Shifting to Mastery-Based Approaches in New York City Public Schools

August 27, 2014 by
Revell, student at FDA VII.

Revelle, student at FDA VII. From FDA VII video.

“I want to achieve, I want to get high grades; [mastery-based learning] is a great way to map out exactly how to get there.”

         – Revelle, student at Frederick Douglass Academy VII, Brooklyn NY

A small but growing number of New York City schools are making assessments more meaningful for teachers and students through mastery-based approaches to learning. There are early and encouraging signs that mastery can motivate and engage students who have experienced previous academic failure by providing a clear outline for what they need to learn. The video below demonstrates these powerful effects at Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School (FDA VII) in Brooklyn:

Mastery-Based Learning – Featuring Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School from Digital Ready on Vimeo.

Starting Out Small

While school-wide implementation models have been a source of inspiration, more often than not, a shift toward mastery starts on a much more compact level. Last year, teachers at FDA VII “took the leap” by transforming their curriculum and grading policies to reflect student learning more transparently. This year, school leadership hopes to take it school-wide. At Brooklyn International High School and Hudson High School for Learning Technologies, teachers have worked alone or in small groups to pilot new ways to deliver content broken down by skill, and provide more granular feedback in distinct areas of learning. (more…)

What’s New in Competency Education in K12 and Higher Education

August 26, 2014 by

K12 ResourcesScreen Shot 2014-06-23 at 5.46.08 PM and Events

In the News

  • The Des Moines Register’s article Five Trends to Look for This School Year includes student-led conferences and student setting the pace. Shawn Cornally from Iowa Big is quoted, “”Some students move much faster, and some students move much slower, but they learn it a lot better.”

Performance Assessment for Competency Education

August 25, 2014 by
Paul Leather

Paul Leather

On Monday August 11, 2014, leaders from our four NH PACE-implementing school districts gathered, along with our partners, Dan French and staff from the Center for Collaborative Education and Scott Marion of the Center for Assessment. PACE stands for Performance Assessment for Competency Education.  We are moving forward this year with a demonstration project, to prove that we can advance the transformation of our public education system, in part, by changing our accountability model. We would like to lessen the importance of taking simply the summative Smarter Balanced in the spring of 2015 by establishing a richer array of assessments designed to help us with measuring learning and growth for students, teachers, and schools. We would rather see an assessment system include SBAC at grade spans, as well as complex performance assessments.

We believe that this kind of system will allow us to measure a more complete range of knowledge, skills, and practices, necessary for CCR.  Linda Darling-Hammond, Gene Wilhoit, and Linda Pittinger[1] have pictured this range of learning in a recent paper:

knowledgeskillsworkstudy

So here we were, on a beautiful, sun-filled Monday in August in the Sanborn HS Library, in Kingston, NH. Maybe you have seen blog pieces by some involved — Jon Vander Els of Memorial Elementary School in Kingston, Brian Stack of Sanborn Regional HS, or met district leaders like Ellen Hume-Howard of Sanborn or Mike Hopkins of Rochester.  They were joined by Mary Moriarty of Rochester, Nicole Heimarck of Souhegan, and Barbara Munsey of Epping. Our nationally recognized competency education consultant, Rose Colby, joined us, as did Mariane Gfroerer, who has been on this journey since the beginning.  Some really tremendous innovators and courageous leaders in the Public Education space. Two days previously, we heard that there is resistance in Washington to approving a full stop pilot for this school year, one where complex performance assessment could partially take the place of SBAC summatives in several grades.  Not surprisingly, there continues to be the belief that the existing system will only work if everyone is held to the same expectations.  Much money and time has been spent on creating new assessments built to address deeper learning through the national consortia: PARCC and SBAC.  We all know that assessment on the national scene is big business, with much at stake.  But what could be more central to the discussion for any of us, but the educational experience and learning of our students? So we soldier on here in NH, committed to demonstrating that a new system can be realized.We ascribe to Dr. Richard Elmore’s construct of the instructional core,[2] where improved student learning and performance can only be influenced directly in three ways: greater student engagement, more academically challenging content, and improved instructional practice.
engagingstudents

Further, one must address all three to increase student learning.  So our emphasis is to increase accountability so we might deliver in these three areas.  One way to do this is to build a system that enhances student engagement with direct teacher support and pedagogy while simultaneously increasing academic challenge.  Of course, much of Dr. Elmore’s work in this area has been through direct professional development with teachers regarding instructional practice through “instructional rounds.”2 Another way we believe this can be done is by putting standards in the hands of students and involving students and teachers deeply in complex projects and performance.  These are foundational principles of competency education, where standards are written in bite sized chunks that students can understand, and they are engaged via wise and skilled educators as they connect with learning paths passionately in on-going efforts to demonstrate their mastery of those competencies. Educators who have seen the power of this model first hand also become passionate in this work.  We have seen this all around the country.  Here in NH, educational leaders from the four districts assembled last Monday, are now building out an accountability model to support this work.

