Hidden behind the “proficiency-based learning” lingo is a simple idea: that students should master the basics in a number of subjects, including math, science and social studies, before they receive a diploma that ought to signal their readiness for college or a career.

How to pull that off, though, is where a lofty idea gets tricky, in part because no rules or guidelines have been issued to schools on how to implement it. Educators who back the initiative hope it will bring about a new student-centered, innovative system that will get youngsters excited about learning. But others worry it will wind up stifling students instead and may limit the opportunities of high achievers.

At its most basic, proficiency-based education requires students to demonstrate they have mastered a defined set of skills before they can move on to the next set. Students must keep working with teachers until they can demonstrate mastery of each set of skills.

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