Skills are complex, and very few skills have clear boundaries. We can see when a child takes his first step, and rapidly attempts to do it again, and is soon taking several steps. Similarly, the acquisition of new key presses in keyboarding can be fairly easily tracked. But for the most part, the specific growth of skills is difficult to pin down. We know that the growth is happening because the student’s scores in actions that require those skills are accelerating.
At the same time, we like to have concrete evidence of our progress. We might “feel” that we are improving, but we are more satisfied if we can see that we are passing milestones. In CyberSlate, we have found it most practical to slice up each skill into “Levels.” In keyboarding, we began with the home row of keys under the fingers of both hands. For some learners, we found it necessary to slice back to a subset of those fingers and keys. When, through practice, the learner reached a “mastery” speed, we presented a new “slice” with one or two more complex moves. Each new slice became a “level.”
For some students, more practice was needed to “secure” the skill involved in the new level. So we developed “Sublevels.” The student passes a sublevel when he reaches the criterion once, and then must reach that criterion again to pass to the next level.
When students completed all of the Levels of a skill, we found that they improved the skill by going back and repeating the levels, this time with a higher passing criterion. So we developed “Ranks,” in which students may repeat a skill set several times, each time increasing the passing criterion. The Ranks are “Novice,” “User,” “Pro,” “Expert”, “Master”, and “Champion.” (There are several more ranks, which some students will try to discover by continuing their favorite fluency past the rank of Champion.)
In Reading, it is more meaningful to use Grade Levels of materials to denote progress, rather than “Ranks.” The Reading materials used are matched to Grades by their publishers, using the Fry Graph Readability Scales. Rather than pass “levels”, the students pass out of each selection by reading at a passing criterion score (usually 150 words per minute.)