#3 New Opportunities

Act 77, which includes the flexible pathways program and proficiency based grading, was first developed after several reforms were made over the years trying to make a change in Vermont education. Groups that take part in Act 77 include the Vermont AOE, the Vermont State Board of Education, and schools all around Vermont. According to the Vermont Agency of Education the purpose of Act 77  is to “establish a policy-friendly environment that fosters a system of public education in which every student graduates and every high school graduate is college and career ready” (Vermont AOE). Act 77 includes the Flexible Pathways initiative, which allows students to expand their education from outside the classroom and focus on something of personal interest. It also includes Personalized Learning Plans, which are plans developed by students with the help of parents and teachers as a way for them to reflect upon their learning and share what goals they have for the future. Proficiency Based Learning plays a key role in both of these components of Act 77. In a podcast on VPR about Proficiency Based Learning, Mike Martin, an educator at Montpelier High School, talks about this new learning plan its goal is to “strip away some of the mystery and idiosyncrasies of some grading traditions” and not have the purpose of grades to just be a way to rank students. However people have recognized that there are problems with the Act. Jason Findley, the work-based learning coordinator at Randolph Technical Career Center, writes in an article about Act 77 and says that when applying these new initiatives, educators need to be careful not to fall in any “equity traps” (Findley). Says Findley, “We may be creating an academic planning process which systematically tracks students into pathways towards secondary aspirations which are based not only on our unconscious mental models and biases, but also prejudiced gender-based parental expectations”. Findley is saying that Act 77 has the potential to be successful, but educators need to be aware of having a fixed mindset and make sure all students are getting the equal opportunities they deserve. This is one problem with Act 77. This is one conflict that has been recognized across the state, but I also think there are some challenges that have been looked at by educators, but still feel problematic to students. For example how will colleges look at proficiency based learning transcripts?  Although my school started Proficiency Based Learning last year I still have questions about it, and this could be one reason why I am still a little hesitant towards it. I think communication is key between educators and learners to make sure that everyone fully understands the purpose of this Act. As I go into to this topic further I would like to find out about different school’s approaches to the act, the problems that schools have found along the way, and educator viewpoints compared to student viewpoints.


Works Cited

Commentary Dec 13 2015December 13, 2015 10 comments, et al. “Jason Findley: The Equity Traps within Act 77.” VTDigger, 13 Dec. 2015, vtdigger.org/2015/12/13/jason-findley-the-equity-traps-within-act-77/#.WdEOphNSyt8.

Martin, Mike. “Martin: Proficiency-Based Grading.” Vermont Public Radio, Vermont Public Radio, 23 Mar. 2016, digital.vpr.net/post/martin-proficiency-based-grading.

“Proficiency-Based Learning.” Proficiency-Based Learning | Agency of Education, education.vermont.gov/student-learning/proficiency-based-learning.

Featured image by Ken Treloar


6 Responses to “#3 New Opportunities

  • Annie Bellerose
    6 years ago

    Josie, this is some really interesting material. You have a real stake in this topic, and you have (or can get!) access to some very firsthand sources: your own experience, peers and teachers at your school and beyond, lots of folks in the state who are engaging in this conversation.

    The questions you list at the end are great places to begin exploring. Vermont is a pretty small state, and yet (from what I understand) schools are in a wide variety of places with Act 77, and so the successes and challenges various places are facing could be wide-ranging – which would give you lots to investigate! Equity and communication seem like two key pieces to keep exploring; it also seems worthwhile to think about how schools/students/faculty adapt to change in their different ways and how different groups perceive these changes . I’d be curious to learn more about what the wider community thinks about Act 77, too – not just parents, but also taxpayers who may not have a connection to the school system.

    And it’s also kind of interesting to think about how WtS fits into the idea of personalized learning.

    I’m excited to see where this thinking will lead…

    Thanks for sharing and have a great week!


    • Hi Annie,

      I also think it would be interesting to get the opinions of people other than parents or educators and think it would be an interesting change of perspective. As I dig deeper into this I hope to get a wide range of views in order to see how this act will change Vermont as a whole.

  • Josie,

    Thank you for this synopsis of Act 77. I think it is important to ground this conversation in the intent of the act, which you do so well. Mike Martin’s comment about proficiency-based education removing the “mystery” of grades is interesting. Have you ever received grades that were a mystery to you?

    You raise important questions, ones that educators around the state are grappling with. I am especially interested in the question of equity. It concerns me that my implicit biases could get in the way of my ability to see possibilities for all students. Jason Findley raises an important point: Act 77 will only work for “every student” if we see potential in every student. How might educators become aware of their assumptions and blind spots?

    I wonder if you have missed a key stakeholder. You mention that communication between educators and students is essential, and I agree that this is crucial. I wonder if communication with community members isn’t also important: as education changes do we have a duty to inform community members and taxpayers where we are headed? How can community members understand the changing nature of education?

    Finally, you express concern about high school transcripts and their reception by college and university admissions offices. It might be interesting to look into this further by contacting admissions offices at some local colleges and universities.

    Thank you again for informing me and making me think! You are off to a great start investigating this and I look forward to reading more.


    • Hi Jeanie,

      I agree, I think communication between educators and the community is key in order for this act to be effective. In my personal experience with Proficiency Based Learning I think that information has been communicated with students and somewhat with parents, but not the community as a whole. This is something I could definitely look into and see how other schools are engaging their community.

  • I wonder if you agree with Act 77. I notice that you have read a lot about Act 77. I wonder what pros and cons you think are the most important to your topic. I notice that you seem to be only partially finished with your main research.

  • Zymora C Davinchi
    6 years ago

    If you could go back in time and write Act 77, what reforms would you include, not include, or add? What is your perfect or ideal classroom setting that you believe most Vermonters could thrive in?

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