Sunday, November 3, 2013

So, Why Proficiency Based Education? Why Change?

Well this is a very good question!  But to be honest - its TWO distinct questions! :)  Let's take a minute to see if I can help answer the second question first. .. then we'll cycle back to the first one!

So, why did the RSU 3 Board of Directors vote to change their education system and move in the direction of PBE in the Spring of 2011?  Well, here's just a few reasons:

1.  In 2011 our NECAP test results showed that only 45% of our district's students were meeting proficiency in Math, 53% in Reading, and just 30% in writing in grades K-8.

2.  In that same year, our achievement scores at the high school level indicated that just 39% of our students were meting proficiency in Math, 39% in Reading, 29% in Science, and just 28% in Writing.

3.  Just 73% of students at the High School Level wanted to go on to postsecondary training.  Only 56% actually went!

4.  In the first quarter of the 2010-11 school year, 60% of our Middle School students were failing at least one class and just under 40% were failing two or more classes!

5.  Similarly, in the first quarter of the 2010-11 school year, 50% of our High School Freshman were failing at least one class and just over 40% were failing two or more classes!

6.  We had an 86% graduation rate at Mt. View High School

7.  Chronic absenteeism was an issue across all schools where 30% or more of our students were absent  at least 20 or more days of school.

8.  We had two elementary schools on the CIPS list in the area of math (a federal designation for schools that had not met AYP targets), our Middle School was on the CIPS list for both reading and math and our High School was on the CIPS list for both reading and math.

9.  Leadership within the district was unstable.  The Middle School had just hired its 7th principal in 8 years and the District had just hired its 8th Superintendent in 9 years.  Similar transitions had occurred at the Elementary level and at other district administrative levels.

Long story short - RSU 3 was not meeting the needs of its students!  This was not the fault of its hard working and well qualified teachers, nor was it the fault of parents or community.  The Board of Directors correctly identified the problem - it was with our SYSTEM of education.  The traditional "assembly line" system of education that was created back in the 1800's simply no longer worked for our 21st century students and families.  It was time to try something that would . . . enter PBE!

Now comes the answer to the first question - so why PBE?  Our district's problems in meeting the needs of students was clear in our data.  What was also clear is that RSU 3 is a unique school system, comprised of unique learners.  In discussions at the Board level and among faculty and staff, it became clear that we all believed in two very clear facts about our learners:

1.  Students learn at different rates and times, and
2.  Students learn in different ways

After coming to this conclusion, we asked ourselves this question:  How does our current traditional model of education honor these two "truisms"?  The answer was very simply - IT DIDN'T.  Once we realized that, we then sought out to find a system that would honor these two truisms.  Proficiency Based is what we found!

In a PBE system, time becomes a variable and learning becomes a constant (see previous post for more details).  Students must demonstrate proficiency in skills before moving on to master new skills.  Now, some might think this is too "rote" a process and by itself, it probably would be.  But that's where you throw in some of the other key elements that are included in our district's Mission/Vision.  Elements of our system also must include things like (taken from RSU 3 Mission/Vision):

*  Student engagement
*  Student Excitement
*  Student Ownership of their own learning
*  Rigor in the curriculum
*  Transparency - of the system, of the learning, and of the process
*  Student choice (in when they learn what, and how they demonstrate their skills)
*  Student voice (in how they learn best)
*  Students working at their own individual maximum pace
*  Acknowledgement that learning occurs anywhere - not just in the four walls of our schools.

These key elements as outlined in our new Mission/Vision are what drives the development and creation of our own unique PBE system.  This isn't the same as anyone else's PBE system because we are making it in a way that meets our needs and the needs of our unique population of learners!

Identifying the key elements of what our PBE system is and understanding it isn't necessarily the same as any other's will be the topics of future posts!


  1. My daughter just started kindergarten this year, and as I was reviewing the test scores for the school she was entering, I was dismayed at how low they were. I am glad to see that changes have been put in place to create a better learning environment for our children. I am excited to see the results this will have on future test scores.

  2. As am I! I'm hoping that this year's NECAP (Maine's overall achievement test) results will reflect some of the hard work we've been undertaking here in RSU 3 for about 2 years now! Clearly, our past scores indicated that we need to do something different - we should start to see progress soon! Rest assured that when we get results (Probably in Late December). .. I'll be letting parents know how we're doing!

  3. Our system of public education has been in decline since the passage of NCLB. Testing shrinks the curriculum, and focuses on the least important kind of learning: the memorization and regurgitation of facts. Testing stands as a barrier between teachers and students; the most important part of education -- relationship building -- has been damaged nearly beyond repair because of the pressure to get kids to perform on state standardized testing, with the threat of sanctions such as decreased funding hanging over our heads. High-stakes testing changes the culture of a school in such a way that the results of the tests are corrupt; they no longer are a "snapshot" of how a school is doing -- they are the result of a manipulated system, a factory for the production of data.

    Meantime, after over 10 years of high-stakes testing, the problem if disengaged and failing students grows and blooms. Hmmm....maybe there is a connection?

    Everyone knows we learn best when we are interested in the subjects we are learning. The testing culture makes us put that simple fact aside -- permanently -- in favor of pushing content at kids regardless of interest.

    But caring is the required precondition to learning. You can't manufacture it. All you can teach the multitude of kids who don't thrive under these circumstances, is that they don't like learning and they aren't good at it.

    Testing is a system that ignores -- even defies -- all the experience, research and our collective banks of knowledge on how people best learn.