Proficiency Based Education

What is proficiency-based education?

In 2012 the State of Maine's legislature passed LD 1422, An Act to Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy. The vision was that all students who graduated from Maine’s high schools would be able to show proficiency in identified outcomes for learning (Maine’s Learning Results). The Maine Learning Results include both Guiding Principles and content areas.

Our students need to be educated so they can adapt their knowledge and skills to changing opportunities. In proficiency-based education, schools move away from using grades to rank and sort students, instead providing students and families more tailored feedback on student learning. Tying proficiency to specific learning outcomes enables teachers to identify content and skills mastered, as well as areas requiring further instruction or support.

How is proficiency-based education changing how we presently teach in MSAD #51?

The short answer is not a lot is changing. As best teaching practices evolve, we are refining an already successful educational system. MSAD #51’s mission has long been “to guide all students as they acquire enthusiasm for learning, assume responsibility for their education, achieve academic excellence, and discover and attain their personal best.” This mission drives our teaching in the classroom and dovetails with a proficiency-based model, beginning with explicit learning outcomes and assessing students based on these educational goals.

In summary:
  • Proficiency-based learning starts with the learning outcomes in mind. 
  • Students are informed of these explicit learning outcomes.
  • Assessments measure the progress toward learning targets. 
  • Students receive specific feedback regarding their progress and how they can improve
  • Improved system of supports provide assistance and direction so that students can succeed. 

What has not changed? What will remain constant from our current system?

The increased flexibility of a proficiency based model is still bound by the limitations of the school year. Students will have multiple pathways and opportunities to show they have met the required learning targets; however, there is a limit to when work must be completed and goals achieved. Our expectation remains that students will graduate in four years. Teachers will continue to report student grades at regular intervals during the school year, by trimester at Greely Middle School 6-8 and by quarters at Greely High School. Grades will continue to be reported in ways that are familiar to our students and parents (100-point scale; A, B, C, etc.). Our curriculum will continue to be challenging and appropriate for students at each grade level.

What steps has MSAD #51 taken to prepare for proficiency-based diplomas?

Teachers and administrators at MSAD #51 are committed to ensuring that our students will meet the learning targets when they become a graduation requirement in 2021. The district has identified and agreed upon standards for each of the eight content areas and is standardizing the presentation and evaluation of Habits of Work  at both the Middle and High School levels (GMS HoW, GHS HoW). With three years to implement a full proficiency-based model, MSAD #51 has time to refine our standards, fine tune our instructional methods, and facilitate communication with our students and families. Professional development of our K-12 educators has been, and will continue to be, a primary focus of our district.

In summary:
  • We have identified and agreed upon on standards for each of the eight content areas.
  • We continued developing our K-12 Response to Intervention systems and added a Pathways Specialist in 2015 to provide alternative learning opportunities. 
  • We have begun to implement Habits of Work in some grades.
  • Professional development of our K-12 educators in proficiency practices has been a primary focus of our district over the past two years and will continue in the year ahead. 

How do students and parents know if a student is reaching proficiency in the required content areas?

The courses and the grading system are designed to reflect progress toward proficiency. Teachers will continue to provide regular feedback to students and will hold regular parent-teacher conferences. As always, parents and students will be encouraged to talk to their teachers if they have questions or concerns about a student’s progress. In the future, report cards will present the learning standards along with correlating evidence of student progress.

Is it true that in a proficiency-based education system, deadlines don’t matter?

Academic behaviors are defined and communicated with students and families as Habits of Work (HoW). Teachers evaluate Habits of Work regularly by assessing learning habits such as classroom preparedness and engagement, work completion and deadlines, homework and classroom collaboration.

How do proficiency-based grading practices, like allowing for reassessment, help prepare my child for college?

As adults, we consider ourselves lifelong learners. Most of us, for example, would consider ourselves to be better drivers today than when we were sixteen and taking a driving test for the first time. We are better writers. We are better speakers. We have a better understanding of politics and the world around us. As adults, we understand that learning happens all the time. It makes sense that when we believe we have acquired new skills , we should have an opportunity to show what we know. When lawyers don’t pass the bar exam, they are told to reassess. When a teacher doesn’t pass a certification exam, he or she has an opportunity to try again. Reassessment is a naturally accepted part of life. The same philosophy should apply to our grading practices in the classroom. If students are not proficient in a particular standard, they may access the system of additional supports that will lead them to proficiency. The final grade will be a more accurate representation of what the student knows and is able to do.