In a world where everyone earns an “A”, what can a school do to demonstrate its students actually achieved?

One Maine university is opting for a new way of rating student performance. Paul Fain of Inside Higher Ed files this report:

The University of Maine at Presque Isle is moving beyond grades by basing all of its academic programs on “proficiencies” that students must master to earn a degree.

University officials announced the planned move to proficiency-based curriculums on Thursday. While many details have yet to be hashed out, the broad shift by the public institution is sure to raise eyebrows.

“We are transforming the entire university,” said Linda Schott, Presque Isle’s president. “In the next four years, for sure, all of our programs will be proficiency-based.”

That means students will progress through in-person, online and hybrid degree programs by demonstrating that they are proficient in required concepts, which faculty members will work to develop. Schott said the university will start by converting general education requirements, and then move to majors.

The proficiency-based approach university officials described shares much in common with competency-based programs offered by institutions like Western Governors University, Southern New Hampshire’s College for America and the new “Flexible Option” from the University of Wisconsin System.

There are differences, however, university officials said. Presque Isle will not be focused primarily on degree-completion for adult students, as are some competency-based (or proficiency-based) programs at other institutions. And while the university does have online offerings, much of its proficiency push will occur in the traditional classroom.

In the Thursday rollout, university and state officials said the main reason for the change is to create a more “personalized” approach to learning. Students will have more choice in selecting assignments and can move at their own pace, according to the university.

Schott said more customized degree tracks are possible at the small public university, which enrolls about 1,500 undergraduates and is located in a relatively rural part of northern Maine. A relatively large number of first-generation, under-prepared students attend the university.

Self-paced learning is a move away from the credit-hour standard. But the university will continue to link its proficiencies to courses and credits, mostly because of financial aid and accreditation requirements. That approach can also help students who transfer to other institutions.

“We will be mapping them to traditional course-equivalencies,” said Schott, at least for now. “I don’t think that will last forever.”