The Year of the Proficiency: Impact on Seniors

Kaisy Wheeler, a senior at U-32, was shocked by the outcome of her first quarter pre-calculus grade after it was converted from the proficiency system to the old carnegie letter grading system.

“When you get a lot of twos, for anyone who’s born into the old system, you’d expect to get a B or something,” she said, “but at the end of the quarter, I got my grade and it was a D!”

As she applies to college, Wheeler worries about how the D will affect her chances at getting into the school of her choice.

“It threw my GPA way out of balance!”

Many juniors have been worried about how their grades will appear to colleges, but this year it’s the seniors’ turn. Will the conversion of proficiencies to letter grades affect their chances of getting into the college they want?

For seniors, report cards are on the Carnegie Scale rather than the proficiency scale. If there are any underclassmen in a course with seniors, the entire class is graded with proficiencies.

According to Jenn Ingersoll, the English Department Head, “in New England and in other schools that are doing this (proficiencies), a 3 is ultimately is a 90%.”

For seniors who are having proficiencies converted into letter grades, a 90% is an A-. For some students, an A- is a good grade but for others who get straight A’s, this could hurt their GPA.

A two on the proficiency scale is most commonly converted to a C-. The gap between a two and a three is huge. In some classes, it is impossible at times to get above a two which can be devastating to a senior’s grade. Early in a semester, teachers will often give assignments where the best grade you can get is a two because you have not yet developed the skills that you need.

With teachers still learning how to implement proficiency-based, there are a lot of differences in how teachers are grading their classes. Jenn Ingersoll feels that there is still “a lot of work to do in terms of consistency around disciplines and between grades.”

Some teachers use a conversion scale and others simply change the proficiency grades into what they feel is an appropriate letter grade for the student.

Krista Dy, a photography and painting teacher, does not use the conversion scale when grading students. “I’m not really that into grades because I think it’s important for kids to just be creative in my class. Logistically, I look over all of their assignments and then I choose what I think their grade should be.”

Some students feel that when their proficiency grades are converted to the Carnegie System, they are often not what the student had expected. “When (my proficiency grade) gets converted into a letter grade,” says Bella Hayes, “it is often lower than a grade I feel I would have been given if it had been graded with the normal scale.”

Proficiencies can be useful in helping students succeed in classes. Caroline Grace, a French teacher, says that if someone is “not meeting proficiency on an assessment, then I will have them retake the assessment until they can show the proficiency.” This prevents students’ grades from dropping based on one assessment.

While it may be aggravating to retake an assessment many times, it can be quite helpful. But consistency of what it means to be proficient is still a major issue.

Many seniors don’t understand what it means to be graded on the proficiency scale. Students know that the change is in hopes that they will learn how to self-direct more, but many feel that it is unreasonable to have to reach a three if they want to pass a class.

“(When students) have to meet a certain number in order to graduate (on the proficiency scale),” Hayes says, “kids who struggle will have a harder time.”