The Year of the Proficiency: Three Holes in our System

Christiana Martin, the AP US History teacher, leads a group of students through a review session. Her students achieve proficiency in economics without ever directly being assessed on the standard. The AP curriculum covers the topic enough times, that she believes they will have shown proficiency by the end of the year.

 

It’s a Monday afternoon. Zoie Beauregard leans over the sheet of paper in front of her, quickly scanning the instructions, as Elizabeth Marks, a social studies teacher at U-32, reads aloud the standards this unit will be covering. While US History covers many standards, economics has not been one of them.

Zoie, a junior this year, has had no opportunities to achieve proficiency in economics, one of several missed standards for the class of 2020.

Students now need to be proficient in 41 standards to graduate. And for the juniors who still need to demonstrate proficiency in a number of standards, there is just one year left. Achieving proficiency the first time around is more important than ever.

Jen Miller-Arsenault is WCSU’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment.

She said that U-32 has interpreted proficiency differently than other schools throughout Vermont:

“Some schools and school systems just said ‘let’s tweak our approach a little bit and make the old credit based system work,’ and we didn’t do that here,” she said. “So the work has been hard, and probably harder than in many places, but I would argue better for kids overall.”

Jen has been looking at the junior class and gathering data on what seem to be the areas where students are struggling, and in which standards students are mostly proficient.

Three years into proficiency based grading, three missed standards have just now been identified. Jen describes them as holes in the system that have been overlooked and are finally being brought to light.

 

Economics

For example, Jen realized that the economics standard in our social studies curriculum isn’t even touched until US History.

“To not even have it be an opportunity until their third year of high school,” she said, “that is a problem in our system.”

Zach Gonzalez, the social studies department head, said that his department has been aware of the gaps in the curriculum, but has not addressed them until now.

“So that’s obviously a big problem,” he said. “And the way that we’re looking to resolve it is to change our curriculum. It seems at this point that’s the easiest way to do that.”

This year, the Democratic Roots class for sophomores has incorporated an economics unit, but that doesn’t help the class of 2020.

For the juniors who are taking U.S. History, a project at the end of the year will hit the standard.

“We’re going to try to get as much as we can in U.S. history,” he said. But when asked whether the junior class is on track to achieve proficiency in economics this year, Gonzalez said, “The honest answer is no, they’re not on track.”

So yet another fix is in place: if students do not achieve proficiency in economics this year, they will have to take a class next year that hits the standard.

Gonzalez says the options are economics, country case study, and current events seminar, and that students will have specific recommendations.

Course recommendations will now be more tailored to each individual student. Instead of teachers recommending you for every class their department offers, classes will be selected based on the standards in which you still need to hit proficiency.

“If students followed the recommendations from the social studies department,” he said, “they should at least have the opportunity to meet the proficiency at the graduation level in all of our standards.”

 

Statistics

Juniors have also not had enough chances or time to prove their understanding in the statistics standard.

Drew Junkins, the precalculus and geometry teacher at U-32, says the math department has compensated by fitting a short unit into other classes.

Algebra 2 is coming up with a statistics unit, covering some statistics standards. And geometry now has a probability unit, covering part of the statistics standard. This he said, “captured a lot of the current juniors now.”

But he said, there is a group of students currently in pre-calculus, that took the fast track for math and missed the new geometry unit.

“We only had 2 choices and they were to come up with a stats class that all the juniors who missed it would have to take, for a semester,” Junkins said. “Or put it in pre-calculus. It turned out how scheduling went, it was not possible to have that stats class.”

So the math department worked to figure out what students in precalc would need to succeed in AP calculus, allowing certain sections of the precalc textbook to be cut.

The unit is to last 2-3 weeks and will happen at the end of the school year when the seniors have already graduated.

However, Drew was clear that this is just a solution for the class of 2020, not a long term fix.

 

Engineering

The science department is also dealing with a missed standard: engineering. No juniors had achieved proficiency in engineering up until recently this year when the department came up with a fix.

Aanika Devries is the head of the science department. “The fact is that when the eleventh grade class was in ninth grade, we hadn’t fully mapped out what needed to be done for graduation,” she said. “And so when the progress towards graduation was marked, we couldn’t put in proficient yet, because we didn’t know what that was.”

She went through the grades of every junior, from all of their science classes, from 8th-10th grade.

She then figured out how many times they had demonstrated proficiency within units that had briefly covered the engineering standard, and decided whether they should receive proficient at graduation level.

“Right now,” she says, “it looks like there are 28 students that are not proficient.”

For these students, they will have to take another course that hits the engineering standard. One of them is applied physics and engineering.

It’s a semester-long class that is more applied physics rather than math-based. This is the first year it will be running.

Anatomy and physiology, and an engineering course in design and technology are the two other classes that will have the engineering standard addressed.

“For us it’s still a work in progress, and thinking about how do we incorporate that [engineering] in more throughout”, she said.

“There’s lots that we’re thinking about in terms of what needs to be revised as we go through and learn more. But that’s at this point, and that was in the recognition of “yes, we know its not the degree or the level to which we would like to have students have exposure to, but it felt like it was a start.’”

All three of these standards have proved frustrating for the junior class. As the 41 standards graduation requirement is strict, and with a hard and fast deadline.

As Jen Miller-Arsenault puts it, “It isn’t a pass or time to procrastinate. The bottom line message is students need to work hard and need to demonstrate their knowledge and skill. Those days of thinking that you can coast are gone, the system has really changed.”

But she says, “what we know for sure is students and especially this year’s junior class, are not going to be penalized because we didn’t know everything. Some of it we’ve only learned since we’ve been doing the work.”

“It would be malpractice.”