Proficiency-Based Education: What it is and Why it is Important

What is PBE?

The Maine Department of Education has mandated that the class of 2021 will earn a diploma based on the demonstration of proficiency on a set of recognized standards.  This is called a proficiency-based diploma.  Some schools in Maine and around the nation call this a competency-based or standards-based diploma.  At Machias Memorial High School we will use the term proficiency-based diploma.

In English Language Arts and mathematics the standards used are the national Common Core Standards.  In all other areas – science, social studies, visual and performing arts, career preparation, physical education and health, and foreign language – the Maine State Learning Results will remain the framework of standards.

In addition to the standards students must be proficient in literacy standards across each content area and demonstrate they have gained the skills and knowledge in Maine’s Guiding Principles.  The Guiding Principles include being a clear and effective communicator, a self-directed and lifelong learner, a creative and practical problem solver, a responsible and involved citizen, and an integrative and informed thinker.

Proficiency-based education and traditional education are very different.  In a proficiency-based educational system students are measured on their progress towards showing proficiency on the standards.  Students who don’t show proficiency on a standard, after receiving appropriate instruction, will receive supports and interventions to help them meet the standards.  This contrasts with the traditional system where the class continues moving forward whether a student demonstrates understanding of the content or not.

Another way proficiency-based education differs from traditional education is that the focus is on meeting the standard at the level of proficiency and not on works of habit.  Works of habit are things that traditionally are calculated into a grade like class participation or passing in homework on time.  In a proficiency-based education system the habits of work are still measured and reported, but separately from the demonstration of meeting the standard.

Why is PBE Important?

Although the change to a proficiency-based educational system is being mandated by Augusta it is the right thing to do.  It will change the lives of many students in a positive way.  No longer will students be able to move through high school barely passing their classes and graduate unprepared for college, career, or the military.  A proficiency-based diploma will guarantee that students have met the standards needed to ensure their success after high school.

The transformation to proficiency-based education will be a huge shift for many in education as well as the students, parents, and community.  At Machias Memorial High School we are going to move towards a proficiency-based diploma with caution, seek out the best proven practices, and use what makes sense for our students and community.  Schools have a moral imperative to provide high quality teaching and learning for all students.  Proficiency-based education will help us achieve that goal and do the right thing for students.

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