SHAFTSBURY — "Our educational system is shifting in a really exciting way."
That's how Laura Boudreau, assistant superintendent of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, described the supervisory union's shift to new practices at a parent meeting at Shaftsbury Elementary School Tuesday night on proficiency-based learning and how it is being implemented through the SVSU.
The meeting was the first of multiple forums scheduled this fall on proficiency-based learning — a requirement of Act 77, the state's Flexible Pathways Initiative, which requires schools to personalize students' educational experiences.
At recent school board meetings, parents and students alike have raised concerns about the Act's requirements, with some saying they hadn't gotten clear answers about the upcoming transitions.
"It's all about measuring a child based on a standard, and it's all about collecting evidence," Boudreau said of the Act to the group of about nine attendees.
The act became law in July 2013. It requires schools to implement personalization of students' educational experiences, flexible learning opportunities and proficiency-based graduation requirements.
The SVSU has implemented standards-based grading at the elementary level. At the middle school level, it was fully implemented this school year, and there is a pilot program at Mount Anthony Union High School, said Derek Carson, public information coordinator for the SVSU.
In response to a question, Boudreau clarified that Vermont has adopted national educational standards for learning.
A packet given to meeting attendees lists the SVVSU District Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements, which are variously based on national programs like Common Core standards, Next Generation Science Standards and National Health Education Standards.
Boudreau reminded the attendees that standards-based grading, rather than letter grading, has been in place at the elementary level since 2006.
Melissa Senecal, student data and assessment specialist for the SVSU, told the parents that the rubric of assessment has become more specific over the years — and that's a positive.
"Here's the bar," she said. "The kids know."
Boudreau went into more detail about the four-point grading scale, long in place at the elementary level.
The standards go from 1 — beginning toward the standard "at this time" — to progressing at a 2, to meeting the standard at 3, to excelling at the standard at 4.
Boudreau gave the audience a hypothetical grading sheet of three students, Bill, Amy and Mary, listing all grades they received on six journal entry assignments.
She asked the audience to figure out how they would grade the students overall for the trimester.
Bill had five assignments graded 2 and one graded 1. His grade was easy, for several attendees.
"He's progressing," one said. "I'd say we could give him 2," another said. Most agreed — he deserved a 2.
In traditional grading, a one is around a 60 percent, Boudreau said. That equates to a D in traditional letter grading.
"Who remembers this experience?" Boudreau said, describing what it felt like to get a low grade on one assignment that hurt an overall grade for the whole grading period. "You spend all your time trying to recover."
Senecal said that in some assignments, it is not possible for students to get a four, just because it would not make sense — they're building towards that.
One attendee said she was concerned about that, and how students might not be able to show that they were capable of meeting a higher standard.
Boudreau said supervisory union officials have been working with the teachers to make sure students have those opportunities.
"I think it's all about — we're making sure that those opportunities exist," she said.
Senecal said she's proud that this effort is being worked on at the local level. "We're going to have a voice in what that means for our community," she said.
Similar presentations on proficiency-based learning will take place in each of the SVSU elementary districts through the fall: Pownal Elementary School on Oct. 11 at 6 p.m, Monument Elementary on Nov. 7 at 5:30 p.m. and at Molly Stark Elementary on Nov. 28 at 5:30 p.m, Carson said by email.
New presentation dates will be shared as they are scheduled.
A proficiency-based learning community forum is also planned for Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at MAUMS.
Patricia LeBoeuf can be email@example.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.