As Demery mentioned in her recent post, our school uses proficiency scales to guide assessment and instruction. This is such a huge component of our work that it’s worth taking some time to explain it, so here goes nothing!
First, a little history. Our school began adopting proficiency scales in the 2013-2014 school year. Shortly before that, our administrators had learned about scales at a Marzano Teacher and Leadership Evaluation Conference and decided to bring in someone from Marzano Research to lead us in this important work. We started by implementing math and science scales the first year, added writing scales in year two, then tacked on reading and social studies this year. We’re also dabbling with adding scales for social and emotional learning and 21st century skills for next year.
So what IS a proficiency scale exactly?
A proficiency scale is a document that outlines what students are expected to know and be able to do at four different levels of achievement. In general, here’s how the levels break down:
Level 1: Student is unable to fulfill the grade-level learning goal, even with assistance
Level 2: Student is able to partially fulfill the the grade-level learning goal, or is able to meet the goal with assistance
Level 3: Student is able to fulfill the grade-level learning goal independently (this is where the state standard would be)
Level 4: Student is able to demonstrate a higher-level understanding of the learning goal (NOTE: this does not mean next-grade-level content, it’s the same grade-level content but with greater complexity)
How do you communicate the scales to students?
Each teacher from Pre K to 5th grade displays the scales on their walls where students can see them. Here’s what the math scale wall looks like in my classroom:
When I took this photo, we were working on Addition and Subtraction. Here’s a close up of the Level 2 expectations.
Our Level 2 stuff always includes vocabulary and the “building block” skills needed to master Level 3 content. Here’s the Level 3 page:
These are literally just copied and pasted from the Texas TEKS (our state standards). These puppers take a LOOOONNNGGGG time to master, so most kids don’t reach Level 3 until late in the school year. We do have a few that get there sooner, though, and are ready to tackle Level 4. Here’s that page:
Again, for Level 4 we’re just taking the grade-level content and making it more cognitively complex (a copy of Bloom’s Taxonomy is helpful for this). No stealing the next grade-level’s content! 😉
FYI, the teacher version of a scale looks like this. Same info, just not as kid-friendly or easy to read up on the wall. We created one of these documents for every. single. topic. Yes, it took forever (hence, the multi-year roll out of subjects), but it was an extremely valuable use of time. The scales are also going through constant revision as our understanding of how best to use them gets stronger and clearer.
How do the students know what level they are?
We tell them! Okay, but how do WE know what their level is? By assessing them! Our grade level team designs our own common assessments with questions broken down by level. If a student gets all of the Level 2 questions correct, but not so many of the Level 3 questions, they are either a Level 2 or 2.5. If they get the Level 2 and Level 3 questions all correct, they are Level 3. If they get all of the Level 2, 3, and 4 questions correct, they are a Level 4. Leveling the questions is SUPER helpful, because it gives a much clearer picture of what the students can do and cannot yet do compared to just getting a percentage. If a student earns a 75% on a random mix of questions, they (and I) have no sense of what to work on with them, but if I know they’re at Level 2, I know I need to work on the basics.
In between formal assessments, I also use checklists to give me a sense of where a student is. The checklist has the students’ names down the side and the Level 2, 3, and/or 4 skills across the top. As I witness students successfully doing the skills during our small group time, I just check the box! Here’s snip of one of my checklists.
How do students move up the scale?
This is why spirialing is so important. If you don’t give students the opportunity to move up the scales, you’re severely limiting the scales’ potential impact. Just take a look at this student’s data binder:
If we hadn’t come back to this topic again after the initial introduction, this student would never have had the chance to reach mastery! And even after reaching Level 3, you have to keep checking on them to see if they are really retaining the content. In this case, the student has a little more work to do.
Here’s another example. At the beginning of each new quarter, I give the students a summary sheet of their progress. The top row of scores is from quarter one, the bottom from quarter two. The colors help them know where to focus their goal-setting activities (sorry the greens are a little hard to read – they’re 2.5s and 3s). As you can see, it often takes more than a few passes for a student to hit that Level 3 target.
All of these pieces (scales, assessments, data tracking tools) did NOT happen all at once. This is a few years down the road from where we started, and make no mistake, it took a TON of work to get here. It has been so incredibly worthwhile, though, and has truly transformed teaching and learning at our school. For more info about scales, check out this webinar from the Marzano website (email submission required).