Proficiency-Based Learning in the Classroom


Moving Toward a Proficiency-Based System

For the past century, most schools across the country, have measured students’ readiness for graduation according to seat-time, or how many classes they take in each content area. But as young people prepare to enter today’s rapidly changing world and contribute to a complex, global economy, it is crucial that high school diplomas mean much more. In order to thrive in the 21st century, all students must graduate with a broad set of skills, knowledge, and dispositions that are applicable to any career. Educators call these “proficiencies,” meaning that all students must demonstrate mastery in order to graduate.

In each content area, Winooski and Burlington teachers are working to reshape curriculum with the mastery of specific proficiencies in mind. Students may still learn the quadratic formula in math and read Shakespeare in English, but the proficiencies that are required for mastery in these content areas will be more specific and much clearer to students, teachers, and parents. All parties will understand what aspects of the learning students have mastered and what remains to be mastered. While in a traditional curriculum, students can move from grade to grade without fully understanding what they have learned, proficiency-based learning requires that all students achieve excellence.

A Case in Point: Proficiency-Based Chemistry

The shift to a proficiency-based system is already emerging in our schools. For example, BHS teacher Molly Heath shifted her chemistry classes to a proficiency-based model in the last quarter of the 2013-14 school year. Her results were astounding! The class average on their final test was a full 10 points higher than on any other test. Molly created the above video to explain her process, capture student voice, and provide compelling data that demonstrates the effectiveness of this new approach to teaching and learning. Check it out!