Common Corn

Concerned about what the Common Core has in store for kids? Just wait till you see what it’s doing to the “adult interests.”
It may be years before we know for sure that the grand experiment known as the Common Core has succeeded in producing outstanding 21st century workers with 21st century skillz. But while we wait for the current generation of guinea pigs students to attain factoidal fluency, there are encouraging signs that the Common Core is already enhancing excellence in education officials. In fact, their excellence is so enhanced that it is virtually impossible to understand what they are talking about without using a special glossary to understand what they are talking about.

Today the Excellence Express visits Maine, USA, home of Paul Bunyan, Stephen King,  and a brand new Glossary of Terms Related to Proficiency-Based Learning.Thanks to the Maine teacher and EduShyster premium reader who sent it my way, noting that “When you need a glossary, you’re probably having trouble managing your message.” I encourage you to uncork a fresh box and savor the flavor of this outstanding lexicon, beginning with “21st century skills” all the way through “unpacking a standard.” Pause along the way to enjoy the alphabet stew of acronyms like DK (declarative knowledge) and DoK (depth of knowledge) and know this reader: when we face a task as fiercely urgent as preparing our students for the 21st century workplace, sometime there isn’t time for anything but an acronym…

21st Century Skills
Overarching (cross-curricular) skills needed for a learner to thrive in the 21st century.  As cited in the Education Evolving Strategic Plan, 21st Century Skills are 1) critical thinking and problem solving, 2) Collaboration, 3) Agility and adaptability, 4) Initiative and entrepreneurialism, 5) Effective oral and written communication, 6) Accessing and analyzing information, 7) Curiosity and imagination. 21st Century Skills have been articulated in a number of places, including The Partnership for 21st Century Skills ( 21st Century Skills are reflected in the Maine Guiding Principles (see definition).

Task designed to elicit a demonstration of learner progress toward reaching a goal or target; and also to collect data to inform instruction.

Career and Technical Education (CTE)
Organized programs designed to provide technical skills proficiency, an industry-recognized credential, and a certificate or associate degree. CTE includes competency-based applied learning that addresses academic knowledge, higher-order reasoning and problem-solving skills, work attitudes, general employability skills, technical skills, and occupation-specific skills

College and Career Ready
Some sources refer to College, Career, and Citizenship ReadyThe goal for learners is to graduate from high school ready to enter into post-secondary level course work (without remediation) or to begin a career track in their chosen field, and to enter into civic life.  In a proficiency-based system, demonstrating proficiency in all of the standards is evidence that a learner is college and career ready. (See

Competency: See proficiency.

Organized system of learning composed of three main categories: content, instruction, and assessment. The curriculum describes the structure of a School Administrative Unit’s (SAU’s) system of learning of content, skills, and habits of mind, as guided by state standards. The curriculum also describes the system of assessment of state and local standards. It is a “map” of how learners will meet and address each of the standards. It is the responsibility of each SAU to develop and adopt its own curriculum.

Customized Learning: See Learner-Centered Education.

Declarative Knowledge (DK)
Knowledge that is informational (facts, terms) or conceptual (ideas, generalizations, principles).

Depth of Knowledge (DoK)
Term used to designate the level of cognitive demand of a standard or task. (See

Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO)
An opportunity for a learner to demonstrate achievement of the standards outside of the traditional school setting. This could include afterschool activities, extension programs (e.g., 4H), partnerships with local ecological centers, Career and Technical Education (CTE), internships, early college coursework, independent studies, or other structures designed by the learner in collaboration with the teacher.

Formative Assessment
Ongoing assessment (see definition) carried out in order to determine the next appropriate instructional or learner steps.

Habits of Mind
Dispositions and habitual behaviors that positively influence learning across disciplines. Habits of Mind are encompassed within 21st Century Skills and the Maine Guiding Principles (see definitions).

Learner-Centered Education
A system in which the learner has a high degree of agency in determining his or her educational path. Customized learning is an example of Learner-Centered Education.

Learning Target/Goal
An explicit statement of what learners will know, understand, or be able to do in a particular context (for example, after a specific lesson or unit). A defining characteristic of a learning target/goal is that it be clearly measurable.

Local Standards
Standards deemed essential by a school district. Includes State Standards (see definition), and any other standards determined by the school district.

