Great Schools Partnership

Planning for Proficiency: Implementation Steps

This is the first brief in a thirteen-part series designed to inform Maine school leaders as they work to develop and implement their proficiency-based learning system.

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September 2017 marks the deadline for implementation of the state requirement for high school graduation by proficiency. For some districts, this reality can appear quite daunting. We believe, however, that all districts can meet this requirement. The following steps – all outlined with free resources – can help make this desire a reality.

  1. Identify Content Area Graduation Standards and Performance Indicators
  2. Develop Scoring Criteria
  3. Assess the Guiding Principles
  4. Align Performance Indicators
  5. Review and Revise District Policies
  6. Develop a Reporting System
  7. Conduct Public Forums
  8. Redesign Organizational Structures and Strategies
  9. Develop Assessments and Units
  10. Revise the Student Transcript

1. Identify Content Area Graduation Standards and Performance Indicators

Identify common graduation standards and performance indicators for each core content area. Schools and districts can start this step by using the exemplar standards on the Great Schools Partnership (GSP) website which are aligned with the Maine Learning Results. We don’t believe these examples fit perfectly for every district, but we do believe they provide a very helpful starting point. Graduation standards reflect the broad, integrated concepts of each discipline and require students to demonstrate, apply, and evaluate knowledge in multiple ways—what we refer to as “transfer.” Performance indicators break down the more comprehensive graduation standards into learnable and measurable targets. They target knowledge applications from classroom assignments, projects, and assessments over a range of courses and throughout a student’s high school years. Over time, summative assessments on performance indicators are used to certify achievement of a graduation standard.

This first step is best accomplished when teachers collaboratively select and adapt 5 to 8 graduation standards per subject, then adopt or adapt 5 to 10 high quality performance

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2. Develop Scoring Criteria

Collaboratively develop, adapt, or adopt scoring criteria for each performance indicator. Scoring criteria defines expected levels of student performance regarding a specific performance indicator, and importantly, are constructed prior to the development of either assessments or curriculum, enabling the scoring criteria to be used with a multitude of student evidence. Developing high quality scoring criteria is fundamental to ensuring equity and opening multiple learning pathways to students. If scoring criteria are written well and are applied consistently, assessment of true learning will be accurately measured, and will validate the system. As student performance data from performance indicators are used to certify achievement of a graduation standard, it is critical to use scoring criteria that assess the depth of knowledge and understanding, not quantity of work done, attitudes or behaviors, or student-to-student comparisons. To implement this process timely, schools may adopt or adapt scoring criteria developed by other schools for common performance indicators.

When teachers work collaboratively to score student work using common performance indicators and scoring criteria, the result is greater consistency across the school and common language regarding the meaning of proficiency. Scoring criteria are used by teachers both formatively (clarifying what students need to learn to guide instruction and inform supports) and summatively (e.g. end-of-unit assessment). Thus, students will be assessed many times on any given performance indicator and in multiple courses.

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3. Assess the Guiding Principles

Develop graduation standards aligned with the Guiding Principles, write performance indicators, and develop scoring criteria for each indicator, a process similar to that used to select and assess content area graduation standards.

Developing a way to adequately assess the Guiding Principles is a difficult task as the Principles are not content or discipline specific and are often viewed as “hovering above” the day-to-day work of the classroom. After identifying the standards and performance indicators that will be used to assess the Guiding Principles, schools can then decide where these will be assessed within existing courses and learning experiences. For example, students in a social studies class examining the relative success of specific state or federal legislation are demonstrating Informed Thinking. Biology students researching the evolution of lyme disease in the deer population and reporting key findings are also demonstrating Clear and Effective Communication. Some schools require a senior capstone project as a culminating assessment to demonstrate achievement of the Guiding Principles. GSP recommends establishing a system where students assemble evidence, over time, of their proficiency in the Guiding Principles as they engage in learning in each content area.

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4. Align Performance Indicators

Align performance indicators with curriculum and course-based units of study to ensure collection of an adequate body of evidence over four years of high school that will certify each graduation standard has been met. All common courses should share the same set of foundational performance indicators although individual students may engage in learning that goes beyond these expectations. In most cases, performance indicators will appear in several courses within or across content areas to assess student depth and sophistication of learning, ensuring there are sufficient opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning. Over time, teachers will adapt and develop new units, further refine assessments of performance indicators, and implement elements of a personalized, equitable learning system.

