Clarifying the Difference Between Proficiency Scales and Rubrics

Right here. Right now. A quick overview of the differences between proficiency scales and rubrics – and my proficiency scale rubric.


In districts and schools throughout the country, staff members have worked to develop proficiency scales to help make learning expectations clearer for students. And that’s a good thing. As a part of this process, it’s natural for those working to make proficiency scales to have many questions as they wrap their heads around this work. One of the questions that comes up is that of the difference between a proficiency scale and a rubric. You may have had that question as well; it may even be your question! I want to share how I explain the difference between a proficiency scale and a rubric, in hopes the explanation may be useful to someone else.

The difference between a proficiency scale and a rubric is an important distinction to be able to make, so I’ve captured the key differences in the following chart – and also provided a couple of examples. (There’s a link to this handout at the bottom of this post.)

So, there you have it – a few ideas showing some of the differences between a proficiency scale and a rubric. If you provide training in designing proficiency scales and need a tool to help others develop a high-quality scale, this rubric might be useful to you.

There’s No Rule

This book is filled with practical leadership insights for your own reflection – and those of aspiring and experienced leaders with whom you work. This book is for leaders – of any age – who make decisions that bring positive energy, shared values, and kindness as they bravely set examples for others to follow. Share a copy with someone you value!

How to Disaggregate Data: A NEW Microcredential for School and District Leaders

If you are an aspiring administrator, a rookie, or an administrator with plenty of experience, you’ll find important insights, content, and core skills related to disaggregating achievement data.

Get a copy of the flyer.

Learn more!

Know data. Know answers.

Dr. Deborah Wahlstrom

Disaggregation is one of the most important skills needed in using data to improve student achievement. This microcredential, AVAILABLE NOW, has been designed for your learning. Whether you are a rookie administrator or one who’s been educating for some time – there is likely powerful learning for you.

  • PRINCIPALS who want to support staff in modeling and discussing disaggregation of data.
  • SCHOOL LEADERS who want to better understand the process so core content and skills of disaggregation can be taught and reinforced during instructional leadership meetings.
  • DISTRICT STAFF who desire to support those in schools who work with data.
  • PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STAFF who trains others in the use of data.
  • PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROVIDERS who want to stay updated with techniques, processes, and analysis for disaggregated data.
  • TEACHERS who desire to build important leadership skills.
  • GRADUATE STUDENTS in educational leadership programs who desire a strong foundation in the disaggregation of data.
  • TECHNOLOGY STAFF in schools who support others in working with data.
  • INSTRUCTIONAL COACHES who desire a strong foundation in disaggregating data.
  • DATA COACHES who want the content, knowledge, and skills for supporting others.
  • DISTRICT ASSESSMENT STAFF who want to better see how disaggregated data is tied to school improvement.
  • TITLE I STAFF who need to guide others in the disaggregation of data required for comprehensive needs assessments and school improvement plans.
  • PROFESSORS AND INSTRUCTORS of educational leadership programs who desire to supplement their knowledge and skill.
  • PROGRAMMERS who desire to know how to correctly work with disaggregated data and how it ties to school improvement.
  • REPORTERS AND WRITERS who desire to better understand the purposes of disaggregation.

Here’s how it works. You take the microcredential which has everything you need to learn to disaggregate successfully. You’ll find source pages filled with valuable content and plenty of practice exercises. You choose what you need to become more expert at disaggregating achievement data.

When you are ready to earn your badge, you’ll disaggregate and analyze the data for three sets of achievement data – all your choice to ensure you work on a product that is useful to you in your school, district, or other settings.

You’ll have a clear performance task and corresponding rubric – and you’ll use both as you work with your three data sets. Once you have successfully performed your tasks, you’ll earn the digital badge for How to Disaggregate Data. More importantly, you’ll have confidence in your knowledge and skills of disaggregating achievement data because you’ve given yourself the opportunity to:

  • Organize achievement data onto a template.
  • Calculate (accurately) disaggregated achievement data.
  • Write analysis statements for the disaggregated data.
  • Determine if the results of the disaggregated data reflect quality.
  • Determine if the results of the disaggregated data reflect equity.
  • Summarize disaggregated data.

There is investment/cost for this microcredential, but it is priced reasonably. For just $99, you receive everything you need to complete your microcredential including Deb Wahlstrom’s Comprehensive Needs Assessment Toolbook (a $45.00 value). The cost also includes scoring and verification of your work and support while you work on your microcredential.

Here are examples of ways you’ll be able to use your data disaggregation skills:

  • Disaggregate all students and subgroup data for your own benchmark assessments.
  • Disaggregate all students and subgroup data for grade-level/content area common assessments.
  • Present disaggregated data in a way that helps others understand the purpose of disaggregation.
  • Include accurate and well-written disaggregated data in Title I evaluations.
  • Include accurate and well-written disaggregated data in comprehensive needs assessments and school improvement plans.
  • Support others as they learn the basics of working with data.
  • Determine whether there is learning for all when reviewing data from charts/tables and graphs.
  • Use data in the correct places of your school improvement plan.

