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Proficiency Scales

Proficiency Scales

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, you will learn what proficiency scales are, why they are useful in assessing student mastery, and how to create them.

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In this tutorial, we'll take an in depth look at proficiency scales. We'll look not only at an overview of proficiency scales, but you'll learn how to create one for yourself.

First, what is a proficiency scale? A proficiency scale describes varying levels of competence for a single scale, from a beginning level to a mastery level. So each level on the scale, then, indicates a particular stage of development as students work towards mastery of a competency.

Proficiency scales are useful for setting learning goals for students and for evaluating their progress towards achieving those goals. Not only can the proficiency scales be used to help students understand what they are aiming towards, but it can also help them to keep track of when they have actually achieved mastery of their learning targets.

Proficiencies are always aligned to the various competencies. And so proficiency scales, then, are aligned to the standards. So a proficiency scale relates to competency based education, as it is a specific way of measuring a student's progress towards mastery of a competency, which, again, is related back to our content standards.

So how might you go about creating a proficiency scale? The first step is to determine the range of scores that you were going to use on the scale. Typically, a range from 0 to 4 is used, with increments of 0.5.

You'll then label the two ends of the range by describing the levels of independence that you would see in the students completing the tasks and also by indicating the complexity of the task from highest to lowest. Then you'll select the standard and rewrite that standard at the proficient level.

In general, if you are using a 4-point rubric or proficiency scale, then a proficient score is usually marked at a 3. You will then add complexity and depth to the description of the level of independence, as you move up the scale. And consequently, you will remove complexity and depth, as you move downwards on the scale.

So keep in mind that if a student is moving beyond that proficient score-- again, usually a 3-- the student is actually demonstrating skills beyond what are expected at the proficient level of independent application of that content standard or scale. And thinking about the very bottom of the scale, a 0 would indicate that a student is not able to demonstrate even partial proficiency, even with a significant amount of help.

So let's see an example using a math content standard from the Common Core State Standards. This standard asks students to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators, including mixed numbers. By replacing given fractions with equivalent fractions, this allows students, then, to find the sum or difference, overall, by using those like denominators that they've created.

So here is my general skeleton for my proficiency scale. I have identified the two ends of the range. I'm going to use a range of scores from 0 to 4 in 0.5 increments. And then I rewrite that content standard at the level of proficiency that I want to see from my students.

And let's say that in my classroom, I'm actually going to focus on just having the students find that common denominator and generate the equivalent fractions, but I am not so much concerned, at this point in their development, about having them also be able to address the concept of mixed numbers. The proficiency level that I'm looking for is just having students look at the two fractions in standard form. So my focus here is just on having students use the two fractions-- not mixed numbers but just standard fractions-- locate that common denominator, create the equivalent fractions, and then use those equivalent fractions to add and subtract the values that originally had unlike denominators.

So next, we generally want to write descriptors as we move up the scale. And notice that the value of 4 here, on my proficiency scale, I have included having students be able to address that concept of mixed numbers here. And then the intermediary step, the 3.5, I added in that this would require students to convert those mixed numbers into improper fractions and then go through the process of finding that common denominator.

And a proficiency score of 4 would require students to actually be able to create those equivalent fractions without taking the fractions out of the mixed number form, so without converting them into improper fractions. And then finally, moving back down the scale, filling in the values from 2.5 all the way down to 0, each level just removes a little bit of the complexity or removes a little bit of the independence that the students are demonstrating in their proficiency of this particular skill.

So here's a great chance for you to stop and reflect. Select a competency that you will be addressing with your students soon. Try generating a proficiency scale where you begin by rewriting your content standard at the desired level of proficiency and then build, both upwards and downwards, from that indicated level of proficiency, to describe the various skill levels that you might see demonstrated by the students in your classroom.

For more information on how to apply what you learned in this video, please view the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. The additional resources section includes hyperlinks, useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource.

Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Proficiency Scales"

(00:00 - 00:12) Introduction

(00:13 - 01:17) Overview of Proficiency Scales

(01:18 - 02:40) Creating Proficiency Scales

(02:41 - 05:12) Example

(05:13 - 06:01) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Designing & Implementing Scales

This page on the Palm Beach Schools website explains how and why to use a proficiency scale. The site includes a video on developing proficiency scales.

Proficiency Scale Bank

​Marzano Research Laboratory has developed numerous standards-based proficiency scales. With registration and log-in, these scales are free for teacher use.