Many people ask me  so how is our Proficiency Based Learning (PBL) System Structured? Well this sounds like a fairly simple question, but in fact, it is a pretty complex one. In a traditional school environment, the structures are all very familiar to us. They are familiar because they are essentially the same as what we experienced ourselves growing up (and what our parents experienced, and what our parents parents experienced)! We know that students enter school based upon their age (Age 5 by Oct. 15 for Kindergarten, Age 6 for first grade, etc. etc. etc.) and that they often have a single classroom teacher who is responsible to teach students all core subject areas through grade 5. Then they go to Middle School where they may have a small team of teachers that specialize in a particular content area. Students are still required to take all the core classes (Math, ELA, Science, Social Studies) but have a little more flexibility in their day. Then its on to high school where students know they have to accumulate have so many credits in each content area in order to graduate from high school. In this traditional model, teachers know what they are supposed to teach, they have curriculum and textbooks to help guide them in their teaching, and they assess student performance in each class, giving students an overall grade for each content area. The expectation is that students pass each "class" in order to move on to the next grade. For example, a student in 6th grade at GMS might get a 85 in ELA, a 72 in Math, a 93 in Science, and a 90 in Social Studies and know that they are moving on to 7th grade the next year (although none of us would be happy with that math grade darn it)! We knew all of this, but did we really know what students were learning???
In a PBL system, we are very clear about what students need to be able to do and learn. Some of the old traditional tenants remain, but there are several significant differences. For example, in a traditional system, it was the teacher who knew what the curriculum was, and who moved students along through that curriculum. In a PBL model, we also want students to know what they are learning. We want students to know what they are learning, why it is important to learn, how we as teachers will know that they have learned it and what comes next in their learning after they have learned it. This is a core tenant of a PBL model  transparency  and it is there because we want students to become more adept at "driving" their own learning. We want this because we know that we are preparing students for a very different world out there than what we were prepared for. In today's world students must know how to think critically, how to set their own goals and how to work hard to achieve them. The traditional system didn't do a very good job of teaching those skills. If we stick with the "old" system where the teachers did all the "driving"  well, students in those systems learn more about compliance, they learn that if they just sit in the classroom, participate, and work hard on homework (none of which are bad mind you), they will "pass" the class even though they may not have learned all the essential skills that were supposed to be learned. Going back to that 72 above in 6thgrade math class. That student may have been great at basic computation skills, but lacked an understanding of percents and fractions  yet they could still move on to grade 7 because they "passed" the class with an average of 72. This is not what we want in a PBL system, this is not what is best for our children in preparing them for the very different world they now face outside of our schools.
In our PBL system, we still have grades (grade 1, 2, 3, etc.) and we still have classes (ELA, Math, Science, etc.). We also still have classroom teachers and curriculum and textbooks. What is "new" is that we have made the expectations for learning much more transparent and clear by creating a clear set of standards that we want our students to demonstrate proficiency in (or mastery of) before moving on or "passing". We have actually been doing this for several years at the K5 level here in Gorham, but now we're bringing that clarity of expectation to our Middle and High Schools and strengthening our standards at the Elementary Schools. All of this in an effort to become more clear about what our students need to know and be able to do and to ensure that they demonstrate proficiency in those skills before being "passed on" to the next piece of learning.
So What Does this Look Like:
The Gorham Public Schools has long been known for its ability to offer our students a comprehensive K12 educational program designed to advance literacy, numeracy, and citizenship, as manifested in academics, the arts, athletics, and activities to enrich the life of each student. We have structured our PBL system to ensure that this longstanding tradition continues to provide the best possible educational experiences for all our students. Here’s a visual representation depicting how our system is built:
Overall, this pyramid must be viewed understanding that the smallest components of the system, our “Learning Objectives” are closest to the day in and day out work with students. Each component of the pyramid is aligned to the component above it. For example, Learning Objectives are aligned to specific Performance Indicators, which in turn are aligned to Graduation standards.
Let's dig a little more deeply into each of the components of PBL structure to hopefully help you better understand what each is, and how they all build to the top of the pyramid, which is where we want all of our students to be proficient by the time they graduate from our schools.
What are Learning Objectives:
Learning Objectives  Learning objectives guide the design of curriculum units that move students toward the achievement of performance indicators. These are the smallest component of our system and you can typically recognize these by the language we use. We often refer to our “Learning Objectives” as “I Can Statements”.
Here’s an example from K5 music:
“I can compose a piece of music and write it down with musical notation."
And here is an example from High School Chemistry:
“ I can explain why temperature and concentration have an effect on reaction rates at the atomic level and use data to support my explanation.”
When you see a progression of “learning objectives” laid out across a 1,2,3,or 4 score – that document is called a “Scoring Criteria” document. Scoring criteria allows teachers to see the various learning objectives across from a score of “1” (Emerging) to a score of “3” (Proficient) and even to a score of “4” (Distinguished). An example of a scoring criteria document might look like this:
Emerging

Developing

Proficient

Distinguished

I can identify a habitat and organisms that live there.