All of this. Just $99.00. Enroll today to get started on your disaggregation journey!

Questions? Email me at:

Glance inside the Comprehensive Needs Assessment Toolbook

It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s really quite good. If you are working on a Comprehensive Needs Assessment, this can be your number one go-to tool. It’s loaded with information for building data skills, while you work on your CNA.

Check out this link to see what’s included in the book.

Order the book here, – and enjoy getting data smart! And please, tell a friend!

Marketing Flyer Visual

Ten Reminders for a Stronger CNA

Ten Reminders for a Stronger CNA

The Quality of the CNA Matters

What we do as part of the Comprehensive Needs Assessment matters. It begins with the on-going analysis and review of data and should result with a plan that makes a difference in lives of students and those who support them (you).

We have a long way to go to truly build actionable plans that will make a difference. So many plans are designed to be more for compliance than for improving the lives of students.

The CNA process is where the school team figures out what to do about the issues it is facing. It’s about learning for all. It’s about opportunity for all. It’s about being intentionally inviting toward all.

It is a lot to think about, but that’s one of the reasons the CNA process is collaborative!

We can do this!

New Comprehensive Needs Assessment Toolbook

This toolbook is finally done. And I am sure proud of it. For a lot of reasons. First of all, it has just about everything a school team member needs to be successful working with the Comprehensive Needs Assessment process. Second, I developed the entire project in OneNote so you’ll be so organized you won’t know what to do with yourself. (Just pat yourself on the back, because you’ll be looking so durn smart.)

CNA Toolbook Cover

The ground-breaking tool not only has what you need to work through the CNA process, but I’ve also included all of the templates, too. Loads of them. Over 100 in all. Templates for data. Templates for problem-solving. Templates for Root Cause Analysis that you probably have not used before. Templates for name plates, agendas, sign-in sheets, school improvement plans, Smart sheets, and so much more.

And, the templates are so easy to retrieve. They are all right where I talk about them in the toolbook. There’s no going to the back of the toolbook, or another source, or a website – it’s all right there.

How about a quick preview?

Want your own copy? Here’s where to order.

You’ll be amazed at the power of the protocols you’ll have in your hands!








Key Performance Indicators for a Content Area

As school teams work through their Comprehensive Needs Assessment process, an important task is that of determining the data points to consider for determining whether the objectives have been met. The challenge for school teams, is there is usually more than one data piece that can be tied in because we (1) want to triangulate data, and (2) can’t really say that one action led to one result. It’s more like, “We’ll be taking this set of action steps, and as a result, we expect to see differences in the data in these areas.” Rather than chug all the data together, I recommend school teams to organize data by content area. The accountability systems across the nation look at assessment results by content area, so schools are held accountable for those results. In all fairness to themselves, they need to see where they stand. More importantly, for many improvement efforts, the work is also planned and implemented through a content area as a natural organizer, such as reading.

For many school teams, figuring out what Key Performance Indicators to use is an issue that is easy to resolve. It starts with an understanding of the types of data that might be used for a content area. So today, I want to share a visual with examples of data points that could be used in the content area of reading, or English Language Arts.

KPI Reading, D Wahlstrom

I have divided the data into three categories: Learning for All, Opportunity for All, and Inviting for All. The purpose of the three categories is to ensure that a school is looking at required data for ESSA. So, under Learning for All, you’ll see data about proficiency and growth scores on state and benchmark assessments. This data is disaggregated by subgroup, and also looks at achievement gaps. This category can have other types of data as well including grades in courses and percentages of students earning successful scores on AP exams.

The Opportunity for All category provides data, related to reading/English Language Arts, that might show students have equitable opportunities. The data reflects enrollment in honors courses, AP courses, special education, and more. It also includes percentages of students receiving assistance, as that is what school improvement is all about.

In the Inviting for All category, the data includes climate data that matches well to reading. It reflects that inviting aspects of what a school team might like to see: students who love to read books and understand what we ask them to do. Students who feel like they are successful readers. Teachers who feel like they know what steps to take when students struggle – and have the tools they need to take those steps. And then parents who know the value of reading.

As what we work on year-in and year-out for students in the area of reading, these three categories reflect an overall picture – from the head to the heart – of how things are progressing.





Triangulating Data

Just the other day, a new principal asked me about the concept of triangulation. It’s one of those terms we use in working with data, and I thought I’d write briefly about it here.

Take a look at the following visual. There’s a message. Can you tell what it says?

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Let me give you a piece of “data”. See if that helps. Can you now tell what the message says?

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Still can’t quite tell? How about if I give you a second piece of data. Take a look and see if you can tell what the message says.

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Hmm, not quite? That’s because two pieces of data won’t always be enough to give you the big picture of what is going on in a content area.

