When educators talk about “proficiency-based learning,” they are referring to a variety of diverse instructional practices—many of which have been used by the world’s best schools and teachers for decades—and to organizational structures that support or facilitate the application of those practices in schools. Proficiency-based learning may take different forms from school to school—there is no universal model or approach—and educators may use some or all of the beliefs and practices of proficiency-based learning identified by the Great Schools Partnership.
For this reason, educators are unlikely to find an abundant amount of research on “proficiency-based learning,” per se, because the term comprises educational models and instructional approaches that share many important commonalities, but that may also vary significantly in design, application, and results (as with any educational approach, some schools and teachers do it more effectively than others). The good news, however, is that there is a huge amount of research on the foundational school structures and instructional techniques that—when systematized in a school—are called proficiency-based learning, competency-based learning, mastery-based learning, or standards-based learning, among other terms.
On this page, we have provided a selection of statements and references that support the foundational features and practices of proficiency-based learning systems. In a few cases, we have also included additional explanation to help readers better understand the statements or the studies from which they were excerpted. The list is not intended to be either comprehensive or authoritative—our goal is merely to give school leaders and educators a brief, accessible introduction to available research.