”The Path”
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The path

”The Path”

“…The path, winding like silver, trickles on, Bordered and even invaded by thinnest moss That tries to cover roots and crumbling chalk With gold, olive, and emerald, but in vain. The children wear it. They have flattened the bank On top, and silvered it between the moss With the current of their feet, year after year…”

-Edward Thomas

The buff learning team

The Buff Learning Team

Our Path to Proficiency

About the presenters

About the presenters…

  • Sarah Braman-Smith

    • Madras High School principal

  • Tammie Schongalla

    • MHS instructional coach

    • Previously taught reading & literacy

  • Melissa Wheeler

    • MHS English teacher

    • Previously taught social studies/foreign language electives at a middle school

How d we get that name

How’d we get that name?

  • Madras High School’s mascot is the “White Buffalo,” or “Buff” for short.

  • Our freshmen core teachers

    adopted the term “Buff Learning

    Team” (BLT) for our small academy model.

  • We have two BLTs, each with one English, one math, and one science teacher.

  • Students in each BLT vote on a team name and compete in challenges through the year.



  • Yes/No/Why

    • “Proficiency-based grading works or could work at our school.”


1) How we created our proficiency model

Things already in place*

First steps on the path

2) What it has meant for our teachers


Glance at a unit map

See some example assessments (and try one?)

Look at a gradebook snapshot

Biggest frustrations

Biggest joys*



3) What it has meant for students

Increase in overall responsibility

Increase in achievement

4) A Tale of Two Brandons*

-Brandon 1, last year

-Brandon 2, this year

*I’m NEVER naming a future child Brandon, fyi…

5) Q&A


1 in our school we have already implemented to be ready for proficiency

1) In our school, we have already implemented _____ to be ready for proficiency.

  • BLTs

    • Already had a norm of meeting regularly to discuss our freshmen’s progress

  • Identifying our power standards in each department

    • each grade level and/or class

    • Different depending on subject areas

  • Unwrapping those power standards & developing CFAs

    -Analyzing the actual language of the standards (e.g. what level of Bloom’s taxonomy, what knowledge and skills they should be able to demonstrate)

    -Creating Common Formative Assessments

More things we already had in place

Sheltered Instruction Operational Protocol

Because of our high ELL population (at least half have been categorized as ELL at some time)

Expectation of both teachers & students always knowing the goals before lesson begins

Student Engagement Strategies – mantras:

School is not a spectator sport

Everybody does everything

I do it, we do it, ya’all do it, you do it


No hand-raising

Precision partnering

Verbal/physical choral response

And much more!

More things we already had in place

1 how we created our prof model first steps on the path

Our principal had been hearing about “proficiency-based education” (it’s not a new idea)

Viewed it as “a necessary change that would have to happen in education;” deemed it “an idea worth exploring.”

Started sending small groups of us from the BLTs and electives to the BEC conferences around the state.

Most of us were very persuaded by the arguments for the proficiency model; the big picture made sense to most of us.

1) How we created our prof. model – first steps on the path:

1 how we created our prof model next steps

1) How we created our prof. model – next steps:

  • At conferences, we also got to see how subject area teachers were doing things

  • We came back and had TIME to meet all together as a freshmen team and by departments within the teams to start discussing how this could actually work for us.

2 what it s meant for our teachers

2) What it’s meant for our teachers

  • Logistics – what we decided:

    • Each kid must show proficiency 3 times per standard.

    • We used Bloom’s Taxonomy to create the assessments.

    • Grades: master = 100/100

      exceed = 85/100

      proficient = 75/100

      attempted = 1/100

      NP=0/100 or just “missing.”

    • We created a 1000 point assignment (basically a “place-holder”). If kids were not proficient at any one assessment, they get a 0/1000 until they showed proficiency. Their grade was a very low percentage, plus the term “NP” for not proficient.

2 what it s meant for teachers

2) What it’s meant for teachers

  • More logistics:

    • Had to decide which standards to cover each quarter

    • Grouped them into logical, cohesive units

    • Figured out what assessments they could do to show proficiency 3 separate times. Doesn’t mean 3 totally separate assignments for each; some can be combined…

    • 9th grade English had about 10 power standards (some we broke into 2)

Sample of one quarter map

Sample of one “quarter map”

Making rubrics assessments eng example

Making rubrics & assessments – Eng. example

Lower Bloom’s = simply restate, repeat the basics

Higher Bloom’s = create new, interesting way to restate; synthesize essay’s main point with other connections to life

Math example

Math example

  • Attempt 1: quiz in 3 tiers, determines 75/85/100

    • Proficient: get any one tier correct (typically the easiest/lowest Bloom’s level)

    • Exceed: get any two tiers correct (typically the easiest tiers)

    • Masters: get all three tiers correct (includes highest Bloom’s level)

  • Attempt 2

    • Only proficient level question(s); only a checkmark in gradebook.

  • Attempt 3

    • Same as attempt 2

  • At any time, student can retry attempt 1 for better grade.

Math quiz

Math quiz

  • I can compare and draw conclusions about two or more data sets using graphical displays or central tendencies and range.

    • Tier One

      • Find the mean, median, mode and range of the data set: 20, 5, 8, 22, 10, 7, 7, 15, 16, 12, 15, 6, 13, 8

    • Tier Two

      • Teams from 2 colleges competed in a 10 km race. The data below show the finish times for the two teams.

        • Team A:25,30,25,30,30,35,34,26,35,32

        • Team B 32,28,28,26,31,30,32,29,32,30

      • A) Find the mean time for each team

      • B) Which team is most likely to win and why?

    • Tier three

      • Find each measure of central tendency for the data below and find which measure of central tendency would be best fit for this data: 2, 20, 25, 21, 21, 24, 23. Explain your reasoning.

Science example

Science example

  • Attempt 1: Paper/pencil test

    • Proficient level = 10 multiple choice questions about standard. Must get x amount correct (depending on standard).

    • Exceed level = must answer one short essay question about concept (graded by rubric).

    • Mastery level = must answer two short essay questions about concept (graded by rubric).

  • Attempt 2: Lab (rubric determines level)

  • Attempt 3: Project (same)

Gradebook snapshot english

Gradebook snapshot (English)

Key: √ = collectedM = missingNP = not yet proficient

Gradebook snapshot math

Gradebook snapshot (math)

Key: √ = collectedM = missingNP = not yet proficient

2 what it s meant for teachers1

Biggest Frustrations

Initial time spent mapping, rubric-making, brainstorming types of assessments

Sometimes when targets are so specific, it’s hard to focus on other important details (e.g. conventions)

How to challenge all kids at appropriate level? (from early finishers to unmotivated…)

CCSS means we have to redo our process (which we started using OR standards)

Isn’t school-wide or district-wide, yet.

Consistency of grading within department, across depts.

Athletic/activity eligibility…

Biggest Joys

Once assessments are made, it’s easy to plan the quarter, working backwards from the assessments.

Grading is faster and easier when the targets are so clear. Turnaround time is shorter, feedback is richer.

Kids feel they have more choice in their own educational paths and they are working at own pace.

Homework/practice work is for knowledge, not points!

I feel it’s perfected so many things we as a school and I as a teacher were already striving for.*

2)What it’s meant for teachers

What proficiency has meant for me

All our previous school reform efforts…

Align curriculum vertically

Identify power standards

Unwrap standards; develop CFAs

Use CFA data to inform instruction


Use student engagement strategies

Adolescent literacy

Differentiated Instruction

…were not passing educational fads.

Proficiency-based grading complements everything in the other column.

An educational time saver:

What my kids know/can do

Feedback to give them

Teach starting with goals

*What proficiency has meant for me

3 what it s meant for students

3) What it’s meant for students

  • Increased Responsibility

    • Kids do homework at same rate as before, even though no points are given!

    • They are choosing to do the practice work based on intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic rewards.

    • They use the language of knowledge: “I’m not proficient in conclusions yet,” versus “what’s the shortest homework assignment I can make up to earn a passing grade?”

    • They choose their level of achievement and work at own readiness level.

    • Willingness to revise!

3 what it s meant for students1

Higher Achievement!

Last year, 70% of freshmen passed English 1, semester 1

This year, 82% of freshmen passed English 1, semester 1

What’s more, of those who passed, about 6 didn’t pass until semester 2 when they finally did the missing assessments.

Of the rest, only a few are more than a couple assessments away. We expect we could have a 90% pass rate for Eng 1, Sem 1.

More clear targets

Especially for ELLs

They know what to ask

They aren’t overwhelmed by language demands

Can focus more on the one big concept until proficient; not be rushed through lots of little things

For all kids

3) What it’s meant for students

Students weigh in

Students weigh in…








4 a tale of two brandons

Brandon 1

Barely did anything; passed English with a 61% - earned credit.

Started the year strong b/c played football.

Grades went down after athletic grade checks ended; mom started bugging him.

Didn’t do practice work, or take notes, or anything.

Never wrote a complete essay, only passed a few tests.

Did or made up just enough warm-ups, notes, and homework assignments to earn 61%.

Didn’t really gain much from English; has few skills going forward.

Brandon 2

Barely does anything; NP right now in Sem 2

Hasn’t had a great year; struggling with some identity issues, attendance issues, etc.

Won’t do practice work, or take notes, or anything.

Will do proficiency assessments, but only to the 75% level.

Is only missing a couple of those.

Comes to tutoring once a month and makes up a bunch of stuff at a time, and he knows how to show proficiency.

Confident that he WILL pass English, and with a 75% at least, and to do so, he had to write at least 3 essays, pass all major proficiency tests and projects.

4) A Tale of Two Brandons

Exit survey fold paper into quarters

Exit Survey: fold paper into quarters


Didn’t like


I still wonder

If you would like our PowerPoint or any other info, put your email on the back and what you’d like from us.



“The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate "apparently ordinary" people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people.”

-K. Patricia Cross

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