain the highlights of their previous year in fifth grade to an anonymous interviewer, who asked them to describe anything that made them feel proud, successful, or creative (Barron et al., 1998). Students frequently mentioned projects that had strong social consequences, such as tutoring younger children, learning to make presentations to outside audiences, designing blueprints for playhouses that were to be built by professionals and then donated to preschool programs, and learning to work effectively in groups. Many of the activities mentioned by the students had involved a great deal of hard work on their part: for example, they had had to learn about geometry and architecture in order to get the chance to create blueprints for the playhouses, and they had had to explain their blueprints to a group of outside experts who held them to very high standards.” —Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
“One aspect of previous knowledge that is extremely important for understanding learning is cultural practices that support learners’ prior knowledge. Effective teaching supports positive transfer by actively identifying the relevant knowledge and strengths that students bring to a learning situation and building on them. Transfer from school to everyday environments is the ultimate purpose of school-based learning. An analysis of everyday environments provides opportunities to rethink school practices in order to bring them into alignment with the requirements of everyday environments. But it is important to avoid instruction that is overly dependent on context. Helping learners choose, adapt, and invent tools for solving problems is one way to facilitate transfer while also encouraging flexibility. Finally, a metacognitive approach to teaching can increase transfer by helping students learn about themselves as learners in the context of acquiring content knowledge. One characteristic of experts is an ability to monitor and regulate their own understanding in ways that allows them to keep learning adaptive expertise: this is an important model for students to emulate.” —Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Surveys of College Educators and Employers
Over the past decade, numerous regional and national surveys have revealed a disturbing trend: college educators and employers overwhelming agree that young adults in the United States are not equipped with the foundational skills and work habits they need to succeed in higher education or the modern workplace. In addition, a remarkable degree of consensus has emerged from these surveys about the specific skills that young adults are lacking—a few of the most commonly cited skills include oral and written communication, technological and informational literacy, critical thinking and problem solving, teamwork and collaboration, perseverance and self-direction, creativity and imagination, and civic and ethical literacy, among others.
Further confirming these findings, a recent study conducted by the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education—America’s Skill Challenge: Millennials and the Future—came to the following conclusion:
One central message that emerges from this report is that, despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation, these young adults on average demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers. These findings hold true when looking at millennials overall, our best performing and most educated, those who are native born, and those from the highest socioeconomic background. Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills for U.S. adults when compared with results from previous adult surveys.
The findings also offer a clear caution to anyone who believes that our policies around education should focus primarily on years of schooling or trusts that the conferring of credentials and certificates alone is enough. While it is true that, on average, the more years of schooling one completes, the more skills one acquires, this report suggests that far too many are graduating high school and completing postsecondary educational programs without receiving adequate skills. If we expect to have a better educated population and a more competitive workforce, policy makers and other stakeholders will need to shift the conversation from one of educational attainment to one that acknowledges the growing importance of skills and examines these more critically.
All of this evidence suggests that the skill gaps among young adults in the United States are not only severe and consequential for the future of our country, but that merely increasing the number of young adults earning degrees will simply not get the job done—we need proficiency-based approaches that ensure our young people leave high school and college with the education, skills, and work habits they will need to succeed in the colleges, careers, and communities of the 21st century.
SURVEYS AND POLLS
Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success + Executive Summary (The Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2015)
Job Outlook Survey (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2015)
Bentley University Preparedness Study: An In-Depth Look at Millennial Preparedness for Today’s Workforce (Bentley University PreparedU Project, 2014)
Bridge That Gap: Analyzing the Student Skill Index (Inside Higher Ed, 2013)
2014 Talent Shortage Survey (ManPower Group, 2013)
MassINC Poll of Massachusetts Employers (MassINC, 2013)
The Employment Mismatch (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2013)
Critical Thinking Means Business (TalentLens/Pearson Education, 2013)
It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success + Executive Summary (The Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2013)
2013 Talent Shortage Survey (ManPower, 2013)
State of the Economy and Workforce Survey (Adecco, 2013)
AMA 2012 Critical Skills Survey (American Management Association, 2012)
Raising the Bar: Employers’ Views on College Learning in the Wake of the Economic Downturn (The Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2010)
AMA 2010 Critical Skills Survey (American Management Association, 2010)
The Ill-Prepared U.S. Workforce: Exploring the Challenges of Employer-Provided Workforce Readiness Training + Executive Summary (The Conference Board, 2009)
How Should Colleges Assess And Improve Student Learning? Employers’ Views on the Accountability Challenge (The Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2008)
Critical Skills Needs and Resources for the Changing Workforce + Executive Summary (Society for Human Resource Management and WSJ.com/Careers, 2008)
How Should Colleges Prepare Students To Succeed in Today’s Global Economy? + Executive Summary + Top Ten Skills (The Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2007)
Preparing for the Future: Employer Perspectives on Work Readiness Skills (Massachusetts Business Alliance, 2006)
Are They Really Ready To Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce (The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management, 2006)