RCSD eliminates letter grades



Above, the administration building of Buljan Middle School, a feeder school for Roseville High. Students at Buljan will now be graded on a scale of “beginning”, “approaching”, “proficient” and “mastery” rather than a letter-based system.


This year, middle schools in the Roseville City School District – the feeder district for many RJUHSD high schools, including Roseville High School – are not employing the traditional grading system using letters, a scale from A to F that distinguishes a student’s overall performance in a subject.

Instead, a new policy is in place that bases a student’s grade on certain areas of achievement. Four levels will be used for grading – “Beginning”, “Approaching”, “Proficient”, and “Mastery,” – in specific categories of skills for each subject, emphasizing feedback on “learning behaviors” with a more concise summary of each student’s performance and activity in class.

This means that middle school students coming to RHS will have no experience with the letter-grading system, which creates heavier distinctions between grades as it relies on homework grades and an overall average grade for each subject. As schools in RJUHSD still utilize the traditional letter grade system for evaluation, there would be little overlap in subject expectations as students promote to high school, and students will have to adjust.

Buljan Middle School language arts and AVID teacher Jackson DeMos said he feels that, despite these differences between the two systems, students who put in the work in middle school will be able to adapt to the high school system. 

“I think that our students will be able to adjust just fine to that point-chasing game [in high school],” DeMos said. “So what I tell my students is ‘if you’re proficient or mastering the standards, and you’re doing your learning behaviors consistently, you’re turning in your work, you’re engaged in class, and you’re listening to teacher feedback, you’re gonna do just fine in high school.’”

Senior Michael Eckes works in class. Eckes went to Cooley before the grading change and said working with letter grades in middle school helped him feel prepared for high school.

RHS senior and former Cooley Middle School student Michael Eckes feels that the transition to high school would be more drastic as students attempt to understand the changes.

“I feel that the whole idea of giving letter grades in middle school [was] beneficial for the student, because it gives them more time to become acclimated with the whole concept of letter grades in the first place,” Eckes said. “[The new system] almost feels demeaning in a sense where you’re throwing [students] in a lot more deep waters when they eventually get around to high school, and they’re working in a lot more difficult subjects. It’s going to feel a lot more alienating [for them] that everything seems to change.”

This district-wide change is an extension of the homework policy change that began in the 2018-2019 school year, which no longer counted homework towards the overall grade, but rather rated it separately as a learning behavior.  

According to RCSD director of educational technology Brandon Blom, despite the sudden change for both teachers and students, there is positive feedback as the new system, which requires teachers to create a more specific rubric in each category to classify students as beginning, approaching, proficient in, or mastering the material.

 “When teachers do have a clear rubric, it’s great for students to be able to self-assess,” Blom said. “Teachers are really able to focus on what they want students to be able to do for each proficiency and mastery.”

Along with this emphasis on a more descriptive-based grading scale for each area of student performance, the system also hopes to eliminate overall subject grades and instead gauge students on separate components of the subject, such as algebra in math and literature analysis in English, stating that “communication, feedback, and grades on specific standards or criteria” would determine and assess the students’ learning.

“The two main things we talk about as a district is we wanted to increase learning, so these changes are all about ‘how do we help students learn?’” Blom said. “In the real world…people don’t go around to adults and workplaces and go ‘Oh, that’s minus five points today,’ it’s usually ‘standard met’ or ‘standard not met,’ which is what our system has.”