Proficiency-Based Learning

Proficiency-based learning is a key component to providing flexible and multiple pathways for Rhode Island students and is a central tenet of the Rhode Island Secondary School Regulations. 

What is Proficiency Based Learning?

Proficiency-based education is a personalized approach to education that awards credit on the basis of a student’s demonstrated mastery of desired learning outcomes—regardless of how long that learning takes. In a proficiency- based model, the level of expectation for student learning is high for all students, with each student responsible for meeting common established learning goals— or, proficiencies. Proficiency-based systems typically include these features: 

  • Clear expectations for learning – explicit, measurable learning targets in both content area skills and cross-curricular skills; 
  • Meaningful  assessments where students receive timeline and differentiated support and feedback; 
  • Students advanced upon demonstrating proficiency, not based on seat time or instructional minutes;  
  • Personalized learning opportunities where students exercise voice and choice in learning and assessment options; and 
  • Learning outcomes emphasize proficiencies that include the application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions. 

Proficiency-based learning is designed to identify and address gaps in learning to provide equitable learning opportunities for every student.  To ensure that all students succeed in meeting learning targets, educators provide more personalized learning opportunities and supports and allow students to learn at varying times and places, assess their learning when they are ready, and progress at their own pace.

In a proficiency-based system, students earn their diploma by demonstrating mastery of skill and content.  Rhode Island has proficiency-based graduation requirements (PBGRs) where by proficiency is defined as a level of knowledge and skills that are expected to be learned signaling that a student is well prepared to progress to the next lesson, grade level, or to receive a diploma.  Mastery can be demonstrated through multiple venues, including but not limited to formative assessment, summative assessments, locally-designed assessments, performance assessments, and state and national standardized assessment. The specific course, experience, and demonstration of mastery requirements are determined by local LEA policy, but must represent the state-adopted high school content standards adopted by the Rhode Island Council of Elementary and Secondary Education in the six core content areas of:

  • English Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Arts
  • Technology

Why are Proficiency-based Graduation Requirements (PBGRs) important?

PBGRs assure that when students show mastery in the cross-curricular skills and knowledge in the core content areas and, consequently, receive a high school diploma, they meet the vision for a RI graduate.  A Rhode Island graduate is well prepared for postsecondary education, work, and life. He or she can think critically and collaboratively and can act as a creative, self-motivated, culturally competent learner and citizen.

PBGRs are required under the RI Secondary School Regulations.  The Secondary School Regulations, approved by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education in 2016, require schools to have PBGRs to determine student proficiency and readiness for graduation.  This means that diplomas must be issued based on demonstrated proficiency in the six core content areas of mathematics, English language arts, science, the arts, social studies, and technology.  The level of proficiency in the six core content areas for graduation purposes is determined locally. For the purposes of graduation, proficiency is not based on a particular test, but rather demonstrated through successful completion of coursework and the performance based diploma assessment (senior project, portfolio, capstone product, or exhibition). Local policy may outline additional graduation requirements beyond the statewide minimum graduation requirements.

Rhode Island Proficiency Framework

Through the RI Learning Champions project, RIDE created a model Proficiency Framework, inclusive of content area and cross-curricular Graduation Proficiencies.

Scoring Criteria

Important Terms

Graduation Proficiencies: Focus instruction on the most foundational, enduring, and high leverage concepts and skills within a discipline. 

Performance Indicators: Describe or define what students need to know and be able to do to demonstrate mastery of a Graduation Proficiency. Performance Indicators are measurable and, in aggregate, with other, related performance indicators, they measure whether a student has met the Graduation Proficiency. 

Scoring Criteria: Describe the quality of evidence at different levels of achievement for each performance indicator. Common scoring criteria establish a clear definition of achievement of the essential skills and knowledge defined in performance indicators that is shared by teachers, students, and families. By providing descriptions of different levels of performance, common scoring criteria promote consistent expectations.

Through the RI Learning Champions project, RIDE created a model Proficiency Framework, inclusive of content area and cross-curricular Graduation Proficiencies.  (View this content as a printable PDF.) An example of a content Graduation Proficiency is shown below:


For questions on CTE teacher certification, please contact:

Paul Williams, Career & Technical Education Specialist 

Email: | Phone: 401-222-8481

Building Resources to Support Proficiency-Based Learning

The Rhode Island Learning Champions project, a collaborative effort of the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Great Schools Partnership, brought together outstanding Rhode Island educators and administrators to build the components of a proficiency-based learning system. The goal of this effort, funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, is to support high quality proficiency-based learning from K to 12 to ensure every graduate can think critically and collaboratively and can act as a creative, self-motivated, culturally competent learner and citizen in order to be prepared for post-secondary education, work, and life.


One of the key outcomes of the Rhode Island Learning Champions project was to build a network of educators across RI to develop a shared understanding of Proficiency-based Learning beliefs and practices.  The connections and conversations made between educators were powerful.  As a result of those conversations, educators within each grade band piloted and calibrated scoring of student work on performance assessment tasks aligned to the Proficiency Frameworks created by the first round of RI Learning Champions.

Below you will find samples of performance based assessment student and teacher tasks as well as student work for a variety of content areas and grade bands. The tasks have been annotated to note the important conversations and considerations that accompanied their creation, lessons learned from scoring student work, and reflections on the process and products.  Please note, these tasks are drafts that are meant to highlight the role of educators in thoughtfully designing assessment tasks aligned to clear, shared outcomes for students.  It is recommended that they will be used by educators to continue to develop and refine practices related to Proficiency-based teaching, learning, and assessing.

Scoring Criteria

Important Terms

Performance Based Assessment Tasks: In Phase Two Rhode Island Learning Champions designed and piloted sample assessments aligned to the proficiencies, performance indicators and scoring criteria in the proficiency frameworks.  The Champions used the process of piloting tasks as an opportunity to become practitioner-learners engaging in a cycle that enabled them to design, field test, reflect, and revise.

Student Anchor Work: After piloting tasks, Champions convened to calibrate, score, and annotate student work. The champions used language from the scoring criteria in order to provide annotations that articulate the varying levels of proficiency represented in some of the work. The samples of anchor work provided within each content area grade band serve as useful teaching tools for educators and students.

English Language Arts

K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12

Animal and Habitat Informational Writing - Understanding Life Cycles and Habitat

The Fisherman and His Wife by Brothers Grimm

Poetic Interpretation of History Assessment: The Rhythm and Rhyme of Revere's Ride

Personal Narrative


K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12

Let's Plan a Zoo

A Seedy Situation

Sorting Scenarios

The Perfect Storm (Name): Gale vs. Gail


K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12

Push, Pull, Play

Save Our Beaches! Coastal Flooding: Weathering and Erosion

Cells, Cells Everywhere

Tissue Dysfunction aka "Tissue Issues"

Beyond the Human Tipping Point

Social Studies

K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12

Aquidneck Island History Journal

Maps & Migration

Know Your Rights

Eight Features of Civilizations

Proficiency-Based Learning Resources

Organizations and tools that support proficiency-based learning.