VUHS’s new gradulation requirements challenge students

VERGENNES — Recent presentations by Vergennes Union High School students marked an important milestone in the school’s decade-long transition to requiring students to demonstrate mastery of material before they graduate, rather than just sit in their seats and earn classroom credits.
All VUHS students throughout their careers are now responsible for documenting their learning through the school’s Proficiency Based Graduation Requirement (PBGR) program, and for presenting evidence at the end of each academic year of their progress.
PBGR requirements are being phased in. By 2020, graduates will have to demonstrate mastery in all nine PBGRs. This year’s seniors were the first to have PBGR requirements; they, as well as underclassmen, had to do year-end presentations documenting their growth as learners (see story on here).
Classrooms will remain at the heart of learning at VUHS, administrators said, but teachers will assess students based on their mastery of the nine PBGRs as well as specific academic material. Students will be responsible for making sure they are on track to master the PBGRs.
VUHS has pioneered the PBGR effort in Vermont and has been recognized regionally for its schoolwide approach to PBGRs. After its years of work, VUHS is ahead of most state schools in moving in this direction, which has become a mandate through 2014’s Act 77 and new Educational Standards adopted by the Vermont Agency of Education in December 2013.
Those standards included language requiring schools to “provide students the opportunity to experience learning through flexible and multiple pathways,” and to allow students to “demonstrate proficiency by presenting multiple types of evidence, including but not limited to teacher- or student-designed assessments, portfolios, performances, exhibitions and projects.”
According to materials provided by the school, these are the VUHS PBGRs:
PBGR 1: I understand personal wellness and my own strengths and weaknesses and use this knowledge in identifying goals, setting priorities, managing progress, and planning for my future.
Required Evidence: Wellness, Personal Values Exploration, Personal Learning Plan.
Students must demonstrate their “ability to assess personal wellness, design a plan, and implement the plan, according to their goal” and “identify and reflect on key personal values and beliefs that influence decisions, goals and behaviors.” Students must develop “a personal learning plan based on an understanding of their goals, strengths and weaknesses.”
PBGR 2: I am an active and contributing member of my local, state, national and global communities, in which I am working to develop a multi-faceted understanding of myself, of others, and of the natural world.
Required Evidence: Community Participation, Community Service Learning, Community Awareness, Informal Political Perspectives, Exploration of Controversy.
Students are expected to “demonstrate active social or civic involvement over time with some organized aspect of local community life” by participation in local or school organizations, and to show “a personal commitment of time and energy to serve the needs of others within the community,” “articulate connections to underlying links to social or political issues,” and demonstrate knowledge of local, state, national and global issues.
They can do so with a “reflective essay or position paper, documentation of participation in political or scientific organizations or campaigns, video speech.”
The are also expected to explore a controversy through research, possibly through a “debate club, Peace One Day presentation, researched essay.”
PBGR 3: I use research to acquire, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information and ideas from diverse contexts. I use these skills to explore a variety of issues, justify conclusions and make decisions.
Areas of Inquiry: Historical Inquiry, Arts and Culture Inquiry, Social and Political Inquiry, Scientific and Medical Inquiry, Consumer and Business Inquiry.
Students are required to demonstrate and document “Research & Inquiry Skills, Personal Use of Research, Document Synthesis On-Demand,” by researching historic events; cultural, social, political or artistic trends; scientific and medical issues; and/or consumer and business issues. Some documentation can include AP or standardized testing.
PBGR 4: I solve problems and/or conduct investigations using appropriate math and science methodologies.
“Areas of Problem-Solving: Scientific Inquiry Methods, Engineering and Construction, Financial Management, Statistical Interpretation, Predicting and Modeling (evidence should cover at least three of the five areas).
Administrators offer a wide range of ways to prove mastery of this PBGR, including labs, personal inquiry, engineering projects, personal finance projects, business plans, college financing plans, bell curve analysis, 3-D modeling, chemical diet analysis and more.
PBGR 5: I read, comprehend and can respond to a variety of texts, and I am an active member of a literate community.
Required Evidence: Annotated Bibliography, Personal Use of Reading and Annual Personal Reading Goals, Response to Text (informational, literary, on-demand), On-Demand Close Reading.
Students must maintain a list of books read during each year of high school, at least five per year including assigned reading, plus a short summary and review of each.
They must also maintains a list of other texts, not necessarily books, read independently and document three different uses of reading for a real world personal or professional purpose, with short reflections on the purpose and results of each reading.
Among other requirements, they must also do a writing project, such as composing a literature essay, “re-writing a story as a film script/shot list, written précis of popular science article, poster/pamphlet explaining a health-related issue, demonstration of skills gained from a book on animal tracking.”
PBGR 6: I create or perform in, and respond to, the Fine Arts through purpose, process, product and growth.
Required Evidence: Purpose, Process, Product/Performance, Reflection, Growth.
Learners may select evidence from musical, visual and theater arts.
Students must show the “ability to reflect on the personal meaning, value or significance of their artistic product or performance and can constructively, critique or interpret their own or other artistic products or performances,” and they must “progress and change over time and articulate maturation as a creator of artistic products or performances.”
PBGR 7: I use written communication and appropriate technical language for a variety of audiences and purposes.
Styles of Writing: Argumentation/Persuasive, Informative/Explanatory, Narrative/Creative.
Required Evidence: Personal Writing Process Reflection, Personal Use of Writing, On-Demand Writing.
Students must produce works that can include persuasive essays, researched essays, poetry, plays, oral arguments, lab or police reports, instruction manuals, and/or creative writing to show their growth and ability as writers.
PBGR 8: I use oral communication for a variety of audiences and purposes.
Required Evidence: Presentation of knowledge and ideas, Interpersonal communication.
Students must present “information, findings and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the reasoning. The organization, development, and form are appropriate to purpose and audience.”
The use of “appropriate computer tools to create products using text, sound, image, and/or data” is also required,” and students must also show the ability to participate in group discussions.
PBGR 9: I use technology effectively to find, organize, and communicate information for a variety of purposes.
Required Evidence: Digital Tools, New Technology Learning Process, Personal Use of Technology, On-Line Behavior & Ethics, Social Context of Technology.
Students must show their ability to use technology effectively and ethically, and to learn to use new digital tools.
Examples provided include “documenting a trip using a camera, using technology to document PBGR evidences, creating your class video, having a personal website, having a blog, maintaining an on-line marketplace, creating and digitally mastering music, working for RETN (cable television), creating your own computer program.”

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