The 5 Legged Model of Education

At Educational Directions, we define assessment proficiency not in terms of test scores, but rather in terms of the characteristics that proficient performers take into testing situations. 

We identified five areas or characteristics related to proficient performance or, at least, to performance at the level of student potential. We call these characteristics the five-legged model, and use it extensively as a base for many of our Professional Development Solutions. In essence, the model is characterized by the five competencies below.


The proficient student will have to learn (not just be exposed to) the content, task, and level of work expected to get full credit for a performance or answer.


The proficient student will have to be willing to make an effort to learn and to take the task or test seriously and invest a “best effort” in every question.


The proficient student will have to know what proficient work looks like and how to produce it, and the student must have confidence in his or her ability to work at the level required.


The proficient student will have to do the thinking required to understand a task and then completely and accurately perform within it.


The proficient student will have prior success in working at the level of the task.

Understanding the Characteristics

The 5 legged model allows us to look at student work and, if the work is not proficient or is significantly below the student’s potential, identify the factors that are causing the student to perform at a particular level. Unfortunately, we find that in cases where students were seriously underperforming, there were multiple causal factors involved. This created problems as we tried to prioritize student support. Further research indicated that when multiple problems existed, there was an intervention priority sequence:

  1. We were somewhat surprised that attitude was a top priority when the student’s attitude got in the way of his or her learning or performing. A negative attitude not only undermined learning and performing, but it also interfered with efforts to support and improve student performance.
  2. Student perceptions, especially the students’ perceptions of self, which are closely tied to attitude, also have a positive or a negative impact on student performance. As early as first grade, some students develop negative perceptions of self and of learning. These perceptions impact their learning and performing until they are addressed.
  3. The student’s knowledge of concepts and tasks has to be equal to the expectations of an assessment or the student will not perform proficiently. The knowledge base has to be intentionally developed to include all the learnings expected on an assessment.
  4. Thinking is close or related to the knowledge base and thinking about content is required for students to create meaning for what they’re learning. Critical thinking is required on every test question on the state exam, and most questions require multiple thinking steps. The student has to critically read the question, access long-term memory for the content required, and perform the tasks embedded in the question proficiently to demonstrate his or her.
  5. The experience base is critical because we can’t teach many of the competencies that are required of students. Students develop these competencies as they engage in learning work and performing work. We can teach to them, and we can provide work that requires them and then monitor student performance. We can also provide them with strategies for doing competencies more efficiently, but to own the competency, the students have to engage intellectually in learning or performing work.