Momentum for Proficiency

Yesterday, a team of eight (yes, eight!) teachers from Winooski High School joined educators from around Vermont and the northeast for a PBGR (proficiency-based graduation requirement) work day in a church hall in South Burlington, Vermont.  The format was largely one of consultancy protocols, assisting each other with insights on dilemmas we’re facing in our own work.  In addition, there were opportunities to talk with four sympathetic reps from the Vermont Agency of Education and to hear from students and teachers working in PBGR schools like Big Picture South Burlington.

Perhaps the biggest revelation I had during the day is that there is a significant, emerging network of educators throughout the state who hold a vibrant vision for what student-centered, community-linked, and demonstration-based learning looks like, and why such learning is a successful alternative to the credit-based, time-in-class (“seat time”) system we currently use.  This network includes people from explicitly progressive organizations, but it includes mainstream teachers and principals, as well.

It’s also clear that we’re in a period of storm and stress around what proficiencies are.  Part of our disadvantage is that we haven’t built unity around recognized terms with clear meanings and exemplars of implementation that are easily translated from one site to the next.  Vermont Adult Learning uses the EFF (Equipped For the Future) standards, different proficiency based schools and programs use other listings of proficiencies, and everyone is curious how (and whether) the new Common Core connects.

I’m no fan of uniformity, but I do think uniting around some language would help us be more united.  When someone thinks of a Carnegie Unit (one high school credit) in English, people have some idea of what that means, or at least enough of an understanding, probably through personal experience, that they can establish a context for further ideas or discussion.  Proficiency (also called competency, mastery, standards, PBGRs, etc.) isn’t quite so clear.  But it’s clarity that will help this movement advance.

In any case, there is a movement afoot, in Vermont and much more broadly, as well, as demonstrated by the approximately 100 people who turned out to discuss other ways of determining and recognizing quality learning.  There are pockets of educators in every school who would like to see learning and education become more meaningful for students.  How do we unite those pockets across schools, organizations, and agencies, to make real change in how we deliver education, starting right here in Vermont?

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