Good News about Proficiency Education (aka Personalized Learning)

August 2, 2017

For over 40 years I’ve been writing about and advocating for proficiency-based teaching and learning. It is also known by other names (competency, mastery and more) but now it is being called student-centered learning or personalized learning.


The good news is that more and more folks get it. Knowledgeworks ( “is a national organization committed to providing every learner with meaningful personalized learning experiences that ensure success in college, career and civic life.” They “develop the capabilities of educators to implement and sustain competency-based and early college schools, partner with federal, state and district leaders to remove policy barriers that inhibit the growth of personalized learning and provide national thought leadership around the future of learning.”


They are just one of many groups working to shift our education system and paradigm away from a time-based system (50-minute classes, 180 days; agrarian school calendar) where time is the constant and learning (if it occurs at all) is the variable. Proficiency, competency, student–centered learning, and personalized-learning advocates want to shift us to a system that ensures that students master early step before moving to the next step.


Sal Kahn ( has a short YouTube video “Let’s teach for mastery — not test scores”. The summary says:

Would you choose to build a house on top of an unfinished foundation? Of course not. Why, then, do we rush students through education when they haven’t always grasped the basics? Yes, it’s complicated, but educator Sal Khan shares his plan to turn struggling students into scholars by helping them master concepts at their own pace.


It is easy to see that the lecture, test, and move-on model, doesn’t work even for the best students.


The solution is personalized learning. Knowledgeworks says that “personalized learning puts the focus on each individual student and includes the following elements:

  • Instruction is aligned to rigorous college- and career-ready standards and the social and emotional skills students need to be successful in college and career.

  • Instruction is customized, allowing each student to design learning experiences aligned to his or her interests.

  • The pace of instruction is varied based on individual student needs, allowing students to accelerate or take additional time based on their level of mastery.

  • Educators use data from formative assessments and student feedback in real-time to differentiate instruction and provide robust supports and interventions so that every student remains on track to graduation.

  • Students and parents have access to clear, transferable learning objectives and assessment results so they understand what is expected for mastery and advancement.”


My simple version: students master each step before moving on. Learning is the constant, not  time. Bells and school years are irrelevant to each student’s learning progress.


The good news is that this is an idea that not only makes sense, but more and more educators, schools, districts and states are moving toward personalized-learning models.  Knowledgeworks is just one of many groups that is doing something about it. This is the only chance we have to save our education system and the children in it, as well as the future of our society. Stay tuned.


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