Friday, June 12, 2015

How PBE is Different Revision 1

In an earlier post I tried to explain how a PBE classroom would look different. It was not a very good explanation. So I turned to some truly brilliant educators at the Q.E.D. Foundation in Amherst, NH. They have been working on a transformational educational model for maybe over a decade. Kim Carter the director of Q.E.D. first shared this graphic with me at conference maybe as many years ago. It has been hanging over my various desks ever since she gave it to me. At the time the concepts were way above my head, but now I am beginning to understand it and I think it is a useful way of looking how a truly proficiency based system is different from where we are now.

For me the 22 indicators in the graphic describe a transformation system that looks very much like what Vermont is calling for in act 77 and the Educational Quality Standards.

This from Q.E.D. explains how to read the graphic.
As  change progresses from left to right (from traditional to transformational), the depth of the color blue increases accordingly, indicating the depth (and fidelity) of implementation required. For some indicators the progression from one degree of change to another is not a smooth or natural one; these are illustrated by a white gap in the row. The white gaps indicate the need for the educational system to break with one practice – and often a corresponding set of beliefs and assumptions – in order to embrace the next. The two practices cannot exist side-by-side in any meaningful way. (Q.E.D. Foundation).
This of course is a model for a Transformational School System. Models guide practice, but they are not practice. The graphic hopefully gives us something to think about, for example in the indicator School Wide Learning Goals a transformational system would set goals according to learner aspirations and life options. That leads us to implementation questions; how do we do that? what does it look and sound like? There is where our work lies. This transformation will not happen overnight nor in a handful of professional learning days. It is going to take steady forward pressure for years until these practices become our new "culture".

Friday, June 5, 2015

Vermont's Plans for Transferrable Skiils

With the move toward Proficiency Based Education the Agency of Education in collaboration with educators around the state has been developing a number of support materials. Perhaps the most impactful work they are doing is in the area of assessment. The folks at the agency are particularly focused on developing assessments for the transferrable skills. They intend to begin piloting those assessments next year. I am still trying to wrap my head around it all but here is I think I understand.

To put this all in perspective I want to give you some sense of the scope of assessments. We have experienced the SBAC now and we have a clearer idea of what assessment entails. The work the AOE is focused on is in the area of "moderated tasks". The work we have been engaged in during inservice has been around "benchmark tasks".

First I will start with the state's intent and vision for these moderated tasks and then I will get into how they were developed.

The broad goal of this Vermont Transferrable Skills Assessment System (VTSAS) is to create a common set of scoring criteria for each Performance Indicator in the Transferrable Skills. With that common criteria Vermont schools could not only assess proficiency on set teacher developed tasks, but also in student submitted work (a negotiated selection of work that demonstrates proficiency)from internships, work study or independent projects.

The Agency is currently drafting a set of "moderated tasks" to help educators learn how to create their own tasks and to help calibrate the scoring of Transferrable Skill Indicators. For those of you who have been around for a while this sounds very much like the writing and math network work.

The process sounds like it has evolved from the portfolio days.  The State's intent is to train teachers on these Moderated Tasks (not sure what that entails yet) and calibrate scoring. They are building an online platform/database where teachers can submit student work from both Moderated and Teacher Developed tasks and have the work scored online by teachers from around the state.

So I can sense some anxiety building here. This is not a mandate to return to some kind of statewide portfolio system. This looks like it is going to be a support system for schools to help with the assessment of Transferrable Skills.


The way the state leadership developed these Moderated Tasks is impressive and well worth learning from. They began with the Performance Indicators and decided on a traditional 4 point scale (my only quibble with this proces -- see Single Point Rubrics). From there they used Bloom's Taxonomy (ok I have an issue with this too -- see Marzano's Taxonomy) to write scoring criteria.


They only completed two of the PBGR's for transferrable skills and are in the process of completing the third, but the work they have done is exciting -- well exciting if you are a curriculum geek. Unlike the scoring criteria of far too many rubrics the language for each level is crisp, discrete and tied tightly to Bloom's language. The work you see here is written for 11th and 12th grade. Overtime this language will need to be refined and cascaded down to earlier grades, however as a starting point it is great.



Once the scoring criteria was complete the development teams began developing "Task Models" or descriptions of what a quality and targeted assessments would need. They first asked "What features does a Performance Task have to have to really assess transferrable skills" They selected one PBGR "Clear and Effective Communication" and identified the Indicators they thought most important.

