Certificates of Occupational Proficiency Position Paper


The Massachusetts Vocational Association has adopted this position paper in an effort to give direction and to assist the Department of Education in the development of the Certificate of Occupational Proficiency required by the Education Reform Act of 1993. The Association recognizes movement towards increased rigor in educational standards and endorses the inclusion of vocational-technical skill achievement in this movement.

Under the present law all public high school students are required to satisfy the requirements of a competency determination (presently a passing MCAS grade) as a gateway to receiving a state sanctioned high school diploma. All high school students who attain a high standard of academic performance can also receive a certificate of mastery. Coupled with the regular diploma this certificate designates the student as a high achiever, one who has demonstrated excellence through superior performance.

Under the present law all vocational-technical school students are also required to satisfy the requirements of a competency determination (presently a passing MCAS grade) as a gateway to receiving a state sanctioned high school diploma. Students from a vocational-technical school also receive a proficiency evaluation which indicates the level of competency they have attained at specific tasks in a Chapter 74 approved program. Students who attain a high standard of performance in their technical program can also receive a certificate of occupational proficiency. Coupled with the regular diploma and competency evaluation this certificate of occupational proficiency designates the student as a high achiever, one who has demonstrated mastery of a core of skills, competencies and knowledge.


By law, regulation, and current practice, each school.s curriculum is driven by local employers through input as members of program advisory committees at each school. These employers validate the frameworks of instruction in each Chapter 74 approved program, recommend curriculum changes, and “field test” the student graduates through the cooperative education programs. These employers are the end users of our product, vocational-technical graduates, and are evaluators of the competency evaluations issued to our students. If a designation of achievement, the certificate of occupational proficiency, is to be created, these business and industrial community members should have input towards that designation.

In our competency based system, provision is made for a series of achievement levels within an occupational program and a variety of skill concentrations. A singular designation of occupational proficiency in a Chapter 74 program would not accurately portray this variety of achievement levels and deny some students recognition of occupational specific skills that would make them valuable employees. A certificate of occupational proficiency which designated more than one proficiency level would be more valuable to employers, allow for multiple areas of concentration within Chapter 74 programs, and provide more opportunity for student achievement.


The objectives of this proposal are:

  • To confirm MVA.s commitment to the Board of Education.s efforts to implement vocational-technical standards that are comparable to those possessed by students of equivalent age entering a particular occupation or profession from the most educationally advanced education systems in the world.
  • To create a valid applied assessment process for each vocational- technical program and accommodate technical changes in these Chapter 74 approved programs.
  • To create the opportunity for our students to demonstrate acquired competencies in their technical fields.
  • To encourage the development and implementation of multiple assessment models for vocational- technical students.
  • To create an assessment process which will evaluate the intermediate skill acquisition by students reflecting a multi-year concentration of effort in an occupational program.
  • Provide a certificate which identifies multiple levels of student proficiency in each Chapter 74 program.


Based on the above concerns and objectives it is recommended that the Department of Education convene a representative program advisory committee for each occupational program in which a certificate of occupational proficiency is to be issued.

The make-up of each committee would include: business and industry participants who have a practice of hiring our students, vocational-technical educators in the Chapter 74 program, and a Department of Education facilitator. Each committee would be comprised of 15-20 members.

These program advisory committees would be charged with developing a list of core competencies for the occupation (what every child should know and be able to do upon completing an instructional program).

The committees would select a variety of tasks and activities (from program task listings) which could be used to evaluate student competency at several levels. The criterion for proficiency would be established for each of the tasks. Formats for evaluation could include:

  • Criterion Referenced Technical (written technical assessment).
  • Criterion Referenced Employability (written employability skills assessment).
  • Authentic Performance (hands-on technical assessment).
  • Authentic Presentation (portfolio assessment).

For each Chapter 74 program, the competencies, performance tasks and activities, and criteria for a set of proficiency levels would be sent to a sampling of trades people and vocational instructors across the state for validation.

Evaluation could be a multi-tiered process qualifying students for performance assessment. A scoring rubric of tasks and activities would be devised that could be used on a state-wide basis.

A set of multiple proficiency levels could be established that would include a common core of skills, a hierarchy of achievement levels in each occupational program, and those skills which characterize the employment opportunities of a particular locale.

Students would be evaluated in their own schools, on familiar equipment, performing relevant tasks, and held to strict state standards. Each certificate could be unique in designating the particular skills and levels through which the student has qualified for mastery.

The Department of Education would establish a review process through which the assessment and proficiency award program could be monitored for validity and consistency.

At four year intervals the core competencies, achievement levels, tasks, criterion, and rubrics would be reviewed and upgraded.


The Massachusetts Vocational Association and the vocational community of educators stands ready to assist the Department of Education.s effort in recognizing excellence in student performance. Schools across the state would provide a list of active business and industrial partners along with a quality instructional core to develop the proficiency certificates.