I can make a claim that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

I can make a claim and use supporting evidence to prove that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

I can make a prediction and use supporting evidence to prove that a certain change in an animal’s habitat may have an effect on the animal’s survival within that habitat.

What are Performance Indicators:
Performance Indicators – Approximately 46 indicators by grade/grade span or course/learning experience for each content area graduation standard that move students toward the achievement of graduation standards.
Here’s an example of three Performance Indicators from 8^{th} grade science that are aligned to the “Stability and Change” Graduation Standard:
Graduation Standard 1: Stability and Change: Explain how stability and change shape engineered or natural systems.

Performance Indicators:

Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed. (MSPS14)

Develop and use a model to describe how the total number of atoms does not change in a chemical reaction and thus mass is conserved. (MSPS15)

Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object. (MSPS35)

For each performance indicator you can have a series of learning objectives organized by scoring criteria. Here's what that looks like for these same performance indicators so you can get a sense of how this builds on each other:
Graduation Standard 1: Stability and Change: Explain how stability and change shape engineered or natural systems.


Performance Indicators

1

2

3

4

Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed. (MSPS14)

I can identify different states of matter.

I can relate changing temperature and particle motion to states of matter.

I can describe the changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed.

I can explain the effects of changing the temperature of particle will effect the rate at which a reaction occurs.

Develop and use a model to describe how the total number of atoms does not change in a chemical reaction and thus mass is conserved. (MSPS15)

I can identify (some of) the chemical symbols and compounds in a chemical equation.

I can read and determine whether a chemical equation is balanced.

I can describe how the total number of atoms does not change in a chemical reaction and thus mass is conserved.

I can balance a chemical equation.

Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object. (MSPS35)

I can define potential and kinetic energy.

I can explain how an object’s kinetic energy can change.

I can support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object.

I can quantify the kinetic energy of objects to show energy transfer to or from an object.

Student progress towards meeting performance indicators can be assessed both FORMATIVELY and SUMMATIVELY. Formative assessments are small assessmens given by teachers to students for the purpose of helping the teacher and student understand where they are in their learning (1,2,3,4) and how they can improve, or dig more deeply into the content in order to move up higher on the scoring criteria scale. Often formative assessments are not "graded" but are only used to provide feedback to students. Summative assessments are graded assessments that teachers use to summarize student learning and to provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery of the skills being taught. These are the "grades" that parents will see.
Performance indicators are generally "mapped" across the K12 learning experience by grade level. Students in 1st grade science may focus on one group of performance indicators and then in 2nd grade science another group. As students move along from performance indicator to performance indicator, they are working along what is called a "learning progression" towards ultimately demonstrating they are proficient at the largest and most important learning of all  our "crosscurricular" and content area graduation standards.
What are Graduation Standards:
K12 Content Area Graduation Standards – These, along with the “CrossCurricular” Graduation Standards are the largest components of our PBL system. There are typically 38 graduation standards for each of the required 8 content areas in Maine’s Learning Results (ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, Health & PE, Visual and Performing Arts, World Languages, and Career and Technical Education (CTE). These are what all those smaller performance indicators are working towards.
Here's an example of our K12 Graduation Standards in Math:
Mathematics

A graduate will be able to:

Again, for each graduation standard there are associated gradelevel performance indicators and for each performance indicator there are associated learning objectives or "scoring criteria". Here's an example of what that looks like in High School Math:
(GS): MATHEMATICAL PRACTICES: Use sound mathematical practices when solving problems.

Emerging (1)

(LO) Developing (2)

(LO) Proficient (3)

(LO) Distinguished (4)

(PI) Make sense of problems, and persevere in solving them.

I attempt to solve every mathematical problem given to me, and can define key concepts and terms used in them.

I can restate given problems in my own words, and continue to work at solving them when confronted with setbacks.

