Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership


Ian Mette

Second Committee Member

Catharine Biddle

Third Committee Member

Justin Dimmel

Additional Committee Members

Richard Ackerman

Betsy Webb


In 2011, the state of Maine introduced a statute that required all diplomas to be awarded on the basis of proficiency by 2017. During this period of time, school districts moved to incorporate Proficiency-based Education (PBE) systems of instruction and learning. This prompted educators to bring clarity to standards, assessment, and grading practices. In many schools, they also began to focus on the idea that mastery drives movement. Districts were encouraged to integrate higher-order thinking opportunities for students when making these changes to their learning system. Despite this guidance, it is not clear as to the extent that higher-order thinking opportunities are available for students in proficiency-based classrooms. The mastery-drives movement approach may indicate that these opportunities are only available for students who have attained proficiency. There is also a concern that students may not pursue these opportunities if they are not required of them.

This research explored the frequency of higher-order thinking opportunities available for mathematics students in middle and secondary schools that made the move to a proficiency-based system. Additionally, the research aimed to discover how students are engaged in higher-order thinking and what factors may enhance or impede the opportunities. The research used an explanatory sequential mixed-methods design. Two rounds of 50 observations were conducted within five different schools (2 middle schools and 3 high schools) using the Instructional Practices Inventory (IPI) tool. In a sixth school, one round of 50 observations took place. In the end there were 550 total data points. The research also included 11 total focus groups with mathematics teachers.

The results suggest that high school math students in a proficiency-based structure tend to receive more opportunities for higher-order thinking within their classrooms. The research also pointed to individual pace learning structures impacting student ability to access higher-order thinking opportunities and suggested that the advanced students receive the bulk of the opportunities in PBE classrooms.