Report cards have a lot of information on them. A “P” certainly doesn’t look like the traditional letter grades, and it may be hard to know what it means when it shows up on your report card.
“P” on a report card can stand for proficient, partial completion, or passing. The specific answer depends on the grading system used. Generally, a “P” in elementary or middle school either means that the student is proficient or has partially met grade-level standards. A “P” in college means that the student has passed a pass/fail class.
“P” can mean a few different things on a report card, and there are several situations where it may show up.
Some schools nowadays are turning away from the traditional grading system of A, B, C, D, and F. These schools are adopting a new kind of grading called Standards Based Grading. This kind of grading is used so that students grades are focused more on learning, engagement, and progress. The overall subjects (math, English, science, etc.) are broken down into learning targets. The teachers will evaluate how well the students are learning the subjects and adjust their instructions so that they can meet student needs.
Standards Based Grading is done a few different ways. A common way that it is done is with a 1-4 numbering system, with 4 meaning advanced understanding, 3 meaning expectations are met, 2 meaning partial mastery, and 1 meaning little or no mastery.
If the report card you are looking at has a “P” on it, that means that the Standards Based Grading is using a system of “AP”/”ES”, “P”, “I”/”DP”, and “N”. “AP” stands for advanced progression (not to be confused with AP courses in high school), and “ES” stands for exceptional, both of which essentially mean that the child is doing better than they need to at the topic. “P” means proficient, which means they are grasping the concept well and doing as well as they need to.
“I” stands for in-progress, and DP stands for developing proficiency, both of which mean that the child is getting to where they need to be, but needs a little more help. “N” can stand for novice or not-yet-making-progress, which means that the child needs a lot of extra help on the topic and doesn’t seem to be grasping it right.
If your child has a “P” on their report card from a Standards Based Grading system, that means that they are doing well in school. They are grasping the concepts well and don’t need any extra help. “P” on a report card for a school using the Standards Based Grading system is a great grade.
Some middle schools and elementary schools will use different letters to demonstrate the grade levels: “E”, “M”, “P”, “D”. This is just another way for the schools to do Standard Based Grading. “E” means that the student has exceeded the standards. “M” means that they have met the standards. “P” means that they have partially met the standards. “D” means that they did not meet the standards.
A “P” on your child’s report card means that they are partially grasping the concept, but that they need a little bit more help with it. The teacher may reach out to you and talk to you more about how your child is doing on the concept and what they can do to improve.
Some college classes can be taken on a pass/fail basis instead of receiving a letter grade. The student will be notified whether they passed or failed the class at the end of the semester. A “P” will appear on the report card or transcript for that class instead of a letter grade.
There are positives and negatives to taking a class as pass/fail. Different colleges will have different policies about what pass/fail classes count toward. Make sure to talk to an academic advisor about what will happen if you take a class as pass/fail. Some classes do not have a pass/fail option, and some classes will only grade you by pass/fail.
Taking classes as pass/fail is a good idea in a few different scenarios. If the class is an elective which you are taking for fun, taking it as a pass/fail class can remove some of the pressure of doing well in the class to maintain your GPA. Many schools will not allow students to take a class as pass/fail if it is within their major, so make sure you find out your school’s policy on that. If your grade in the class is going to mess up your GPA, consider taking it as a pass/fail class instead of having a low grade on your transcript.
Try not to take too many classes as pass/fail. Taking classes as pass/fail can make you look bad.
How to Tell Which One?
Since there are so many possibilities for what “P” means on a report card, it may be hard to figure out which one is on the report card you’re looking at.
It will be pretty clear if the “P” means pass. Pass/fail courses are only in college, so if the report card is not for a college student, the “P” will not mean pass. You will also know if you’re taking a class as pass/fail because you were either notified or you made the decision to switch to pass/fail. If you are not sure why a class is being graded as pass/fail, talk to an advisor.
The other two options for what “P” means are a little more tricky. It depends on what kind of system your school is using. If they are using a Standards Based Grading System, it could go either way. Report cards usually have a key at the bottom or top. If you look at the key, you should be able to figure out if the “P” means proficient or partially completed. If there is no key, you can check to see if there are other letter grades that match up to other common examples of Standard Based Grading. If all else fails, try calling the school and asking.