Web-Based Tools to Support Proficiency-Based Learning
This is the final brief in a thirteen-part series designed to inform Maine school leaders as they work to develop and implement their proficiency-based learning system.
What You Need to Know
- Electronic grading platforms are recommended for proficiency-based learning systems as they offer ease of aggregating important data that certifies proficiency.
- Learning management systems provide a means for teachers to collaborate within the school and beyond.
- Learning management systems can function ideally as a one-stop web application for students to access all course materials and to communicate with teachers.
- The best digital systems integrate the need for grade recording, grade reporting and curriculum support.
What You Need to Do
- Work with school leaders and teachers to prioritize digital reporting and learning management needs.
- Identify district guidance for use of online learning and interaction among students and teachers.
- Convene a team of educators to investigate the best systems available and agree on the best approach for the school or district.
- Communicate any factors that may impact decisions, such as available funds, current IT limitations and supports, and professional development time to those investigating digital reporting and learning management needs.
- Support coordination between district tech staff and educators to ensure smooth implementation built on the learning needs of students and teachers.
Reminder: The steps we recommend and the resources we provide are grounded in the PBL Simplified Model we have created and assume a general level of familiarity with it.
Integrating Multiple Needs through Technology
Many schools that transition to a proficiency-based grading and reporting system use web-based technology to support this process. The Great Schools Partnership does not recommend or endorse any specific product or system, but we strongly encourage districts and schools to investigate the variety of cost-effective technical solutions. School leaders, teachers, and technology directors should determine their priorities and then review the various options. The decision will need to take the following into consideration: ease of access to data by multiple teachers, administrators, parents, and students via a secure portal; integration with current software; training requirements; and a cost-benefit analysis.
While many system needs can be met through technology, we see the following three major areas as important: 1) managing student demographic information including scheduling; 2) collecting, analyzing, and sharing student achievement data; and 3) coordinating access to and use of rich and varied learning materials. In a perfect world, these three needs would be seamlessly integrated using a single password-protected system allowing students, teachers, and parents to access and review their own data.
Most schools and districts have already identified an electronic software package to track and maintain student demographic information. These are known as Student Information Systems (SIS). In a proficiency system, it is vital to keep track of performance indicator scores and cumulative graduation-standard proficiency. It is also important for teachers to be able to share and analyze data in realtime in order to determine the kinds of supports and interventions students might need. Many schools report that their existing SIS is unable to adequately accomplish these important tasks.
Finally, recent and rapid development of various electronic Learning Management Systems (LMS) have moved curriculum development out of the file cabinet to the cloud and enable broader access to almost unlimited learning resources for both teachers and students. These systems enable students to engage directly with a host of learning options, provide easy access for teachers to personalize learning, and create opportunities for greater collaboration and learning among teachers. Using an LMS greatly facilitates the likelihood of increased learning opportunities and deeper student engagement. This memo provides guidance for schools engaged in identifying an appropriate online grading system and LMS.
Selecting an Online Grading and Reporting System
In a proficiency system, multiple teachers will need to access individual student data on common performance indicators and standards from different courses. The online grading system needs to be customizable to the proficiency model—and terminology—the district is using, the level of detail required on scoring, and the particular method being used to calculate grades (e.g. trending, decaying average, or a body of evidence approach). The online system needs to generate reports— based on the performance indicator and standard verification approaches used—that reflect progress in both courses and standards. For the system to work, entering assessment data (i.e. performance indicator scores from summative assessments) has to be efficient and user-friendly for teachers.
Additionally, schools in Maine will need to report progress on Maine’s Guiding Principles and may also desire to report habits of work independently from progress on standards. Ideally, the system is part of, or can be integrated with, a learning management system that contains units of study, course resources, and materials that can be shared with other teachers in the school and beyond. Finally, ability for students to electronically upload evidence of their learning (digital portfolios, projects) is a powerful feature of an LMS.
Among the most commonly used Learning Management Systems in Maine, LearnGrade, Mastery Connect, ThinkBoost, JumpRope, Engrade, and Jupiter Ed all provide a free digital gradebook for individual teachers. However, the district management systems that track and aggregate all student grades to determine graduation proficiency are not free.
