Katherine Thomas, NYA College Counseling Director

Proficiency Grading, Part II: Grade Impact and the School Profile

Katherine Thomas is the College Counseling Director at North Yarmouth Academy. Katherine has a BA in English from Williams College. After teaching in Japan for a year, Katherine worked in college counseling at Woodberry Forest School and Foxcroft School, both in Virginia. She came to NYA in 2006. She is involved in regional and national college counseling association events and travels regularly doing her own campus ‘research.’


This is a time when there are growing concerns about how proficiency-based grading is impacting students at public schools in our area and across the state. It is also when anxiety about the college admissions process is at an all-time high.

While our colleagues in college admission devote time to understanding and delineating the various grading systems from thousands of high schools around the country (and world!), at NYA, we make every effort to be extremely thoughtful and intentional about grading and how it is articulated in the college admission process.

Newly-released admissions statistics reflect the lowest admit rates in history coupled with an increased use of the waitlist at the nation’s most selective colleges and universities. For many families, there are fears about how students will be regarded, especially in highly selective college admissions pools, in the absence of a more traditional grading system.

As I reflect on each of these concerns, I am heartened by some of the things NYA does that directly benefit our students. While our colleagues in college admission devote time to understanding and delineating the various grading systems from thousands of high schools around the country (and world!), at NYA, we make every effort to be extremely thoughtful and intentional about grading and how it is articulated in the college admission process.

Between meetings of department heads and the faculty academic committee, a great deal of collective thought goes into everything from course titles to the nuances of our School Profile in an effort to ensure that each NYA transcript is clear and understandable to admissions readers. Our transcript is an accurate reflection of the rigors of our curriculum. Every decision is informed by the desire to make it as easy as possible for an admissions officer to properly contextualize each student’s choices and achievement.

Beyond our transcript, which clearly lists year-end letter grades earned as well as a numerical cumulative GPA on a 4.0 scale, the School Profile is designed to help an admissions reader better understand NYA’s overall curriculum and put into context specific choices students make. It details every course we offer in an effort to emphasize the degree to which all students are challenging themselves.

We also use the School Profile to reinforce the additional challenges our students embrace with our three season athletic/activity requirement, Independent Study courses, and the completion of a senior speech and senior service project before graduation.

While we pride ourselves on the clarity and readability of our transcript and School Profile, there are other ways we underscore each student’s progress and draw attention to specific details of their journeys.

At various points throughout the year, teachers write comments that highlight growth and progress in each class, and as counselors, we draw on these comments and frequent conversations with teachers in an effort to make our counselor recommendations as powerful as possible.

One of the things we are also proud to highlight in these recommendations is that grade inflation is virtually non-existent at NYA. Colleges can rest assured that the grades earned in each class reflect an integrity that can sometimes be missing or diluted at other places.

It is a privilege and a great responsibility to help students and families navigate the sometimes complex and bewildering waters of the college admissions process. I feel fortunate to work at a school, and be a member of a community, that places such a high value on how we can support and encourage students through all aspects of their educational experience, both in the classroom and behind the scenes, as they prepare to focus on their next steps beyond NYA.