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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.

The Framework for Proficiency: Resources to Support Implementation

The Vermont Framework for Proficiency has been developed over the course of three years to support Supervisory Unions/Districts in developing a coherent, coordinated, and culturally sustaining approach across schools and school districts so that every Vermont learner is empowered to attain the attributes described within the Vermont Portrait of a Graduate

The Vermont Framework for Proficiency: Resources to Support Implementation is composed of stackable documents that enable educators to access the information that is most relevant to the needs of a particular school system. It is organized from a backward-designed perspective so that the initial documents lay the foundation for subsequent work and inform decisions regarding next steps.

Infographic: The Roadmap to Proficiency is imagined as a road with signposts at each process stage. Cars drive on it with headlights labeled "PLPs."

The Roadmap to Proficiency identifies essential system components within the Framework for Proficiency that empower students to meet the expectations within the Vermont Portrait of a Graduate (PoG). The PoG represents the destination and the guarantee to students, families, and community members that Vermont learners are prepared for college, career, and civic life upon graduation. The system components include Planning for Proficiency, Developing and Clarifying the Proficiency Pathway, Designing Assessments, Refining Curriculum, Grading and Reporting, and Analyzing Data. Within this system, Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) play a crucial role in capturing the breadth and depth of academic and experiential learning opportunities students engage in as they progress along their pathway to graduation.

Participatory Action Research: An Opportunity for Collaboration

Participatory Action Research (PAR) offers an approach that can lead to meaningful and lasting improvements in educational systems by actively involving a variety of stakeholders in the research and decision-making process. PAR ensures that the work is relevant to the specific needs of an educational community and can therefore lead to solutions that are more likely to be effective and sustainable. The Vermont Framework for Proficiency: Participatory Action Research provides background information regarding PAR as well as information about how your SU/SD might get involved.

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Spotlights on Equity Resources

Educational equity means that every student has access to the resources, opportunities, and educational rigor they need at the right moment in their education, whatever their race, gender/identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, language, ability, family background, or family income may be. (Adapted from CCSSO, Leading for Equity) The Spotlights on Equity Resources below provide a list of considerations and resources for the purpose of supporting equity and access across content areas, emphasizing high quality and culturally sustaining learning opportunities for all students.

Vermont Student Voices

What if Every Learner Was Empowered to Choose Their Own Path?

Building a Big Dream in a Tiny House: Reflections from a Harbor Freight Fellow

How One Aspiring Aviator is Making Do with Social Distancing

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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?”.

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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:

Foundations of Project-Based Learning: Facilitator’s Guides

Four Foundational Elements of Project-Based Learning to use as a framework for the professional learning experience and subsequent materials: (1) a driving question anchored in academic content, (2) a student planned original concept that responds to the challenge, (3) active learning and guided inquiry opportunities, and (4) a culminating event or public product that is presented to a public audience.

Members of the Agency of Education’s (AOE) Proficiency-Based Learning Team designed and delivered a professional learning (PL) series – Foundations of Project-Based Learning – to support Vermont educators in developing the knowledge and skills needed to begin shifting their instruction to a Project-Based Learning (PjBL) approach. More information on the PL can be found online. Information on and recommendations for delivering a similar PL series on PjBL can be found below:

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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?

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Proficiency-Based Grading Practices and Transcripts

Vermont Resources:

Additional Resources:

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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.

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.

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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

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Organizations that Support Proficiency-Based Learning

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

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