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links

One article like this is not enough information. To learn more, I pointed you to numerous resources, but here is one final gem. Check out the wealth of information, guidance, and case studies at www.competencyworks.org.

If you’d like to talk further about any of this, I invite you to email me: JimS@nowlcms.org.

 

other STF links

Vision. Blassing. STEAM! (Feature)

“What Did I Get Myself Into?” (Feature)

All Kids are Geniuses and Genius Hour Proves It! (ETnet)

Being Flexible About Flexible Seating (LDnet)

1 + 3 = College Degree (SECnet)

 

LEA is looking for writers

LEA is looking for writers in front-line ministries for articles in future ShapingtheFuture magazine pieces. If you would like to write, contact ed.grube@lea.org (do not reply to this publication) to express and discuss your interests.

 

LEADnet

Proficiency-Based Education:
A Paradigm Shift

Proficiency-based education.
Personalized learning.
We all know students are diverse in abilities, learning styles, prior knowledge, and experience, yet we teach as if they are all on the same level playing field.Competency-based education. Buzz words? Couldn’t be further from the truth. We are seeing a paradigm shift in educational philosophy, already established in nations around the world. These terms relate to an approach so removed from the traditional model that once the transition is made, there is no going back. You would never want to!

This isn’t one of those fads of years past, a la “whole language” or “cooperative learning.” And it differs from technology’s impact on classrooms. Compared to proficiency-based education, these were bandages on a broken system, not actually changing our core approach to instruction and learning. Proficiency-based education is a game changer.

Before diving deeper, let me make the case for change. Our traditional model of education doesn’t work. Designed to train students in the same material at the same ages, in the same manner, at the same pace, this model has its foundation in the Committee of Ten (1897)—top scholars NEA brought together to standardize American education. This gathering made decisions that have guided education nearly unchallenged for more than a century: eight elementary grades, four years of high school, the course arrangements we see today (math, literature, science, history, etc.). That same year, Mount Holyoke University began using letter grades (A, B, C, D, and E) to report achievement. We haven’t changed much since, although we did drop “E” for “F”.

We invest an enormous amount of energy, money, and training to deal with challenges directly caused by our approach to education, rather than looking critically at the system itself and making adjustments that would eliminate so many of the problems.Take time to see Changing Education Paradigms, an excellent RSA Animation YouTube video complementing a presentation by Sir Ken Robinson (2010) that identifies the issue. The traditional, factory-based model is flawed. Any teacher with time in a classroom knows the problems, but we’ve been trained to accept the issues as normal. We all know students are diverse in abilities, learning styles, prior knowledge, and experience, yet we teach as if they are all on the same level playing field. The result? Some are bored, others are in over their head, while a few are mostly happy. We address difficulties that result through classroom management, remedial education, resource teachers, extra credit, gifted programs, differentiation, and so forth. The point is that we invest an enormous amount of energy, money, and training to deal with challenges directly caused by our approach to education, rather than looking critically at the system itself and making adjustments that would eliminate so many of the problems.

examining a snailThe traditional model of education says time is the constant, and learning is the variable. Students move from grade to grade based upon seat time (days in school), assuming minimal passing grades. What students learn varies greatly. Some master content more quickly than we can dispense it; we let them have extra credit, read for pleasure, or tutor their peers. Others didn’t grasp what we taught yesterday, not to mention last week; today they are drowning, giving up. We even tell ourselves it’s acceptable if a student doesn’t get some concepts; they’ll “get it next year.” But consider: we move students along so long as assessments demonstrate they “learn” at least 60 percent of the content covered at their grade level. Our entire letter grade system assumes some students will not master our curriculum; we accept that. In essence, we give up on some students (“Everyone can’t be an A student.”). Wow. We concede students may not master up to 40 percent of our curriculum, but that is good enough, and we move them on, compounding learning challenges year after year.

God has created each child with unique strengths. Proficiency-based education embraces this uniqueness.Proficiency-based education instead says learning is the constant, and time the variable. Schools engaged in proficiency-based education allow personalization to a degree that students have agency to direct their own learning. If they need more time for math content, they take it, while literature units may be a breeze they simply fly right through. God has created each child with unique strengths. Proficiency-based education embraces this uniqueness. No student will sense the unspoken message that they aren’t good enough, they don’t measure up, merely because they can’t succeed in a traditional school approach.

reading is fun!Educators find it difficult to picture what this looks like without seeing it in action. Schools and districts nationwide have moved into this model, and if you do a little “Googling,” you’ll discover how widespread it’s already become. Check a list of school districts, schools, and states that are leading the way. They’re all across the nation. And here is a link to a powerful video testimony produced by one of these models, Lindsay Unified School District, as to why schools should move away from the traditional and into proficiency-based education.

Transformations begin with leaders. As school administrators discover the difference proficiency-based education has on student learning, they drive change. But change doesn’t occur overnight. Curricular materials need restructuring. Teaching changes dramatically. Assessment takes on a new purpose. Letter grades and “passing” disappear; progress ties directly to mastery of skills and concepts.

We are failing students in the current model, despite our best efforts. We hold gifted students down, while dragging struggling students along. School leaders initiate transformation through professional development. They bring their teachers to see the need for change, inspiring them for what could be. We are failing students in the current model, despite our best efforts. We hold gifted students down, while dragging struggling students along, moving all along with their age groups as best we can. School leaders help educators recognize fallacies in the current system, and then they show them a better way. Schools then educate the community. School parents trust what they know; they see great grades, honor roll, and high test scores as signs of success. Bringing them along as knowing partners in school transformation is vital.

Once faculty and families are on board, a school can make the shift. No one gets it perfectly right for their setting immediately. You improve and perfect as you move ahead. Allow yourself to experiment, to fail, and to keep learning to better equip and inspire your students.

Perhaps what I value about proficiency-based education most for Lutheran schools is how it fits our theology. Educators can fully support and embrace the unique abilities and needs of all their students. As teachers share God’s love, it is never muddied by messages of academic failure — not measuring up. Students discover the joy of learning in an environment of affirmation and supportive Christian love. Academic difficulties damage partnerships and relationships in Lutheran school ministry; the proficiency-based model removes that challenge, substituting a structure much more compatible with sharing God’s love every day.

One article like this is not enough information. To learn more, I pointed you to numerous resources, but here is one final gem. Check out the wealth of information, guidance, and case studies at www.competencyworks.org. If you’d like to talk further about any of this, I invite you to email me: JimS@nowlcms.org.

Jim Scriven serves as education executive for the LCMS Northwest District. His 28 years of Lutheran School ministry include serving in schools in Louisiana, Minnesota, California, and Alaska, first as a teacher, then a principal. Married for nearly 29 years to his wonderful wife and partner in ministry, Judy (also a Lutheran educator, now serving as a childcare director), they have two adult children, the younger a freshman at Concordia University Portland. When not traveling for work, Jim resides in Vancouver, Wash.

Photo © iStock/Yvonne Stewart Henderson, Miodrag Ignjatovic, Pidjoe