Archive for December 9th, 2014


MAAI Proficiency Q’s and A’s

December 9, 2014

You’re not alone

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This Fall has been one of the busiest in recent memory for me and for many reading this post. As Maine moves to implement its proficiency-based education requirement, virtually every arts program in Maine has been scrambling to define “proficiency” and what it looks like in their own classrooms. Invariably this has also led to the development of standards and indicators for each grade level. Our task is daunting, but the difficulty level is compounded by ours being a “local control” state; one in which the state sets policy, but local school districts have some degree of autonomy over curriculum and implementation.

Consequently, many of us in the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative leadership have been approached by arts educators all over the state and asked very leading questions. One of the quotes we received in feedback from our first state Mega-Regional Workshop on November 25th at MDI High School ( is typical: “(I need), more information about upcoming changes in policies, standards, teacher assessments, etc. My school does not keep me informed of any upcoming changes, i.e. proficiency based education…”

We have been working individually and collectively with so many districts and so many arts educators that I believe we’ve finally lost count. As school districts and arts educators continue their work through the Winter months ahead, here are some of the common questions we have received and our recommendations and suggestions moving forward.

Which standards should I be using?

MAAI has always taken the position that the only valid work is meaningful work, and that backwards design – identifying what knowledge or applied skills you believe is essential for every one of your students first – will lead you where you want to go. The North Carolina “I Can” statements by subject area located at!projects/c21kz provide a rich selection of these by standard and by grade level. Best of all they identify these by what a student knows, not what a teacher teaches.

There are many other helpful documents on the Maine Arts Assessment at!cross-curricular-documents/c2gj for you to look at and utilize as you make these determinations by grade span. The letter of the state law articulates that student proficiency is to be aligned with the Maine Learning Results. However, the work that we do in the arts can be connected to many exceptional standards documents, including those from other states, the national revised standards and even those of other countries. MAAI has found that if you connect to the indicators that resonate best with what you and your school values for proficiency in the arts, you will come up with a more meaningful, relevant and usable set of standards and indicators. These in turn will authentically move your work forward. If a crosswalk is required by your school district after the fact that ties your work directly to one specific set of standards, that will likely be a very manageable endeavor. Bottom line: make it meaningful and relevant by tying your work to essential student expectations first and then connecting to a specific standards document or set of standards later. This may all be done concurrently, but does not need to be, at least initially.

“What is the difference between a ‘standard’ and an ‘indicator’?”

There has been a lot of confusion even at the administrative level as to what each of these terms refer to. In essence, standards are the overarching, very broad umbrella statements. The Maine Learning Results have 5 of them, the first two (sections A and B) specific to each arts subject area. Indicators are the measurable statements or learning targets within each. Assessment of multiple indicators/learning targets will allow for an accurate measurement of proficiency within a specific standard. For instance, “Disciplinary Literacy” is a standard, underneath which would be measurable indicators, such as “Displays proper posture”, “Identifies correct key signatures” and so on. It is these indicators which will inform student proficiency for each standard.

“What’s the difference between ‘formative’ assessment and ‘summative’ assessment?”

In simple terms, formative assessment is the gut check. Formative assessments give you and your students the opportunity to take stock in progress made. These are utilized best when they also inform curriculum and instruction based on the results. These do not usually apply to a student’s “grade” per se, but inform everyone where students individually and/or collectively stand in the learning process. Summative assessment however is the running of the race; this is closer to what many would identify as ‘the test”. In proficiency based education models however, the difference between an assessment and a traditional test is that summative assessments may be given multiple times. The reason is because knowledge/application is measured for the purpose of demonstrating proficiency, and students are offered multiple opportunities to demonstrate.

“How can I possibly assess every student AND do all I need to do with such limited student face-time?”

Attend MAAI Regional and Mega-Regional Workshops ( which are offered throughout the entire school year. Attend an MAAI state event during the Summer or Fall. Reach out to an MAAI Teacher Leader  (!who/cqmo) who can assist you with some spot on ideas. Check out one of the MAAI videos on what standards based learning looks like in practical application (!arts-assessment-in-the-classroom/c1vvi). In the mean time, as you develop your proficiency work, keep it manageable. Not every indicator of every standard is required to be hit. But at the same time, use this authentic need for more student face time to drive conversations in your school about course scheduling and class frequency for the arts.

“How do I get started?” (alternate heading: “I’ve already had three false starts and am getting nowhere fast!”)

The Arts Assessment Resources site has a link called “Proficiency Toolbox” (!proficiency-toolbox/covj). This toolbox provides step-by-step suggestions for getting started and how to proceed once you’ve done so. Take a look at this site and see if it lends some clarity for you.

We’re in the thick of this proficiency work. But we’re in it together. Even as each individual school district goes about this journey in its own unique way, please make sure that YOU are connecting with other arts teachers as you develop your work. A collaborative process is one which will yield real, meaningful results, positive reinforcement in the process of getting there, and shared conversations which can only lead to deeper understanding for teachers and students alike. Remember: None of us is as smart as all of us! Please continue to share your work.

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