Of note in Maine, Power School and Infinite Campus are two of the most widely-used Student Information Systems that have an integrated grade book. Several Maine districts have been able to configure both of these systems to provide some features supporting their multiple use as grade books, SIS and LMS in a proficiency system.
Selecting an Online Learning Management System
As mentioned, a Learning Management System (LMS) is a web-based application that allows students and teachers to create and manage educational content, review and monitor student products and progress, and potentially manage student assessments and other data. A quality LMS can enhance instruction, increase student engagement, provide quick access to resources, and help teachers with administrative tasks. These systems are relatively new in education but have quickly evolved to play an important role in many classrooms at all grade levels.
There are well over 350 systems on the market, offering an overwhelming amount of choice. Some teachers may feel that they’ve done well for a long time without these resources and can make a legitimate argument that implementation of proficiency doesn’t demand usage of an LMS, so it may require greater awareness and practice for all teachers to grasp the full capacity of an LMS. Ideally, a coordinated LMS can make planning courses easier, help integrate media and print resources needed for class assignments and assessments, and bring communication with students into one easy digital platform. The goal is to provide students with a more personalized learning experience using a variety of resources. Both teachers and students benefit from the flexibility, range of features, and ease of use these tools bring to the learning process.
GSP does not endorse any particular system, but below we offer examples of two free and most commonly used LMS systems that illustrate the features teachers should consider.
Moodle, one of most widely used systems in the country, is available for free under a general public license. It’s highly customizable with all course and relevant digital resources able to be loaded onto the platform and easily shared with students and teachers. Moodle provides a sizeable community of developers that will help with the initial setup and other sources such as Moodle4Teachers. Once set up, usability becomes its best feature as it allows teachers to easily organize their courses and media resources and collaborate with other teachers in the Moodle community.
Edmodo, also a free resource, is made specifically for teachers and the initial set-up is very straightforward for first-time users. The design and features are appealing to students as they closely resemble social media networks. Like Moodle, all course and digital resources can be loaded onto the platform and easily shared. Teachers can use Edmodo to record grades and other relevant data. Edmodo presents itself as the largest k-12 “social learning community in the world,” allowing for easy and secure communications with other teachers, students, and parents.
Other Learning Management Systems are not free but offer rich diversity of learning resources, integration with social media, easy communication between teachers, and increased ownership for students, making the investment potentially worthwhile. In making these choices, schools need to clearly target their needs and make important decisions about the best use of local resources to promote deeper student learning.
To successfully accomplish all of these requirements, training and support for teachers and district leaders must be readily available and adaptable to the specific needs of the district. New components of the integrated system need to work safely and securely within the current technology available. And districts need to consider which of the different SIS, LMS, and online grading system providers will work best together for the benefit of students, teachers, and the district.
Down the road, as proficiency-based learning systems mature, integrated software platforms will also continue to mature and most certainly will play an integral role in supporting equitable, learner-centered classrooms. Teachers will be able to use various online learning tools to provide primary or supplemental instruction in content areas. Students will still spend much of their learning time interacting with each other and their teachers, but will enhance their learning through online forums, threaded discussions, videoconferencing, emails, and chats. And teachers will be able to collaborate worldwide without boundaries to develop and improve common lessons rather than reinvent the wheel in isolation. Thoughtfully choosing various systems that can enhance and grow with the school’s implementation of proficiency will support deeper and richer learning for students, easier access to materials for teachers, and better communication regarding learning between students, parents, and teachers.
- Selecting an Online Grading and Reporting System
- The Top Eight Open Sources Learning Management Systems
- Current information on Learning Management Systems used in schools Fenton, William (2017, March). The Best Learning Management Systems of 2017. PCMag.com
- Selecting a Learning Management System Ash, Katie. (2013, June). How to Choose the Right Learning Management System. Education Week. Vol. 6, Issue 3, pp25-27
Proficiency-Based Learning Simplified by Great Schools Partnership is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.