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5. Review + Revise District Policies

Review and revise district policies to ensure alignment between state graduation requirements and the local proficiency-based system. Most districts will need to revise graduation requirements to award the diploma based upon proficiency of graduation

standards and the Maine Guiding Principles, not simply courses, credits, or instructional time. Grading and reporting systems have to be compatible with proficiency-based learning, transcripts will need revision, and recognition of academic achievement will also need to be reexamined. Further, policies that allow students to pursue programs outside of school, such as internships, career and technical education, virtual courses, or dual enrollment, need to define how student learning demonstrated through participation in each of these programs will be recognized similarly to learning that occurs within regular high school courses.

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6. Develop a Reporting System

Collaboratively develop a reporting system that reflects proficiency-based practices. Parents want to see report cards or progress reports they can understand. They want to know that their child is “on track” with learning expectations. They want to have confidence that their child’s college applications will not be disadvantaged in any way due to changes in grading practices. As districts create and implement their systems, it’s important to keep in mind the audience for achievement reports and student transcripts.

Even though districts may choose to maintain their current grade reporting model (i.e., A–F or percentages) during their initial implementation, shifting to a proficiency-based reporting system will require significant community engagement and involvement. Once schools and districts implement proficiency-based learning, they will need to change how course grades are calculated. Beyond course grades, the system must be able to aggregate student scores on performance indicators to determine achievement of the Maine Learning Results as required by state law. Rather than grade averaging, schools should investigate various mathematical trending formulas that weigh more recent scores more heavily than earlier scores—acknowledging that proficiency is about where you end up, not where you started.

Other data considerations include indicating the number of times a student attempted the assessment, noting which assessments also include some component of the Guiding Principles, and perhaps also indicating assessments scored by Career and Technical Education (CTE) or other external programs.

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7. Conduct Public Forums

Conduct public forums to engage parents and the community in authentic dialogue about the planned proficiency-based learning system. Parents need information and reassurance that moving to a proficiency-based system will not disadvantage their child in any way, including the college admissions process. Articulating a clear alignment of the grading and grade reporting processes and recognizing academic honors and other exemplary achievement is essential. It’s important to underscore, however, that such recognition must be based on achievement of standards rather than on comparisons to other students.

On a deeper level, schools need to address any long-standing dynamics in the community that limit participation by less-advantaged demographic groups. Authentic engagement means developing shared community-school values among all stakeholders.

Being proactive in briefing the media regarding the intended changes in the system will keep the district out in front of the media and help build a base of support.

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8. Redesign Organizational Structures + Strategies

Review school organizational structures and strategies that support proficiency-based learning in a personalized learning environment, including grade level and content-based teaming, common planning time, shared leadership teams, team teaching, heterogeneously grouped core courses, and an inclusion model for special needs students. Refine school schedules to support extended learning time and engagement in both individual and collaborative projects, and offer teachers time to consult with students, adjust strategies to help them meet learning targets, and to retake assessments. In addition to allowing for increased student voice and choice in the classroom, the system becomes more adaptable to personalized learning experiences beyond the classroom, such as internships with career professionals, field research projects, or service projects.

Create and implement supports and intervention systems to address the learning needs of all students. Response to Intervention (RTI) and other support strategies at all levels become far more impactful and efficient in a proficiency-based system. Beginning with data from the earliest formative assessments, educators implement multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate proficiency with classroom supports and interventions. Supports and interventions outside of the classroom are provided if students continue to struggle after multiple demonstrations of learning.

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9. Develop Assessments + Units

Revise and develop units and assessment tasks within each course that are in direct alignment with performance indicators and graduation standards. Building from common scoring criteria, units allow students to demonstrate learning progress and achievement in multiple ways through differentiated assessment tasks, personalized learning options, or alternative learning pathways. Students who are empowered to make key decisions about how they will demonstrate proficiency are less likely to become bored or discouraged. Further, students with special needs particularly benefit from diverse ways of demonstrating achievement.

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10. Revise the Student Transcript

Collaboratively redesign the student transcript to reflect achievement of courses, graduation standards, the Guiding Principles, and habits of work. The high school transcript is the official student academic record and must clearly communicate academic accomplishment to colleges and future employers. The transcript design ideally includes the varied student learning experiences: courses, independent learning, internships, capstone experiences, and early college courses and other special programs. The transcript also lists the unique achievements and particular skills of the student. Transcript revision is best accomplished by a team consisting of teachers, counselors, school administrators, and at least one member of the school board. Because is it critical that the reader be able to fully interpret and understand the transcript, schools should engage in a collaborative review process, perhaps including a college admissions officer, before rolling out their new transcript.

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