It’s not Mark Inflation, it’s Grade Reframing: Marking Under Growing Success (Ontario Teachers)

Since September 2010, Ontario teachers have been working under the guidelines laid out by the document Growing Success. That document underlies all of our assessment and evaluation practices, among a number of other different topics.

A lot has changed in the past decade, and while some talk about “mark inflation”, that might not actually be the case.  It’s not so much that marks have been inflated, but rather that levels (and as such, grades) have been reframed.

But where do grades come from?  And what guides our professional judgement when determining it?

These are all great questions.  We’ll start by considering what levels are and then compare what marks look like today, versus the pre-growing success era that many of us are still familiar with. Finally, we’ll look at a visual chart that helps enhance our understanding of the communicated ideas.

Then vs. Now

What some teachers remember marks reflecting is not necessarily how they are to be used today.  This isn’t because marks have been inflated, but rather that the thresholds for grades / levels have been changed through the current documents that underlie our practice.

What are Levels?

Levels are what we use to communicate grades to students.  We have moved on from a 6/10 or a 13/47, and now report marks using levels.  Levels are defined in Growing Success as follows:

Students should receive assignments that are evaluated using these levels.  They should all be familiar with them, as our incoming grade 9 students began school in a post-Growing Success era.

Comparing Pre- vs. Post- Growing Success

When teachers talk about “grade inflation”, a lot of the nuance is missed when those discussions are being held.  While someone might state that “A 70 today is what I got as a 50 when I was in school”, this is not always spoken of in a positive way. And it’s not always spoken of with a strong understanding of how levels are meant to reflect student achievement today.

For that reason, I’m going to give a quick overview of what Growing Success says about grades and levels.  

Level 4

Level 4 (80 – 100) is defined as students performing very well at their grade level.  This does not mean that they need to be performing above their grade level, however.  A Grade 9 student does not need to perform at the grade 10, 11, or 12 level to achieve a level 4.  They must simply be performing very well at their current level.

Level 3

Level 3 (70 – 79) is what Growing Success defines as being at grade level, with the teacher confident that the student can succeed if promoted to the next level.

For many educators, that is how 50% was used when they were in school.  It should be noted that this has not been the case for over a decade.

Level 2

Level 2 (60 – 69) is used when students are in need of filling learning gaps to be successful at the next level.  This can be considered as approximately one grade level below their current placement.

It should be noted that this is a nuanced claim, and that students in level 2 may be demonstrating at grade level, or above grade level in some strands, but below in others.  This doesn’t mean that a Grade 10 student is performing at the Grade 9 level, only that some of their skills may need to be focused on to bring them from a lower level to where they need to find success in the following year.

In the Pre-Growing Success era, this may have been reflected as a mark in the 40% range that would not allow promotion to the next level.  However, that would be unfair as it would prevent students from moving forward because a limited number of their skills need support, even though many of their skills are at or above their current level.

Level 1

Level 1 (50 – 59) is used to indicate where students are performing far below the provincial standard for success at that grade level.  This is where significant improvements must be made to some of their skills in order to be successful at the next level.

This can be considered as approximately two grade levels below where they are currently placed.  Please remember that all the nuances involved in Level 2 are also involved here.

In the Pre-Growing Success era this might have been reflected as 35% – 40%.

At this point, we can see that these demonstrations of skills are still allowing for successful promotion to the next level, with the understanding that students will need to have focused teaching that allows for a guided, and self-directed approach to bridging their skill gaps.

Level R

Level R (1 – 49) is used to indicate where students will not be able to achieve at the next grade level.  Students are only not-successful in a course if intervention by their next-grade teacher, or focused self-directed support, will be unable to bridge the existing gaps, requiring the course to be retaken.

This is often the case when all skills fall two or more levels below their current grade.  

In the Pre-Growing Success era, these grades may have been reflected as being in the 20% range, or lower.


0/I is used when there is no indication of learning.  It can only be used in very rare cases.  And “I” can only be used for grade 9 / 10 courses.

Comparison Chart

This chart is intended to help visual learners understand the difference between the pre- and post-Growing Success evaluations.  This is an approximation that seeks to communicate a then vs. now perspective.  But, please remember that 160 pages cannot be fully summarized in one image.

There are nuances beyond straight conversion.  This is used to help act as a mnemonic for those looking to refresh their understanding.

Note: These reflect final grades, as well as individual evaluations.

In Closing

Hopefully this helps explain the importance of Growing Success, and how levels are used to reflect student achievement today. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to get in touch, or find me @MrBarltrop.

Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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