Introduction and Overview:

From The Glossary of Education Reform:

"Proficiency-based learning refers to systems of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education. In public schools, proficiency-based systems use state learning standards to determine academic expectations and define “proficiency” in a given course, subject area, or grade level...The general goal of proficiency-based learning is to ensure that students are acquiring the knowledge and skills that are deemed to be essential to success in school, higher education, careers, and adult life. If students fail to meet expected learning standards, they typically receive additional instruction, practice time, and academic support to help them achieve proficiency or meet the expected standards."

What does this really mean?

Teachers at Lake Region are in the process of transitioning to a Proficiency Based Learning system. Proficiency Based Learning stems from the idea that students do best when they have to achieve a certain degree of success before moving on to the next challenge—when they are required to develop skills (proficiencies) and to demonstrate that they can use these skills flexibly and consistently. Consider this example: A student who only meets three quarters of the learning targets in a lesson has "passed" the test, but is not ready for the lesson that follows and is likely to struggle when trying to learn the new material. We set students up for failure by pushing ahead to a new unit when students have not learned the most important skills and ideas from the earlier lesson. The overarching goal is to improve student outcomes—to help all students achieve more--by identifying those skills students absolutely must develop (the standards), measuring student progress in meeting these standards and providing students with extra support in meeting these standards if necessary.

Or, as The Glossary of Education Reform explains:

"Proficiency-based learning is generally seen as an alternative to more traditional educational approaches in which students may or may not acquire proficiency in a given course or academic subject before they earn course credit, get promoted to the next grade level, or graduate. For example, high school students typically earn academic credit by passing a course, but a passing grade may be an A or it may be a D, suggesting that the awarded credit is based on a spectrum of learning expectations—with some students learning more and others learning less—rather than on the same consistent standards being applied to all students equally. And because grades may be calculated differently from school to school or teacher to teacher, and they may be based on different learning expectations (i.e., some courses might be “harder” and others “easier”), it may be possible for students to pass their courses, earn the required number of credits, and receive a diploma without acquiring important knowledge and skills...A “proficiency-based diploma” would be a diploma awarded to students only after they have met expected learning standards."

The fear is that students may graduate unprepared for the future if we don't require them to achieve proficiency--to demonstrate that they have essential skills.

 What Proficiency Based Learning Means in Practice at Lake Region:

Teachers have developed two ways of ensuring that all students graduate prepared for the rigors of college and career:

School-wide Learning Expectations: The LRfolio:

The LRfolio is a digital portfolio in which students archive samples of their best work. Students keep and then organize evidence that they have met four school-wide Learning Expectations in their classes across the curriculum. In order to graduate from Lake Region, students must demonstrate that they are

  • Communicators and Collaborators
  • Critical Thinkers and Problem Solvers
  • Creators and Innovators
  • Information Literate

Students will have opportunities in ALL of their classes to develop these skills over time and then to demonstrate that they will take these skills--the transferrable skills--with them when they graduate. Teachers will use the same rubrics to measure student growth in these areas so students and their parents know exactly what they have accomplished and where they need to put in extra effort so they can continue to make progress during their time at Lake Region. Students will also write self-reflective essays in which they compare their own work to the standards, looking for ways they can improve upon their performance. While students have been building the LRfolio for two years, student progress in meeting the learning expectations will be shared out with families on report cards for the first time during the 2016-2017 school year.

Proficiency Based Learning in the Classroom:

Lake Region teachers have been developing strategies to help students meet ALL the learning targets in a unit before moving on so that they are well prepared for the challenges that follow in each class. In some classes, for instance, students must earn a particular score on the test at the end of a unit before starting the next unit. Teachers can require students to make up missed work or to complete additional practice with an idea or a skill before retaking a test or revising an essay. Different teachers approach this work differently. Each teacher, however, will supply students and their parents with a document outlining both the skills a student will develop in a particular course and the policies and procedures for each class so that students know exactly what they must do in order to succeed and so parents know how to support students in meeting the expectations of a course. It is worth noting that several teachers have been practicing this approach to learning for many years. These teachers consistently report that students achieve more when they are required to demonstrate that they have mastered essential skills. Most students have had some experience of Proficiency Based Learning in their graded schools or at Lake Region. We are simply extending this work throughout the school, first by identifying the most important skills and understandings in a class or a department and then by double checking to guarantee that all students have had both ample opportunities to meet expectations and help in doing so.

Changes to Report Cards:

Report cards will share more information with parents than ever before. As noted above, students will earn scores for their work in achieving the school's Learning Expectations, and these scores will appear on report cards. In addition, students will receive two separate grades in each class. One grade will reflect the student's work in meeting the standards in that class. The other grade will reflect the student's approach to learning--the student's preparation and engagement in a lesson. This is what we call a student's Habits of Work.

Habits of Work:

As part of the transition to Proficiency Based Learning, teachers will be shifting some of their grading practices. The goal is to report not just what students can do—whether or not students have met certain proficiencies—but also how students’ Habits of Work (homework completion, engagement, participation) support their efforts to develop skills. Too often it is hard to know what a grade represents. A strong student who has developed all the required skills may neglect homework and thus fail. A diligent student who turns in all the homework may pass although the student has not mastered all the key ideas in a class. In Proficiency Based Learning systems, teachers distinguish between Habits of Work and student success in meeting proficiency expectations. Lake Region report cards will provide students and their parents with additional information beginning this year. Teachers will report student success in meeting the proficiencies for each class. Teachers will also assess students’ Habits of Work and will share this information with families on the report card. Our hope is that this will communicate, more accurately, what students can do and how they function in a classroom.


Please contact the school with questions about the transition to Proficiency Based Learning. Typically, a student's classroom teacher is best prepared to provide accurate answers to questions about Proficiency Based Learning in the classroom, and teachers will be working to communicate classroom practices clearly.

 Resources (More Information):

Further Reading: Ten Principles of Proficiency Based Learning (from the Great Schools Partnership).

The Glossary of Education Reform is a product of the Great Schools Partnership.

Lake Region Union High School
317 Lake Region Road
Orleans, Vermont 05860

School Phone Numbers
754-2780 (fax)
754-2500 (voice mail)
754-2500 extension 223 or 225

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