Standing Out in a Proficiency-Based System

Many people get nervous when, in a proficiency-based system, the grade becomes less valuable. How will students stand out? How will they compete for college admissions? When we start looking at opportunities in proficiency-based systems more closely, it becomes apparent that there are many opportunities to stand out.  One of the hallmarks of an effective proficiency-based system is that there is a high degree of transparency; teachers are explicitly making the learning objective clear to students and in most cases explicitly teaching it.  Because of this transparency, students can begin to own their learning.  They can have much more of a say in how they show their learning because they understand the meaning of the learning objectives.

Because students can now get their graduation proficiencies from anywhere, students who take advantage of unique opportunities during the summer and after school hours can use these to attain graduation proficiency.  Many students have hobbies or interests in the community and in a traditional system these experiences don’t get recognized on a transcript but in a proficiency-based system, these experiences could.

There are many opportunities for students to show that they can engage in a variety of types of learning.  Online learning opportunities are a way for students to show their self-direction and also offer a way for students to take courses that may not be offered through the standard high school curriculum.  College level courses demonstrate a student’s ability to meet the demands of college level work.

Even within the traditional courses, there are opportunities to stand out.  Proficiency-based systems allow students to work at their own pace.  There may be a set of course objectives but students can work to exceed at a proficiency.  Students can also look for opportunities to meet proficiencies that are not explicitly offered in a course but may be attainable through a particular content area.

Because proficiency-based systems rely on a collection of evidence, students inherently develop a portfolio.  This portfolio is an opportunity for students to show their unique set of skills and talents that they have developed through a diverse set of learning opportunities.  

A grade allows a simple sorting to take place and it is efficient but it doesn’t help to show the specific skills and talents that a student may bring to their next learning or career endeavor. The flexibility and personal nature of a proficiency-based educational system allows students to shine in many more unique ways than a traditional system.  How else can kids stand out in a proficiency-based system?