In education, proficiency scales provide a framework for assessing and measuring students’ skills and knowledge. One of the most common proficiency scales is the one developed by education researcher Robert Marzano that assigns a point value for distinct levels of learning. In this model, he uses a 4.0 scale:
4.0 signifies a student’s ability to transfer knowledge and skills across multiple situations. For example, a student can apply the concept of cell theory to understanding the role of viruses in spreading disease and the challenges that are caused by cancer.
3.0 signifies a student’s ability to understand core principles and practices within a discipline. For example, students understand that democratic societies must balance the rights and responsibilities of individuals with the common good.
2.0 signifies a student’s ability to understand specific facts and skills that enable them to develop a depth of and apply their understanding.
1.0 signifies a student’s ability to reach a 2.0 with direct support from a teacher.
0.0 signifies a student’s current inability to reach a 2.0 with support from a teacher.
A simple 4.0 scale that aligns to levels of complexity provides teachers and students an accurate picture of expectations and can be used to monitor current performance and for formative and summative purposes.
Moreover, these scales enable teachers to work together in professional learning communities to ensure that they are using the right instructional strategies for the correct level of learning.
The Right Instructional Fit
Research has shown that there appears to be a “right fit” approach between the level of learning that students are working toward and the instructional strategy that teachers are using. In other words, certain strategies have a higher impact at a 2.0, whereas others would have more of an impact at a 3.0 or 4.0 level.
Let’s reflect on how this makes intuitive sense to our experience learning how to ride a bike. At first, we needed explicit instruction, which included direct information, modeling, guided practice, and corrective feedback. This led us to balancing the bike upright, coasting down the street, and slowly pedaling.
As we progressed, we began to put those skills together. This process required a deeper level of reflection, monitoring our own performance, and receiving guidance that included a mix of questions (e.g., How does that feel?) and directions (e.g., When you are pedaling, change gears). Finally, we began applying our bike skills across various terrains and even applying our skills of balancing to other activities (e.g., surfing, skateboarding).
The journey of learning how to ride a bike requires different strategies at different stages of learning. In education, aligning instructional and feedback strategies to the correct proficiency level on a proficiency scale is like meeting a cyclist where they are on the journey to learn how to ride, improve, or even transfer their skills to other contexts.
Aligning instructional and feedback strategies to these proficiency levels is crucial for effective learning. Here are a few ideas:
Strategies for Aligning Instruction, Feedback, and Proficiency Levels
2.0 Strategies (Direct Instruction and Corrective Feedback). At this stage, students are building foundational knowledge and skills. The emphasis should be on clarity, simplicity with correct feedback, and direct guidance with step-by-step modeling. Teachers play a vital role in breaking down complex concepts into manageable pieces; providing short, sharp, and simple instructions; and giving immediate feedback.
For example, when teaching basic math concepts, educators might use manipulatives, visual aids, and clear explanations to help students grasp fundamental principles. The goal is to ensure that students can confidently pedal before they attempt more complex maneuvers.
3.0 Strategies (Collaboration). As we start to connect skills and new knowledge, we engage in discussion, problem-solving, and peer learning. Group projects, discussions, and debates are excellent ways to foster critical thinking and enhance understanding. It’s about moving from merely following instructions to actively engaging with the material and applying it in various contexts. Feedback at this stage should promote self-reflection and consolidation and refinement of ideas.
4.0 Strategies (Application-Based). As we take our learned skills and knowledge, we begin to apply them across contexts. This is where problem-solving, project-based learning, internships, and research projects are all ways to challenge students and prepare them for the complexities of life beyond the classroom. Feedback here should focus on developing students’ ability to self-reflect and to refine their own practice and apply knowledge in new situations.
1.0 Strategies (High-Impact Interventions). When students are struggling to reach proficiency levels, we need to determine if they simply need more time practicing the work or different instructional guidance. Here we want to use process questions or metacognitive directions to understand where students are in their thinking process (e.g., What makes you say this? Walk me through your thinking process. After you did A, then what were you thinking?).
Based on this information, we explore different instructional strategies to provide explicit modeling and additional scaffolds for students to meet the outcomes. For instance, in lieu of using the examples and non-examples strategy, we may consider using worked examples and backward fading. The aforementioned strategy provides additional scaffolding on meeting tasks.
0.0 Strategies (Brainstorm to Determine Next Steps). Despite our best efforts, there are times when we have a student or group of students who don’t move forward in their learning. This is a time when we bring student work and a list of strategies to our colleagues and look for suggested next steps.
In conclusion, the importance of aligning instructional and feedback strategies to the correct proficiency level on a proficiency scale cannot be overstated. It’s the key to ensuring that students progress smoothly from one level to the next, building a solid foundation, collaborating effectively, and ultimately applying their knowledge in meaningful ways. Just as the right bicycle makes the journey enjoyable and efficient, the right strategies make the path to proficiency both effective and rewarding.