Proficency-Based Learning in Vermont

Follow-up on Implementation and Initial Impacts
PRS Briefs
PRS Policy Brief 1920-04
Thursday, April 9, 2020

The introduction of proficiency-based learning standards in public high schools in Vermont has been the object of scrutiny, especially among parents and students who are concerned with the implications of these standards for the college admissions process. The new mandate, which aims to encourage student comprehension and engagement, necessitates a unique set of curriculum and grading changes that are currently being implemented unevenly across the state. This report analyzes metrics such as test scores and high school graduation rates and synthesizes personal accounts from education experts who are personally involved in the transition to proficiency-based learning. We found that while the last few years have been difficult for schools, a majority of educators and officials have deemed it important to continue to push forward in the transition to proficiency-based learning. With test scores and college admissions rates on pace with those of neighboring states before and after the implementation of these standards, student outcomes have not been negatively impacted. Further, preliminary feedback from principals and other educators indicates that the reforms have started to increase student engagement in the learning process. However, many note that since current students started their schooling in the traditional system, and since teachers are still adjusting to the changes, it is still too early to know the full effect of proficiency-based learning. On the issue of college admissions, our research finds that proficiency-based learning does not disadvantage students.