Let’s add a third piece of data. What does the message say?

3-1-2018 4-36-38 PM

Even though you still cannot see the whole message, you likely have a very good idea of what the message says: “High Student Achievement in America’s Public Schools.” You are able to see that because I’ve given you enough data to see the picture of what the message says.

When we work with data, it is important to remember that one piece of data does not tell the whole story of a student, a school, or a district. It takes numerous pieces of data to paint a picture of how things are really going.

Triangulation is when we use three or more pieces of data to help us paint a more accurate picture of whatever it is we are studying. In a school, we might be looking at performance in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, or Social Studies. For each, we’d use three or more pieces of data to begin to understand achievement by content area.

Here is an example: Triangulate Data for Reading in an Elementary School


  • percentage of students proficient on state reading assessment.
  • percentage of minority students proficient on state reading assessment.
  • percentage of economically disadvantaged students proficient on state reading assessment.
  • percentage of special education students on proficient on state reading assessment.
  • percentage of English language learners proficient on state reading assessment.


  • percentage of students at grade-level as measured by district benchmark test.
  • percentage of minority students at grade-level on district benchmark test.
  • percentage of  economically disadvantaged students at grade-level on district benchmark test.
  • percentage of special education students at grade-level on district benchmark test.
  • percentage of English language learners on grade-level on district benchmark test.


  • percentage of students meeting 90% or more of the grade-level student learning objectives.
  • percentage of minority students meeting 90% or more of the grade-level student learning objectives.
  • percentage of economically disadvantaged students meeting 90% or more of the grade-level student learning objectives.
  • percentage of special education students meeting 90% or more of the grade-level student learning objectives.
  • percentage of English language learners meeting 90% or more of the grade-level student learning objectives.

In all cases, we looked at overall results, but also disaggregated the data by subgroups, to monitor the performance of all the students being served. We can determine if there are gaps in achievement well before a state test is given if we monitor the performance of subgroups on other assignments and assessments.

Additional measurements could be added in, like quick surveys asking students about their reading habits and how much they enjoy reading – and could even be done at the beginning and end of the school year to determine if you’ve made some leeway in building good reading habits and attitudes. You could also include performance-based assessments such as having students read aloud (and have this recorded) and hold discussions about what they’ve read. While we don’t have much say about what the state assesses, we do have say about what a district, school, and classroom teacher assesses – so assess what matters! Triangulating the data will help you know for sure if students are on track!

I added the red, but the source of my puzzle design is from Dancing Crayon Designs (Teachers Pay Teachers). Love her work!




Michigan’s New Reading Law

Get to Know Michigan’s New Reading Law – in this beginning-of-year activity, staff will learn key information related to the new reading law through a custom graphic organizer and a corresponding question set. (This is specific for the 2017-2018 school year.)  I actually had a lot of fun designing the graphic and I hope you’ll enjoy using this with your teachers. You know superintendents want you and your teachers to know this information!


Additional Resources Cited in the Graphic Organizer

Construct Relevant Vocabulary for English Language Arts and Literacy

10-6-2016-6-31-11-pmWhat?????? If you’ve been keeping up with SBAC, you’ve already seen this. If you’re one of our teaching colleagues in Michigan, make sure you download the vocabulary and integrate the information into the good work you are doing in your lessons.

Both SBAC and the MDE note that “Construct relevant vocabulary” refers to any English language arts term that students should know because it is essential to the construct of English language arts. As such, these terms should be part of instruction. These are words that may appear in assessment stems or options on the ELA M-STEP even though the EDL Core Vocabularies: Reading, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies (ISBN 1-55855-811-X) might identify these terms as above grade level for general use. Because these terms are part of instruction in the ELA classroom they are considered construct relevant and thus allowable for this use. The following list of “construct relevant vocabulary” was compiled by the ELA test development teams. This list is NOT intended to be a default vocabulary curriculum; instead, the list of terms is intended as an instructional resource to ensure that teachers remember to embed these terms into their instruction. The list is a working document; it is neither “finished” nor is it all-inclusive.”

The introduction in this document basically says to pay attention to the vocabulary in this document. It was released in Michigan on May 31, 2016 – just before summer vacation, so you may not have had the chance to loll over this during the summer. The beginning of the new school year is a good time to review the document and think about how you’ll use it in a way that fits within your lessons.

Below you can link to the whole document, or just the grade levels you need.

MI Construct Relevant Vocabulary, Entire document, Grades 3-High School

MI Construct Relevant Vocabulary, Grade 3

MI Construct Relevant Vocabulary, Grade 4

MI Construct Relevant Vocabulary, Grade 5

MI Construct Relevant Vocabulary, Grade 6

MI Construct Relevant Vocabulary, Grade 7

MI Construct Relevant Vocabulary, Grade 8

MI Construct Relevant Vocabulary, High School