The rationale for the school’s adoption of proficiency based learning practices is simple: if we give students and families better, more specific information both before and after instruction, then better learning takes place.

Better information before instruction

Course standards state in explicit terms what the student needs to be able do in order to demonstrate that he or she learned the new material.  These standards are the target for which the student aims in their learning, and it is a lot easier to hit the target when you know the target.

Educational research supports this notion of being explicit about the learning.  The following excerpt is taken from The Art and Science of Teaching.

“Establishing and communicating learning goals are the starting place. After all, for learning to be effective, clear targets in terms of information and skill must be established…. For example, the Lipsey and Wilson (1993) study synthesizes findings from 204 reports. Consider the average effect size of 0.55 from those 204 effect sizes. This means that in the 204 studies they examined, the average score in classes where goal setting was effectively employed was 0.55 standard deviations greater than the average score in classes where goal setting was not employed…. For the Lipsey and Wilson effect size of 0.55, the percentile gain is 21. This means that the average score in classes where goal setting was effectively employed would be 21 percentile points higher than the average score in classes where goal setting was not employed.” —Marzano, R. J., & Brown, J. L. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

It bears repeating that “…the average score in classes where goal setting was effectively employed would be 21 percentile points higher than the average score in classes where goal setting was not employed.”  Better information to students before the instruction translates into better learning.

This and additional research may be found at The Great Schools Partnership.

Better information after instruction

Students want to know, “So how’d I do?”  Grades should answer that question with clarity and accuracy.  Rutland HS report cards will continue to give an overall grade – called an omnibus grade – at the end of each term and the end of the course.  We are adding information on the report card on how the student did on specific standards within that course.

Consider the following example:

At the end of the term, a student receives the following grade report for English:

English: 85

Typically the student who wishes to improve this grade for the following term engages in conversations about how to do so.  He will talk with the teacher and his family about how get a higher score.

Now consider a student who earns the same grade, but receives the following grade report for English:

English:85

Reading Standard: 4 – exceeded the standard

Writing Standard: 2 – not yet proficient

The second report provides students and their families with more accurate information and therefore a clear direction of how to improve.  In this example the student’s efforts should be directed toward getting additional instruction and support in writing.  Importantly, the conversations are no longer about adding points to the grade, but rather about being a better writer.  This process of providing students with better and more accurate information is repeated with individual assignments when teachers are able to report that within the writing standard, the student needs to improve his ability to use evidence to support his claim.

Educational research supports this notion of giving students clear and explicit feedback about their current level of proficiency.

“Feedback provides information that helps learners confirm, refine, or restructure various kinds of knowledge, strategies, and beliefs that are related to the learning objectives (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). When feedback provides explicit guidance that helps students adjust their learning … there is a greater impact on achievement, students are more likely to take risks with their learning, and they are more likely to keep trying until they succeed (Brookhart, 2008; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Shute, 2008).” —Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

This and additional research may be found at The Great Schools Partnership. Also, see Seven Reasons for Standards Based Grading.