There are many questions about proficiency and its impact on students. At BFA, we have been working extensively to develop our Proficiency Based Graduation system and have found that every time we answer one question, it brings up two or three more. We have shared the answers to some of the most important questions with our high school families and feel that it is valuable to share them with a wider audience.

What are Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements (PBGR)?

Beginning with the Class of 2020, students will need to meet our PBGRs in order to graduate. Each content area has determined specific skills that are essential for students to know, understand, and be able to do within their discipline. Proficiencies are broad categories. Examples include Geometry, Writing, Historical Inquiry, Analyze and Interpret Data, and Physical Literacy. Each Proficiency is further defined by a set of Indicators that provide additional detail regarding what students should know, understand and be able to do. Full details are available on our Proficiency website which is linked on our homepage.

How is a Proficiency Based System different from the Traditional System?

In the Traditional system, students graduated if they earned a specific number of credits by taking a set of required courses and electives. The requirement was to earn enough points to pass each class. There was no requirement to learn specific content, nor was there predictability regarding the important concepts from class to class.

In the Proficiency Based System, expectations for learning are clear from the beginning of the course and consistent from class to class. That is, a student taking a US History course knows what Proficiencies and Indicators will be assessed in the course and they are the same no matter which teacher is teaching the course. A proficiency based system is transparent, predictable, and consistent across the school.

How is proficiency measured?

Proficiency is measured using Learning Scales. Working together, teachers have developed Learning Scales for all Indicators. A Learning Scale is a guide for students that tells them what evidence they will need in order to demonstrate proficiency. Learning Scales also provide information about work that is less than Proficient (we call it Making Progress) or beyond proficient (Extended). Students are provided with Learning Scales at the beginning of a lesson or unit and can use it to monitor their progress toward proficiency and focus on areas for growth. During an assessment, the Learning Scales are used to provide feedback to a student about their current level of proficiency.

How are students assessed?

Students are assessed in a variety of ways. Throughout a unit, students receive formative feedback based on their progress. This might be through homework assignments for practice, responses to readings, or group discussions. Content proficiency levels would not be recorded for this work, however Learner Traits might be.

After a period of study, students will be assessed using a summative method. This might be a project or paper or a traditional test. Student work on the summative assessment is scored using the Learning Scales for the predetermined Content Indicators and Transferable Skills. Student proficiency levels are recorded in PowerTeacher Pro. All assignments recorded in PowerTeacher Pro are linked to a specific Indicator and/or Transferable Skill and averaged throughout the course to determine an overall proficiency level for the course.

What are Learner Traits?

Learner Traits are a subset of the Transferable Skills and assess the habits of being a responsible and engaged student. They include Collaboration, Initiative for Learning, Persistence, Appropriate Use of Technology, and Responsible Decision Making. These skills are important in all aspects of school and daily life. Some components of the Learner Traits lend themselves to frequent assessment (Initiative for Learning can be connected to completion of homework assignments), but all of the Learner Traits are assessed in each class using a Learning Scale at least once per month.

Learner Traits are used to determine co-curricular eligibility. Students must maintain a level of 2.0 in all of their classes to remain eligible to participate in co-curricular activities. The characteristics included in the Learner Traits represent desirable skills for our students to exhibit as part of a team or ensemble.

How do students demonstrate extended proficiency?

Each Learning Scale has a level and description of Extended Proficiency. Students should be able to work toward meeting that expectation in the Learning Scale to provide evidence of their extended learning.

What’s the difference between Content Indicators, Transferable Skills, and Learner Traits?

Content Indicators are directly associated with academic content. They are what the content teachers have determined are essential for students to Know and Understand prior to the completion of high school. They are based on National Standards. Proficiency Levels for each Indicator in each class are reported in PowerSchool and on report cards.

Transferable Skills are areas that transcend content areas and are essential to success in and beyond high school. These include Clear and Effective Communication, Self Direction, Creative and Practical Problem Solving, Informed and Integrative Thinking, and Responsible and Involved Citizenship.. Transferable Skills are reported separately from Content Indicators in each class.

