The trend of personalized learning has caught on nationwide, but the entire state of Oregon has been using a similar method—proficiency-based instruction—since 2002 when it gave districts the option to award credit for proficiency. To earn credit, students demonstrate what they know based on clear learning targets defined by state standards. Students have intervention time built into their school day to work on concepts in which they aren’t yet proficient. Once they master a concept, they move on.
The Greater Albany (Ore.) Public School District 8J is one of four districts selected to work with Oregon’s Business Education Compact (BEC), a nonprofit organization that advocates for proficiency-based instruction across the nation. The BEC has been running proficiency workshops since 2005 to train educators and help them improve their practice. Albany is located in the heart of the Willamette Valley, 60 miles south of Portland. The district’s mission is “Unprecedented Achievement,” and students are reaching that mission with the strong leadership of Superintendent Maria Delapoer.
The Path to Proficiency
“Rather than use a system based on grades, attendance or homework, we use a system that makes sure students master the concepts aligned to Oregon state standards,” says Delapoer. “Teachers work together in professional learning communities four hours per month to share best practices, determine the essential learning targets in each content area, and develop high-quality evaluation systems.”
Proficiency-based learning works best in classes that require demonstration, such as band, world language and math classes. In world language, students have to demonstrate that they have mastered a concept by reading, writing or speaking. With proficiency-based instruction, students must demonstrate their knowledge of each concept before they can move on in all academic subjects.
Delapoer plays a major role in making sure proficiency-based instruction is carried out effectively.
“My job has been to publicly support moving in this direction, make sure we continue to improve our practice, and educate our school board members about proficiency-based instruction and demonstrate its importance to student learning,” she says.
Maria Delapoer Superintendent, Greater Albany (Ore.) Public School District 8J
- Age: 60
- Tenure: 4 years
- Salary: $136,000
- Schools: 20
- Students: 9,160
- Staff: 1,012
- Per-child expenditure: $7,151
- Web site: www.albany.k12.or.us
She has spent time educating board members about proficiency-based instruction and why it is essential for student learning.
to Delapoer, this system is less overwhelming and more manageable for all students. “Students with special needs, who make up 12 percent of the student population, and students who are learning English as a second language—about 6 percent of students—find that this is a better system for them because each course is divided into manageable pieces and intervention is built into the school day at all grade levels,” she says.
Students who have mastered all concepts do enrichment activities to get ahead and improve higher-order skills during the intervention period.
BEC Proficiency Initiative
Teachers in four school districts, including 70 from six schools in Albany, participated in a proficiency initiative with the BEC last year. Student state-test scores were collected for 45 of those 70 teachers. The other 25 were just beginning to use proficiency-based instruction, so only baseline test scores had been collected.
Diane Smith, director of the Teaching & Learning initiative at the BEC, worked with Delapoer as the Albany district’s curriculum director until she retired in 2010. The BEC conducted interviews with administrators and teachers to find out how they were using proficiency-based instruction, provided training, and delivered content-specific professional development.
According to Smith, educators worked with teacher experts who had been using proficiency-based instruction for a minimum of two years to learn about effective execution strategies, standards, and how to develop high-quality assessments.
According to data from the BEC on the teachers included in this program, 17 percent more high school students met or exceeded standards on the math portion of the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills in 2010-2011 than in 2009-2010, and 11 percent more met or exceeded standards on the reading and literature portion.
Steve Kunke, assistant superintendent, credits Delapoer for genuinely understanding that initiatives such as proficiency-based teaching and learning need encouragement, support and patience from the top so that teachers have the time needed to help a change in practice become a change in culture.
“We still have a great deal of work to do to make proficiency-based instruction the true district standard,” he says. “However, without Delapoer’s leadership and support, we would not be where we are today.”