Proficiency Based Learning
Kate McKegney | On 05, May 2017
High schools have been taught the same way for over a century, and research as shown there are more beneficial ways of learning.This is why American schools have started to transfer over to proficiency based graduation requirements (PBLs). The Class of 2020 will be the first to make change to the improved system. The graduation requirements are not based on credits, instead there are requirements to become “proficient,” meaning students can apply the knowledge to an out-of-school situation. The new system deemphasizes the idea of letter grades, and uses a rubric system. 1 is beginning, 2 is developing, 3 is proficient, and 4 is excelling. Along with the new rubric there are five transferable skills that students will be working on during their high school career; communication, self-direction, problem solving, citizenship, and informed and integrative thinking. Each school subject (e.g. English or World Language) has taken on two of the transferable skills to teach their students, all of which will come together to produce a young student that is ready for future endeavors.
Many students, especially freshmen, aren’t thrilled with the idea of proficiency based grading. They’re worried that college applications will be harder because they won’t have grades to show, but colleges are informed and are already accepting students from schools that have been using the new system for years. Even though there are hesitations about proficiency based learning, there is also excitement. Students will be able to show teachers that they have mastered the material in several ways, including presentations, tests, essays, and other non-traditional options.
Proficiency based learning has been introduced to change the way schools are taught as teachers and psychologists discover how kids learn. One of the main goals of the new system is to provide an equal learning ground for all students. Students moving towards proficiency provides more flexibility on how they do so, and making it easier for all students to achieve proficiency. Another goal of the new system is to give students a larger say in their learning. Not only will they be able to choose how they demonstrate their learning, but they’ll also have a greater voice in what they learn. For example, if a student is very passionate about computer science, there will be more opportunities for them to be educated in computer science. The new system will also help students direct themselves after high school; helping students with picking their major or college. Colleges are also looking into joining the new system for higher education.
In addition to the proficiency based learning, students are required to create a personalized learning plan (PLP) throughout their four years of high school. A PLP is a series of long-term and short-term goals that will help students with time management and goal setting. PLP is a part of the PBL. Students will create a portfolio their freshman year to put all their school work related to proficiencies, goal setting, and other educational standards. The portfolio will help students analyze their work and set achievable, long term goals. Proficiency based learning is meant to give students a larger say in their education and how to go about their education.
Students have been able to bring their learning into their homes with videos, and been able to show their knowledge of the material in a non-traditional manner.
Q & A: Three freshman at SB, Xander, Bambi, and Tasnuva were asked the same questions about proficiency based learning.
You grew up with the traditional [letter grades] system, correct?
Xander: No, I had the 1-4 point grade system until just now.
Tasnuva: Yes, I am accustomed to the traditional system.
Why do you think SB is transitioning to the proficiency based learning?
Xander: I don’t really know that much about it, but from what I see it’s bureaucratic “Change for the sake of change”. Again, I don’t know that much about it.
Bambi: I think they’re changing because they want students to focus more on the information and less on the grade.
Tasnuva: So that a letter grade can’t differentiate with students. In proficiency based learning, a student is only expected to be proficient. This cuts off most of the stress for a student.
Have you been informed enough about the proficiency based learning? What else would you like to know?
Xander: I really don’t know anything. I know that people have to jump through some more hoops to get grades and I presume that it’s designed for a more accurate representation of proficiency… But that’s all that I know. What caused the inception of this new system… I really can’t place in my mind the drive that would cause this new system to be adopted
Bambi: Here [SBHS]? Probably not. We [the class of 2020] are the guinea pig graduation group, so I don’t blame them [school administration]. But I think all the classes should do something,so far only my English, PE, and art classes have talked about the PBLs. I would like to know how colleges would be accepting these new grades, because some colleges are very picky about their selection processes. Also, are we going to have a dual system on the report cards, on the GPA and the other the traditional system
Tasnuva: No, why are we the first batch to graduate with proficiencies? Also, what is the official reason for changing our system?
What is your opinion on proficiency based learning, why?
Xander: Again, I don’t really know much about it but, as far as I know, it’s just change for the sake of change, and due to my ignorance of the system, I can’t see the help of this system.
Bambi: I think it has the potential to become very beneficial, but at this point it’s definitely not fulfilling its potential because students haven’t be informed enough. Letting us be introduced slowly, instead of saying, “here this is what you’re graduating with,” [Would be the most beneficial]
Tasnuva: It is a totally new thing for me, so it is a bit scary. I mean, if something goes wrong or doesn’t go according to plans, then it is risking the future of my higher education.
Is there anything that could be done to improve the grading system (current or proficiency based)?
Xander: I’m not sure if this is true, but I’ve heard that the proficiency based grade system will, overall, display a pass/fail result rather than a gradient result. If that’s true, definitely change it. All that would do is show less information as to someone’s actual proficiency in a subject. However, this is from rumour only. Probably untrue. Also, they should have better communication with their students. I really have no idea what’s going on, I just know that I’m being pushed towards a new standard.
Bambi: Definitely having all the teachers use it. Also, easing into it, because so classes just throw it at you. Also, parents need to understand that a 100% is perfect, not the expectation. Also passing GPA should be lower. It’s a social thing. PBL does acknowledge the people who go above and beyond in their school work.
Tasnuva: I believe that I must not be the only person who is a bit scared of this new system. It would be better to actually know how we will have to deal with the situation and what steps need to be taken.