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Dear Posnack School Community:

The Posnack School’s academic system operates on an academic schema based on student proficiency. All of our teachers have incorporated this system into their grading rubrics, where grades (points) are earned by students because of the learning that took place. The emphasis is on a system of accountability that is measured by the acquisition of knowledge. This system may seem similar to some as the way other schools operate, but there is a distinct philosophical difference in the way our school assesses student learning and how that assessment affects instruction.

Let me illustrate the differences with an example of two different students:


Samantha turns in every homework assignment given to her in high school English class. She comes in each day, works on class work, and is punctual with all her assignments. Samantha is very good at doing the work, even if it is not all of her own efforts. Overall, Samantha struggles with school and is a rather reluctant learner, but she has learned how to “look” like she is having success. She has lots of friends and is a very sociable person, which gets her lots of help on her assignments. Often the work she does herself is of poor quality, but she gets extensive help and support from home and partners up with the right people before turning in assignments. Samantha never does very well on tests (they count for only 33% of her grade). Samantha manages to get a C+ in English.


Rebecca is a very bright student, who is often bored in her English class because the material is a repeat of what she learned in her middle school English class. She loves to write and is an avid reader. She does not have to work hard in English and actually prefers not to, as she finds the assignments boring and a waste of time. She spends most of her homework time on more challenging subjects. Consequently, she does not turn in a lot of her homework assignments and has quite a few “no grades,” despite the fact that she makes rather high marks (90% or above) on all of her tests. Because she does so few homework assignments, her class work is poor. Since the exams count for only 33% of her grade, her overall course grade suffers. Rebecca ends up with a B- for her grade in English.

Samantha and Rebecca have similar grades in 9th grade English, a C+ and a B-. Both students “passed” 9th grade English. Both students have a grade on their transcript that looks “average to somewhat good.” Outsiders viewing the grades would likely assume that Samantha and Rebecca have about the same skill level in English. The reality is that there is a great difference between what these two students know, their level of proficiency, and where they need to go in terms of their English class education.

A proficiency-based system based on accountability and a student’s level of proficiency attempts to clarify the performance differences. Both Samantha and Rebecca need feedback before they earn their final grades.

Samantha needs ongoing feedback during the year that acknowledges that her skills in English are not at a proficiency level (at Posnack, proficiency is defined at 80% or above and mastery at 90% or above). She needs explicit feedback on what areas need improvement and what course of action Samantha and her teacher should initiate together. Samantha would receive assignments tailored to meet her needs and instruction that helps to raise her performance.

For Rebecca, she needs an English teacher who will motivate and challenge her with a rich curriculum and assignments that move her level of performance to an even higher level. Rebecca needs explicit feedback and reinforcement that the classwork and homework assigned is meant to advance her knowledge and skills to possibly achieving mastery.

As you can see from the above examples, a proficiency-based system clarifies for students that they are held accountable for learning. Just “doing” an assignment does not necessarily mean students have learned much from the assignment. Awarding credit for “doing” assignments makes the assumption that learning has occurred, but often that is just not the case. The difference between getting the work done and receiving a high grade for doing so but not acquiring the proficiency level required is the distinction we emphasize at Posnack.

Part of this proficiency system includes our teachers using ongoing formative assessments (assessments that are not always “recorded with a grade”), so our students (and parents) can receive explicit feedback about how they are progressing towards proficiency on a skill(s). The use of classroom assessments formatively is often underutilized by teachers at other schools, but not at Posnack. There is a substantial body of evidence in the literature that convincingly states that when classroom measurement is employed as part of a formative assessment process, students benefit immensely.

Formative assessment is a planned process in which assessments, elicited evidence of students’ status, is used by teachers to adjust their ongoing instructional procedures or by students to adjust their current learning tactics.

The proficiency-based system does hold our students accountable for learning, but they are not alone. Skilled Posnack teachers use tools like formative assessments to ensure that there is timely feedback provided to both student and teacher, so both may modify anything necessary to achieve success.

In the end, both teacher and student (along with parental support) form a team whose goal is to educate a child, so learning occurs and proficiency is reached. Our proficiency-based system serves our students best by focusing on the learning. Together, and with great skill, our faculty is poised to foster an environment and provide instruction that helps our students reach the highest levels of achievement. Our goal is for all of our students to reach proficiency. A system focused on learning and accountability gives our students the best opportunity for achieving success.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dr. Richard Cuenca
Head of School

P.S.- We invite you to call Jen Goetz, our Development Coordinator, at 954-583-6100 ext. 244 to schedule a tour of our new state-of-the-art high school building and Ram Gym. Once-in-a-lifetime naming opportunities are available. Every gift is meaningful. Every dollar matters. A gift to our Promise Campaign is an investment in your child’s future. We need your support now. Thank you!