It was bedtime on a winter evening in 2015. I was saying goodnight to my son Jay, a sixth-grader, when he asked me a startling question.
“Mom,” Jay said, “you give lots of presentations for your job, right?”
“Yes,” I answered.
Jay had a follow-up. “When you give presentations at work, what kind of feedback do you usually get?” It was not the kind of question I expected from an eleven-year-old. Although it reflected Jay’s thoughtfulness, it also reflected the journey that his middle school had been on for several years.
In the autumn of that year, after months of preparatory work, York Middle School had adopted a proficiency-based system. The teachers had worked together to identify a set of power standards and learning targets for each class, and a new reporting system had been adopted that would show each student’s progress towards these targets. The letter grades that had been used to describe student achievement were abandoned in favor of a new language – “Progressing,” “Meets,” and “Exceeds.” The school also instituted a new schedule which included a Targeted Learning Time every day, a block that students could use to seek extra help or make up work in areas where they were “Progressing” or where they had produced “Insufficient Evidence.”
For many parents, these changes were a disconcerting entry into unfamiliar territory; I, however, considered myself to have a strong understanding of proficiency-based practices. I had spent the previous few years as a teacher in a public high school that was implementing the same strategies, and I was currently employed as a school coach helping schools with various reform efforts, including the transition to proficiency-based and student-centered practices. So I figured I had mastered the change in worldview that proficiency-based education demands. It took my son to help me see how much I still had to learn. (more…)