Guiding Questions

After reviewing district results of the proficiency-based learning system self-assessment, district personnel may want to engage in a conversation using this set of guiding questions. These questions are designed to help districts understand the nuances involved in each step and build common understanding and language around a proficiency-based system.

Policy

Policy Step 1

Step:
Engage school board in developing conceptual understanding about proficiency-based learning

Description & Rationale:
It is important to work toward unified understanding, support, and commitment to champion the initiative and develop appropriate and supportive policy. In addition, this work needs to take place preK-12, and as such, requires coordination from the classroom to the school board. As districts move ahead with implementation, school board members will be needed to publically support this effort.

Guiding Questions:

  1. Have we shared resources to our school board members such as readings, resources (including videos) from the Maine Department of Education Center for Best Practice and visits to other districts?
  2. Have we engaged in discussion about the vision for our district and how proficiency-based learning supports attaining it?
  3. What are potential barriers for the school board to support proficiency-based education?
  4. What role will the school board play in supporting and communicating about proficiency-based education?
  5. How can administrators and teachers help the school board understand proficiency-based learning?
  6. How will the board have the opportunity to construct an understanding of proficiency-based learning? (Retreats, readings, etc.)

Policy Step 2

Step:
Review existing policies

Description & Rationale:
In most cases, current policy will not align with proficiency-based learning. However, what is and what is not appropriate will require a thoughtful analysis of existing policies. In addition, as districts move forward with this step, they will need to determine key leverage points for policies knowing that a school board cannot create policies for all occasions. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that no set of policies can predict all future considerations and the review of policies must be ongoing, and must acknowledge changes in school culture and in the evolving understanding of proficiency-based learning.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How does our board’s process for policy adoption engage and include community members and educators to ensure that our community has conceptual understanding?
  2. How might we increase engagement and inclusion of stakeholders?

Policy Step 3

Step:
Draft new and revised policies

Description & Rationale:
New policies will be needed—but such policies need to be targeted to specific issues. In general, fewer but more specific policies are more helpful than a host of broader policies.

Guiding Questions

  1. How can we learn from other districts and adapt policies to our local needs?

Policy Step 4

Step:
Refine policies based on feedback

Description & Rationale:
As implementation unfolds, districts will have to monitor policies to be sure they accurately reflect the needs of students. To undertake this step, school boards may want to review policies from other districts. In addition, the refinement process should actively engage the broader community to ensure that policy passage also leads to broader policy acceptance.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What process will be used to incorporate the feedback of stakeholders who have had an opportunity to review the proposed new policies?

Policy Step 5

Step:
Adopt new and revised policies

Description & Rationale:
Policies will need to be adopted by the appropriate school board in accordance with local governance requirements.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How will newly passed policies be reviewed as the proficiency-based learning system is implemented?
  2. What process will be in place to determine other policy areas that might also need to be reviewed?

Practice

Practice Step 1

Step:
Establish a district-wide proficiency-based committee

Description & Rationale:
Because of the complexity of this task and its reach, it is vital to establish a district-wide committee with key representatives and stakeholders who can take primary responsibility for designing and leading the implementation of a proficiency-based graduation system across the district so that there is coherence, K-12.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What knowledge and skills do committee members need to be successful? How can we provide support for committee members?
  2. Have we established protocols for ad hoc committees with clear guidance around communicating, decision making, participation, etc.

Practice Step 2

Step:
Establish school-wide proficiency-based committee(s)

Description & Rationale:
Because of the nature of the work to be done, a representative group of school-based faculty members and administrators should be formed and be responsible for designing the building-based implementation plan that is aligned with the district plan

Guiding Questions:

  1. What knowledge and skills do committee members need to be successful? How can we provide support for committee members?
  2. Have we established protocols for ad hoc committees with clear guidance around communicating, decision making, participation, etc.

Practice Step 3

Step:
Collaboratively develop the conceptual framework with faculty and staff

Description & Rationale:
It is vital to the process that educators in the district develop, determine, and ultimately support the general conceptual framework (i.e. standards-based model) to be used in the district. The collaborative discussions should also inform how professional development and ongoing learning and support for educators will occur (see Practice step 4).

Guiding Questions:

  1. What are the terms, common language, and conceptual understandings that we all hold about proficiency-based learning?
  2. How will we assess our faculty’s understanding?
  3. What common misunderstandings will we need to address?
  4. How will the structures within our school(s) change, based on proficiency based learning?
  5. What school practices align to proficiency-based learning, and what practices will need to change?
  6. How will our school’s curriculum, instruction, and assessment change with a shift to proficiency-based learning?

