Opinion: ‘Proficiency’ is a flawed model for education


The supposed goal of proficiency education (and other outcome-based models, such as competency-based learning) is to ensure that all students meet certain measurable benchmarks by year’s end and that all who receive a diploma are proficient in specific areas. The model is based on the notion that every kid can become proficient, if given the time. But when time is limited, resources are stretched, and students arrive at school with wildly different experiences, strengths, and weaknesses, it is rarely the case that everyone ends up in the same place in June.

It also sets up perverse educational incentives. Because the model focuses on year-end proficiency, teachers are required to let students retake tests and must give full credit for late homework. In theory, this allows students the time they need to master each skill without undue “pressure.” In reality, as anyone with a teenager well knows, it encourages slacking.

Proficiency-based education not only warps incentives. It also perverts the curriculum itself. This is particularly true in disciplines such as literature and history, where, traditionally, the goal is to familiarize students with a body of knowledge about which they are then expected to think critically, formulate new ideas, and communicate effectively. In such disciplines, promoting skills at the expense of the content itself leaves students untethered from meaning and unable to communicate effectively about anything. (But never fear: There’s always Google. And Wikipedia. And Alexa.)

Full article:


Legislators vote to ease Maine’s proficiency-based education mandate, allow more ‘local control’

AUGUSTA — Six years after Maine became one of the first few states to adopt new high school graduation standards, lawmakers are poised to roll back those requirements by allowing school districts to decide whether to issue proficiency-based diplomas.

Both the House and the Senate voted Tuesday night to eliminate the state mandate that students demonstrate proficiency in eight key areas – including math, English and science/technology – to graduate. Rather than repeal the 6-year-old reform law altogether, the bill would enable school districts to choose whether to continue using proficiency-based standards or revert to the traditional system of courses, A through F grades and credits to qualify for graduation.

The bill has not yet been sent to the governor.

Read the full article:


More Do-Overs and Fewer Tests: Some Maine Educators Worry About Graduates In ‘Proficiency-Based’ Ed

In making the transition to these new, proficiency-based diplomas, some schools have moved away from midterms, finals and other tests, in favor of projects. But some educators fear that could erode some students’ test-taking skills, and their efforts to get into college.


PBL Workshop – September 12, 2018 at 6:30 pm

I sent a note to the board to make sure I hadn’t missed the mention of it, and Becky responded that they’d confirmed a date and put it into this week’s executive board meeting agenda.

I’ve included my original email below because I also saw some comments online from a parent at Traip and wanted to share my concerns with the board and the high school administrators (and with people online).

Anyway, looks like we’re set for a workshop on September 12th — to be able to find out what the teachers set in motion over the summer, and to be able to ask questions about how things will be working in the newly devised grading system.

Please start spreading the word and add September 12th at 6:30 pm to your calendar!

—– Forwarded Message —–

To: Board
Cc: Charlie Mellon; Jennifer Gulko
Sent: Monday, June 18, 2018, 9:00:42 PM EDT
Subject: PBL/PBE workshop in the fall?

Hey all. Just one last pre-summer request. I had been under the impression that the PBE workshop was still planned for the beginning of the new school year — likely during the first board meeting (September 12, 2018).

I realized after I left the last meeting, while I had mentioned it during public comment, I don’t recall hearing it mentioned again by any members of the board — in terms of it definitely happening or confirming the date. I’m hoping I just somehow missed this, but wanted to email to follow-up.

So, I wanted to again ask if the PBE workshop is being planned for the first board meeting of the school year.

While I think many parents feel a bit relieved that the grading system is changing, I know a few have voiced concerns that this has changed a few times already, and are concerned it could change again. And I think a workshop (that had already been discussed and I’d thought the concept of it had been agreed to) would help the community understand the new plan that the high school develops this summer. My understanding (and this could be wrong — so please correct me if it is), is that the August 27th meeting is for kids entering 9th grade. That excludes all other students and parents from the conversation. And while it’s important that those kids get the info they’ll need immediately for their 9th grade year, it’s again one group of kids and parents getting info — and not the whole community, even though there are many other kids who will be touched by these changes in the years to come. The workshop would ensure any concerned parent or community member would be informed of what’s happening, and be able to join in the conversation if any concerns in the new policies come to light.

As a side note, I recall hearing about how a chunk of what FHS has done, when it comes to implementing policies and practices related to PBL, was mirrored, in part, after Traip Academy (including using their Family Guide to PBL as the initial template for ours). Today, in a Facebook group about PBL in Maine, I saw the following post (see below) that includes some thoughts from a Traip parent. I thought I’d share. And yes, it’s only one parent, but, I think it echoes a lot of concerns parents in RSU5 have shared, and continue to share — and not just about the grading. I’ve removed the names (the group is a closed, private group, so I’ve respected everyone’s wishes to not share names outside the group) — except for the parent in question since he said it was fine to share it.

Reading this has caused me again to request that as we move forward, in whatever way we do, when looking at schools and districts to emulate, we don’t look to the schools that seem to still be struggling (in many ways — not just with PBL). There’s a reason Yarmouth, Greely, Falmouth, and Cape Elizabeth never seem to be in the news in a negative light when it comes to how they’re meeting the proficiency-based diploma statute (and still ensuring great educational outcomes for their kids) — and why you never hear about parents in those districts fighting PBL. They’ve managed to incorporate and embrace aspects of PBL that they find merit in, without upending their whole system, and without treating their kids, and their kids’ futures, as experiments. I’m hoping, going forward, we can follow their lead.

Thanks again for listening to all our concerns this year! Hope the summer gives you all a bit of a respite!

Pam Barry-Santos

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