Proficiency-Based Learning Needs to Get Smart

May 16, 2019

When it comes to their individual education, a student should be able to direct it, so that they can do what best benefits them; this concept is not particularly new, but it certainly is not old. 

When schools try to implement student-centered and directed learning, there tends to be some hiccups. However, this is to be expected as implementation never goes completely as planned. Because of this, many people either complain about the flaws or continue to have blind faith in student-centered learning. This is unfortunate because although it absolutely does have flaws, it also has copious benefits. 

As a student, I have been able to take my education into my own hands and do things I would not have been able to in a traditional school.  

A prime example of this is my creative writing class; of course, when picking out classes, everyone is able to pick out their own, but I was able to go a step further. I knew that I needed a study hall in the morning so that I could complete certain tasks, but I also really wanted to take the class. I was able to come to a deal with my English teacher and my guidance counselor, enrolling, but with the provision that if I needed or wanted to, I could come and go as I pleased as long as I stayed on pace and handed in my work regularly. This has helped me tremendously this semester because I have been able to complete my work in a manner that fits into my schedule. 

I have also been asked to participate in several things that most likely would not have been opportunities at other schools. For example, I am on the committee for hiring a new guidance counselor despite still being enrolled in high school. It was an incredible experience on multiple levels; I was able to help my fellow underclass peers have a passionate counselor that will be there for them when they need it. Additionally, it was a great experience with interviews so that I am sure how to act when I participate in interviews for a job for myself later on. 

I do have to admit though that there are drawbacks. I am a fairly hard worker when it comes to school and I try to complete work to the best of my ability nine times out of ten. But, getting the highest grade (a 4, which is the equivalent of an A), requires an entirely extra project. I could put my heart and soul into a level 3 (the proficient grade considered the standard grade) but still get the same grade as a student who put the whole thing together last minute. That is extremely unfair because on a regular A scale grading system, I would have received an A for meeting every single requirement to the highest standards while the other kid likely would’ve received a C for still meeting the requirements but poorly. 

I would like to fix this by reverting back to a traditional grading system whilst still using proficiency based education. 

In doing so, it would be a 1-100 scale that can quickly be reverted to a A, B, C scale when needed, demonstrating ranges of proficiency just like the 1, 2, 3, 4 system. For example, a four would be equivalent to a 95 or above, a 3 would range from 70 to 94, a 2 from 50 to 70, and a 1 would be anything less than a 50. 

That way, high achieving students have the ability to demonstrate mastery without an extra project and average students can demonstrate proficiency as needed. I believe this would work better because it applies to all students on the spectrum of learning, as opposed to just the higher achieving students, or just the struggling students. 

Overall, there are many benefits to proficiency-based teaching and learning that aid students in being more confident in what they do and in becoming citizens. But it also has drawbacks that can hurt high achievers in the end. I personally believe that the system should be addressed and fixed, but not scrapped like some believe. 

Ashley Brown is a senior at Richmond High School.