Proficiency Based Grading: a letter for parents

One of the things I love best about teaching is that we get to start fresh every year! We can reset, make changes, figure out what didn’t work and try again. Every. Single. Year. And that’s how I spend my summer vacation, thinking about things to change, adjust, adapt, and implement for my next go-around. (Don’t worry, that’s not all I’m doing this summer…for example, this post is coming at you from a bullet train as I zip past rice fields and the Japanese Alps at an impressive 160 MPH!)

Anyway…back to business. My school is making department-wide changes next year, and one of the changes is adopting Proficiency Based Grading categories. I’m excited about trying something new and I’m excited that my department is excited about trying something new!

This seems to be the trend in language teaching and we’re jumping on the train (the bullet train, if you will!). If you’re looking for more details about assigning grades based on proficiency, here are a few articles for your summer reading pleasure: Martina Bex explains the reasons she loves Standard Based Grading, Scott Benedict discusses how to make grades meaningful.  In a nutshell, it’s evaluating their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, so their grade reflects what they can do in the language.

If I were The Boss Of The World, I would do away with grades all together. I would load my little darlings up with comprehensible input, marvel at how much they’re acquiring and call it a day, without worrying about assignments and assessments and report cards…but my school and my district and my state expect me to assign a letter grade so… that’s what I’ll do. Since Proficiency Based Grading will be a major shift, here’s a parent letter that I wrote explaining the changes and how our “new” categories will be weighted. Feel free to “make a copy” so that you can adapt away!

As a department, we debated, negotiated and finally agreed on our category weights. The input skills reading and listening are weighted more heavily in the lower levels,  and as students progress through our program, the weights even out in level 4 and AP. Our department is mixed, that is to say that not everyone has embraced CI (yet!) and one of the compromises we reached was a category called “practice” to record homework, participation and the other assignments that non CI teachers love. I’m not sure how I’ll use it, and it’s weighted more heavily that I’d like (10%!) but that’s how compromise works and until I’m recognized as The Boss Of The World, I’ll be a team player and make it work. Stay tuned for updates as the semester unfolds.

One other note: our school also requires a category labeled “Final Exam”, so we’ll just go with that.  We figured at 20% it would be easy to include all the skills and assign 5% to each. We’ll see how it works! What changes do you have up your sleeves for next year?

Proficiency grading categories

After I get back from Japan, I’m heading to the Comprehensible Cascadia Conference and I’m super excited to learn new stuff!  (And hang out with my Alma Gemela, the one, the only Rita Barrett!) Three cheers for Professional Development!

Until then, sayonara!


  1. […] Department wide, we’re focusing on the 4 skills and wanting our assessments to give a good measure of what they can DO in Spanish, using ACTFL’s proficiency levels as a guide. As a department we agreed that students who exceed Nevada’s Proficiency Expectation for any given level should earn an A, students who meet Nevada’s Proficiency Expectation for any given level should earn a B, and students who are approaching Nevada’s Proficiency Expectation should earn a C. Read more about our philosophy shift here.  […]


  2. Hi! Just curious…what do you do when you give a test that assess reading, listening and speaking? Could that go in the “exam” category? Or, do you take the various parts of the test and grade them separately and put the grade in the corresponding category? Right now my department grades based on tests, quizzes, participation and projects. I would love to try something out more proficiency based but I know I would need to come to a compromise with my department and I would have to do something with quizzes/tests.


    • I enter a test as 4 separate grades: Test 1- Listening, Test 1-Writing, Test 1- Reading, etc. I like that it saves time because I don’t have to go through and total all the point for an overall grade. If you’re locked into Generic categories like quizzes, tests, I supposed you could still name your assignments to help parents understand how their kids are doing in each skill, so Reading Quiz 2, listening Quiz 3, etc, all in the Quiz category


  3. […] Backstory: We’ve revamped our department grading philosophy and policies to focus on the 4 language skills and tie everything to ACTFL’s proficiency levels. Nevada says that at the end of Spanish 1, our kiddos should be at “Novice Mid”, so for our department, if a student is at the state’s target, that should translate into a B on their report card. If they’ve moved past “Novice Mid” they should earn an A, and for those who are not quite there yet, they should earn a C. Here’s a post all about our “new” policy and a letter explaining it to parents, if… […]


  4. Your letter says to look at the back for proficiency expectations from ACTFL. Can you tell me where I can find this? Thank you so much! Your blog has been so helpful to me.


  5. Hello. My district does not allow us use category percentages.
    We have to use a points system. How would you suggest I use proficiency-based grading in a points system. Thank you!


    • Hi there, I haven’t tried it, but it seems to me if you just planned 1000 points for your semester total you could still do the same percentages but in points instead. So rather than 25% for listening, you could just plan on 250 points and then just give more less assignments or give them more points as the semester wraps up. I think that would work?! Sorry, I’m not very good at math!!


  6. What do you consider ‘practice’? This fall I have combined reading & list and have been putting completed Wooly nuggets, Quizlet, and Duolingo practice in that category. Would they fall under practice for you?


    • For me it’s anything based on completion and not skill. I put textivate in that category, even though they’re reading, I just give them points for doing it. Since it doesn’t show me how well they’re reading, it goes into practice. All the things you mentioned would fit there. I also put in the silly things like “signed syllabus” and “put together their Spanish binder” and “extra credit stamp sheet for winning games” in that category.


  7. I’ve been reading your posts about proficiency based grading and your proficiency based quizzes. Thank you so much for sharing all this info…..¡súper útil!


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