Proficiency-based teaching and learning (PBTL) is a systems-level approach to teaching, assessing, and grading students, with the goal of allowing students to demonstrate proficiency with an explicit set of standards. The knowledge and skills required to demonstrate proficiency in a content area are developed and mapped out by teachers, marking a clear path through the learning progression for students. This approach often includes alternative methods to standard forms of assessment for students to demonstrate their understanding. Within a PBTL system, if a student does not meet proficiency with a learning standard, they are given more time and additional instruction as needed to reach the goal.
Across the country, K–12 schools, districts, postsecondary schools, and even whole states are adopting systems of PBTL. There are a wide variety of PBTL strategies: some focus solely on grading practices or graduation requirements, while others encompass schoolwide systems of teaching, assessment, and practice. The form or model of PBTL can vary from school to school and from state to state, but the ultimate goal of PBTL is the same: allowing students to show that they have learned what they were expected to learn, and allowing teachers to base advancement or awarding of credit on the acquisition of knowledge and skills rather than seat time.
The Oregon Business Education Compact (BEC) has been championing a statewide effort around the development of best practice and support in PBTL for over 10 years. In 2014, BEC was awarded a grant from the Oregon Department of Education to implement a model of professional development and support for teachers and leaders at four demonstration sites across Oregon. The project aimed to support and expand the use of proficiency-based teaching practices across Oregon, and to gather feedback from teachers and students at the regional demonstration sites about the use of proficiency-based practices in their schools.
As external evaluators on the project, evaluation specialists Dr. Kristine Chadwick and Tracy Bousselot working closely with the BEC project leaders in a collaborative, utilization-focused evaluation capacity. The evaluation focused on adding to the BEC’s growing body of research-based knowledge regarding its model, determining the necessity and effectiveness of the various components of the model, and deepening understanding of the supports and barriers to effective implementation. The evaluation involved the design and administration of teacher and student surveys and focus groups to provide baseline data on teacher and student perceptions and attitudes about PBTL practice at each school. Additionally, EPIC and BEC developed an Innovation Configuration Map to identify and operationalize the critical components of PBTL implementation and establish highly descriptive variations of each component.