CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

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Competency Education in Practice: Kearsarge Regional High School Spotlight

November 21, 2014 by

KearsargeThis spotlight originally appeared in the CCSR October 2014 Newsletter.

In 2005, New Hampshire became the first state to abolish the Carnegie Unit and mandate that by SY ’08-’09 all high schools measure credit according to students’ mastery of course competencies rather than seat time. CSSR works with a number of New Hampshire schools through the i3 NETWORK to build the pedagogical and leadership capacity to take on this transformational work. Kearsarge Regional High School is one of those i3 NETWORK schools.

Kearsarge Regional High School | North Sutton, NH

The road to Competency Education at Kearsarge Regional High School (KRHS) coincided with the adoption of school-wide learning expectations associated with the school’s core values and beliefs. Academic Expectations include: effective and clear communication; critical thinking; and information, technology, and media literacy. Social and Civic Expectations include: initiative and productivity; responsibility and accountability; and collaboration. Students are assessed on these expectations through each of their courses but receive a separate grade than that earned through the demonstration of course competencies. (more…)

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Competency Education in a K-16+ World

November 19, 2014 by

K16+It was a typical Wednesday evening in mid-October at our home. My wife and I were sitting on our couch. She was correcting papers, and I was doing some work on my laptop for school the next day. My wife suddenly exclaimed out loud, but somewhat to herself, “Wow, she’s already completed my course.” It was approximately half-way through the college semester, and a student had demonstrated mastery in all requirements for her course, and had “completed” everything that was assigned.

My wife is a math teacher at the Thompson School at the University of New Hampshire. One of the courses she teaches is a hybrid section of College Algebra, which combines an online component with in-person class sessions to assist students with specific topics. Five years ago when my K-12 district, the Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire, started implementing competency-based education, I attempted (unsuccessfully at the time) to explain to my wife why competency-based education was superior to the traditional model of education. She was not the least bit impressed, and provided many rebukes to my attempts at convincing her.

Part of this was clearly my inability to adequately articulate what I intrinsically knew to be a better system for learning. Part of it was the “newness” of CBE for my wife and its significant differences from traditional forms of education. We had many ensuing conversations about why (or why not) behaviors should be separated from academics, how a student’s grade/success should not (or could) be decided by their participation (or lack thereof), and why it made no sense that students should have to make up a whole course if they had not demonstrated mastery in a single competency within that course. (more…)

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Learn Fast and Adapt, Especially in Education

November 17, 2014 by
Brian Peddle

Brian Peddle

The mantra, “Fail early, fail often,” needs to die a fast death. This phrase has become the calling cry for many startups over the past few years, and I feel as though it has become the safety net in case a company blows through all its money. I understand the underlying meaning—that setbacks can and will happen on the road to success—but the phrasing is all wrong, especially when it comes to education.

This past week I was at iNCAOL 2014, a K-12 conference full of dedicated and forward-thinking educators, and a big topic was competency-based education (CBE). Michael Horn was a keynote speaker, and this phrase was tweeted and re-tweeted from his presentation: “Fail fast so you don’t have a spectacular failure.”

This is no criticism of Michael, but it struck me as the wrong place to talk about failing as an option. A couple of years ago, I may not have noticed the use of this term; however, after working at College for America at SNHU and now spinning off Motivis Learning, I’ve seen firsthand what negative connotation the “F” word has. (I call it the “F” word because Kate Kazin, the Chief Academic Officer at CfA, has drilled that into the entire team’s head.) We don’t talk about students failing, ever. CfA is a full competency-based program where there is no failing; there is only “Mastery” and “Not Yet.” That simple shift in language can lift the dreary weight of failure off of a student’s shoulders—and trust me, that weight is there. (more…)

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Policy Implications in Competency Education: An Interview with Don Siviski

November 14, 2014 by

CSSRThis interview originally appeared in the CCSR October 2014 Newsletter.

Don Siviski is a career educator who began his career as a middle school teacher, formerly served as the Maine Department of Education’s Superintendent of Instruction, and now works as a school change coach with CSSR. He was closely involved in the comprehensive policy work that resulted in Maine legislation requiring graduates to demonstrate mastery of competencies in order to graduate. Siviski is now working closely with CSSR’s i3 NETWORK schools, as well as with CSSR in Springdale (AR) Public Schools-the first competency education pilot in Arkansas, the most recent state to grant a seat time waiver. We sat down with him recently as he reflected on the policy work that resulted in competency education for the state of Maine, specifically-the intersection between belief and practice; establishing proof points and zealots for your work; and building collective capacity.

The intersection of belief and practice

Siviski’s work to impact comprehensive reform in Maine began by facing the discrepancy between what the community professes to believe about education, and the reality of their practice. Specifically most folks articulate the belief that all kids should go to school, get an education and succeed. However, in practice our educational system sorts and tracks students, formulates grades based on completion and compliance, and ensures that students have unequal outcomes. To effect policy change, communities throughout Maine had to get in agreement on tough culture change traditions-adults had to ‘unlearn’ the system they had all experienced in order to put new learning in place. For Siviski the emphasis was always student-focused, not adult-centered. The competency-based value structure prevailed when the focus was on students and the critical need to produce graduates prepared to compete globally. Siviski noticed over and over that once teachers and community members saw students becoming agents of their own learning, they ethically could not go back to the old system as belief and practice were now aligned.