Practice Step 4

Step:
Engage faculty and staff in professional development on proficiency-based learning

Description & Rationale:
Ultimately, successful implementation of this effort will require full faculty support that will in part be achieved through support for professional development. This professional development must be ongoing, crafted around adult learning needs, and be aligned with the overall implementation plan.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How will we make time for and encourage open conversation and discussions about proficiency-based learning?
  2. What opportunities do we provide our staff to build capacity in the key components of learner-centered culture preK-12?
  3. How will we assess the faculty’s comprehension and commitment to proficiency-based learning?
  4. How will we address naysayers and critics in a productive way?
  5. What opportunities will we make available to faculty to see proficiency-based learning in action (through videos, site visits, and school networks)?
  6. How will we personalize and differentiate professional development?

Practice Step 5

Step:
Engage faculty in professional development on proficiency-based curriculum design and instruction

Description & Rationale:
Teachers will need to be provided with professional development that can be used in the classroom. This professional development must use similar language and strategies even as teachers will be expected to vary instructional practice to meet individual learning needs. It is not enough for teachers to receive broad support for their work; professional development must attend to the classroom instructional needs of teachers.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What leverage points do we have to help unit development impact and improve instruction?
  2. What opportunities are there for faculty to share lessons and units?
  3. How consistent are students experiences across classes in the same grade / content area? To what extent do teachers hold consistent expectations for academic performance and demonstration of learning?

Practice Step 6

Step:
Engage faculty in professional development on assessment literacy

Description & Rationale:
The faculty will need to develop assessments that measure student success in reaching the standards. It is important that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to develop assessments that are clearly aligned with district graduation standards. Additionally, teachers will need time to review student work in a collaborative environment so that they can adjust their instruction as well as the assessments if needed. Each district’s professional development plan must provide for on-going support and continuous improvement of both the assessment documents and the instructional practices.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How well do our school’s assessments evaluate the knowledge and skills students will need for success?
  2. How do teachers use formative assessment to guide instruction and provide feedback to students?
  3. How do our school’s summative assessments ensure students demonstrate the skills and knowledge of the standards?
  4. What opportunities do all students have to demonstrate deep understanding of standards?
  5. How do teachers use multiple forms of assessment (including formative assessment) to engage and assess student learning? To what extent can students inform/design ways to demonstrate their knowledge and skill?

Practice Step 7

Step:
Develop cross-curricular graduation standards

Description & Rationale:
Taking the time to craft a clear set of cross-content graduation standards is one of the first steps toward establishing the foundation for a proficiency-based graduation system. Maine districts must be sure to align their cross-content standards with the Guiding Principles of the Maine Learning Results.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How will we develop the capacity of our faculty to explicitly instruct and assess the cross-curricular standards and the Guiding Principles.
  2. How aligned are our vision and core values to the Guiding Principles?
  3. Are there certain Guiding Principles that have priority over others?
  4. How are the Guiding Principles integrated into the curriculum?
  5. How can we learn from and build on our experiences working on 21st century learning expectations (i.e.: New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation, schoolwide rubrics, etc.)

Practice Step 8

Step:
Develop performance indicators for cross-curricular graduation standards

Description & Rationale:
After developing cross-curricular graduation standards, teachers will need to create performance indicators—finer detailed descriptions of required student knowledge or skills. Performance indicators will be used on a daily basis in classrooms. Performance indicators should be common across all classes in the school.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How will our district measure progress and demonstration of the Guiding Principles?
  2. What are our assumptions and experiences about how high school, middle school, and elementary school faculty understand and support the concept of cross-curricular standards?
  3. What can we learn from other districts’ work?

Practice Step 9

Step:
Develop body-of-evidence assessment process for demonstration of cross-curricular graduation standards

Description & Rationale:
Cross-curricular graduation standards are not demonstrable through a single example of achievement but comprise skills that must be demonstrated over time and across multiple venues. This process will need to include students collecting their work to demonstrate their achievement and ensure reliability in the scoring process both across students and across scorers.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How do we track student growth on cross-curricular standards over time and through transition points?
  2. What evidence will we use for cross-curricular standards?
  3. How will we engage all faculty in assessing the Guiding Principles?
  4. What can we learn from other districts’ assessment work around the Guiding Principles?

