A Parent's Guide to Proficiency Based Learning
Rutland High School is engaged in the process of transitioning our learning and grading practices. Proficiency based learning is the practice of instructing and assessing students based on pre-determined expectations of what the student will know and be able to do.
These expectations are written as explicit standards for each course, such as:
English: By the end of the course, the student will be able to read, analyze, and interpret a wide range of literary texts.
Math: By the end of the course, the student will be able to demonstrate an understanding of linear and exponential relationships.
Science: By the end of the course, the student will be able to plan and conduct an investigation of water and its effects on Earth.
Social Studies: By the end of the course, the student will be able to evaluate & synthesize evidence, offer multiple perspectives, & draw conclusions
Art: By the end of the course, the student will be able to represent objects with various textures and values using lines
Assessments, such as homework, quizzes, tests, and projects, provide students the opportunity to demonstrate their progress in meeting or exceeding the stated standard. Grades will be determined based on whether the student has exceeded, met, or not yet met the standard.
Use the links to the right to find out more about proficiency based learning here at RHS.
- What do grades mean at RHS?
- What is proficiency based learning?
- Why adopt proficiency based practices?
- What do all these new terms mean?
- How have grading practices developed at RHS?
- What is a proficiency scale?
- Academic Honors in a Proficiency Based System
- What are Habits of Work?
- Transferable Skills: School-wide Results
- What will colleges think?
- What will progress reports and report cards look like?
- Educator Resources
Grades communicate individual student academic achievement in relation to course expectations to our students, their families, employers, and post-secondary institutions.
- Grades reflect student academic achievement.
- Grading will not be used for disciplinary purposes.
- At the start of a course, students and parents will be provided with information regarding grading practices and expectations.
- Summative evidence will constitute the majority of a student’s grade.
Proficiency Based Grading Scale
The following 0 to 4 point scale will be used by teachers to provide feedback to students and parents on the student’s current progress toward meeting the course standards.
- 4 – Exceeds the standard: the student demonstrates in-depth inferences and applications of the learning which go beyond what was taught.
- 3- Meets the standard: the student has demonstrated the skill and / or content expected.
- 2 – Approaching the standard: the student is able to perform the basic processes and understands the vocabulary which are prerequisites to meeting the standard.
- 1.5 – Partial success at score 2.0 content, and major errors or omissions regarding score 3.0 content
- 1 – Partial success: with help the student is partially successful in performing the prerequisite skills or meeting the standard.
- 0 – No evidence: there is little or no evidence that the student has met the standard.
Proficiency based learning is the practice of instructing and assessing students based on pre-determined expectations of what the student will know and be able to do. These expectations are called “standards” or “proficiencies.” Assessments, such as homework, quizzes, tests, and projects provide students the opportunity to demonstrate their progress in meeting or exceeding the stated standard.
Rather than averaging together all of a student’s work, proficiency based grading tracks the student’s progress toward meeting a specific expectation. The grades that a student receives convey that the student:
- Has Exceeded the standard (4)
- Has Met the standard (3)
- Knows the basics of the standard (2)
- Needs help with the basics of the standard (1)
- Has not provided evidence of meeting the standard (0)
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:
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:
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.
Proficiency based grading is full of vocabulary and terminology. It is important to note that, while standards and proficiencies are being implemented nationally, each school uses some terms that are all their own, and RHS is no exception. Additional resources are available at The Vermont Agency of Education and The Glossary of Education Reform.
Listed below are some of the most commonly used terms that you’ll see regularly here at RHS.
Proficiency Based Learning: Synonymous with Standards Based Learning. The practice of instructing and assessing students based on pre-determined expectations of what the student will know and be able to do. Assessments provide students the opportunity to demonstrate their progress in meeting or exceeding the stated standard.
Standard: A statement of what a student is expected to know and be able to do by the end of a course of study. Synonymous with Proficiency.
Overarching Standards: A general statement of what a student is expected to know and be able to do by the end of a course. Most high school courses will have 3 to 6 overarching standards and each overarching standard includes multiple prioritized standards. Overarching standards are reported on progress and quarterly reports.
Prioritized Standards: A specific statement of what a student is expected to know and be able to do by the end of a course. Prioritized standards support more general categories called Overarching Standards. Most high school courses will have a total of 20 prioritized standards, grouped into 3 to 6 overarching standards.
