Author: Chris Sturgis

Building a Body of Learning Evidence: English Language Development in Adams County School District 50

October 20, 2014 by
Alice Collins

Alice Collins

The following is based on an interview with Alice Collins, Director of English Language Development at Adams County School District 50, with a focus on their structures, approach, and insights for other schools, including a look at the challenges and opportunities.

Background

Building up a body of evidence of learning about your students is at the heart of Adams 50’s approach to English language development. Director of English Language Development Alice Collins explained, “Teachers have to understand where learners are in their language acquisition, their content skill development, and what they need. The only way to do this is draw together as much data as possible.”

As their schools underwent rapid and massive diversification, Adams 50 turned to competency education as they realized that the traditional approach to education wasn’t going to work. The district is now 18 percent White, with Hispanic, African American, and Native American students making up 82 percent of the student body. It has the second highest percentage of English Learners in the state, with 45 percent of learners in the ELD program (and they aren’t a very big district, with 10,000 students). Spanish is the dominant other language with an additional thirty-one other languages represented in the district.

Adams 50 is an English immersion district with one elementary school offering a transitional Spanish-English bilingual track. Collins explained, “In competency education, teachers are constantly building their skills. Given the higher percentage of our learners in the ELD program, teachers are building their skills to provide quality instruction to students as they acquire English and master content standards. It doesn’t happen overnight – its part of our constant attention to building our capacity to meet the needs of our learners.” It’s starting to pay off – ELD elementary school learners are improving their reading skills, as shown on the TCAP assessments.

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Thank Goodness, A New Accountability Paradigm is Before Us

October 14, 2014 by
Thomas Saenz

Thomas Saenz

If you haven’t had the chance yet, now is a good time to dive into Accountability for College and Career Readiness: Developing a New Paradigm, which explains a new approach to accountability (and my bet is that it will be embraced as the replacement to the NCLB approach). You can also listen in on a briefing and webinar on Thursday, October 16th sponsored by the Alliance for Excellent Education. (The briefing will also be highlighting the forthcoming report, Next Generation Accountability Systems: An Overview of Current State Policies and Practices, authored jointly by the Center for American Progress and the Council of Chief State School Officers).

The briefing will be live streamed from 12-2 ET and the webinar from 3-4 ET.

The briefing includes Stephen Bowen, Strategic Initiative Director for Innovation, Council of Chief State School Officers (and a CompetencyWorks advisor); 
S. Dallas Dance, PhD, Superintendent, Baltimore County Public Schools; Linda Darling-Hammond, EdD, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University and Faculty Director, Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE ); Lara Evangelista, Principal, Flushing International High School (New York); Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner of Education, New Hampshire Department of Education 
(and a CompetencyWorks advisor); Carmel Martin, Executive Vice President for Policy, Center for American Progress;
 Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
; and Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director, National Center for Innovation in Education.

The speakers at the webinar will include Linda Darling-Hammond, EdD; Lara Evangelista; Gene Wilhoit; and Charmaine Mercer, PhD, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, Alliance for Excellent Education.

 

Postcards from Abroad (#cworksgoesglobal)

October 13, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 12.46.36 PMToday, CompetencyWorks is releasing An International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad by Sara Frank Bristow and Susan Patrick. The webinar highlighting the findings of the paper is archived here.

The paper is loaded with insights that allowed me take a step back from our work and think more broadly about three powerful changes that are taking place all around the world. First, many countries are taking steps away from one-size fits all time-based structures (even countries that don’t have a Carnegie unit to contend with still operate rigid time-based batching processes) to personalization that recognizes that students learn differently and are at different stages in their learning. Second and an equally powerful shift is that we are focusing increasingly on the higher order skills rather than the lower levels of recall and comprehension. Third, there is greater understanding that schools must design around students holistically, recognizing that their well-being and social-emotional skills cannot be isolated from learning academic skills. (more…)

Fulton County Schools: A Big District Approach to Competency Education

October 9, 2014 by
Dr. Scott Muri

Dr. Scott Muri

I had the opportunity to talk last week with Dr. Scott Muri, Deputy Superintendent of Academics for Fulton County Schools (FCS) in Atlanta, Georgia. I knew that FCS was moving aggressively towards personalization, but I had never been quite sure how they saw competency education fitting into their strategy. (Although one definition of personalization includes competency-based progressions, in my opinion schools can be highly personalized without being competency-based: They can focus on completion rather than proficiency, they can pass students on with Cs and Ds, and they can personalize within age-based cohorts without opportunity to move beyond their grade level.)

When I asked Dr. Muri about their approach to competency education, he replied, “How can one  think about personalization without looking at competency education?  One is embedded in the other. If you don’t have a competency-based infrastructure, there is no way of knowing if your personalized approach is resulting in students learning.”

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Virgel Hammonds’ Six Insights into Leadership

October 8, 2014 by

virgelThis is the second in a two part series on RSU2 in Maine.  The first post is A Quick Update from RSU2 Maine

We all know that the magic ingredient to successfully bringing about any systemic reform is leadership. We know it, we talk about it, but what exact leadership style and strategies are needed?

I’ve listened to superintendents, district teams, principals, and teacher-leaders talk about the importance of leadership in converting schools to competency education. There seems to be something special about the type of leadership that is needed, but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it until I spoke with Virgel Hammonds, superintendent of RSU2 in Maine.

Hammonds issued a caveat at the beginning of our conversation on leadership, reminding me that he considered himself a new superintendent and that he was still figuring out the role. He then laid out six insights about what is required of district leadership in proficiency-based systems that struck me as coming from the voice of experience.

