Personalized, Proficiency-based Learning
How do we as a community ensure that our students move on from our schools prepared for what’s next?
As scientists and educators learn more about human development and how the brain works, they are developing promising approaches to help school districts answer this question, including proficiency-based learning (PBL). The Vermont State Board of Education has also incorporated PBL into the adopted Education Quality Standards.
At the heart of it, proficiency-based learning means that school systems establish clear learning outcomes across all grade levels and academic content areas as well as habits of mind, such as critical thinking and global citizenship. Each student is expected to achieve these proficiencies, but they can move at their own pace.
Proficiency-based grading systems report work habits, behaviors, and character traits separately from academic achievement, making it clearer for educators and families to understand learning weaknesses and behavioral issues so that students can get the help they need to succeed.
Even though learning expectations and assessment methods are common and consistent, teachers can be given more flexibility in how they teach and students can be given more choice in how they learn. For example, teachers don’t need to use the same textbooks, assignments, and tests; as long as their students learn what they need to learn, teachers can develop new and more creative ways to teach. Similarly, students can be given an assignment—research an American president, for example—but they can choose which president to study or how they want to show what they’ve learned (one student may write an essay, while others may create a short documentary using archival photos or an audio podcast in the style of a presidential address). As long as students meet the specific proficiency—demonstrate a strong understanding of the election system, the executive branch of the federal government, and the role of the American president, for example—teachers can teach and students can learn in the ways that work best for them.
A personalized learning plan (PLP) is a key tool used to document and follow a student’s progress towards reaching the proficiencies over his or her educational experience. Personalized learning plans are not only a good idea, they are now required by law to be implemented in all public schools in grades 7-12 by 2020 under Act 77.
Elementary schools are also exploring how the same concepts can start in the early grades. The first step is to establish the specific proficiencies at each grade level and across content areas and habits of work. Teachers across OSSU are working on this important step during the 2015-2016 school year as part of their professional development. The school boards are staying informed of this work and considering what this means within their own role.