 

Tuesday through Friday, August 12-15, teachers K-12 from three of the four districts, Sanborn, Epping, and Rochester, held an Assessment Summit with core teams of educators from the districts, focused on work completed in the last year in building and validating performance assessments tied to student competencies, as well as planning for the coming year’s pilot.  Much of the work at this point is focused on stretching NH’s graduation level state competencies in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Work-Study Practices into developmental progressions tied to teaching and learning, K-12, consistent with accepted national standards.  This work is being aligned with a performance assessments at all levels, creating a taxonomy of competencies and assessments in and across content areas.  Calibration and moderation work is also a major part of the planning and professional development activities.

For further information regarding NH’s plan to build this pilot and scale this system, the “New Hampshire Department of Education College and Career-Ready Accountability Options” document can be found on the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education website. With time allowable, I hope to update you periodically on the work in progress!

About the Author

Mr. Leather’s background and experience in Education, Counseling, and Administration in New Hampshire spans three decades. He is the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Education in New Hampshire, and has also served for 18 years as the Director of the Division of Career Technology and Adult Learning for the Department, overseeing statewide initiatives such as High School Redesign, Extended Learning Opportunities, and Drop Out Prevention, as well as the administration of Vocational Rehabilitation, Adult Education, Career and Technical Education, Tech-Prep, School Guidance and Counseling, Apprenticeship Programs, and Career Development efforts, including Workforce Investment Act coordination for the NHDOE.


[1]Darling-Hammond, L., Wilhoit, G., & Pittenger, L. (2014). Accountability for college and career readiness: Developing a new paradigm. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 22(86).

[2] Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning. City, Elmore, Fiarman, and Teitel.  Harvard Education Press. 2009.

 

Reflections on Ferguson: Why We Need to Increase Racial Diversity in the Field of Competency Education

August 22, 2014 by
Chris Sturgis

Chris Sturgis

The courageous people of Ferguson have been standing up for their young men as well as forcing all of us to face the crisis that threatens African American boys’ survival, ability to graduate high school, get a job, and be actively engaged as fathers to their children.  However, there is no reason that they have to be standing alone. It’s up to all of us to eliminate the patterns of structural racism and implicit bias that reinforce inequity and threaten the lives of African-American young men.

All of us in the field of competency education want all children to succeed.  Our intentions are good. However, how can we really be sure that we ourselves do not carry some bias deep in our minds when the leaders in our field are almost all white? If we are committed to equity in our schools, how can we build the capacity in our organizations to be able to systematically address structural racism and bias?

I think that we have evidence that we do have a bias problem in our field. The leadership in the field and our organizations for the most part are very white.  Our success in advancing competency education is threatened if we fail to correct this situation by increasing the racial diversity of our leadership. First, many people see lack of diversity as a sign of organizational weakness. If you can’t figure out how to have diversity on your board and staff, how can you effectively train others or develop policies that don’t reinforce racial equity? (more…)

Turning Mistakes Into Learning: The Power of High Reliability Schools

August 20, 2014 by

Handbook for High Reliability Schools cover“In industries where mistakes and errors lead to significant and far-reaching consequences – such as power plants, air traffic control towers, and electrical power grids – organizations must adjust their operations to proactively prevent failure. . . .  [W]hat distinguishes high reliability organizations is not the absence of errors but the ability to contain their effects so they do not escalate into significant failures.”

I’m just diving into A Handbook for High Reliability Schools . . . The Next Step in School Reform by Marzano, Warrick and Simms. It’s a brilliant idea to think about what it would take for schools to become a high reliability organization. Certainly a student failing to receive an adequate education, failing to be prepared to pursue post-secondary education and training, has far-reaching consequences. It’s a pathway to poverty and fragile families.

What makes education a bit different from business is that mistakes and failures are part of the learning process. So we have to be able to distinguish from the customer making mistakes as part of the learning process, yet have the educators “contain the effect” so that the outcome is success.

The authors describe how schools can become so powerful and so timely in responding to children that the natural errors in learning will produce learning gains. Essentially, schools can become high reliability, taking “proactive steps to prevent failure and ensure success.” I already had a vision of how powerful schools can become, and reading this book took it to a whole new level.

