Class of 2020: Graduating with Proficiency: School Board Hears Presentation on Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements

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Thursday October 11, 2018

As knowledge has expanded around the importance of non-cognitive skills as a contributor to the long-term success of student learners, the standards by which student proficiencies are evaluated has changed as well. At the Oct. 3 school board meeting, South Burlington High School Principal Patrick Burke and Director of Learning Mike Martin gave a presentation to help the board and public better understand Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements, and the ways this system is changing how students learn and how they are evaluated.

Martin explained that over the past 20 years or so, there has been an increasing push in the world of education to focus less on regurgitation and more on application of learning, a system where skills and content work in tandem. Beginning with the class of 2020 and beyond, SBHS students be introduced to graduation proficiencies through courses in their first two years of high school and assessed at the graduation level via courses and experiences during their final years of high school. Classroom-based assessments will be used to determine students’ proficiency in each of the Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements. Course grades and demonstrated proficiency will determine eligibility for a SBHS Diploma.

“The primary purpose of the grading system at South Burlington High School is to clearly, accurately, consistently, and fairly communicate learning progress and achievement to students, families, post-secondary institutions, and prospective employers,” Burke noted.

Burke added that with the transition to this system, the high school has been paying attention to post-secondary opportunities and the need to be able to communicate and defend this evaluation approach to all constituencies. For example, the class of 2019 will be the last to receive Carnegie Credits for each class passed. The Carnegie unit is a system where academic credit is awarded based on how much time students spent in direct contact with a classroom teacher. The standard Carnegie unit is measured as 120 hours of contact time with a teacher. For instance, one hour of instruction a day, five days a week, for 24 weeks, or 7,200 minutes of instructional time over the course of an academic year. Divided by 60, that comes to 120 hours.

With the new system, while grades and grade point averages will still be given, credits will be given based on proficiencies achieved.

Burke provided several scenarios to help explain how this will work. The first two were straightforward: if a student passes a class and scores as proficient under the Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements, a credit is granted. Conversely, if a student fails a class and does not score as proficient, a credit is not granted. It is within the third and fourth scenarios, Burke feels, that one can see how this new system adds value from an education perspective. If a student passes a class but doesn’t score as proficient under the Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements, there is an option for an appeal where the student and teacher meet to see how proficiencies can be attained. A credit could still be granted when certain elements of the proficiency have been met. This appeal scenario would also take place if a student failed a class, but scored as proficient.

Martin and Burke explained that in addition to teaching the content in a particular course, students will be practicing Student Learning Expectations. These are skills that are transferable from one content area to another and include: clear and effective communication, self-direction, creative and practical problem solving, responsible and involved citizenship, and informed and integrative thinking.

These Student Learning Expectations provide jumping off points for learning. Burke explained that, if asked by parents of students coming to the high school from the islands how their child could be best prepared, he would advise them to focus on the Student Learning Expectations, as opposed to saying, “make sure they know about the Civil War.”

Even younger students can begin integrating this approach by asking themselves, “Who am I as a communicator, learner, problem solver, thinker, and citizen?” The idea is to get students thinking and working on these areas along with proficiencies, as the administration has heard time and again that these are the skills most important to employers.

“Proficiency is a guarantee to the community that we aren’t sending students out into the world unprepared and we want to be clear about the expectations to families and students,” Burke said.

For more information on this presentation on Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements, please visit Regional Education Television Network or the district website:


SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent