by Courtney Belolan
One of the major underpinnings of a learner centered proficiency based system is that performance towards targets is measured through evidence of learning. Learners have to provide proof that they have reached the necessary level of understanding or ability with knowledge and skills in order to earn proficiency. Once they have proved proficiency on any given target, they move on in their learning. When the system is working, learners really do work at their readiness levels. When the system doesn’t work, it leads to a good deal of frustration for both learners and teachers. Two of the most common areas of breakdown in the proficiency based system are honesty in assessment, and preponderance of evidence.
Every member of a learning community needs to be able to trust that whatever is in the reporting system is true and accurate. In order for this to happen, we have to be honest in our assessment of evidence. In competency, or proficiency, based education there is no room for partial credit, effort points, or evidence being “strong for this learner.” There is the target, the expected performance, and the evidence of learning compared to that target. We need to stay “within the four corners of the page” so to speak. The moment inferences about learner evidence go outside of what is actually there, the honesty of the assessment is lost and the system becomes weak. The more instances of weakness, the closer to falling apart the system comes.
Not only does there need to be honesty in assessment of evidence there also needs to be enough evidence, a preponderance of evidence. This means that there is a greater weight of evidence in order to clearly fall on the side of meeting a target rather than not. Notice that I avoided using the word “enough.” Judging proficiency has more to do with the quality and consistency of evidence than it does with the amount. Another way to think about is that when a learner convincingly shows that they’ve got a skill or concept, they earn proficiency. This means that the evidence needed will vary. It will vary by leaner and by target. This also means rethinking what evidence is. Observations, drafts, practice, and conferences can show just as much (and sometimes more) than final products, tests, quizzes, and other assignments.
No doubt this feels frustrating to people. On one hand we have to be more black and white when it comes to assessing individual pieces of evidence. On the other we have to embrace the ambiguous gray shades with overall collections of evidence when assessing targets. No doubt people are feeling that the proficiency system is close to broken and fixing it is impossible. The truth is that the system is still strong. We can repair and make it stronger. Starting now, be more reflective about how you assess individual pieces of evidence. Starting now, be more reflective about how you look at a set of evidence and assess a target. Talk with colleagues. Make time to group score. Connect and collaborate. Gently support one another to be honest and flexible about assessing evidence and targets.
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