Five things we learned about proficiency-based grading at St. Anthony Middle School
While we haven't implemented proficiency-based grading across all three schools, we’re working thoughtfully and deliberately in order to make the shift. We are committed to this work. That’s why we’ve made the promise that by fall of 2025, all three St. Anthony-New Brighton Schools will implement proficiency-based grading. To set our teachers, staff and students up for success, we, the Teaching and Learning team, are creating the vision and bringing in school leaders and partners who align with this vision to help us shift to this new model. And while it’s one step at a time, we choose to celebrate success and create learning opportunities to share in the journey together.
Through this work, we’ve realized we can’t just “flip a switch” and make a systems-wide change. Our staff and teachers have to understand the rationale behind this decision before it is implemented. Our families and students need to understand what we’re doing and where we’re going. A collective vision is paramount to our success.
Over the past two years, proficiency-based grading has been implemented at St. Anthony Middle School (SAMS). Proficiency-based grading has allowed parents to gain innovative new insights into what their student is learning in the classroom.
In our journey towards proficiency-based grading, we wanted to share five takeaways with you on what we learned as we’ve moved towards doing this good work.
The journey begins with our staff, and supporting their understanding of the new system
Staff appreciate the time to collaborate and work with colleagues, many who use time when students aren’t in school (professional development days) to work on learning progressions, design assessments and discuss effective feedback. Our middle school staff received coaching and training on how to improve instruction in the classroom, while leaning into ambiguity and uncertainty. When the role of the teacher changes, it challenges our commonly held-beliefs and value systems. We’ve asked our staff to be curious throughout the learning process just as our teachers ask our learners to do. The St. Anthony Middle School staff have reflected on their teaching experiences, looking for ways it has impacted their own teaching, and finding a way that supports the whole student. It is important that all of our staff feel supported and receive coaching and training, which will happen starting in the fall of 2023.
This work supports the whole student
In our current system, students' overall understanding of success at school tends to boil down to letter grades. If we can prepare our students to become proficient learners, they will demonstrate their knowledge and understanding to work toward and meet a learning standard. Evidence of their learning becomes a measurable way to capture their success. Our goal is for students to work side-by-side with teachers, collaborating on various topics and having students carry the cognitive load.
When we give our students the chance to shine and be brilliant, they blow us away with their capacity to think, create and be curious in their school and community. We are trying to create an environment where all students thrive, and are developing learning progressions that allow them multiple entry points to advance their learning and achieve proficiency. This, in turn, will create shifts in how our students see themselves, creating a healthier, mentally-strong and confident student.
Technology tools and training assists in this shift
Communicating this work to families is crucial. We know technology can help in shifting mindsets, which is why we are exploring more engaging grade books that will work in connection with Skyward. Access to these tools, which are designed to work within a proficiency-based system, will create an environment where families can see student progress easily. Seeing where the gaps exist in a student’s learning and working towards progression builds a stronger system overall.
This work takes time, effort and courage
We can’t stress this enough. While time and effort are two huge components, having the courage to adopt a new teaching model and grading system is scary. But if we’re not willing to show our students that we can adapt to meet their needs, we’re not providing them with the 21st century skills they need to thrive in a world not yet fully known. Change is constant, and our students deserve our time, energy and resources to become a proficient learner.
Staff unity is paramount to success
When talking with middle school staff, we heard that they found relief when talking with other educators about their experience. The middle school team regularly meets to talk about their learning progressions and targets and take the time to express their frustrations and success stories. Staff, students and parents are not alone on this journey. We are all learning together. Built upon a foundation of trust and respect, this transition is a crucial part of the experience. Our staff are investing time on professional development days to engage in this learning together by working in small groups. Continuing to foster open communication makes space for new ideas to grow.
Our students are brilliant individuals, and we believe that this style of grading will invigorate and inspire a new way of learning at our schools. We hope that in our process of redefining the meaning of rigor, relevance and relationships, we will uncover the passion and power of each student. In part three of this series, we will share information about next steps as we plan the shift to proficiency-based learning and grading.
- Teaching and Learning