How do we fit proficiency-based practices into a grading system?

How do we fit proficiency-based practices into a grading system?

Last Thursday, #langchat was alive and well! A lively group of participants tweeted away their ideas about how to fit student proficiency into a grading system. They shared their thoughts on the need to assess proficiency and ways to redesign evaluation. Langchatters also touched on policies regarding retakes, homework, and late work. Finally, they emphasized the importance of feedback as central to improved proficiency.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the conversation last week. We extend a special thanks to Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Amy (@alenord), Cristy (@msfrenchteach), and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) for moderating a whirlwind #langchat hour!

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Grading Proficiency

@tmsaue1 highlighted the need to communicate with parents, administrators and students when grading for proficiency, writing, “that’s one of the biggest shifts to explain to students, parents and admins. [Expectations] must change in order to show growth.” He explained, “[The] performance level for the first semester has to be different than the second,” adding, “[That’s] a hard concept for many people.” @tmsaue1 shared a sample letter that could be sent out to ensure that parents are on the same page: @coxon_mike also mentioned the need for teachers to modify their own expectations in implementing proficiency-based assessment: “Proficiency can be assessed but teachers need to be patient and assess over time not week to week.”

Redesigning Evaluation

@kltharri highlighted the need to “bridge the grade/proficiency gap” through the development of better quizzes and tests.” Instructors shared their thoughts on how to improve assessment and encouraged developing new grading criteria, if possible. One participant said, “[Simply] create categories [and] tasks for the three modes of communication [Interpretive, Presentational, Interpersonal].” @CecileLaine suggested that tests could evaluate all three modes, while quizzes could evaluate one, for example, through reading assessment. Finally, @axamcarnes pointed out the importance of meeting with students following evaluations to discuss how to get them to a higher proficiency level: “Those who didn’t score at [proficiency level on a quiz have a conference with] me so that we can get them there [before] moving them on.”

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Retaking assessments?

Langchatters debated whether teachers should allow, or even encourage, assessment retakes or re-do’s. @tmsaue1 wrote, “re-do’s …. another tough topic. [Again] before just deciding the answer, I would ask to think about what the purpose of grades is.” Some teachers advocated for letting students retake an exam as many times as necessary to achieve their aims, while others brought up the possibility of students becoming dependent on re-do’s and not sufficiently preparing for assessments. Other Langchatters hesitated between telling students, “you cannot take the quiz yet” and “take the quiz and see [how you do and if you’ll need to retake it]” (@CecileLaine). @CecileLaine tweeted one possible re-do system, involving a “retake ticket”: With regard to outcomes, @axamcarnes shared a positive result of the re-do system in his classroom: “My kids are taking many more risks knowing that they can’t ‘fail.’ [With proficiency,] you improve and re-do.” Some instructors seemed concerned about potential grade inflation as a result of intense ‘re-doing,’ but @tmsaue1 did not view this as a serious concern: “[If] grades only reflect what students CAN DO, the issue of inflation eliminates itself.”

Every student, every time?

@tmsaue1 posed a question that attracted a lot of attention: “[Another] wrinkle that might make [‘GRADING’] easier (but could be controversial): [Does] every student need to be assessed every [time?]” @bleidolf67 agreed that “choosing a couple of [students] a day to assess is a good practice.” This suggestion represented a possible solution for assessment of students who attain proficiency levels at a different pace.

Homework Choice:

Homework choice was discussed as a way to improve student proficiency. @dalrymple_lisa: wrote that “true proficiency is what [students] can do outside a classroom.” @SECottrell provides students with a variety of homework choices to allow them to select personally engaging out-of-classroom activities that build proficiency. For more information, see: She commented on her success with this approach: “My kids are loving [homework] choice. 30 families went to Latin Festival downtown, a first! Kids spoke to natives at festival.”

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Late work?

Langchatters discussed how best to approach and evaluate late work submitted by students. Several instructors are no longer intent on taking off points, instead choosing to recognize student effort, whenever it manifests itself, as a step towards improved proficiency. @SenoraWienhold said, “[I] used to think I was preparing [students] for [the] real world by docking [points] for late [work], but now I just want them to MASTER it.” Speaking of the real world, @tmsaue1 shared an analogy that attracted much attention: “[You] can pay your water bill two weeks late, but if I bring my homework one day late it counts as zero. #brokensystem.” While many welcomed this comparison, one participant argued that repeated tardiness does carry consequences: “Although I do agree [with] reteach/reassess, I have always disliked that analogy! #theyshutitoff #especiallyaftermanylatebills.” That said, some instructors noted that refusal to accept late work all together could greatly decrease student motivation in the long-run. @SraWienhold said, “[By taking off] 25 or 50% for late work I was killing their chance of passing. [Students] gave up.” @SraSpanglish added that “so many take the zero and feel RELIEVED,” and @SenoraWienhold concluded that “[the] 0 is a cop out for both [students and teachers].”

Feedback > Grades?

Langchatters overwhelmingly agreed that feedback is far more important than grading in improving proficiency. @tmsaue1 wrote, “[Bottom] line: feedback is more about than grades. [Grades] do not communicate to a language learner how to get better.” In light of this, @cadamsf1 chooses not to assign grades to assignments at the start of the term: “The first assignments have only feedback[, no grade,] so that they will focus on that issue and how to improve.” @kltharri wrote that “grades only tell the result. Feedback tells the story,” and Langchatters encouraged individual meetings with students following assessments to evaluate their progress and understand their perspectives. @ProfeCochran shared a feedback rubric that she gives to students following every assignment:


Overall, participants found that assessments should be carefully planned and tied to proficiency (@bleidolf67). They generally favored re-do’s as encouraging mastery over time. Langchatters found feedback and individual meetings with students to track their progress much more valuable for proficiency development than grades alone.

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Thank you!

Thank you again to Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Amy (@alenord), Cristy (@msfrenchteach), and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) for moderating another engaging #langchat! Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive.

If you have any comments or questions that you would like to share with the #langchat community, do not hesitate to do so. Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

P.S. Reserve your #langchat gear now! Visit to place your order!