Performance-based Learning

Performance-based Learning will impact every student, every classroom, and every parent as District 51 transforms over the next few years. The district will work collaboratively to answer numerous questions during the transformation process – from determining how to weave important life skills into the academic setting to deciding how teachers will determine whether a student has proven he or she understands a piece of curriculum and is ready to move onto the next piece of the content puzzle. nnIt will take time to answer all of these questions. For now, here are some questions that have been answered.

Everything in our world has changed since our childhood except for the way we educate a lot of our students. Technology has rapidly advanced, our economy has become increasingly global, and the jobs of tomorrow require a much higher set of skills. Across the country, there are many efforts underway to remodel our education system to better align it with modern needs, in the same way that we would rewire a hundred-year-old farmhouse to bring it up to code. A shift to a Performance-based Learning system is one of the most important changes under consideration.
A Performance-based Learning system presents learning objectives as a series of building blocks that stack upon each other. Students move through the course material focusing on one block at a time. What’s different about this approach is that the student does not move on to the next block until he or she demonstrates proficiency in the block that precedes it. Instead of getting a grade that averages a student’s performance across a range of topics without ensuring mastery of all (or any), under a Performance-based Learning system, a student is evaluated based on his or her ability to master individual skills or bodies of knowledge.
Because education under a Performance-based Learning system is personalized, it is harder for students to fall through the cracks. Teachers and parents have more complete information on any areas where a student is struggling and can therefore provide the support needed. The personalization of this approach also allows students to move through the course material at their own pace. That means students who master a particular skill or knowledge set won’t get bored waiting for others to catch up, and students who take longer to grasp a skill or knowledge set won’t be pushed ahead before they’re ready.
Performance-based Learning systems do not rely on traditional letter grades to measure student progress. Instead, student performance on individual skill levels is measured on a scale based on level of mastery (from 1-4, for example, with 4 demonstrating the most proficiency). The resulting performance record gives an accurate description of the depth and breadth of learning each student has achieved. Some schools nationwide are translating their evaluation systems into GPA equivalents, while others are using different approaches to communicate overall student performance.
We will continue to provide the classic transcript, but over time, we will also be providing a translated version that is applicable to Performance-based Learning. We believe our students need to be presented on an equal playing field regionally and nationally. For example, we will continue to include weighted grades for AP classes. Additionally, we are working with colleges and universities to help them understand a Performance-based system.
In District 51, we will still be teaching on all Colorado Academic Standards. We have an obligation to do so, believe standards are important and are designing a highly rigorous system. We will seek ways to engage students in how they learn and show mastery of those standards.
While tests and papers are valuable ways to measure how much a student knows, they are just two methods for demonstrating proficiency. Every student learns differently and every student can show how much they’ve learned in a different way. Traditional unit tests allow students to pass on to the next unit without mastering every key concept in the unit. A student may get seven out of 10 questions right on a math exam, for example, and still pass. Those three incorrect answers may have all pertained to one concept that the student just didn’t “get.” In a performance-based system, the student would have to show he or she understood that missing piece of the unit before moving on.
Blended and online learning will allow students to utilize Performance-based Learning more creatively and effectively, but teachers will still deliver content, teach, facilitate, and be participants and leaders in a classroom.
As professionals, teachers know their students the best and can artfully customize instruction. Teachers will still be held to Colorado standards and District expectations. A teacher will have great flexibility to respond to individual needs and set a personalized pace for their learners. Plus, students will have flexibility in the pace of their education and the methods they use to demonstrate their knowledge.
The rollout of Performance-based Learning could take anywhere from three to seven years or more before full implementation is achieved. Currently, the district is working to establish a cultural foundation for a Performance-based Learning system. That work includes informing all students and teachers in all schools of the 16 Habits of Mind and the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. Work is also being done to create rubrics to measure student learning and software for student learning is being vetted. Seven demonstration schools (Broadway, Chipeta, New Emerson, and Lincoln Orchard Mesa elementary schools; East and Grand Mesa middle schools; and R-5 High) are moving more quickly toward a Performance-based system starting in 2015-16, but all schools are experiencing the transformation in some way, even now.

Performance Based Learning Photo Gallery