I can explain the details of complex mathematical problems expressed in various forms, and don't stop working on them until they're completely solved.


(PI) Apply appropriate techniques, and then interpret the results.

I can identify whether specific mathematical techniques can be used to solve given
problems.

I can choose and apply appropriate mathematical techniques to solve problems, and interpret the results.

I can use multiple mathematical techniques to solve problems, and then verify and explain the resulting solutions.


(PI) Use mathematical and technological tools strategically.

When given specific tools, I can use them to solve mathematical problems.

I can select
suitable mathematical and technological tools to solve
problems,
and
explain why I chose them.

I can combine different
tools to make conceptual connections, solve
problems, and optimize solution processes.


(PI) Construct viable arguments, and critique the reasoning of others.

I can state
my solutions
to problems, and understand other
ways of solving them.

I can accurately explain
how I find
solutions, describe solution approaches of others,
and
identify
strengths
and
weaknesses
of
each.

I can justify
my solutions using evidence and sound reasoning, and integrate elements of other solution strategies to improve them.

For Graduation Standards, students typically demonstrate achievement through their aggregate performance on performance indicators which are measured via summative assessments over time. These will be the items that will be reported on student transcripts when students graduate from Gorham High School. Parents will also see interim reports on student progress towards meeting proficiency at the Graduation Standard Level on report cards.
What are K12 Cross Curricular Graduation Standards:
K12 CrossCurricular Graduation Standards – These standards, along with the K12 Content Area Graduation Standards are the largest components of our system. These standards are identified as “CrossCutting” because they do just that – they cut across ALL CONTENT AREAS and in fact, they cut across everything we do within the Gorham Schools! These standards are also sometimes better known as Maine’s “Guiding Princples”.
Here's what these look like:
Guiding Principles

Each student will graduate as:
A clear and effective communicator;
A selfdirected and lifelong learner;
A creative and practical problem solver;
A responsible and involved citizen; and
An integrative and informed thinker.

The Gorham Schools are currently working to inventory our existing performance indicators to see which ones also align with our guiding principles so that we are not duplicating efforts. Once we have this "map" created, we will work to fill in any "blanks" with specific performance indicators geared towards making sure students are also working and demonstrating proficiencies in these important skills over time as well.
Much like the K12 Content Area Graduation Standards, the K12 Cross Curricular Graduation Standards will also be demonstrated through student’s aggregate performance on summative assessments over time. These will also be items that will be reported on student transcripts when students graduate from Gorham High School. Parents will also see interim reports on student progress towards meeting proficiency at the Graduation Standard Level on report cards.
What are Skills for Life:
It is important to understand that we assess “Skills for Life” separately from “Content Area Skills”. “Skills for Life” are those skills related to student participation in class, completing homework on time, and producing their best. These are very different skills than the skills required to master content area skills such as solving an algebraic equation. We separate the tracking of these two types of skills because we know that a student may be proficient in one type of learning/understanding, but they may not be proficient in another and we believe that Skills for Life are equally as important as Content Area Skills. Therefore, we intentionally teach and intentionally assess student progress in both areas separately.
Here's what our Skills for Life Look like:
Skills for Life

A graduate will be able to demonstrate:
A student leaving Gorham Middle School will be able to demonstrate:
1. Preparation: Students report to class in a timely manner, independently engage in class, and independently initiate completion of class work.
2. Engagement: Students report to class with necessary materials and with necessary work completed.
3. Communication: Students give input and ask questions independently. Students respond to input and questions independently and seek help when needed.
A student leaving Gorham Elementary Schools will be able to demonstrate:

We are still working on defining what our Skills for Life should look like at the K5 Level. That will be completed by the end of this school year.
Well, I think that's likely enough information for now! Probably overwhelmed you with this. .. SORRY  but I warned you that the answer to the question of how this system is structured was a little more complex than it might seem!
Remember, one of the overarching purposes to a PBL system is to be clear and transparent about what is being learned, why it is important to be learned, how students demonstrate that they are proficient in their learning, and what comes next in their learning. This type of transparency allows everyone involved in our educational system (including you as parents)to be a part of the "team" effort needed to make sure our students graduate "prepared and inspired" to move on to the next levels of their life and their learning!
In my next PBL series post I'll talk more specifically about how students move through our PBL system, what "grades" might look like and mean for each grade level. Until then, please feel free to reach out with questions! My email is heather.perry@gorhamschools.org
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