Learner Traits are a subset of the Transferable Skills (see above). Learner Traits are reported separately for each class. They are also included in Transferable Skill calculations and reporting.

How can a student end up with a decimal proficiency level like 2.7?

Since a student will be given multiple opportunities within a class to demonstrate their level of proficiency on a specific indicator, they will have multiple scores posted for each indicator. Teachers only enter whole numbers (1, 2, 3, or 4) into PowerTeacher Pro. PowerTeacher Pro calculates the average for the last 12 scores in every indicator in every class. As a result, the reported overall score can include a decimal. If a student has a variety of scores (some 2’s and some 3’s, for example), the average score will reflect the majority of the scores. If a student has more threes than twos, their average will be above 2.6 and they are proficient. Teachers are able to exempt early scores from the calculation to reflect growth by a student.

Are students required to take certain courses to demonstrate proficiency?

Our Program of Studies lists courses that are recommended for students in order to have the exposure and opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in each content area. The sequence of courses recognizes a student’s current ability and allows for growth in a skill over time. For example, demonstrating proficiency in Writing as a ninth grader does not mean a student is ready for graduation. We expect them to continue to take English classes every year to enhance their writing skills.

How will we determine if a student is ready to take the next course in a content area?

A student must maintain a proficiency level of 2.0 in order to be able to continue to the next course in a course sequence. A student with less than a 2.0 in a course at the end of the semester will need to repeat the course. Continued performance at this level will not be beneficial to the student’s journey toward graduation. Students and parents have access to a student’s proficiency levels at all times throughout the school year in PowerSchool.

How will we know if a student is able to graduate?

We will look at each student’s record individually at several points throughout their high school years and help to guide them toward courses and experiences that will help them gain evidence of proficiency. This will be done by guidance in conjunction with each department to ensure that the best information is accessed. Our goal is that all students will obtain an overall level of 2.6 in all proficiencies in order to be eligible for graduation.

How will we recognize student achievement?

At graduation, we will recognize students through Graduation with Distinction. Students will be able to provide evidence that they have met the criteria for Distinction in one (or more) of the possible categories. It is our hope that this will recognize more students for their varied accomplishments rather than just a few with the highest grades. This information will be shared with colleges. Additional details can be found on our Proficiency website.

What will a transcript look like?

Our transcript will include courses that students have taken each year and their performance level in each course, much like our traditional transcript. It will also include student’s proficiency levels in all content areas and in the Transferable Skills. The proficiency levels will be shown for each year of high school, allowing colleges to see the consistency of performance and/or growth over time.

How will colleges know how BFA’s Proficiency system works?

Each year, we include a School Profile with every transcript we send to colleges. The School Profile includes information about our school, our courses, and our community. It includes statistics such as average SAT score and data such as recent college admissions. Our School Profile will include information about our Proficiency Based System including performance levels of typical and advanced students. The School Profile helps colleges reconcile the differences in transcripts and expectations from school to school so they can make informed decisions about admissions.

Additionally, we will talk with admission counselors as they come to BFA to visit students. Counselors who come to our school regularly are familiar with the quality of our students.  Our proficiency system will not alter that perception. If you encounter an admissions counselor with questions about our system, please let us know and we will reach out to them to answer their questions.

Where can I get more information?

Our Proficiency website has many resources such as a Glossary of Terms, the full set of PBGR’s, the Learner Traits Learning Scales and details about Graduation with Distinction. The site is linked on the homepage of our website,

The clarity, transparency, and consistency of proficiency provides students with a deeper understanding of their learning and increased opportunities to demonstrate learning and growth. Our path has been neither smooth nor perfect; we have adjusted and adapted to make the system more clear.  We will continue to adjust as we learn, just as we hope our students do.

John Tague is the Principal of BFA Fairfax Middle/High School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him @jtague252

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