Sunday, February 26, 2017

Proficiency Based Learning Update Series #4

How Will We Define Proficiency in Gorham 

In my last PBL series post (#3), I talked at length about how our system is structured.  I reviewed that our new system is built upon large standards known as "Cross-Cutting Graduation Standards", which are then made up of smaller skill standards called "Performance Indicators" which are then further defined as to what a "1,2,3, or 4" looks like through things called "Scoring Guides".  If you need a "refresher" on these terms please feel free to go back and review as you'll be hearing them more in this post as we dig even deeper into our new system.

In this post, I wanted to spend some time helping students and parents to better understand how we define what it means to be proficient on specific skills here in Gorham.  Please understand that even as I am sharing this post, these definitions are still not "finalized" and must be approved by the district's Proficiency Based Steering Committee and reviewed by the Gorham School Committee.  Therefore, there may be some small changes to what I'm about to review, however I do not foresee any substantive changes - so I wanted to get this information out to folks as quickly as possible since this school year seems to be going by way too fast! :)

Here is our definition of proficiency:

Gorham School Department Definition of Proficiency
~ February, 2017 DRAFT ~

As Gorham students pursue proficiency in all Graduation Standards, students will have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency for each Performance Indicator under each Graduation Standard. All Gorham students will be assessed and scored according to the use of a common set of scoring criteria with a minimum of 2 summative assessments determined by each classroom teacher for each Performance Indicator. For students in grades K-5, one of these summative assessments must be a common summative assessment.  If a student's’ score is below a 2 after this minimal number of assessments, then the teacher will provide additional instruction and will work together with the student to design additional assessment opportunities.

Gorham students will demonstrate proficiency for a given Performance Indicator by achieving a score between 2 and 3 after the use of a decaying average for our first year of implementation (2017-18).  For the second year of implementation (2018-19) students will demonstrate proficiency for each Performance Indicator by achieving a score between 2.5 and 3 and for the third year of implementation (2019-20) and beyond students will demonstrate proficiency for each Performance Indicator by achieving a score between 2.75 and 3.  (Note:  for the 2017-18 school year, students in grades 7-12 will use a “blended” grading scale where a 2.0 is roughly equivalent to an 77 on a 100 point scale)

Gorham students will demonstrate proficiency for each Graduation Standard by demonstrating proficiency on more than half of the Performance Indicators under each Graduation Standard during the first two years of implementation (2017-18 & 2018-19).  For the third year of implementation and beyond, students will need to demonstrate proficiency for each Graduation Standard by demonstrating proficiency on ALL  Performance Indicators associated with each Graduation Standard.

Those three little paragraphs are actually jammed packed full of lots of information that I think is essential for students, staff, and parents to understand fully. .. so let's take a minute to dissect this together.

First, some clarification on terms that you see above (Please refer to post #3 for understandings of what Graduation Standards, Performance Indicators, and Scoring Criteria are):

*  Assessments - This is an important term to understand so I'll take more time here.  Assessment is any tool used by teachers to understand what students know and are able to do.  Assessments can be either "formative" or "summative" in nature.  Formative assessments are used ONLY to inform instruction by teachers.  Summative assessments are used to determine whether or not a student has mastered a particular skill or not and if so - at what levels.  Assessments can be observations, discussions, written tests, research papers, projects and the like.  It is how the information is used by the teacher that determines whether it is "formative" or "summative" in nature.
*  Common Summative Assessments - are assessments that are common across grades or content areas.  These types of assessments allow us to build consistency and continuity into our system so that all students at a particular grade level, or within a particular content area are given the same assessments.  
*  Decaying Average This calculation type is similar to a traditional average of scores for multiple assessments, however instead of a straight average, this average assigns progressively decreasing weights to older assessments.  Working backwards, each assessment is worth 66.667% of the teacher-assigned weight, compounded exponentially.  In effect, newer assessments automatically "count more" in the overall score.  This type of an averaging system is used because we know that with additional and new instruction students will perform better on assessments, so we want them to "weigh" more heavily than previous assessments.  Teacher weights still apply.

Below is a visual of the definition shared above for folks to view that might help you to better understand the overall picture (I know I like visuals so I'm sharing).  