(more…)

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How Alaska’s Chugach District Changed Education Through Performance-Based Learning

November 13, 2014 by

Chugach

This post originally published on EdSurge on November 10, 2014.

Chugach, Alaska isn’t just known for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and 1964’s tragic 9.2 magnitude earthquake anymore. The Chugach School District has become recognized as an innovator in grassroots school reform, especially when it comes to performance-based learning.

And for good reason. Within the first five years of starting to rebuild its education system, Chugach leapt from the bottom quartile to an average 72nd percentile on Alaska’s required state assessments. The Chugach School District performance-based education system was honored by President Bush as the first education organization to earn the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, and again by Alaska’s own quality award program by being the first recipient of the APEX award.

In small remote village schools spread out across 22,000 square miles of the roadless pristine wilderness of Prince William Sound, Alaska, communities and educators collectively tossed out the traditional education system to build an entirely new system from scratch. We knew that traditional education was built for another era. Community input, common sense and research led to a school system where there was no second grade, or third grade, or any grade. Students no longer received report cards with letter grades of A through F. No longer was the system built for adults to manage students. It was now built to meet the individual needs of each student. (more…)

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Conundrums in Competency

by

Question Marks

Originally posted November 11, 2014 by the Christensen Institute.

Over the past several weeks I’ve attended a number of conferences where competency-based (or mastery-based) education was a hot topic. On the whole, there seems to be growing enthusiasm for adopting competency-based approaches that allow students to advance upon mastery and that deploy authentic assessments to test what students can do across disciplines. My conversations at these conferences, however, have convinced me that there are some philosophical and practical areas that administrators are still grappling with. This is a short list of questions that keep coming up in discussions and debates:

We are still operating on a fixed semester, academic calendar-based schedule. Can we implement competency-based education? In many cases, regulatory or cultural barriers make the concept of each student advancing upon individual mastery an overwhelming or impractical framework to impose on traditional academic schedules. For many systems, in the near future, courses or semester-based schedules are here to stay.

One interim shift that these systems might take is to adopt standards- or competency-based grading, whereby a student’s grade is a transparent reflection of what he has or has not mastered. Unlike a “B+”—which tells you that a student did not fully master material, but communicates little else—a competency-based grade can overtly lay out the persistent gaps in a student’s understanding. In such systems, two things may occur: first, there may be opportunities for targeted unit or “competency” recovery to fill in gaps at the end of courses or semesters. Secondly, students may be promoted to new coursework (as tends to happen in the traditional system) but their grades will at the very least show their next teacher a clear map of the areas where they still stand to struggle. The overarching premise here? If for some reason time in your system has to remain fixed, then at the very least you can make grading or certification at the end of a course an honest portrait of mastery and remaining gaps. (more…)

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What is the Difference between Standards-Based Grading (or Reporting) and Competency-Based Education?

November 11, 2014 by
Matt Townsley

Matt Townsley

Here in Iowa, competency-based education is gaining traction at the state and grassroots level. In fact, the Iowa Department of Education has launched a multi-year CBE collaborative. Needless to say, it’s an exciting time to be an educator in the Hawkeye State!

Meanwhile, a core group of Iowa schools have started to implement a standards-based grading philosophy in middle and high schools. Because of these two movements in our state, standards-based grading and competency-based education are often times incorrectly presented as synonymous practices. As a member of Iowa’s CBE task force and through my work as a district administrator in a system that has embraced standards-based grading K-12, I’ve been in a position to think about and discuss these two topics extensively. When area schools hear about our grading and reporting practices, we are often asked how our system relates to those working towards competency-based educational models. While many of the ideas overlap, I felt compelled to tease out these two education terms in order to honor their similarities and differences.

What is standards-based grading? 

Standards-based grading ”involves measuring students’ proficiency on well-defined course objectives.” (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006). (Note: Standards-based reporting involves reporting these course objectives rather than letter grades at the end of each grading/reporting period.)

The visual below compares traditional grading with standards-based grading practices. (more…)

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ReInventing Schools at the District Level

November 10, 2014 by
Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.00.58 AM

Bill Zima

In 2012, Maine established policy for schools to award proficiency-based diplomas starting in 2018. As the years passed, it became clear that some districts, including mine, needed more time to get all the pieces in place. In April of 2014, The Maine Department of Education agreed to allow extensions for districts as long as they met specific criteria demonstrating the district was moving forward. There were six options ranging from no extension to taking a full three years.

My district chose option five, which required us to partner with a coach to help with the transition to a learner-centered, proficiency-based system. We decided to partner with the ReInventing Schools Coalition. This decision was made based on their affiliation with Marzano Research Labs and their proven record of supporting schools through the transition. Also, the middle school, of which I am the principal, already had a working relationship with them. We have found them to be tireless in their commitment to support us through the process of meeting our vision.

With our limited funds, the decision was made to begin the district work with leadership teams from each of the schools in the district. The groups met for a single day over the summer to talk about the ReInventing Schools framework. While it was nice to only spend a single day on this topic, I would not recommend it as the norm for the introduction. Since the ReInventing Schools Coalition is well-known in Maine, having worked with many school districts in the past six years, their framework is familiar to many educators. Add to this the catalyst of the proficiency-based diploma law, and it gave our coach the ability to move quickly, leaving only a few of the school leaders needing support in the days that followed. (more…)

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