Category: Research

Used to share unbiased (as possible) research into standards-based, competency-based, and proficiency-based education.

Research and Theory behind decisions…

So, it appears by looking at this week’s meeting agenda, the board had a vote (I’ve been unable to attend the last few meetings, unfortunately) about PBE and voted to continue on its path. Disappointing, due to lack of any research that supports its efficacy, but not surprising. And especially not surprising as tonight’s meeting is billed as a “workshop” — but that certainly appears as though it’s just for show. How can you have a “workshop” after you’ve already voted on your decision?

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Mark Zuckerberg’s Plan To ‘Personalize’ Learning Rests On Shaky Ground

This is similar to a refrain I’ve heard from others about aspects of PBE that are “good” — “it just makes sense.” My question is why are we instituting new ways of educating kids based on it “making sense” — and not based on actual research? Things that make sense to some, don’t always make sense to others. And this is EDUCATION. We should be basing how we teach our kids on more than someone’s gut feeling. Use the gut feeling to justify doing the research — and find out if your gut was right. Don’t jump past the research stage and into changing a system for thousands of kids based solely on it “making sense.”

From the article:

Perhaps the basic reason for Zuckerberg’s enthusiasm is that, as he has said, “The model just intuitively makes sense.” That is, it intuitively makes sense to people like Zuckerberg and Gates, both highly motivated Harvard dropouts. No doubt they would have enjoyed school far more if they’d been able to race ahead at their own pace and choose what they wanted to learn.

Full article:

Personalized learning is a slippery term, but the basic idea is to tailor learning to individual students and have them demonstrate they’ve mastered one component of learning before moving on to the next. Technology plays a key role, with students using software that is supposed to fit their needs.

And here’s where it seems the author points out that they don’t appear to have any evidence, yet, of its effectiveness:

The idea of personalized learning has proven appealing not only to Zuckerberg but also to his fellow tech titan Bill Gates. “I love this cutting-edge school design,” Gates has declared on his blog. Between 2013 and 2017, the Gates Foundation invested over $300 million to support research on personalized learning. Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have announced that their own education initiative will invest “hundreds of millions of dollars a year” in the field, which they believe will provide “every student with a customized education.” Gates and Zuckerberg have even teamed up on one joint grant—a relatively modest $12 million—to promote personalized learning and build an “evidence base” that proves its effectiveness.

That’s unusual. Generally speaking, education reformers like Gates and Zuckerberg say they want to see an evidence base before they invest in an idea. They want data and “proof points” that show the idea works. And when it comes to personalized learning, the data is inconclusive at best.

The most encouraging study to date found that personalized learning had a modest positive effect on math test scores and no significant impact on scores in reading. But other studies have found that some personalized learning programs can reduce students’ enjoyment of learning or make them less likely to feel there’s an adult at their school who knows them well.

And people wonder why some parents are pushing back?

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Questions about PBL messaging from the RSU5 district

So, it’s been a bit quiet recently, and the upcoming school board meeting (on 5/23) is set to focus on admin tasks and not allow for public comment, but there have been a few parents asking some additional questions and I wanted to share some of what’s been discovered recently.

One interesting piece that came up was what one parent flagged as a concern in the Freeport High School’s PBL handbook: It’s a concern we’ve brought up quite a bit — where’s the evidence-based research (or even “scholarly” research — not done at the behest of a company paying for it or benefiting from it) that supports proficiency-based learning and grading as all it’s sold to be — and how it will affect kids applying to college.

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Pearson Efficacy Study Highlights the Challenge of Letting Students Retest

But new, externally audited, efficacy research from Pearson about one of the company’s apps shows a significant correlation between increased retesting and lower overall course performance.

The results of the study pose big questions for reform-minded educators who advocate for students to have multiple chances on exams. The new research suggests that far from mastering concepts, students may simply be retaking quizzes on education technology platforms until their score increases, which may actually hurt their overall learning progression.


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Extended reading about PBE

In my quest to find unbiased research (as in not paid for by some organization that financially benefits from the PBE restructuring of our schools), I’ve run into a few pieces that shed a bit of a light. Unsurprisingly, most of them specifically mention that there’s no real evidence-based research showing the supposed benefits of standards, competency or proficiency-based education. Often, what is shared (and sometimes posed as a success story) is anecdotal and not necessarily something that is easily replicated — because each student, each teacher, each school, each school district (especially here in Maine) is unique.

COMPETENCY-BASED EDUCATION: An Overview for Michigan’s Superintendents (Source: — Maine is cited throughout

PRELIMINARY IMPLEMENTATION OF MAINE’S PROFICIENCY‐BASED DIPLOMA PROGRAM (Source: — Not a research paper, but an article that cites quite a lot of other education research

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