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Getting to Proficiency Post 3: When is enough, enough?

As I plan out our next meeting together on the 22 of January, I will try to address some of the issues raised from our work on the 8th of January. Several of you raised interesting and important issues the other day and others followed up with emails.  I want to begin with one from Bryan Dionne who asks;

When a student has shown they meet the standards or are proficient….. do they move on?  Do they move on to another unit within a class and/or do they move out of a class and into another more challenging course?

If we look around the state and the nation there are a number of responses to these questions.  Perhaps the most extreme, in terms of changes in the way schools traditionally do business, is characterized by the MCCL (Maine Cohort for Customized Learning) and RISC (Reinventing Schools Coalition) models.  There are nuances between these two models and I am sure a proponent of either would take issue with the summary that follows.  These models articulate learning pathways and targets intended to be addressed by each student at their own pace.  Personalized learning plans are the goal of both models.  The details can be seen at the sites above or by visiting the websites of the following Maine schools RSU 2  or RSU 18.  I believe in these districts and incorporated into the models above, the answer to Bryan’s question is that students do move on to another set of learning targets, perhaps in the same class or in another.   The approach described in these schools contains other features, important in the model’s implementation, but not necessarily directly related to the questions Bryan posed. Other schools are making cosmetic changes to address proficiency.  Being polite, I won’t link to those that I believe fit this description.  In these cases, schools are identifying a course, assessment, or project that addresses each of their proficiency standards and collecting scores to document proficiency.  Here, I sense compliance and business as usual.  In these schools the answer to Bryan’s questions would be little different from what is occurring in our schools today.

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Somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum is, I believe, a model that captures the most pedagogically sound approach to addressing proficiency.   I was in a meeting with representatives from RSU 13 (Rockland-Thomaston) where they introduced the metaphor of a cup to describe each of the graduation standards.  In thinking about it, I prefer the visual of sand filled jars or bottles.   If we consider the vessel the standard, then the sand is the assessment evidence collected over a student’s career.   Proficiency in the model I would advocate for represents the mosaic of sand colors (assessment evidence) captured in each student’s vessels (standards).   It is unlikely that any two student’s vessels will have the same mosaic captured over time.  To answer Bryan’s questions in this model, I would note that becoming proficient requires adding sand, of various colors (types of performances, contexts, or content) to the vessel until an image of proficiency emerges over time.  Thus, in a given course, context, or content area the student will add sand of a specific color creating their unique image.  One of our jobs as educators is to be sure only sand of sufficient quality (criterion referenced sand, if you will !) is added to the jars and that the sand comes from multiple beaches.  Finally, we have to decide when the mosaic is complete.  When is enough enough? In the next post I will try to describe why I think the sand filled mosaics represent sound pedagogical practice.

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5 Comments on “Getting to Proficiency Post 3: When is enough, enough?”

  1. Tanya Hammond January 10, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Great colored-sand analogy, Shawn. It captures the complexity of the composition of students’ learning.

  2. Bryan Dionne January 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    Shawn, thank you for taking the time to shed some light or sand on this topic. Transitions in life are important and often filled with complex issues and feelings. It appears we are at one of those times in education. Thank you for your leadership and effort in addressing this issue/question. I’m certain we can make the most of this transition if we are willing to role our sleeves up and work together to sift through all of these questions.

  3. Jennifer Burns January 10, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    Thanks for this post, Shawn! I appreciate the sand analogy, it certainly helped me make more sense of a very complex issue. The different ways of filling a vessel seem to epitomize a universal design for learning.

  4. Karen Cronk January 23, 2014 at 12:56 am #

    Let’s keep in mind that not all vessels are the same size so they can’t hold the same amount of sand. Some are pails making it easy to fill with lots of sand, while others are like narrow bud vases making filling a slower process and not able to hold as much sand as the pail. We have quite a task ahead of us and I feel we’re off to a good start. I like meeting with the middle school faculty, too.

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