Summative Assessment: A culminating assessment of the degree to which a student has met the stated expectation of learning or standard. Typical examples include projects, presentations, and tests.
Formative Assessment: An ongoing assessment of the degree to which a student has met the stated expectation of learning or standard. Typical examples include class discussions, homework, and quizzes.
Common Assessment: An assessment of student learning which has been developed collaboratively by teachers in advance of a unit of study. It is used for the purpose of analyzing the degree to which students have met the stated expectation of learning.
Habits of Work: The non-academic behaviors that a student is expected know and be able to demonstrate which lead to success. Examples of habits include responsibility, collaboration, and perseverance.
Proficiency Scale: Similar to a rubric, this grading tool lists for the student the expected standard and the prerequisite skills necessary to meet and exceed the standard.
Rutland High School is committed to the continuous improvement of our teaching and learning practices. This requires that we examine the latest research on learning and adapt our practices to meet those findings. The following timeline tracks the school’s progress toward the proficiency based practices we are using today.
- Developed and refined school-wide Professional Learning Communities, which are collaborative teams devoted to addressing:
- What we expect all students to know and be able to do;
- How we will know when the student has met the expectation;
- How we respond to students who have not met the expectation; and
- How we respond once the student has met the expectation.
- Established the Freshman Interdisciplinary Team to ensure that the ninth grade curriculum will:
- Demonstrate real-world relevance;
- Reinforce and integrate standards across the curriculum;
- Be interdisciplinary;
- Demonstrate a Global Studies and / or STEM focus.
- Adopted a school-wide Grading Philosophy, which includes statements on the Meaning of a Grade and Academic, Non-Academic Factors, and Grades.
- Statewide adoption of the Educational Quality Standards which require that schools adopt proficiency based practices and graduation requirements which enable students “…to demonstrate proficiency” in content areas and “transferable skills.” (EQS, 2120.5);
- School-wide and ongoing development of Common Assessments;
- School-wide development and assessment of Academic Expectations.
- Developed course specific standards and proficiency scales;
- Developed and adopted a conversion scale between proficiency based and traditional grades.
- Ongoing development of course specific standards and proficiency scales;
- Implement proficiency based learning practices in the classroom;
- Implement the Habits of Work standard on the report card.
- Assessment grades recorded using proficiency scales and grades of 0 – 4;
- Course standards included on report cards;
- Habits of Work final grade included on the transcript.
- Implemented proficiency based grading software for use with progress reports and report cards;
- Course standards tied to Transferable Skills;
- Students received an individual report of Transferable Skills and school-wide results published online.
- Developed Learning Matrices based on Proficiency Scales;
- Ongoing implementation of Learning Matrices in the classroom.
- Continue to refine and revise proficiency based grading practices through the ongoing development of Standards, Proficiency Scales, Learning Matrices, Scope and Sequence Documents, and Standard Operating Procedure Documents.
A proficiency scale is a table used by teachers and students to determine the student’s current level of progress toward meeting the standard.
Proficiency scales indicate student achievement as it relates to a given standard and use a four-point system where a score of 3.0 indicates proficiency within a standard. In other words, a student receiving a score of 3.0 has met the standard. A general description of each score level is below:
|4.0||In addition to meeting the standard, the student demonstrates applications that go beyond what was taught in class. The score of 4 is reserved for occasions where the student has gone above and beyond to demonstrate mastery of the skill.|
|3.0||The student has demonstrated proficiency in the skill or standard. The student has met the standard.|
|2.0||The student has gained an understanding of the vocabulary and simpler processes of the standard.|
|1.0||With help, the student can achieve partial success with the vocabulary and the simpler processes involved in the standard.|
|0.0||There is little or no evidence of the student having met the standard.|
Students may also be assessed with half-point increments such as 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5.
Quarterly Honor Roll:
High Honors: Students may have no final grade in the semester lower than a 3.0 with no incomplete grades. All students must carry a minimum of 3 courses per semester and 7 credits for the year.
Honors: Students must have a final grade average of 3.0 or better with no incomplete grades or grades below a 2.5, and must carry a minimum of 3 courses per semester and 7 credits for the year.
