Proficiency model: Keep at it till you get it

A small Oregon high school is pioneering the “proficiency model,” which requires students to demonstrate they’ve mastered state standards but gives them as much time as they need to get there. The  Statesman Journal looks at Falls City High, which has only 55 students.

. . . students are no longer graded on a traditional point system in which their grades are determined by turning in homework on time, or their test scores and paper grades.

Instead, student grades are based on whether they demonstrate proficiency in subject standards, which are determined by the state.

Each core class at the school has between eight and 12 standards, and students must essentially earn a C or better in each standard to earn credit for the class.

Students know up front what they’re expected to learn, giving them a clear target.

Students can retake tests, rewrite papers and redo projects if they fail to meet a standard the first time around. Rarely do they retake an entire class.

You can get whatever grade you want,” said Adhelia Meza, 16. “You have to work harder to get an A.”

The high school’s principal and four teachers decided that the old way of teaching wasn’t working.

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  1. Deirdre Mundy says:

    This sounds a lot like homeschooling– I’ve pretty much given up on grades for my daughter– grades are useful for comparing kids to other kids in the same class, but as an absolute?

    Of COURSE she gets 100% on all her arithmatic tests– because I make her work at math until she knows it cold. Same with phonics– we don’t move on untiil she’s mastered the material.

    Ideally, a mastery-type system would give every child the benefits of having a personal tutor….

    I can’t wait to see how this works long-term.. it sounds like it has great potential because not ONLY will the kids master what they need to, but they’ll learn the value of hard work, perseverence, and practice–very important in the working world!

  2. It would be even better if this was begun in kindergarten and continued, allowing each kid to move through the material at his own pace. That scenario might actually result in kids arriving in high school prepared to do HS-level work.

  3. It does not take 12 years at $10,000 per pupil-year to teach a normal child to read and compute. A loving parent can teach a normal child to read (decode the phonetic alphabet) before that child can speak. Infants can learn whole number arithmetic. Children can “get” the notation of set theory and logic by third grade, if motivated by love from parents. Once children know how to read at the level of the daily paper (8th grade; possible by age 10 or so) and solve systems of linear equations in two variables (by age 10, without sweat, if you start with 4 year-olds who know how to count their toes), they can move to self-directed instruction through self-paced curricula, motivated only by pats on the back and kind words.

    The NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel will ensure that this threat to the massive make-work program we call “the public school system” never gains traction in those schools that the cartel controls.

  4. I agree it sounds like homeschooling. It also sounds like what America used to do with the one room schools, back before the state governments took over education in the mid and late 1800s.

  5. It’s just differentiation.

    And it’s *55* kids. Keeping track of proficiency for multiple standards is no sweat for that number. I’d love to have a student load like that. It’s more illustrative to see it scaled up to a 1400 or 2500 student high school.

  6. Very good find, thanks Joanne. And what Henry said is right, it’s similar to the one-room school-house in concept. Teachers have the power to judge and mastery is key before moving on. Good idea. It is the bane of this system where kids are forced to move on when “they don’t get it”. An old idea that is finally finding new ground.

    (Of course, the teacher has to be “into it” too).

    I do not understand why people draw the line between old and new — so black and white – whether it has to do with practices and/or ideas. I think technology and Socrates can co-exist just fabulously, as an example.

    Again, rather than talking about what works in certain situations (what we should be doing), it instead becomes all about who is right or wrong, no different than a bubble test. All absolutes. Not a good lesson at all.

  7. I agree with Lightly Seasoned. It’s not just keeping track of students who have mastered the standards, it’s how do you structure a school with 2000+ students to facilitate this goal. Right now most schools work on a school year schedule, if you fail a course you need to wait a year to retake it. Even if we could move to a more flexible semester/trimester/quarter system where there is the ability to reschedule students would be a good first step. Too often high school students are “stuck” if they fail the first semester of a year long course. This is especially true in math classes where the next semester is dependent on the previous semester.

  8. As a homeschooling mom, in theory it does sound good.

    My only question would be whether or not the students deliberately coast through it.

    In our local high schools, for instance, I’m amazed at how “deadlines” aren’t really “deadlines”. And everybody knows you can hand in stuff late. The problem is that the real world doesn’t work that way.

    Allowing kids to redo assignments until they get them right can be a good thing, but it may also encourage kids not to try. In homeschooling it’s a little different, because they incur the parents’ wrath if they don’t try. But in school, if you can coast, many kids do. They don’t have the motivation to try hard.

    So on many levels it sounds good, but I’m just wondering if it would encourage slackers to continue slacking. It will be interesting to see.

  9. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Sheila G– If you have to do the same thing over and over until you get it right, eventually it gets pretty boring. So I’d imagine that takes care of the ‘coasting.’

    Coasting is more appealing in a classroom situation where you know you’re stuck there all semester regardless of how you do– so why strive for the A+ when a B is just as good for passing? Also, in my experience, ‘coasting’ is much more likely when there’s a high percentage of busy-work. Because who really cares if you turn some dumkb poster in on time? It’s not like it taught you anything besides ‘how to cut and paste neatly….’

    Also, since the school has only 55 kids, I’d imagine teacher-student involvement is closer to homeschooling-parent/child than to traditional-classroom/student

  10. I agree with the issue of scale, but I think the addition of acceleration to the mix would help the slacker issue. Seeing classmates move up a class could be a significant motivator.

  11. Since self-paced curricula would move most students through the standard curriculum more quickly, it is more efficient, in terms of student and staff time. Therefore, it makes large districts less expensive than districts with standard curricula and methods. Increasing district or school size does not complicate the implementation of self-paced curricula. Quite the reverse; implementation of self-paced curricula would reduce problems which attend increasing class, school, and district size.

    Unionization presents only real scale problem. Teachers in large districts tend to bargain collectively. Unions would see a threat to their dues-generated revenue stream in self-paced curricula. Teachers in large districts have fewer escape options than have teachers in a competitive market for education services.