Practice Step 10

Step:
Develop content-area graduation standards

Description & Rationale:
Within each content area, there are key learning standards that comprise the core knowledge and skills of that particular discipline. These should be “line in the sand” standards—knowledge and skills that are beyond being nice to know and are essential for the future success of each student. Remember, students will surely gain knowledge and skills that go beyond these core content area graduation standards, but these comprise the standards that are common across all students.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How much experience has our faculty had collaboratively working on Common Core, Next Generation Science, or state standards?
  2. What standards are crucial for graduation? What knowledge and skills are essential (in each content area) for graduation? How are we ensuring that these are aligned with Common Core, Next Generation Science and State standards?
  3. What process will we use to engage faculty in creating these standards?
  4. How will we increase the probability that our standards are manageable, enduring, high-leverage and aligned K-12?
  5. What can we learn from other districts’ work in this area?

Practice Step 11

Step:
Develop a process for verifying achievement of content-area standards

Description & Rationale:
How much is enough? Schools must decide how demonstration on performance indicators is used to verify achievement of the content area standard. Schools need to develop a process for determining how much is “enough” for certifying demonstration of a standard. This may involve a mathematical formula, a more narrative approach, or a combination of both. For example, a school might decide that students must demonstrate proficiency on at least 80 percent of the performance indicators to become certified on the graduation standard. Schools could also use a trending model that places greater overall weight on the most recently completed assessments. Particularly in the case of graduation, trending may prove to be the most advantageous process as, for example, a student’s later higher quality writing would essentially out-weigh earlier poorer writing performances — thus indicating the trend in the student’s performance is an ability to meet (or exceed) the standard. As a third example, a more narrative approach determining achievement of the standards builds on the relationships between teacher and student and allows for consideration of qualitative aspects of the learning experience. This last requires the culture to focus on filtering out bias and other factors that might stray away from the target of proficiency.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What assessment process will we use to ensure that students have demonstrated proficiency in each standard?
  2. Will the results of all performance indicator assessments be used for this verification process or will we use some sort of trending calculation or some more qualitative process?
  3. What can we learn from other districts’ working in this area?

Practice Step 12

Step:
Develop performance indicators for content-area graduation standards

Description & Rationale:
After developing content-area graduation standards, teachers will need to develop performance indicators—finer detailed descriptions of required student knowledge or skills. Performance indicators may be used on a daily basis in classrooms. Performance indicators should be common across common classes.

Guiding Questions:

  1. How will we help our faculty unpack the graduation standards to create the performance indicators?
  2. How will we ensure that the performance indicators align with the graduation standards and build upon each other as appropriate?
  3. What process might we use to ascertain overlap between performance indicators under different graduation standards within or across content areas?
  4. How will we vertically align performance indicators and establish periodic benchmarks that build toward the graduation performance indicators?*

Practice Step 13

Step:
Develop system for reporting on the achievement of student learning

Description & Rationale:
Districts will want to provide a data collection platform for teachers, students, and parents that will insure easy access to a student’s records at any time. The platform should allow for the student to be one of the individuals who enters information (data) about his/her own learning. It is vital that those supporting students in the learning process have access to the student’s progress at any given time.

Guiding Questions:

  1. Does our current student information system allow for the reporting of student learning at the standard and performance indicator level?
  2. If not, what changes do we need to make?
  3. How will we ensure that our system is manageable and successfully communicates learning to students, parents and teacher?
  4. What software and hardware will be necessary to implement our system?
  5. What information do teachers need to access?
  6. What professional development and support will teachers need to maintain and use the reporting system?
  7. Do we have a process to collect feedback on this system from teachers, parents and students?
  8. How will parents without Internet be able to access this information?
  9. How will parents and students be trained in using this system?

Practice Step 14

Step:
Align curriculum with performance indicators

Description & Rationale:
Curriculum needs to support student achievement of the performance indicators. In many cases, the existing curriculum will already address the performance indicators, or can do so with relatively minor changes. In some cases, current curriculum will no longer address any performance indicators, or some performance indicators will not be addressed through any curriculum. In these cases, curriculum will need to be developed to address all performance indicators. Curriculum that does not address performance indicators may need to be dropped. Ultimately, determining alignment will need to happen through a collaborative process that thoroughly investigates the current curriculum.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What process will we implement for teachers to design curriculum in alignment with the performance indicators?
  2. Do all students have adequate opportunity to address all performance indicators in the course of their learning experience? How can we increase those opportunities?

