A Description of The Students Basic Proficiency Curriculum

“Basic Proficiency” is a curriculum that delivers “just enough to pass”. It is designed for students who find the subject difficult for any number or reasons. It is based on extensive research showing that when students focus on learning less they actually learn more.

There are a number of things to bear in mind regarding this plan. A good metaphor for the brain’s capacity to retain information is the grocery shopping bag. Not all grocery bags are alike in how much they can hold. If a bag is overfilled and the bottom breaks, everything falls out and nothing remains behind in the bag. This is a lot like how the brain works for learning and memory. Overload will cause a person to lose just about everything. This is not how some people think of classroom learning. Some people think that we can deliver all the material we want to students and they will recall what their capacity will allow. My experience and the research of scholars in education and neuroscience convince me this is not the case.

Students are eligible to choose the Basic Proficiency curriculum if at least one of the following are true: they have an IEP, they have a 504 plan, or they are enrolled in the school’s Academic Intervention Service class. Students who do not meet any one of these criteria cannot choose the Basic Proficiency plan. Students who do qualify may choose this plan on and off through the school year as they see fit. Since I began doing this in 2007, on average around 25% of students do this plan most of the time.

Students on the basic and standard plans are all in the same class and the report cards and official school transcripts do not show which curriculum they used to earn their grades. Besides a common sense of fairness, the New York State regulations call upon all students in the same class to be held to the same standard (New York State Regulations of the Commissioner of Education Part 200.1(v)). For this reason, students choosing the Basic
Proficiency plan will have a reduced maximum score under certain circumstances: on the topic multiple-choice quiz, on the topic reading task, and de facto on the final test of overall knowledge. The maximum score on the multiple-choice quiz will be 71 because about ⅓ of the information has been removed from practice. The maximum score on the reading task will be 76 because the reading level is four grade levels below standard and because it is about half the 
work. On knowledge tests, there will be questions students who took Basic Proficiency will get wrong because they were never taught those things; they were just taught enough to pass.

Besides being designed with a lesser workload, the Basic Proficiency plan has an emphasis on basic skills. There is, for example, a vocabulary component that plays an important role in this plan. In light of the slower processing ability in some students, there is one less assignment per topic on the basic Proficiency plan than on the standard plan. Having one less assignment plus being enrolled in the AIS class each week, gives students almost double the
time to complete each task.

To understand how a student’s grade might be affected by the limitations of this plan, here is a hypothetical student’s marks if the student earned full credit available on each task.

The aggregate score ceiling for a student on Basic Proficiencies is around a 92.

65% of the GPA Topic reading tasks 76
Primary source analyses 100
Capstones (final test in a
25% of the GPA Multiple-choice quiz 71
Discussion 100
Vocabulary quiz 100
Summary 100
10% of the GPA Interim exam 100

The reader is invited to read a number of important papers that provide the educational research and regulatory support for the idea of offering more than one level of difficulty in curriculum in a single class.