Why Proficiency?

Proficiency. Competency. Mastery. Standards-based.

Whatever you call it, educators across the United States are looking for a better way to engage students, measure learning, and assess performance. And if you're reading this page, you probably feel the same way.


Proficiency based education is grounded in the following principles:

  • Teachers are in the business of helping every child reach their potential (not just the "smart" or "talented" ones).

  • Timely and targeted feedback is essential for student learning.

  • Students deserve to know what success looks like in any subject area. No more "guess for success."

  • The three Ps -- progress, process, and product -- are all important! But lumping them all together into a single score does not help students understand how to improve.

  • Equity. When compliance data (e.g. showing up on time, raising your hand, sitting still, etc.) are reported separately from performance...the playing field is more level for all students.

Move From a Culture of Compliance
to a Culture of Learning

Serves Students

Proficiency scoring and reporting informs students what they know and how they can improve skills. Rubrics define what it means to attain proficiency and mastery as well as define why a student may not yet have gotten there. When reviewed beforehand, rubrics provide students with a road map for performing well on assignments and focusing on the learning targets.

Meaningful to Parents

Proficiency scoring and reporting communicates to parents what their child knows and how they can improve skills. Parents can then support their child to develop those specific skills. Proficiency based scoring and reporting shows parents that we truly want them to be our partners in the learning process.

Treats Teachers as Professionals

Proficiency scoring and reporting allows teachers to focus on learning objectives. Rubrics bring transparency to the grading process and reduce parent concerns about subjectivity. Teachers are far better able to assess who has truly learned the standards/material and meet all students where they are. 

When public education began in the United States, it wasn’t so much about educating kids as it was about sorting them.


The common belief of that time, and for years after, was that not every child could learn. Some were just born to be farmers or ditch-diggers, while others were natural doctors and lawyers. And so the point of public schools was just to sort kids into groups so we could decide where to send them (college or back to the farm). An A-F letter grade system and a bell curve worked well for this. That was the theory, anyway.


Fast-forward 150 years, and we know that every child can learn. We don’t want to sort them; rather, we want every child to reach their potential. And if that’s the goal, it’s not particularly helpful to assign an arbitrary number of points and a single letter grade that incorporates knowledge, skills, attendance, behavior, participation, attitude…and anything else we want to throw in there. That’s why schools are now moving towards Proficiency based grading (sometimes called Competency based or Mastery learning).

Proficiency based grading and reporting keeps the focus where it belongs: student learning.

Rethinking Grading
how to grade for learning.jpg

* SmartEd Systems has no connection to these authors, financial or otherwise. We just really like the books!