Practice Step 15

Step:
Develop assessments for performance indicators

Description & Rationale:
Assessments for performance indicators should comprise a variety of assessment strategies, clearly outline what students should know and be able to do, and clearly outline performance expectations. Assessments should go through a local process to ensure validity. In addition, teachers will need to be trained to ensure reliability of scoring across students and teachers.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What is the assessment literacy level of our teachers? How does this vary across content areas and grade levels?
  2. How will we provide professional development that increases the assessment literacy of our faculty?
  3. How will we ensure that all students have the opportunity to engage in demonstrations of learning that align with the performance indicators?
  4. How will we ensure the validity of these assessments?
  5. How will we ensure the trustworthiness of the teacher scoring on these assessments?
  6. How will teachers create and implement appropriate formative and summative assessments for proficiency-based learning using a variety of methods?
  7. How will we ensure adequate time for learning and creation of the necessary assessments?
  8. What is the capacity, within our system, to allow student input into determining the method of demonstrating achievement of the standards?
  9. How will we increase the capacity of our faculty to allow student voice in determining and identifying assessments?

Practice Step 16

Step:
Develop instructional units, including learning targets and essential questions

Description & Rationale:
In order to personalize learning for students, teachers need the ability to differentiate how students engage in learning. Consequently, while instructional units may be common across teachers, teachers need to be free to change daily curriculum and instruction to meet student learning needs. Instructional units should outline even finer learning targets that may take a single or several days. Learning targets and instructional units are not common and students do not have to demonstrate achievement of all learning targets in order to demonstrate achievement of a performance indicator.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What is our current capacity to develop learning targets? How does this differ by content area, grade level, or building?
  2. What is the capacity, within our system, to allow student input into the design of learning experiences?
  3. What professional development will be needed by our faculty to successfully do this step?
  4. How will we provide the time and resources to make this happen?
  5. How will we ensure alignment of the learning targets with the performance indicators? (i.e., validity)
  6. How are we building student agency to take ownership of and to advocate for their own learning?

Practice Step 17

Step:
Develop assessments for achievement of learning targets

Description & Rationale:
Learning target assessments are formative in nature—giving students feedback concerning their learning. These assessments are not common across the school and do not have to undergo a similar vetting process of validity and reliability as that employed for performance indicator assessments. Assessments types—similarly to performance indicator assessments—should vary employing types that align with the learning targets.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What is the assessment literacy level of our teachers? How does this vary across content areas and grade levels?
  2. How will we provide professional development that increases the assessment literacy of our faculty?
  3. How will we ensure the validity of these assessments?
  4. How will we increase the capacity for students to understand the learning target and how they will be assessed?
  5. How will we ensure the trustworthiness of the assessment decisions made by individual teachers?
  6. How will teachers create and implement appropriate formative assessments for proficiency-based learning using a variety of methods?
  7. How will we ensure adequate time for learning and creation of the necessary assessments?

Practice Step 18

Step:
Develop lesson plans

Description & Rationale:
This is the classroom curriculum at the finest level—what happens on a daily basis. Realizing that individual students and each class of students works at a different pace, experience success and stumble in different areas of learning, teachers will need to constantly refine and hone daily lesson plans—even differing lesson plans between two similar classes taught by the same teacher. Daily lesson plans are unique by class providing the maximum amount of teacher and student flexibility.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What is the current capacity of our faculty to use a wide variety of instructional strategies to support student learning?
  2. How do teachers share practices with and support each other?
  3. How are lessons designed to ensure that all students are successful in reaching the daily learning targets?
  4. How will we increase the probability that students understand the connections between the daily lesson, the learning target, the performance indicator(s), and the graduation standard?
  5. How will we provide professional development and ongoing support regarding instructional practice?
  6. How can we increase the capacity, in our system, for students to design their own learning experiences?

Community Engagement

Community Engagement Step 1

Step:
Collect feedback on draft policies from faculty, staff, students, parents and local officials

Description & Rationale:
Shifting to a proficiency-based learning model requires the refinement of existing policies and the development of new policies. In addition to technically being required, sharing drafts of these new and revised policies presents a tremendous opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions about the system being development and an effective way to determine any particular areas of concern or confusion that will need to be appropriately addressed.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What community stakeholders could help inform our policy review work?
  2. At what point in our policy process will we include parents, community members, students, etc.?