Students who receive a WP (Withdraw Pass) are eligible for Honor Roll Recognition. Students who receive a WF (Withdraw Fail) are not eligible.
Quarterly Honor Roll is based on all completed course grades in a semester and will be published after the completion of the semester.
Rutland High School offers academic honors to those students who have achieved academic excellence during their high school career. Recognition at graduation will be based on the GPA at the conclusion of the 4th term of senior year. For the classes of 2021 and following, graduation honors shall be determined as follows:
- Summa Cum Laude – GPA of 4.1 or higher
- Magna Cum Laude – GPA of 3.9 or higher
- Cum Laude – GPA of 3.5 or higher
A successful Rutland High School graduate is one who has demonstrated proficiency in subject area content, such as reading, writing, and mathematics, and also in the behaviors of a productive community member. In 2012 we adopted a school-wide practice which states that a student’s grade represents “…individual academic achievement…” and we have worked since that time to separate the behaviors from the academic achievement.
Instituting a Habits of Work grade conveys to students and the larger school community the importance of acquiring and habituating these behaviors. A separate HOW grade allows a teacher to keep feedback on academic achievement separate from feedback on behavioral achievement while highlighting the importance of both.
Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, students will receive a final academic grade and a final HOW grade at the end of the course. Both grades will be included on the student’s transcript.
The Habits of Work (HOW) standard is a standard that appears in every class. This standard communicates the degree to which the student demonstrates behaviors such as collaboration, responsibility, and perseverance.
While non-academic factors may be highly valued and often contribute to academic achievement, they will be communicated separately from academic achievement.
Habits of Work Standards
|Overarching Standard: By the end of the course, the student will be able to consistently demonstrate the habits and behaviors necessary for success in personal, educational, and career pursuits. (IC Standard: Demonstrate the habits and behaviors necessary for success in life.)|
|Prioritized Standard: By the end of the course, the student will be able to collaborate positively throughout lessons to ensure a productive, safe, and comfortable learning environment, treating others with respect and dignity.|
|Prioritized Standard: By the end of the course, the student will be able to accept responsibility for decisions and actions by achieving goals, such as meeting deadlines, completing assignments, and using class-time effectively.|
|Prioritized Standard: By the end of the course, the student will be able to persevere in solving problems and achieving goals by spending additional time on task, asking for assistance, and revising previous work.|
Grades are used to communicate with students, their families, and also to third parties such as colleges. As we implement proficiency based learning practices, some may worry that these practices will place students from RHS at a disadvantage. To address this concern two organizations, The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) and the New England Secondary School Consortium (NESSC) convened a meeting of admissions leaders from highly selective colleges in New England.
“Overwhelmingly, these admissions leaders indicate that students with proficiency-based transcripts will not be disadvantaged in the highly selective admissions process. Moreover, according to some admissions leaders, features of the proficiency-based transcript model shared with the group provide important information for institutions seeking not just high-performing academics, but engaged, lifelong learners.” How Selective Colleges and Universities Evaluate Proficiency-Based High School Transcripts: Insights for Students and Schools
In addition, admissions leaders shared that they saw great advantage to including Habits of Work information on transcripts.
The reality is that colleges receive transcripts from home-school students, students educated overseas, and students attending public and private high schools. Each high school engages in its own process to report grades and each college engages in its own process to interpret those grades. Legislation has now been passed in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont requiring high schools to develop proficiency based practices, so RHS is not alone in reporting on proficiencies.
To date a long list of schools have signed explicit statements of support for proficiency based practices, including:
The complete list may be found at Collegiate Statements of Support.
Progress reports and report cards are an opportunity for your son or daughter’s teachers to provide information on the student’s current progress toward achieving the standard. You are able to monitor that ongoing progress in classes via the Parent Portal. Progress reports and term report cards are regularly scheduled opportunities to see a snap-shot of current progress.
To see a Current Progress Report, click here
- To what extent is there a teaming structure to allow for uniform implementation of teaching and grading practices?
- To what extent is there agreement on the meaning and purpose of a grade?
- Do courses have enumerated standards (a guaranteed & viable curr.) and scales?
- Is the school ready for teachers to report student progress on meeting standards to students and families?
- What are the hurdles that you can anticipate and how do you overcome them?
- What are the Professional Development resources that can be brought to bear to prepare teachers to provide student grades on standards?