PLP Pathways Webinar 4: Proficiency Based Learning Follow-Up

Our fourth PLP Pathways webinar was a discussion of proficiency-based learning, assessment, and building partnerships with students to create positive learning environments that focus on student growth and learning.

Prior to our webinar, we posted an interview with Maura Wieler, proficiency-based learning and technology coach at the Lamoille South Supervisory Union. This lead-in helped guide our discussion.

As usual, the conversation was loaded with important ideas, key considerations and problem solving ideas that can assist teachers looking to make connections between proficiencies, personalized learning, flexible pathways and the creation of positive relationships.

Our discussion started with a quote from former Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe. In an Op-Ed piece that ran last spring, she said of proficiency-based learning:

Proficiency-based approaches ensure that students who want to improve have the specific feedback they need to actually do better. As one student who was struggling told us, in traditional grading systems, “you’re never given much information besides you just got a lower grade, but if you do proficiencies and you get a lower proficiency score, it tells you exactly what parts you are lower on and what parts you did really well, and I really appreciate that.” Our students want to learn and thrive; we need to give them the means to do so. -- Rebecca Holcombe

Critical Components of Proficiency Based Learning

Our discussion continued with the identification of key elements of proficiency-based learning including making sure that teachers/students have:

Clear Expectations: learning targets or assessment objectives should be clear, communicated frequently, and checked for understanding. That is, make sure your students know the objectives!

Clear Assessment Targets: one of the key facets of proficiencies is the development of clearly understandable learning targets that can be communicated to students and families. Developing these clear learning targets, and creating consistency around how they can be achieved helps teachers design effective lessons supporting student proficiency.

Instructional Design: our conversation included participant discussions about how lessons, classes and units can be structured to support student achievement of proficiency. We discussed different methods that teachers use to make sure that not only are the expectations or learning targets communicated effectively, they are are also modeled in a manner that provides multiple opportunities for students to understand what proficiency looks like.

Using different formative assessment methods, and providing supports and appropriate interventions when students are not making strides to proficiency are also important considerations as teachers plan.

Feedback: feedback was a big part of our conversation and the panelists agreed that developing effective feedback systems that communicate student performance, and what is needed for students to reach proficiency is critical.

Feedback is not only a consideration when students complete assessments, it can also be used by teachers to get student voice and input regarding their understanding of tasks, how they will be assessed, and what they need to do to achieve proficiency.

Connection to Personalization and Engagement

The use of proficiencies is an integral part of creating personalized learning environments. When proficiencies are employed, students can create a variety of products that meet the assessment criteria. This allows students to choose the most effective pathway for the demonstration of their learning.

We also spoke to the importance of having a process for incorporating the personal learning plan into the learning environment. Specifically, our discussion focused on how student’s personal learning plans can be a repository for the evidence that students have achieved proficiency.


Unquestionably, there are challenges presented by using proficiencies. Throughout the webinar, these challenges came up repeatedly. One of the primary challenges are barriers to equity. That is, are we ensuring that all students have the same opportunities to achieve proficiency? If not, what are the skills, experiences, and background knowledge that all students require to be successful?

Resources or Suggestions For Professional Development

Coming Events

January 10th: Youth Voice and Youth-Adult Partnership Professional Development Sessions January 10 (Jan. 17 snow date); 8:30-9:00 registration, 9:00am-3:30pm session - River Valley Tech Center at the Springfield H.S. campus -

January 12th: Middle Grades Conference at UVM - Davis Center

February 4th: Dr. Russell Quaglia: Understanding the Dynamics of Student Voice and Aspirations - CVEDC - Hampton Inn:

February 5th: Youth Voice Youth-Adult Partnership PD Sessions - Hampton Inn -

March 13: VAMLE Beyond Bullying Conference - Champlain College

April ? - Standards Based Structures, Systems and Strategies for Transformation.