Community Engagement Step 2

Step:
Develop record keeping process, transcript, and report card

Description & Rationale:
Proficiency-based learning produces significant amounts of data on each student, data that can be disaggregated to individual standards. However, this information needs to be communicated to students, parents, teachers, and colleges in ways that make sense and enable people to take action. Transcripts and Report Cards need to clearly demonstrate what students know and can do in order to promote ongoing achievement.

Guiding Questions:

  1. Is there merit to collaborating with surrounding districts in the development of this work?
  2. How have available models and resources been used to develop the most appropriate record keeping and reporting system for the district?
  3. To what extent have all informed stakeholders been included in the development process (student information specialists, data entry personnel, administrators, guidance counselors, teachers, etc.)?

Community Engagement Step 3

Step:
Implement system for reporting on the achievement of student learning

Description & Rationale:
The district will need to provide training for teachers to implement the system. In addition, the district will need to provide information that enables parents and students to access this information as appropriate.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What do we want to communicate (and how frequently) through progress reports, report cards and transcripts?
  2. How might we have a conversation with parents and students regarding information they would like to know in each of these cases?
  3. How have we communicated this process and the information that will be shared with the school board?
  4. How will teachers be trained in how to use this system effectively?
  5. How will students and parents be trained how to use this system effectively?
  6. What is the distribution process we will use?

Community Engagement Step 4

Step:
Create communications plan for proficiency-based learning

Description & Rationale:
Crafting a comprehensive messaging and communication plan at the outset of this work is critical to ensuring its success. Care must be taken to describe the work the district is undertaking as early as possible. Consistency and clarity regarding the terms used is important. A number of resources and supports are available on this site to guide the development of your district’s communication strategy.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What is the core message we want parents, students, and the general public to know about our work around a proficiency-based learning system?
  2. How transparent are we about implementation plans, processes, and timelines.
  3. How effectively have we communicated the expected cycle of implementation (continuous improvement, check-and-adjust, etc.)
  4. What is our process for gathering feedback from constituents regarding this system?
  5. Who might we use as a sounding board for our message and language?
  6. How can we engage faculty, students, and school board members as spokespeople for this work?
  7. What process will you use to ensure that messages from different people and buildings are consistent and aligned?
  8. How have we prepared the community for the possible conflict that naturally arises in systems change?

Community Engagement Step 5

Step:
Engage students, parents and the public about proficiency-based learning

Description & Rationale:
Proficiency-based learning enables schools to open the doors of learning acknowledging that learning can take place anytime and anywhere. Engaging parents and the general public is paramount to ensure that learning aligns with community desires and that community and parental assets are best used to support student learning. As general understanding of proficiency-based learning deepens, the district will need to make greater use of feedback and input from parents and the general public. The plan needs to have defined points in time where community input is sought, debated, understood, and incorporated. Finally, students need to be involved in communicating their learning and providing feedback on how the system is working to support them.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What public forums exist that we might use to share our message?
  2. How will we ensure that there are multiple opportunities (and formats) for parents and the general community to learn about and provide feedback regarding our proficiency-based system?
  3. What is the role for students in helping to communicate this work?
  4. Who are the champions in our community for this effort? How might we best engage these champions?
  5. What are the most significant concerns surfacing in our community? How might we better understand these concerns and work to help increase understanding?
  6. How will we provide support for our messengers?

Community Engagement Step 6

Step:
Engage local media

Description & Rationale:
Proficiency-based learning represents a significant shift in the way districts prepare students to be college- and career-ready. Districts will need members of their local communities to first understand and then support them as they transition to proficiency-based learning. Local media can be a significant ally in the process of garnering support from the community at large. Districts must develop a clear message about why they are engaging in this work and understand the way in which the local media can help describe this work

Guiding Questions:

  1. How might we engage free media to help communicate our work?
  2. How might we use social media to help communicate our work?
  3. What papers and other media report on our efforts?
  4. How might we formulate a relationship with key reporters or bloggers?
  5. How might we provide training for our administrators regarding how to interact with and answer questions from the media?
  6. How might we train administration and faculty to address opposition?
  7. What process do we use to share success stories with the media? How do we use press releases?
  8. How might we train support staff to handle media inquiries?
  9. How will we ensure that administrators share and stay on a consistent message? Should one administrator be designated point person?
  10. How will we communicate internally regarding press inquiries and responses to ensure consistency of messages?