From there they wrote a series of "elements" or objectives for the task. These elements became the non-negotiattbles for any task developed from this model. So here is the beauty of it, regardless of your content area you could now develop a performance task from this task model. Regardless of your content area all students would have the same scoring criteria for these Transferrable skills. Just so you do not get confused this is just one task model. It is an example. Any teachers looking to develop a common assessment could develop their own task model.

In the long run we (or someone) will also develop scoring criteria in the content areas but work has yet to be done. However if you think about the impact of developing LDC modules we will begin to collect content specific scoring criteria.

There is still plenty to unpack about this assessment design process and perhaps the pilot assessments will make that work easier.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Classrooms in the Age of Proficiency


My colleague Tom Ferenc asked me the other day what a proficiency based classroom looked like. The question had come from one of his teachers who raised it in a slightly different form. She stated that it seemed like the teachers were already doing proficiency based education so what would they actually have to change. The dilemma had been keeping him up at night. How do you paint a picture of what PBE looks like? It is a real dilemma I think because PBE is an evolution not a revolution. In many ways we have been evolving to a proficiency based system for years. That evolution really started with the standards movement in the 80's. Teachers have been identifying standards, and developing rubrics for years now. So what is the difference.
I am going to switch metaphors now and talk about PBE as an iceberg. Most of what we know and can see in proficiency based system is above the water. It is the stuff we have been doing in some form or another for years. Teachers have been thinking about standards and assessment. They develop rubrics and give feedback. The changes in this work above the water line is evolutionary not revolutionary. It is a good thing that teachers feel like they are already doing Proficiency Based Education because they are using the elements, the change will be in the ways they pull those elements together.
There is a greater emphasis on teachers knowing the standards. This emphasis is largely necessitated by a change in assessment and reporting of proficiency (grading). The shift is away from giving students grades based on meeting the requirements of the class and towards them demonstrating what they can do. That means that in PBE classrooms the indicators (all of which come from the standards) are explicitly and clearly tied to both formative and summative assessment. In terms of grading, currently we mash work habits up with content knowledge. We often create single grade for a student that includes work habits like how many homeworks they turned, how well the participated in class or how hard we thought they tried on a particular assignment. We end up with kids passing classes but not really knowing the content. In a PBE a teacher will assess and report on work habits separately from proficiency. 

      Image credit Liz Mirra

In PBE classrooms teachers are using common assessment criteria more often than not. This is going to be particularly true not only in broad areas like communication or research, but also in more specific areas like "using evidence" "revising based on feedback".  There will be greater emphasis on connecting skills common across disciplines. Teachers may be building rubrics tailored to specific assignments from a common assessment criteria bank. PBE classrooms will focus more on the iterative process.There will be considerably more emphasis on the formative assessment -- feedback loop. Students will expect to have more iterations and feedback through formative assessment. Students may come back to the same piece of work several times over a time period to refine it. 

These are just few familiar areas where PBE will look different. However it is below the waterline that PBE looks much different from business as usual.

Starting with planning and the use of common planning templates. This planning begins with a common question, How can I...? How can I design assessments that take into account both content and transferrable skills? How can I tasks that are both rigorous and authentic? How can create an instructional ladder that is challenging, allows students to practice and get feedback on specific skills.
I have written about the LDC in an earlier post but I want to again emphasize the need for common touch stones for teachers. Using a common planning template does not mean everyone teaches the same thing nor does it mean writing a curriculum. It is simply a focused way thinking about assessment and instruction. The framework would allow for teachers to more clearly articulate what the skills and outcomes are for their courses. It allows for more targeted cross curricular planning. It could even be used in collaboration with student to develop their own independent pathway.

Focused planning is necessary in PBE but it is not sufficient. Creating time and space for teachers to learn in community will be essential. Standing dedicated time for Critical Friends Groups will be essential. The biggest and most important part of a PBE classroom does not actually happen in the classroom. It happens when teacher meet each week for at least two hours and look at student work, look at the assignments they create and grapple together with the dilemmas they face with their changing practice. So in a PBE classroom deprivatization of practice is the norm. Teachers look carefully at each others work and give specific, credible, actionable and audible feedback.

So while above the water line the changes are evolutionary, below the water line the changes are going to feel revolutionary.