A large group of educators, students, and proponents of proficiency-based learning pose for a picture in a meeting room.

Proficiency-Based Learning

“One consistent finding of academic research is that high expectations are the most reliable driver of high student achievement, even in students who do not have a history of successful achievement.”
-Doug Lemov

Proficiency-Based Learning is a key component of flexible and personalized pathways set forth in Act 77 and the State Board of Education’s Education Quality Standards. Vermont public schools must provide students with flexible and personalized pathways for progressing through grade levels and to graduation. These resources can help educators and families understand some of the changes that are taking place in Vermont schools.

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What is Proficiency-Based Learning?

The focus of proficiency-based learning is on students’ demonstration of desired learning outcomes. Students gain the skills, abilities, and knowledge required in an area of study, along with those necessary to be successful in college, career and civic life. Proficiency-based learning is designed to identify and address gaps to provide equitable learning opportunities for every student. This is in contrast to traditional systems which advance students based on seat time. Read more about “What is proficiency-based learning?”.

Proficiency-Based Learning and Project-Based Learning Connections

Project-based learning is a “teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge” (PBL Works). Learn more about the approach and how it aligns with proficiency-based learning through the ongoing Project-Based Learning document series. Readers are encouraged to interact with the documents following the order found in this Project-Based Learning Document Sequence and listed here:

Proficiency-Based Learning Commentaries/Articles

Proficiency-based Learning 101: A Vermont Primer

This Powerpoint-based video primer gives an overview of proficiency-based learning in Vermont. The primer addresses equity, standards and proficiencies, curriculum, instruction and assessment, reporting, structure, organization and scheduling, as well as an acronym glossary and an FAQ.




Vermont Agency of Education Briefs

At the Agency, we recognize that many school systems have moved beyond discussing the "what" and the "why" of proficiency-based learning.  Others, however, are still in the initial stages of implementation. Regardless of where educators are along this continuum, it is important to revisit these questions at different points in time to help ensure a shared vision for the future. These briefs can be used to provoke important conversations among educators. Questions to consider include: How do these documents align with our thinking? How are they different? What might be missing?

Proficiency-Based Grading Practices and Transcripts

Vermont Resources:

  • Proficiency-Based Grading and Transcripts: Responding To Parent and Community Concerns: This document was created in order to respond to common questions related to proficiency-based grading practices and transcripts.
  • Research Brief: Proficiency-Based Grading Practices: The information in this document should be used to inform rather than dictate decisions related to grading practices in a personalized and proficiency-based system. Focus questions with related research are provided. Specific sections of this document could be selected for discussion based on the specific needs of a school community.
  • Vermont Proficiency-Based Grading Practices: This document provides current examples of proficiency-based grading and reporting practices in Vermont. The intent is to share resources and materials so that leaders and educators in school systems can support one another on the path to proficiency.

Additional Resources:

Vermont Stories: The Road to Implementation of Proficiency-Based Learning

Vermont educators are working hard to implement educational systems that are personalized and proficiency-based. Below are blogs in which educators share their stories about this journey.

Franklin West Supervisory Union, located in northwestern Vermont, serves the communities of Fairfax, Fletcher, and Georgia. They are passionate about sharing their story every day. Readers follow their educational journey and enjoy a close-up look at what is happening in the classroom and beyond through their blog, The FWSU Story: A belief in what is possible.

CVU Learns: One School's Journey to Standards Based Learning is a blog written by educators, Stan Williams and Emily Rinkema, unless otherwise noted. Posts include relevant topics such as Assessing to Develop Skill, Not Identify It and Proficiency, Personalization, and a Cocktail Napkin: or, how PBL became PPBL.

Transparency: Operating with a Clear Instructional Vision to Put Policy into Practice is the first in a three-part series written by Andrew Jones, director of curriculum at Mill River Unified Union School District in Vermont. A set of educator specific proficiencies and performance indicators drafted with teacher input are described. The goal is to use these proficiencies and indicators to guide the overall implementation of proficiency-based learning. 

Supporting Teachers with Making Sense of Proficiency-Based Learning is the second in a three-part series from Andrew Jones, director of curriculum at Mill River Unified Union School District in Vermont. This post explains how a district-wide teacher learning system supports ongoing efforts to implement K-12 proficiency-based learning practices.

Providing Flexible Pathways and Personalized Learning Options for All Students is the third in a three-part series from Andrew Jones, director of curriculum at Mill River Unified Union School District in Vermont. Educators at Mill River are looking for ways to completely rethink what it means to learn and go to school. The Trailhead Project that is described in this post leverages the unique characteristics of each school to provide dynamic learning opportunities for students in this district.

Proficiency-Based Learning Resources

Suggested Readings/Resources 

Proficiency-Based Learning (Competency-Based Education) Across the United States

The map below, created by iNACOL,  indicates competency education is advancing across the country. Even in many of the states with little or no interest in exploring competency education, there are educators pursuing a better way to organize education so that students receive the instructional support they need. 

A Snapshot of K-12 Competency Education State Policy Across the United States

Organizations that Support Proficiency-Based Learning

Note: Competency and proficiency-based learning are used interchangeably in the resources above.

"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly." by Buckminster Fuller


Email Pat Fitzsimmons or call (802) 828-5986.

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Vermont Agency of Education
Secretary Daniel M. French
1 National Life Drive, Davis 5
Montpelier, VT 05620-2501

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