What is proficiency-based education?

By Kim Lincoln | May 02, 2014
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham The Class of 2018, next year's freshmen class, will be the first class to graduate using new requirements.

Rockland — Since the 2012-2013 school year, Regional School Unit 13 has been developing a proficiency-based education system.

The RSU 13 board approved, at its April 3 meeting, new graduation requirements that will be required of all students, beginning with the class of 2018 — this fall's freshmen class at Oceanside High School.

But what is proficiency-based education, Common Core, and what do these new requirements mean for students?

In August 2013, Carissa Veit was hired has the district's proficiency-based education project manager. Veit has answered some of these questions below:

What is Common Core?

Common Core are standards that were developed by 16 states, including Maine, that are a part of the Council of Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO, as it was realized there was a need for common standards across the states. The CCSSO worked with an organization called Achieve, Inc. to write the standards and after they were written each state approved them.

"That's one of the biggest misconceptions is that they are a federally-funded thing and they weren't originally," Veit said.

Is Common Core the same as proficiency-based or standards-based education?

With proficiency-based or standards-based learning, every single subject has set standards and Common Core is the standard used in math and English. Next Generation are the standards used for science and the American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages is the standard for world languages.

"Every single content area has its own set of standards and every single one of those standards are now encompassed in the Maine Learning Results," Veit said.

Maine Learning Results outlines what students should know and be able to do in all eight subject areas defined by Maine statute, according to the Maine Department of Education website.

The eight subject areas are: math, science, English, social studies, world languages, visual and performing arts, physical education and career and technical studies.

"So every teacher is teaching the Maine Learning Results and the Maine Learning Results are aligned to Common Core or Next Gen, etc.," she said.

What are the new graduation requirements just approved in the district?

Under the new law that was passed a couple of years ago, students must be proficient in the eight content areas and show proficiency in guiding principles, such as being a responsible citizen, a self-directed lifelong learner and a good communicator.

Another part of the requirement is that a student has to take a math, science and English learning experience every year they are in a secondary school.

Veit explained the graduation standards as cups. Students have to complete the content standards in all eight subject areas to fill the cups.

"So if you fill all your cups by the time you are junior, you can graduate and you could have taken your courses every year until you were a junior. If it's going to take you five years, you have to take them for five years. There are no more credits," she said.

The learning is much more student-driven and students can choose personal learning pathways, where students direct what they are going to learn and how they are going to learn it.

Has some of this already been implemented?

The current eighth-grade class (Class of 2018) is already using the proficiency-based learning system for math, science and English classes and are somewhat integrating it into social studies classes.

"When these eighth-graders go to ninth-grade they will have that and understand it," Veit said, adding that every single teacher district-wide is looking at a piece of it right now. Next year at Oceanside East, every teacher will be piloting some example of standards-based learning in their classes.

Traditional grading system going away?

"We are trying to change instruction before we change grading, but the problem is as soon as you change instruction you see that the old way of grades won't work anymore," Veit said.

Instead of traditional As and Bs, students will be graded using a 1 to 4 rubric. Students who do not meet standards will get between a 1 and 2.5. Eighth-graders are already using the number system for grading and will continue with them on through high school.

Why is it changing?

"We realize students are graduating with what we call 'Swiss-holer' or 'Swiss cheese learning,' with these big gaps in their knowledge. Teachers did not know what the holes were the students had in their learning and this way students may still have holes, but educators will be able to pinpoint what students need."

Veit, who works closely with Director of School Improvement Neal Guyer, leads a Proficiency-Based Steering Committee that was established in September 2013. It is a group of 20 teachers and administrators in all 10 schools in the district who represent various content groups and grade levels. The group is charged with chartering proficiency-based education for the district.

More information about the district's move to proficiency-based education can be found by going to sites.google.com/site/rsu13pbsc/

Where are other local districts in the process?

Camden-Rockport Middle School has already been using the new system and Camden Hills Regional High School is in transition, Veit said. Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro is also in transition. Students in younger grades have been using a technology system that promotes proficiency-based education and it is being implemented at the high school.

Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.

Comments (1)
Posted by: paula sutton | May 03, 2014 09:51

Self directed learning sounds nice but looking back at my education at Maranacook high school in Readfield I would have been better served being forced to take another math or science class , rather than the "elective fluff class"  I chose. At age fifteen, it was difficult to see how the math class I disliked so intensely was a vital part of my economic future.


Also, I see no mention of Civics or Home economics being taught in today's schools.



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