Proficiency Based Teaching and Learning

Basic Information for Students and Parents

In this class, we will be implementing proficiency-based teaching and learning, also known as standards-based teaching and learning.  Simply put, proficiency asks students to demonstrate what they have learned relative to grade level standards and provides them with clear criteria showing them what they need to know and be able to do prior to the assessment.  While only some teachers are implementing this model during the 2012-13 school year, the entire district will be implementing it the following year.  

You will have the opportunity throughout the year to learn more about proficiency-based teaching and learning and provide us with feedback.  The Teaching and Learning Department, along with building principals, will host informational events at each secondary school during the first couple months of the school year.  In addition, the District is compiling a Frequently Asked Questions page and additional Web resources to provide parents with more information.  Look for these Web resources to be available following the information nights.

Proficiency is not a significant departure from a traditional model, but there are some important distinctions.  The chart below provides a comparison of the two models.

Characteristics of a Traditional Model

Characteristics of a Proficiency Model

Main purpose of assessment is to report grades in a particular class.  It is assessment of learning


Main purpose of assessment is for learning (e.g. analyzing errors and correcting misconceptions); assessment is also used as a basis for reporting grades


Students receive a grade in the form of a percent correct, e.g. 80%; does not always provide clear feedback tied directly to standards

Students receive a grade that reports progress on grade level  standard (e.g. progressing, proficient, or exceeding standard) and specific areas where improvement is needed


Students generally provided with a list of knowledge and skills they will need to learn, but often not provided with information detailing the criteria on which they be assessed


Students provided with specific grading criteria in the form of a rubric or scoring guide well in advance of assessment and generally in advance of instruction


Students typically not allowed to retake an assessment after more learning occurs


Students learn from errors and misconceptions on assessments, conduct additional studies, and take another, similar assessment to show new learning


Low scores at the beginning of a trimester often preclude high grades at the end of the trimester as all assessments are averaged together


As students demonstrate new learning, lower grades are updated with grades that reflect current understanding


Grades average homework, classwork, and assessments together which may not accurately reflect students’ skill levels


Grades based mostly on assessment scores and more accurately reflects students’ knowledge and skills as they relate to grade level standards


Students will still receive letter grades in their classes just as they always have.  Scores reported on eSIS using percentages will look very similar to what you have seen in the past.  The chart attached to this letter provides examples of how proficiency-based assessments will be converted to letter grades and generic criteria for doing so.   

Some parents have expressed concern that the increased rigor in a proficiency model will lower students’ GPAs, resulting in our students not receiving admissions to the best colleges or earning scholarships.  We have not found that to be the case for the vast majority of students, nor is it suggested in the research.  When students are provided with clear criteria for assessment, provided with opportunities to learn from their mistakes or misconceptions, and provided with opportunities to demonstrate new learning, their performance in class has improved. 

It would not be in our students’ best interest to implement a philosophy that would limit their post-secondary opportunities.  In fact, our intent is to improve their success by implementing practices that foster increased levels of achievement.  According to the Business Education Compact, local districts who have implemented proficiency models have seen dramatic increases in their SAT and ACT scores, primary drivers of college admissions.  Our intent is to increase opportunities for our students in high school and beyond.