We knew once Robert Sommers became head of Oklahoma’s Secretary of Education and Workforce Development that it wouldn’t be long until we started to see Oklahoma move towards competency education. Here are a few of the highlights of the proposed changes in administrative policy that are open for public comment until February 5th. Please note that Oklahoma – along with Maine, Colorado, and Oregon – uses the language of proficiency-based.
1) Allowance for Time-based or Competency-based Credits
Oklahoma is upgrading its graduation requirements specifically stating the expectations for academic skills rather than how many units. For example, the proposed policy lists acceptable math courses including Algebra, Trigonometry and Statistics rather than just describing three units of math. The proposed policy for college preparatory/work ready curriculum requires states: “ In order to graduate with a standard diploma from a public high school accredited by the State Board of Education, students shall complete the following college preparatory/work ready curriculum units or sets of competencies at the secondary level”. Sets of competencies are defined as “instruction in those skills and competencies that are specified skills and competencies adopted by the State Board of Education without regard to specified instructional time”. From what I can tell this opens the door to districts and schools that want to convert to proficiency-based models.
2) Enabling Proficiency-based Promotion
There is specific language that allows students to be placed in courses and to advance based on proficiency-based assessments. It’s an interesting policy to lead with as it does allow students to “advance upon mastery” without having to “do their time” based on the Carnegie unit. This policy will certainly benefit “gifted” students, students who want to speed through their high school experience – which includes kids who just hate high school, who are clear on what they want to do in life, who need to work to support their family, and those who want to get away from their community or family – and students who are over-age, under-credited, and about to age out of the K-12 system.
There are some interesting elements to this proposed policy:
Consider Students Holistically When Making Decisions About Promotion: The proposed policy states, “The school shall confer with parents in making such promotion/acceleration decisions regarding student placement or promotion. Such factors as social, emotional, and intellectual needs of the student mental growth should be considered.”
Respecting Parents and Protecting Schools: The proposed policy states, “If the parent or guardian requests promotion/acceleration contrary to the recommendation of school personnel, the parent or guardian shall sign a written statement which shall be included in the permanent record of the student.
Students Not Penalized for Not Demonstrating Proficiency: The proposed policy states, “Failure to demonstrate proficiency will not be noted on the transcript.”
Ensuring Options for Advancement: The proposed policy outlines ways that districts and schools can provide opportunities for advancement including grouping and online courses. “Options for accommodating a student’s need for advancement after a student has demonstrated proficiency may include, but are not limited to, the following: Individualized instruction; Correspondence courses; Independent study; Concurrent enrollment; Cross-grade grouping; Cluster grouping; Grade/course skipping; Individualized education programs; Supplemental online courses.”
Portability: The proposed policy is explicit that proficiency-based credits are transferrable, “Credits earned by a student through examination in accordance with the provisions of 210:35-27-2 shall be transferable to or from any other school districts within the State of Oklahoma in which the student was enrolled, is currently enrolled, or may be enrolled. This Credit for units of secondary coursework in curriculum area with areas required for graduation by 70 O.S. § 11-103.6 shall count toward meeting the requirements for the high school diploma.”
Guidance to Districts About Meaningful Assessment Tools: This part of the proposed policy requires districts to establish proficiency-based assessments. I don’t know enough about OK policy to understand how this section fits into an overall policy about performance-based assessment or how the specific competencies for course are being determined.
The policy states:
Credit by examination for courses not tested under the Oklahoma School Testing Program at 70 O.S. § 1210.508 shall require the student to obtain a proficient score on an assessment tool identified by the school district in accordance with local school district policies and approved by the local district board of education.
(i) Every school district shall ensure that each assessment tool identified for use to provide credit through examination pursuant to the provisions of this subparagraph meets all of the following requirements:
- The assessment tool for the curriculum area requires a demonstration of proficiency that is appropriate to the subject area; and
- The assessment tool for the curriculum area is aligned to the district’s curriculum standards and accurately measures the student’s demonstration of the sets of competencies in the current academic method and process standards most recently adopted by the State Board of Education.
(ii) Examples of types of appropriate assessment tools in curriculum areas not tested under the provision of the OSTP may include, but shall not be limited to:
- A portfolio of student work;
- A criterion-referenced assessment;
- A student thesis;
- A student project;
- A student performance or recital.
Linearity? Now I’m not sure of the reasoning behind this one. The policy states, “If a student is being assessed in a set of competencies that is part of a curriculum sequence, the student progress must demonstrate proficiency in the same sequential order”. Now the issue of linearity is emerging as a troublesome area – in some disciplines it really is important that students know some of the standards before they can do others. As we get more and more expertise in thinking about personalizing learning, integrating inquiry-based learning to take students in new and unexpected directions, and ensuring students become proficient in all the standards of a learning progression, we will hopefully move beyond the idea that school-based learning is a march in one direction along a preconceived set of standards.
There may be other elements to how Oklahoma is opening the door to proficiency-based education. If you have other insights, we’d love to be able to share them with folks so that states can continue to learn from each other.