1. No One Has All the Answers

Hammonds described the trap that captures educators as they ascend the career ladder. As authority increases, education leaders are positioned as the ones who have the answer. The trap is that having the final say can easily come to mean “the one who has the right answer.” Leaders can start to feel that they have to have the right answer, or worse, that they in fact do have the answer.

Hammonds explained that leaders have to move away from this thinking, “As districts and schools convert to proficiency-based learning, they are knocking down load-bearing walls. It’s impossible to have all the answers because any organizational change often has multiple consequences.” He said learning to be a superintendent in a proficiency-based district meant he had to let go of the pride of having all the answers. “No one person is going to do this all by themselves or be able to figure it all out entirely by themselves. Instead, we have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we take a position of trust and respect that can harness the collective intelligence needed to bring about transformative change?’”

2.  Make Decisions Around the Best Interest of Students

Hammonds said that he is often asked about the Lindsay story (he was a high school principal in that California district) or the RSU2 story, as if there is a step-by-step process that other districts can follow. “It’s not about one method. Every district and school has its own history and culture. They need to be able to tap into the assets of their communities and schools to develop the vision, guiding principles, and process that is right for them.” (more…)

Oct 14 3-4 ET: Webinar on International Practices that Inform Competency Education

by

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 8.08.57 AMOn Monday October 13th CompetencyWorks will release  An International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad by Sara Frank Bristow and Susan Patrick. It’s a great read about how international approaches to education can inform competency education. The authors draw from Finland, British Columbia (Canada), New Zealand and Scotland as well as highlighting schools in other countries.  I found it incredibly helpful in thinking more carefully about what is possible.

We also have a webinar planned for Tuesday, October 14,  2014 from 3:00-4:00 PM Eastern. Sara and Susan will walk through their findings and discuss implications for our work here in the U.S. As always, we expect the chat room to have a lively conversation going on as well.

Register here for the webinar.

 

 

Quick Update from RSU2 Maine

October 7, 2014 by

rsu 2This is a two-part series on RSU2. Come back tomorrow for a conversation with Virgel Hammonds on leadership.

I crossed paths with Virgel Hammonds, Superintendent of RSU2 in Maine, on a Digital Promise  call about competency education. We hadn’t had a chance to talk for a while, so we scheduled another quick call. I asked Virgel about what they had been learning and how they had been enhancing their proficiency-based approach (Maine uses the term proficiency-based learning). Some of the changes are evident on their website, such as replacing the term “school” with “learning community.” Knowing the strength of the team at RSU2, I knew that there would be valuable insights or new approaches that we could all learn from.

Hammonds reminded me of the elements that they have implemented throughout their school district:

  •  Shared vision emphasizing student voice and choice, development of strong habits of learning, variation in how students learn, and development of higher-level skills.
  • Transparent measurement topics and learning targets. (Measurement topics are the standards for learning.  They are the curriculum frameworks that guide teachers in their instruction and lesson planning. They are the standards that all students must achieve.)
  • Shared understanding of proficiency within school and across schools.
  • Information system (Educate) to support and provide transparency for tracking student progress and pace.

Three areas of insights and advancement are described below.

Aligning Instruction and Assessment to Higher Levels

Hammonds explained that a big aha! for educators at RSU2 over the past year was the importance of aligning instruction as well as assessment to the specific performance levels in the knowledge taxonomy.  RSU2 uses the Marzano taxonomy (Retrieval, Comprehension, Analysis, Knowledge Utilization, Metacognition, Self-system thinking). At RSU2, learning targets identify at which performance level students need to be able to show proficiency based on Marzano’s taxonomy and assessments are aligned accordingly. Over the past year, teachers had realized that their instruction was sometimes lower than the performance level, and they’ve been working to improve their instruction so it fully aligns with the learning targets. (more…)

What’s New in Competency Education in K12 and Higher Education (October 6)

October 6, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMComing up soon: CompetencyWorks is releasing a report A Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad with a webinar on October 14th  at 1 pm ET. Register here.

And here’s a peek at what’s new in competency education. Scroll down for information on higher education.

K12

  • Conferences
    • The New England Secondary School Consortium is calling for oroposals from NE schools to present at the 6th Annual High School Redesign in Action Conference, March 26-27, 2015. Proposals must involve the sharing of practices that are aligned with personalized learning and the NESSC’s Global Best Practices. If you’re interested in presenting at this year’s conference, visit our website for further details and guidelines. Proposals must be submitted by October 27, 2014.
  •  Papers

Preparing for Conversations with Parents

September 29, 2014 by

 

Sajan George

Sajan George

Sajan George, founder of Matchbook Learning, kicked off a rapid fire email exchange that produced some incredibly helpful ideas about how to tell parents for the first time that their child is on a different academic level than their grade level.

Sajan’s original quest was to learn from other education leaders who had successfully explained to parents the Two Big Whys:

  • Why is my child not at grade level?
  • Why are you starting them on an academic performance level rather than on grade level?

If the student is substantially behind, teachers will have to be ready to answer a third Why:

  • Why is my child’s target for growth an academic level or two rather than their grade level? (Listen between the lines, they are really asking, Will they ever catch up?) (more…)

What’s New in Competency Education (September 26)

September 26, 2014 by

You’ll find updates about competency education in K12 and in higher education below.Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AM

K12

  • Achieve has released a Student Assessment Inventory, a tool district leaders can use to take stock of their assessments and assessment strategy, and do so from a student perspective.
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