By: Alyssa Diaz
Coming into the new school year, students were taken aback by the new Proficiency-Based Learning (PBL) system taking the place of the old PBL system we had last year. This new PBL system marks the third grading system we’ve had in the past three past years at Lindblom. Before anyone can critique the system, they have to understand it, and it can be argued not all of Lindblom’s students fully understand this system.
Lindblom defines its PBL system as “a philosophy of teaching, learning, and grading that emphasizes rigor and depth of understanding” with “transparent grades that are categorized by distinct skills and knowledge”.
This new PBL system was put in place to make it easier to assess what skills students are good at and what skills students need improvements in. It is using “power law” to change how students grades affect their overall grade in that performance indicator. For example, if a student is assessed in a PI and gets a 1, they have a minimum of two more chances to raise that score. If their score goes up the next time they’re being tested in that skill, their grade in the PI goes up as well.
Junior Nathan Petithomme said about the system, ” [PBL] is great in that you know exactly what you need to learn to get your grade in a better position. But, some of the teachers do not implement the scale in a fair way. Such as, you need a four to get excelling, but if you get one question wrong, you are dropped down to a three.”
Senior Mario Chandler said, “Although PBL has a lot of flaws in the students’ eyes, it doesn’t bother me too much because it shows what I know rather than what busy work I am willing to do.”
This system gives a more accurate representation of students exact understandings in PIs. The “Decaying Average” system last year was much easier to pass because of the flaws in the system that could easily be manipulated. But there is a difference between getting the easy way out and getting a quality education and assessing the strengths and weaknesses students have in each course.
It is also important that students are able to understand that PBL and power law are two separate entities. PBL is a form of learning; power law is a form of grading.
Students are not doing this, and they commonly associate the two as one thing. As a student myself, I have found that PBL has increased my grades and understanding of important skills that I need in my classes. I do have to agree that it hasn’t been perfected in all classes, but with time, the unfair grading/ performance indicators (in the way they are structured word-wise) will be corrected.
The traditional grading system students are most acquainted with was the real unfair system. Homework was the reason students weren’t getting the grade they wanted. Students could not do the homework, and then they can great on the test, but their grades would not reflect that. They would not have the ability to revise all of their assignments to show improvement over time.
If students were to come to this realization, they would be better off. They would be thankful that this system is in place. This system isn’t in place to hurt students. And after sitting down to talk to Ms. Myers all of this hit me.
Students should feel like they are in control of their learning, but where do we hold students accountable for their learning and what is important? That is an example of an issue Ms. Myers is trying to solve.
Ms. Myers is also trying to address issues that make the students not like the power law system. Students are mainly upset about the decline in their grades. Ms. Myers pointed out three different reasons why students grades were declining.
First, the student isn’t retaining what they are learning. “The first [issue] requires that the student learn the material more deeply so that he or she owns it rather than borrows it,” Ms. Myers said, “If we are essentializing our curriculum down to what is most important, then students should be retaining that most important information. Otherwise, why learn it in the first place?
The second is that the types of quizzes were different in their complexity level compared to the first version. “The second requires that the teacher be mindful of the types of assessments given and the implications of varied levels of complexity,” Ms. Myers said, “This is also a place where a student can advocate for their own learning, by respectfully talking with the teacher about the scores and how the assessments differed in difficulty or were different from earlier assessments.”
The third reason is that the student is as focused on their studies as before. “To address the third issue, I would hope the student has an adult in the building to seek out for help,” Ms. Myers said, “The adult and the student can talk with the teacher and make a plan to get the student the counseling he or she needs and make a plan to make up the work in a way that works for everyone.
This system isn’t going to be perfect at the start. It is going to take students and teachers cooperation to really understand this system. Students need to ask themselves questions. For example, “Do I really understand what this performance indicator is asking of me?” “Do I know exactly how to get a four?” “Am I putting in quality work to get a four?”
Students should be able to self assess their situations and be accountable for their learning. Fours are not going to be handed out by any means.
Teachers are getting familiar with this system as well. I have noticed they can’t exactly explain the ins and outs of the power law system students are being graded with. It isn’t their fault. Just like students don’t fully understand the system, teachers are getting use to it as well. They are trying their hardest to be as fair as possible.
In my opinion, PBL is probably the learning system of the future. The school system we’ve had has been in place for over 100 years. If technology is changing the way we live and the items we have, then why can we change everything else, but how we teach students.
With PBL students are finally understanding their strengths and weaknesses. They know what to correct, and they can correct it because of the revision policy. They know how to correct it because teachers are giving detailed feedback. Power law might take some time to get use to, but it will help in the long run.
Overall, change may be difficult, but it will get easier once students take time to understand it. As a suggestion, I believe the school should have a day dedicated to teaching students how to understand power law and PBL.