We are excited about our move to a system that makes the targets of learning clearer and focuses on providing actionable feedback to students and parents (and for teachers) about how to help students to hit those important learning targets. As an educator for about 40 years, I believe students are better served by making the learning process as explicit and intentional as possible. I would rather learning happen by design than by chance. From our experience in South Portland, we have found that Proficiency-based Learning (PbL) provides the structure for us to make this possible for all of our students.
As we developed our approach we settled on a number of important agreements:
· Distill targets for reporting from the Maine Learning Results
· Separate Content and Habits of Work (HOW)
· 4 Point scale
· Trending rather than averaging
It was really after extensive research and review that we felt that this set the foundation for a system that was built upon clear targets and evidence of student learning. We have phased implementation in over a number of years, with lots of support and professional development to assist teachers. Our middle school has been fully implemented the longest and we have seen gains in achievement in grade 8 that we feel are due in part to providing clarity in the learning process. We have implemented up until grade 10 in the high school with phasing in for full implementation set for the next two years. While we have continued to have a PbL Steering Committee of faculty, parents and students help us to make adjustments, we are encouraged by the results. We do feel the simple four point scale of one to four provides simplicity so that the focus is on evidence of learning and not just the score. This is a transition process for all, but again, judging by our middle school students who have known nothing else as they transition to high school, we think is both sensible and effective.
In this transition time as colleges are working to understand new scales, we have made adjustments in reporting to colleges to ensure that do not disadvantage students in any way regarding college admissions. From our research of other schools that have made this shift, the key is to have a school profile that clearly communicates what you do and gives colleges a context with which to evaluate transcripts. As a side note, other schools that have gone to a one to four scale have not experienced issues with college admission or scholarships. Casco Bay High School in Portland would be a good example.
In short, if the statute went away we would continue down this path. We look forward to working with schools and districts around the state as we support each other in this important work of educating students for a tomorrow we can only barely imagine, but we know will take young people with an ability to take charge of their own learning. We believe PbL done well can provide students with these skills and tools.