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  • Megh Rounds

An Inside Peek at a Public School Shifting to the PBE Model - Part Two: Reassessment and Redesign

Editor's Note: This is the second post in a three-part series. The first, Collaboration, can be found here. Look for part III in the coming weeks.

Educators and staff amidst the shift from a traditional educational model to a Proficiency-Based model are finding conflicts and complications popping up around every corner, a natural result of any big systemic change. In the Gorham Schools, we continually ask questions related to the challenges coming with our transition. Are the changes we’re implementing transparent to our students, families, and community? Are we effectively scaffolding our transition from old system to new system so as to help, not hinder, students? These are just a couple of the many questions guiding the reassessment and redesign of our Proficiency-Based Education (PBE) system in Gorham.

Even though many schools all over our state and country are shifting to a PBE system, there isn’t a guidebook on how to make this change seamless; even if there was, it would hardly be relevant everywhere. A one-size approach to new system implementation does not fit the needs of all. Therefore, a growth mindset (the idea that nothing is fixed, complete, or set in stone) is essential. Gorham has been in the process of shifting to a PBE model for at least five years, but our greatest strides have occurred in the past three. During this time, we have written mission and vision and core belief documents to move our work forward, as well as a handful of other documents, including Graduation Standards, all of which have been ‘finalized.’ Outside of these guiding documents, we view our work on items such as performance indicators, scoring criteria, and common assessments as ‘working drafts’ in order to maintain the flexibility necessary to refine our PBE system, allowing it to grow with our students, teachers, and community.

The Gorham Schools’ Proficiency Based Learning Steering Committee guides the decision- making about what revisions get made to our system. As the PBE system in Gorham is nearing full K-12 implementation, teachers are not at liberty to make changes to working drafts without an audience of stakeholders approving suggested changes. Such stakeholders include representation on behalf of teachers and administration from all schools, students, parents, and community members. At Gorham Middle School (GMS), when a content area or grade level team of teachers has a proposal for change to an official PBE document, the content area leader (as part of the GMS Leadership Team) brings the proposed change to the district-level content area committee. From there, if content area representatives from all schools consent, the proposed change can receive final approval or denial by the Steering Committee.

This year, Gorham teachers have begun to reassess performance indicators and scoring criteria through the sharing and analysis of student work. Rather than reflecting in isolation, teachers at GMS are working within content areas to reassess and redesign PBE documents in an effort to improve clarity and rigor. Not only can analyzing and discussing student work allow for teachers to gain a clearer understanding of what is working versus what’s not about performance indicators and scoring criteria, this process should also be used to assist teachers in calibrating how they assess students across grade level. For example, when I come together with my two colleagues who also teach sixth grade English Language Arts, the three of us are able to share samples of student work that help to engage us in discussion around:

  • transparency of scoring criteria

  • relevance of performance indicators to what is being taught

  • calibration of what proficiency looks like

For more information about collaborating across grade levels in order to reassess and redesign as well as for calibration, please see Ron Berger’s book, Leaders of Their Own Learning, and Great Schools Partnership’s working draft of ‘Identifying Exemplars of Student Work & Scorer Calibration Process.’ You can also check out this 2016 JumpRope blog post: Calibration Through Collaboration.

The implementation of a PBE system is not meant to be a quick fix, but rather, a long-term model that supports students’ preparation in becoming contributing members of society. As conflicts arise in the implementation of PBE, it’s essential for teachers to feel empowered to make changes to how the system operates. Many voices are stronger than one, and together, through established leadership systems and continuous reflection, revision, and redesign, we can continue learning and growing in an effort to create an education system to best prepare our 21st century students.

Megh teaches sixth grade English Language Arts and social studies at Gorham Middle School in Gorham, Maine, where she is also co-advisor of the Civil Rights Team. @msroundstweets

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