Badges vs. Grades

Working hard to earn their Nesting Badge has been a priority for our River Oak Elementary School Learners over the past several months. Badges require a tremendous amount of hard work and critical thinking. They translate into a traditional transcript so that learners can compete with other students on their college prep journey if they choose that path. Badges increase the Heroes' knowledge and social emotional learning skills, preparing them for a bright and successful future.

" The most powerful takeaways we offer at Acton Academy are self-management, self-governance, character, high-level communication skills, learning how to learn and opportunities to dive deeply into areas of your greatest passions and gifts.
Badges are a way to showcase this work. It is their most important function." Laura Sanderfer

What do Learners say about Badges?

“Finishing all the core skills connected with the badge like Waseca drawers, Language works, Beast Academy. I feel challenged because I have a lot of things to finish and it’s a little hard but I just keep going. My favorite is writing in cursive because it looks really nice when you write it and it still looks like the regular handwriting but with more curls and swirls. I can read cursive handwriting because of knowing how to write in cursive.” - Vanessa

"The most challenging part was Khan Academy because some of the problems were difficult, but I was proud of myself when I mastered my level. The badge book was challenging to read, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the Waseca drawers the most because I like to practice handwriting, spelling, and reading." Maya


This one-minute video captures how much work learners have to put into earning their badges through the Acton program. At the beginning of the school year learners create customized badge plans with all they want to accomplish and learn. Instead of being asked, "did you pass or fail?" or "What grade did you get?", they are challenged, "have you mastered it?" This 5 min video explains more.



The Acton badge system and philosophy:

What is a badge?

A badge represents a long-term effort of learning focused on a particular discipline. Each badge involves a large quantity of work reviewed several times by several people. In traditional academic language, a badge equates to completing a course; however, only when excellence is achieved is the badge awarded.

How does a badge look on a transcript?

Here is a sample of badges translated to a transcript.

Completion of a Badge = mastery = A.

We are a competency-based learning environment. Mastery is the goal. Learners work until they master their learning goals. Then, they progress to the next level. If a badge is not completed, the grade is “Incomplete.” It is not an 'F'. They haven't failed. It is not a 'C'. There is no fixed level of intelligence. If the badge is not completed , it is simply incomplete, not mastered yet. This helps learners in the future whether they decide to go to college or pursue another endeavor. When they get to college their focus will be on mastery not a grade. When they go out to work and receive a task or project they are focused on doing it to the best of their ability. They are preparing for a successful future.

When the badge work is done.

When all the required work for a badge is done, the badge is not yet achieved. It must be compiled and submitted. Learners must then schedule time to compile this work for badge approval. Finally, celebrate the hard work of compiling the badge. This work is above and beyond what is required from traditional schools. Victory!

How do badges translate to traditional subject requirements?

Translating the work of a completed badge into traditional course content is necessary and is part of our curriculum planning.

For example, a traditional school’s “English 101” in high school equates at Acton to 6 genre pieces, 4 deep books and 1 No Red Ink badge. The Acton curriculum is easily mapped to the core requirements of high school graduates for acceptance to competitive colleges.


River Oak's Nesting Badge Requirements


  • Khan Early Math - 100% Mastery

  • Waseca Reading - Red, Yellow, Orange, Green - Complete ALL steps with excellence.

  • Waseca Language Works - Red, Yellow, Orange, Green - Complete ALL steps with excellence.

  • Reading - One Badge Book - complete the quiz and questions - complete a review on Whoos Reading

  • When Finished complete IXL Diagnostics


How do badges prepare learners for the future?

We don’t believe that everyone must do everything at the same pace or level. We know that it will take a unique amount of time and growth for each person to be able to meet the standards for their badges. But we believe that every child is a genius, and fully capable of doing the work in order to earn more freedom.

Some people believe that instead of requiring every learner to complete the same amount of work with the same level of quality, some learners should be allowed to do less work and lower-quality work. This is a mindset that tells these ‘lower learners,’ ‘You are incapable. You are lesser. You aren’t required to do this because we believe you can’t do it.’ According to this idea, whether a learner struggles with math, or has a lot going on outside of school, or says they are a ‘bad writer,’ or just doesn’t care, they shouldn’t have to do the work required of others. This is actually quite similar to the public school system, where you can go through middle school and high school turning in poor work or no work at all and still graduate.

But this is not how the real world works. If we want to be prepared for our true Hero’s Journeys, we cannot be accustomed to being pampered. In the real world, if you want to work for Google, you have to be good enough! You have to work incredibly hard to meet the standard! If you want to be a professional athlete, it doesn’t matter how hard the journey is, results are what matter. No one will ask how hard you tried to score a touchdown, they will ask if you scored the touchdown.”





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