Friday, May 15, 2015

A Phased Implementation for Proficiency Based Education



I have been thinking about approaches to phasing in Proficiency Based Education (PBE) in our SU. The picture above looks confusing, but actually it is fairly straight forward. However just because it is straight forward it is not going to be easy. In fact it is going to take considerable focus over the next years. Maintaining that focus is will be one of our biggest challenges.

Before I dig in with my explanation I want to stress that these phases are only to develop the framework for PBE the creativity and student engagement are still the work of the schools and teachers. This PBE framework will shift the focus of our planning, assessment and reporting but it will not supplant the creativity and autonomy of schools and teachers.

Before I go through my proposal for a phased implementation I want to be clear about the terms I am referring to. The chart above was produced by the good folks at the Agency of Education. It is one small section from their sample Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements. This particular image comes from the Science PBGR's.

If you look at the far left column "Graduation Proficiencies" you will see a numbered title in bold.  Under that title is a statement. That statement is the Graduation Proficiency. In science there are a total of eight proficiencies. On the far right hand column "Performance Indicators -- High School". That column contains a number of statements or Indicators. In science the state has suggested approximately nine indicators per proficiency. So for example would have to show through work on a performance task, project, work-study or internship that they could do each of the indicators. Meeting these indicators does not happen all at once nor does it happen in the same place. One indicator might be met in an internship and another through a class project. They would then collect all the evidence that they met these indicators to show that they met the Graduation Proficiency.

Phase one will involve bringing primarily high school teachers together to review, identify, revise or write the Graduation Proficiencies for each content area. Vermont has recommended we develop proficiencies in Global Citizenship, Math, ELA, Science, Performing and Visual Arts, Health and Physical Education and the mystery category of Transferrable Skills (I will write more on this in a later post).  Since Vermont has given us a clear set of sample Proficiencies the work will start with these and use an assessment tool to anchor our process.

Phase Two will look very much like the first phase. We will use a similar assessment tool, which I am still developing, to begin the work. The difference here is that there are many more Indicators and since these are directly related to what teachers teach I suspect there will be more discussion about which indicators stay and which go or how they will be written if they stay.

These first two phases will be exhausting and tedious. They are however, absolutely essential for our success in this transition. The good news is once they are done we will only return to them as reference materials.
The next three phases are tightly linked hence the messy picture here. However they are distinct phases of work each with their individual tasks and products. In Phase Three we will begin breaking the Indicators into smaller parts or specific skills. If you think about in Indicators as a project or exhibition the student completes to show they have proficiency, then the skills are the small parts of that project. For example if need to meet the indicator in science, 
Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.
then on skill students might work on is reading the Periodic Table. Developing these skill sets is a multi-year and evolving process. This work in this initial phase is just to begin building a common set of skills. Ideally over time we add to this and use it on a regular basis for module and lesson design.

Phase Four is the heart of our work. This is where teachers begin thinking about how they translate these proficiencies into actual lessons. I wrote an earlier post on how the LDC Module Framework works so I will not go into those details here, but if you read that post it becomes clear that teachers will need considerable instruction, time, space and feedback on this redesign.  I have also been talking with special educators on the need to consider incorporating Universal Design for Learning into this process. Bringing these two programs together in our curriculum redesign is a monumental task, and an imperative one. This work will take up the lion's share of any professional time we have. It is far beyond the scope of staff meeting or inservice time.

Phase Five is the work around establishing common scoring elements. This work will, like the work in phases three and four needs to develop over time.


Phase Six is  a big part of Proficiency Based Grading and will likely involve quite a bit of discussion. In the education system most of grew up in grades were a mishmash of elements, how you did on a test, or a paper, how many homeworks you turned and how well you participated. In PBE showing that you can meet an Indicator is scored and reported separately from things like "participation" or turning in homework or attendance. The work here will be on which work habits schools will report on and how each school will deal with students not demonstrating those work habits. This video on habits of work will explain it better than I can.
Phase Seven is actually addressing work we began in two years ago during inservice. Much of the PBE will happen at the school and classroom level. However we need to build a common assessment system as a quality control check. Many of our grade level and content area teams have designed a common assessment that they like and are using, other teams are still coming to some core agreements about what to assess and how to score the work. This work will need to continue during inservice. For some teams it will be a time to look at student work. For other teams inservice time will give them the time to continue to develop their common assessments.
I intentionally left grading, transcripts and reporting to the end of early implementation. Redesigning our grading and reporting system is going to take careful thought and planning. This is the point were PBE intersects with parents and community experience. Most of us understand education through the grading system we grew up with. Having an "A student" has a certain meaning, so does "graduating with a 4.0".  These labels are easy short hand for understanding where kids stand. This will likely change under a PBE system. Deciding how reporting changes and how we communicate that change to parents and community will take dedicated work time. I placed this at the end of early implementation because I believe we will need time to understand how our changes in curriculum and assessment will work before we can change our grading system. This short video gives you some sense of the how that change may look.


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