As you can see from the definition of proficiency and associated visual above, the Gorham Schools has tried to create a "minimal" interpretation of proficiency by stating we want to be sure that all students demonstrate proficiency on a specific performance indicator a minimum of 2 times before being able to move on.  However, we do not define a maximum.  We don't define a maximum because we want to make sure that students are given the opportunity, with additional instruction and support from teachers to demonstrate proficiency.

We have also created a bit of a "step in" approach in terms of defining a minimum score for proficiency at the Performance Indicator level.  We do this because we do not want to disadvantage students while we move to create this new system of instruction and work out the "kinks" as we go.  We are purposefully starting our definition of proficiency "low" at between a score of 2-3 for the first year and then ramping it up for year 2 by requiring a score between 2.5 - 3 and then settling in where we want to be in the third year by requiring a score of between 2.75 and 3 for students to be considered proficient on any given performance indicator.    It is important to understand that all students will be given instruction that will allow them to achieve a score of 4 on any given performance indicator so going "above" proficient is always possible and in fact will be encouraged for all students in our new system.

In addition to our "step in" approach for defining a minimum score for proficiency at the Performance Indicator level we have also created a "step in" approach for defining a minimum number of Performance Indicators students must be proficient in before being proficient at the Graduation Standard level.

If you remember from post #3, each Graduation Standard is made up of between 3-13 Performance Indicators.  Students must demonstrate proficiency at the Graduation Standard level in order to eventually graduate from Gorham High School.  At the Graduation Standard level, we are starting our definition of proficiency out to say that students must meet a majority of performance indicators for the first two years of implementation and then in the third year, we will expect students to demonstrate proficiency for ALL performance indicators found within a given graduation standard.  This is being done for two major reasons:

1.  We understand that in our first attempt to build this system, we have likely created too many performance indicators and need some time to either "weed" out those that are not necessary or to designate some performance indicators as "high priority" while others are "lower priority" in order to make sure we are creating a system that is viable for our students to complete in the 13 years we have them.

2.  Once again, we do not wish to disadvantage students while we implement this new system and are working out the "kinks" as any new system will inevitably have.

So what does all this look like for my child is likely the question at hand.  Let's see if I can share an example of one fictional student's experiences to help solidify this definition for everyone.

Let's say that I am a 4th grade student at Village Elementary School.  I am working on my Math graduation standards, working specifically on demonstrating proficiency within the following graduation standard:

-  "Reason Algebraically using expressions, equations, and functions".

I have three performance indicators I need to demonstrate proficiency on within that graduation standard - those are:

1.  Use the four operations (+,-,*,/)with whole numbers to solve problems.

2.  Gain familiarity with factors and multiples, and
3.  Generate and analyze patterns.

Now, let's say that over the course of a few months of work in Math I am able to take several summative assessments and I get the following scores:

PI#1:  2.0, 2.5 and 3.5 (decaying average = 2.8)

PI #2:  3.0, 2.5, 2.5, 3.5, and 3.5  (decaying average = 3.1)
PI #3:  3.5, 3.0, and 3.5 (decaying average = 3.3)

Based upon the definition of proficiency above, I would meet proficiency at the Performance Indicator level  because I would have had at least 2 summative assessments for each Performance Indicator and scored between a 2.75 - 3.0 (I'm using the third year step in definition here so you can see our ultimate goal demonstrated).  I also would have met proficiency at the Graduation standard level because I would have met proficiency in each of the performance indicators associated with the graduation standard for that grade level.

Now this is a pretty basic example, but I hope it gives you an indication of how the definition above works for students.  Please know that the instruction required to get students to a point where summative assessments would be given would be plentiful and if students did not meet proficiency, the teacher would simply work to provide additional instruction and supports and then provide additional assessments as needed.

Well, I think that is enough information for now to help you to better understand how we will be defining Proficiency in our new PBL system beginning in the 2017-18 School Year.  Please stay tuned for my next post where, now that you understand how proficiency is defined, I will then describe how we plan on grading and reporting in our new system.

As always, if you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me anytime.  My email is the best way to get ahold of me: