Some teachers say proficiency-based education makes their jobs harder — in a good way.

“Five years ago, we presented a lesson. Everyone moved at the same pace,” said Hall-Dale math teacher Kendra Guiou. “You passed or you failed. And if you failed — ‘Oh well, maybe you’ll do better on the next topic.’”

Guiou teaches grades 7-12 and has eight to 22 students in each class. Each student has a capacity matrix — the tool by which students chart their progress — and a folder to track their work, and Guiou checks in with each student once a day as the class works individually or in small groups.

Some days she spends the entire period moving from student to student answering their questions.

She said she spends about a quarter of her time standing in front of the board to present a lesson to an entire class.

“Being up there for 80 minutes is much easier,” she said.

Messalonskee Middle School teacher Bobbi Farrell said she might spend 20 or 25 minutes working with one student while the others work on their own. She’s spending more time working with individual kids than she has in her entire teaching career.

Teaching in a proficiency-based system may be less work-intensive in future years, when teachers can build on units already developed.

This year, for example, Farrell asked her eighth grade language arts and social studies students how the class should spend the two weeks before winter break. They wanted to study Christmas customs.

Farrell found she could connect that to a social studies measurement topic on heritage and cultures.

She then had to compile resources students could use, which she uploaded to her class website, and developed assignments and assessments.

“It’s just so exciting,” she said. “It’s a natural way for kids to learn.”

Farrell’s student Katie Guarino said she senses resistance from some teachers, especially when it comes to adopting a new grading system.

“Some teachers have forgotten the whole point of teaching us stuff is to have us learn it, not just give us a grade,” Guarino said.

Other teachers are skeptical. Guiou said she was a doubter, concerned about change, until she saw how well her students and her own children responded.

Many teachers and administrators say they became convinced after watching students in their own classes or those of others.

Two years ago, a math teacher across the hall from Cindy Raymond’s language arts class at Hall-Dale Middle School started using the new instruction practices.

“All of a sudden I noticed that the students were really engaged in his classroom,” she said. “In a math class, they were standing at the SmartBoard and doing presentations to the whole class.

“Seeing this happening in another classroom, I knew that I had to do things differently,” she added. “I hadn’t had the training yet, so I didn’t really know what was available. But I wanted to.”

Raymond went through the training that summer. She said that last year, after 25 years in education, she transformed as a teacher.

Her students have embraced standards-based education.

She said, “Like me, the students don’t ever want to go back to being in a classroom where a teacher stands up for 45 minutes and teaches at them or lectures them.”


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