Glossary of Terms Related to Proficiency-Based Learning

**Please note the following terms are under review and revision as of June 2014.**

21st Century Skills
Overarching (cross-curricular) skills needed for a learner to thrive in the 21st century. As cited in the Education Evolving Strategic Plan, 21st Century Skills are 1) Critical thinking and problem solving, 2) Collaboration, 3) Agility and adaptability, 4) Initiative and entrepreneurialism, 5) Effective oral and written communication, 6) Accessing and analyzing information, 7) Curiosity and imagination. 21st Century Skills have been articulated in a number of places, including The Partnership for 21st Century Skills ( 21st Century Skills are reflected in the Maine Guiding Principles.

Task designed to elicit a demonstration of learner progress toward reaching a goal or target; and also to collect data to inform instruction.

Career and Technical Education (CTE)
Organized programs designed to provide technical skills proficiency, an industry-recognized credential and a certificate or associate degree. CTE includes competency-based applied learning that addresses academic knowledge, higher-order reasoning and problem-solving skills, work attitudes, general employability skills, technical skills and occupation-specific skills

College and Career Ready
Some sources refer to College, Career and Citizenship Ready. The goal for learners is to graduate from high school ready to enter into post-secondary level course work (without remediation) or to begin a career track in their chosen field, and to enter into civic life. In a proficiency-based system, demonstrating proficiency in all of the standards is evidence that a learner is college- and career-ready. (See

Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
A set of standards developed under the direction of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center). The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects and The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics have been adopted by a vast majority of states. Maine has incorporated the Common Core into its Learning Results.

See Proficiency.

Organized system of learning composed of three main categories: content, instruction, and assessment. The curriculum describes the structure of a School Administrative Unit’s (SAU’s) system of learning of content, skills, and habits of mind, as guided by state standards. The curriculum also describes the system of assessment of state and local standards. It is a “map” of how learners will meet and address each of the standards. It is the responsibility of each SAU to develop and adopt its own curriculum.

Customized Learning
See Learner-Centered Education.

Declarative Knowledge (DK)
Knowledge that is informational (facts, terms) or conceptual (ideas, generalizations, principles).

Depth of Knowledge (DoK)
Term used to designate the level of cognitive demand of a standard or task. Learn more about DoK.

Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO)
An opportunity for a learner to demonstrate achievement of the standards outside of the traditional school setting. This could include afterschool activities, extension programs (e.g., 4H), partnerships with local ecological centers, CTE, internships, early college coursework, independent studies or other structures designed by the learner in collaboration with the teacher.

Formative Assessment
Ongoing assessment carried out in order to determine the next appropriate instructional or learner steps.

Habits of Mind
Dispositions and habitual behaviors that positively influence learning across disciplines. Habits of Mind are encompassed within 21st Century Skills and the Maine Guiding Principles.

Learner-Centered Education
A system in which the learner has a high degree of agency in determining his or her educational path. Customized learning is an example of Learner-Centered Education.

Learning Target/Goal
An explicit statement of what learners will know, understand or be able to do in a particular context (for example, after a specific lesson or unit). A defining characteristic of a learning target/goal is that it be clearly measurable.

Local Standards
Standards deemed essential by a school district. Includes State Standards and any other standards determined by the school district.

Maine Guiding Principles
Overarching, interdisciplinary standards that describe the skills and dispositions that most impact learner success. In Maine, as per the Learning Results, there are five guiding principles. Each Maine student must leave school as:

  1. A clear and effective communicator
  2. A self-directed and lifelong learner
  3. A creative and practical problem solver
  4. A responsible and involved citizen
  5. An integrative and informed thinker

Maine Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Instruction
Standards adopted by the Maine State Legislature. The Maine Learning Results standards--which incorporate The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects and The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics--articulate the Maine Guiding Principles and content standards for all eight content areas.

Measurement Topic
A particular structure of organizing standards and performance indicators developed by the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning. An organizing tool used as the basis for (a) identifying the scope or progression of the topic, and (b) scoring scales or proficiency levels for the topic. For an example of Measurement Topics as enacted, see (scroll down).

Next Generation Science Standards
Science standards being developed by 26 lead states (including Maine) and Achieve based on A Framework for K-12 Science Education, a framework developed by the National Research Council.

Performance Assessment (Performance Task)
Assessment that measures a student’s ability to transfer knowledge and apply complex skills in an authentic environment. A wide spectrum of activities may qualify as performance assessments. At the simpler end of the spectrum, a physical education teacher may assess a student’s ability to cross-country ski by watching the student actually perform the activity (rather than taking a test on it). At the more complex end of the spectrum, a high school may require a student to engage in a months-long senior capstone with external mentors, addressing multiple standards across multiple content areas.

Performance Indicator
Expectations in the Maine Learning Results standards describing the breadth and depth of learner expectations for a standard.

Power Standards
A system by which a local school district organizes the standards addressed in its curriculum. Standards are clustered and prioritized in order to describe what students will be held accountable for in order to advance or to achieve their diploma. Measurement Topics are an example of a system of power standards.

Procedural Knowledge (PK)
Knowledge of skills or processes (how to). Includes mental skills/processes and psychomotor skills/processes.

Targeted level of achievement in a standard or learning goal. “Demonstrating proficiency” is synonymous with “demonstrating mastery” or “meeting the standard.”

Proficiency-Based Diploma (a.k.a. Standards-Based Diploma)
A diploma that is awarded to the learner upon demonstration of proficiency of the standards.

Proficiency-Based (a.k.a. Standards-Based)
Standards are used to guide curriculum. Student progress in demonstrating proficiency of standards is measured and used to determine advancement to higher learning levels.

Proficiency-Based System (a.k.a. Standards-Based System)
A school district can be said to have a proficiency-based system when all aspects of the system--including reporting, transportation, scheduling, buildings and grounds, etc.--support a proficiency-based approach.

Report Card
A periodic report of a learner’s progress toward achievement of the standards.

Response to Intervention (RTI)
Response to Intervention is a proactive framework for educating all learners. In an effort to increase students' educational achievement, RTI provides sound practices for the most efficient and effective resource allocation in schools. The RTI system integrates assessment and intervention within a multi-level prevention system to maximize student achievement and to reduce behavior problems.

A tool that clearly and tangibly describes achievement of standards at a variety of scoring or complexity levels.

A description of skill or knowledge deemed essential.

See Proficiency-Based.

Standards-Referenced System
Standards are used to guide curriculum and measure student progress. In a standards-referenced system, students generally advance in age-based cohorts (grade levels) and may advance without demonstration of proficiency on specific standards.

State Standards
See Maine Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Instruction.

Summative Assessment
Assessment carried out in order to summarize and record a learner’s proficiency up to that point.

Taxonomy of Learning
A hierarchical organization of learning and cognitive levels. Taxonomies can be used to (1) design and classify learning objectives, (2) design assessments, (3) unpack standards, and (4) design curriculum (see for more detail.)

A summative report of a learner’s achievement.

Unpacking a standard
A process by which educators, and often students, examine a standard to clarify the expected learning targets/goals embedded in that standard.

This Center for Best Practice is a collaboration between the Maine Department of Education and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made possible by the contributions of the Maine schools that share their stories.