The authors propose five levels of operation for a high reliability school: (more…)

Just Start

August 19, 2014 by

Just startWhat do Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Bill Belichick, and Anshul Samar have in common? Sure, they all had a vision of what they wanted to accomplish. But more importantly, they got STARTED. The difference between a great idea and an idea that makes a great difference, is someone executed it. To engage in the process of continuous improvement, the crux of leadership, one needs to begin. As investor and motivational speaker Robert Kiyosaki said, “If you are the kind of person who is waiting for the ‘right’ thing to happen, you might wait for a long time. It’s like waiting for all the traffic lights to be green for five miles before starting the trip.”

The person most responsible for the construction of the path to change for any school is the principal. Too often administrators try to line up all the pieces so there is a guarantee we do not make a mistake. After all, we are working with young minds. A simple mistake could ruin their future. So we analyze, plot, analyze again, get new information, see how that informs our decision, analyze again, make adjustments, analyze the adjustments, which causes the need for more decisions. All of this is hypothetical since we have nothing tangible to adjust. Voltaire warned, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.” We need to not worry and simply apply what we know today. The fear of hitting the magic switch and turning our students into thoughtless zombies left to wander aimlessly in a land of lost potential is unfounded. What school leaders need to do, regardless of role, is get a vision of their postcard destination, map the critical steps to get them from where they are to where they want to be, and then take that important first step. (more…)

EAA Pioneers Flexible Blended Learning Spaces

August 18, 2014 by

Originally posted Aug. 3, 2014 at Getting Smart.

Students at computers

From Getting Smart.com

Five Detroit schools utilize flexible learning spaces to accelerate student learning. These innovative environments reconsider four components of teaching and learning:

  • Space & time: creative ways of using space, furniture, scheduling and location to promote student learning;
  • Staffing and roles: rethinking flexible ways to use staffing to personalize learning;
  • Grouping of students: different approaches to grouping students and providing individual work time to ensure growth; and
  • Resources: maximizing supports from the teachers, technology, and peers to promote deeper understanding.

The flexible learning space, called a hub, provide a student-centered environment where student responsibility grows from primary grades to high school.

Students participate in a blended instructional program where they access information from the teacher, technology, their peers and their own inquiry. The same content is provided in 3 different ways—independent virtual courses, hybrid courses and as individual searchable libraries of content aligned to the standards. (more…)

Why is competency-based education so hard to study?

August 15, 2014 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

Originally posted August 13, 2014 by the Christensen Institute.

A few research pitfalls seem to be creeping into the still nascent world of K-12 competency-based education: first, the challenge of moving from discussing high-level theory to describing precisely competency-based practices. And second, going from identifying specific practices to designing sufficiently specific, appropriate evaluation to measure the effects of those practices.

Both of these tensions can make conversations about competency-based education feel speculative. The term “competency-based” often describes a wide range of classroom practices, but schools that call themselves competency-based may not subscribe to all such practices. And even when these practices are spelled out, we have yet to study them in isolation, to understand which—if any—drive student growth and in what circumstances. In order to really study competency-based models, the field may need more specific categories than “competency-based” to translate the theory into practice; and we likely need new research paradigms to evaluate these specific practices. (more…)

Get Your Calendars Out

August 13, 2014 by

Two major events are coming up that are opportunities to network among innovators in education.Vote SXSW Ed

1)    SXSWedu, March 9-12 , 2015: Last year Susan Patrick of iNACOL did a standing-room-only briefing on competency education. There are four events proposed on competency education for the 2015 meeting.  Two are on higher education and two on K-12. Jump onto the Panel Picker to vote for your favorites:

K-12

Higher Education

 

2) iNACOL’s Blended and Online Learning Symposium, November 4-7, 2014:  This year’s speakers include Sal Khan and Michael Horn.  There is a full competency education strand, with Rose Colby leading The Competency Education Toolkit for Curriculum, Assessment, Instruction, and Grading; and Brian Stack, principal at Sanborn Regional High School, on How to Support a K12 Competency-Based Grading & Reporting System. Jennifer Davis from CCSSO and Adam Rubin from 2 Revolutions will be there to help you learn how to use the Roadmap for Competency-based Systems; Springpoint will have a team to reflect on  Designing New Competency-Based High Schools; and Kim Carter and Elizabeth Cardine from Making Community Connections Charter School will be there to describe how they are Igniting Learning, drawing on cognitive sciences, motivational theory, and educational research.

Such Wonderful New Resources

by

There are so many great resources coming out this summer!I haven’t even had time to waScreen Shot 2014-06-13 at 10.54.23 AMtch and read everything….but wanted to make sure you all know about them.

Statewide Transformation: First, a big shout out to New Hampshire for sharing their learning. They’ve created a web page New Hampshire’s Story of Transformation complete with videos so you can hear from their leadership and innovators directly. It’s a great resource that explores how they think about student engagement, how they are providing support to educators, and the history of their process towards competency-based education. You can also hear from Paul Leather as he provides a synopsis of the state’s approach.

State and District Updates:

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