Measurement Topic
A particular structure of organizing standards and performance indicators developed by the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning (see An organizing tool used as the basis for (a) identifying the scope or progression of the topic, and (b) scoring scales or proficiency levels for the topic. For an example of Measurement Topics as enacted, see (scroll down).

Performance Assessment (Performance Task)
Assessment that measures a student’s ability to transfer knowledge and apply complex skills in an authentic environment. A wide spectrum of activities may qualify as performance assessments. At the simpler end of the spectrum, a physical education teacher may assess a student’s ability to cross-country ski by watching the student actually perform the activity (rather than taking a test on it). At the more complex end of the spectrum, a high school may require a student to engage in a months-long senior capstone with external mentors, addressing multiple standards across multiple content areas.

Power Standards
A system by which a local school district organizes the standards addressed in its curriculum. Standards are clustered and prioritized in order to describe what students will be held accountable for in order to advance or to achieve their diploma.  Measurement Topics (see definition) are an example of a system of power standards.

Procedural Knowledge (PK)
Knowledge of skills or processes (how to). Includes mental skills/processes and psychomotor skills/processes.

Targeted level of achievement in a standard or learning goal. “Demonstrating proficiency” is synonymous with “demonstrating mastery” or “meeting the standard.”

Proficiency-Based Diploma (a.k.a. Standards-Based Diploma)
A diploma that is awarded to the learner upon demonstration of proficiency of the standards.

Proficiency-Based (a.k.a. Standards-Based)
Standards are used to guide curriculum. Student progress in demonstrating proficiency of standards is measured and used to determine advancement to higher learning levels. 

Proficiency-Based System (a.k.a. Standards-Based System)
A school district can be said to have a proficiency-based system when all aspects of the system – including reporting, transportation, scheduling, buildings and grounds, etc. – support a proficiency-based approach.

Report Card
A periodic report of a learner’s progress towards achievement of the standards.

A tool that clearly and tangibly describes achievement of standards at a variety of scoring or complexity levels.

A description of skill or knowledge deemed essential.

Standards-Based: See Proficiency-Based.

Standards-Referenced System
Standards are used to guide curriculum and measure student progress. In a standards-referenced system, students generally advance in age-based cohorts (grade levels) and may advance without demonstration of proficiency on specific standards.

State Standards: See Maine Learning Results: Parameters for Essential Instruction.

Summative Assessment
Assessment (see definition) carried out in order to summarize and record a learner’s proficiency up to that point.

Taxonomy of Learning
A hierarchical organization of learning and cognitive levels.  Taxonomies can be used to (1) design and classify learning objectives, (2) design assessments, (3) unpack standards, and (4) design curriculum (see for more detail.)

A summative report of a learner’s achievement.

Unpacking a standard
A process by which educators, and often students, examine a standard to clarify the expected learning targets/goals embedded in that standard.

Got a term to add to the glossary? Have your own definition to add? Write to


  1. THANK YOU, EDUSHYSTER for turning your eye toward Maine! You need to add, “capacity matrices” to the list, though I’ll be damned if I can tell you what it means…hey, I’m only a school board member and parent.

    More, please! We are caught in the net of RISC and the “proficiency-based system” and no, it’s not a good name for a band.

  2. Thank you for publishing the Maine glossary. This is just the tip of the education reform iceberg here in the Pine Tree State. This glossary is one indication of how the Maine public education has been infected by the GERM ( G.lobal E.ducation R.eform M.ovement. ) Acronyms and pseudo reforms will never take the place of genuine teaching and learning with real teachers and children interacting with meaningful ideas–meaningful not just to the adults who set the agenda but to the children. Thank you for shining the light on some of this craziness. PS Here’s another one: R.T.I. (Response to Intervention)

  3. Having been “professionally developed” to within an inch of my life through 29 years of classroom teaching, I can tell you that no amount of violence done to the English language is beyond these folks. If they’d spend a tenth of the amount of time they spend cooking up new jargon for old ideas (some of them dating back to Socrates!) just trying to come up with AN ORIGINAL THOUGHT, they might be worth paying some attention to. (And yes, Virginia, you CAN end a proper English sentence with a preposition.)

    In the end, this sort of thing is always about money: Come up with new bottles for the old wine, and you can strike it rich selling your wares to school districts and even state DOEs who are desperate to appear to be Doing Something…

    That people who think and write this way should presume to tell folks like ME the best methods to teach students how to think, how to speak, and how to write is…well, downright Orwellian.

Comments are closed.