Author: Chris Sturgis

Credibility Starts with Consistency with Common Assessments

May 26, 2015 by

Screenshot 2015-05-26 08.55.53The more I think about what the key elements of a competency system might be — those elements that if they working perfectly allow the system to weaken or be corrupted — the more I focus on ensuring that the system is calibrated or tuned. When a district or school puts that a student is proficient on the transcript then we need to have absolute trust that their is an agreement on what that means and that the next school or college will have a pretty darn close understanding of proficiency as well. Basically, we want our system to be credible and trusthworthy. That’s what accountability is all about.

And that’s why we need to do everything we can to build in this capacity into our districts and schools as fast as we can.  Our traditional system doesn’t expect this nor does it have the mechanisms in place to make it happen. That’s why we’ve had to turn to NAEP and state accountability assessments to tell us how we are doing helping our kids to learn.

And that’s why the webinar Ensuring Consistency When Using Common Assessments sponsored by Great Schools Partnership is so important. It’s tommorow, Wednesday May 27 from 3-4 EST.

Here’s the description: Ensuring consistency when using common assessments requires collaboration with colleagues to calibrate scoring, refine assessment tasks and scoring criteria, and collectively reflect on the results. This process ensures that there is a constant practice of evaluation and refining scoring criteria and assessment tasks and the instruction practices leading up to this. Ultimately, having more trustworthy judgments enables teachers to better align instructional strategies to student needs, provide more consistent feedback to students, and create opportunities  for deeper learning. In this webinar, we will present protocols and processes to create a system that supports teachers in the process of making consistent judgments on the quality of students’ work.

Presenters
Jon Ingram, Senior Associate, Great Schools Partnership
David Ruff, Executive Director, Great Schools Partnership
Becky Wilusz, Senior Associate, Great Schools Partnership

FYI — it’s free but registration is limited.

Summertime Learning Opportunities

May 19, 2015 by

SummerAre you starting to think about how you might use your summer? Vacation? Summer camps for your kids? Creating a summertime learning plan with a list of books to read?

There are also four professional development opportunities available that might help you think more deeply about how you can transform your district and school to a competency-based model.

  • Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire is offering a Competency Education Design Studio on July 22 -24. This is a new learning opportunity that’s never been offered before. The facilitators include Rose Colby, Competency Education Specialist; Dr. Brian Blake, Superintendent of Schools; and Ellen Hume-Howard, Director of Curriculum. You’ll hear from district staff including Ann Hadwen, Donna Johnson, Sandy Rutherford, Brian M. Stack, Michael Turmelle, Jonathan Vander Els, and Ann Rutherford. Mariane Gfroerer, Supervisor NH Performance Assessment, and Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner New Hampshire Department of Education will be there as well.  For more information, email Ellen Hume Howard at ehumehoward(at)sau17(dot)org.

If you go to one of these trainings, we’d love to hear about your three to five big takeaways! And if you know of other great summer learning opportunities, please let us know.

If I Were a Funder…Yubby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dibby Dum

May 14, 2015 by
Tevye

Zero Mostel as Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye, Wikipedia Commons

Everyone has ideas from time to time of what would be valuable to accelerate or improve the quality of implementation of competency-based education. But only a few folks are in a position to make the decisions about what efforts get funded. So the rest of us throw our arms around a bit like Tevye bemoaning what is really need in the field.

Once upon a time, I really was a funder focusing my energies on understanding trends and emerging issues, thinking as strategically as I could about what was going to be needed two to five years ahead and working to organize the funding with my colleagues. (When I’m not working on competency education, I still consult to foundations.) I’m occasionally asked by the CompetencyWorks funders to put on my “funder hat” and make suggestions for what would help the field of competency-based education, and I thought others might be interested in this topic.

This isn’t a full-fledged strategy based on a robust analytical process—just my best thinking to date. My high level analysis is that in general, CE is making steady advancements in K12 without any major conflict or issues arising. However, there are several areas of vulnerability that need to be addressed, including underdeveloped communication/messages; lack of evaluation, results, and an understanding of quality implementation; and challenges in transforming larger districts.

In considering opportunities and challenges, I used three different lenses:

1) What is needed to accelerate the expansion of competency education?

2) What type of infrastructure (policies and organizations) is needed to support it?

3) What is the capacity needed in the field that is in position to support the change process?

After you take a look at the ideas below, please share your thoughts on where you think the biggest challenges are facing us and what type of initiative would help us to overcome them. (more…)

Is Competency Education a Disruptive Innovation? The Answer is No

May 8, 2015 by

Disruptive InnovationOnce upon a time when Susan Patrick and I were just starting to understand the field of competency education, we described it as a disruptive innovation…until Michael Horn explained why it wasn’t.

Competency education can be considered an innovation, just not a disruptive one. It may be reaching underserved consumers, but not necessarily with a different value proposition. Competency education isn’t a new product, technology, or service that is introducing new values and benefits to new sets of consumers. It just doesn’t meet the definitions of a disruptive innovation as developed by Clayton Christensen.

But if it isn’t a disruptive innovation, what is it?

I’m not done thinking about this, but wanted to share my thinking to date. The better we get at explaining what competency education is, the better off we will be as a field. (more…)

European Insights into Competency

May 6, 2015 by

European ConferenceI stumbled across a very helpful article Competency-based education: learning at a time of change in Proceedings of “European/national initiatives to foster competency-based teaching and learning” European Conference 2014. Although there are issues to be considered in translating our competencies to the European competences, this article summarizes a number of ideas that I think will be helpful. (See International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad for more background info.)

I’ve plucked a number of the sections below for you to look at:

  1. Attributes of competency-based learning (for the learner themselves)
  2. Attributes of competency-based teaching
  3. Considerations for writing competency-based objectives

Just keep in mind as you read this that the structure has everything linking back to the outcome — and we know that it in fact we need to keep students at the core.

1. What are the key attributes of competency-based learning?

  • Understand how one learns best (style)
  • Understand exactly what is expected outcome(s) of learning
  • Take responsibility for one’s learning
  • Motivated to learn – goal oriented
  • Ethical person and practitioner
  • Critical thinker
  • Self-assess learning and performance
  • Commitment to ongoing learning

(more…)

Check Out State and Local Policies at Great Schools Partnership

May 4, 2015 by

Great Schools PartnershipWhat an incredible resource on State and Local Policies the Great Schools Partnership has put together regarding competency education/proficiency-based policies!!!! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

They’ve organized state statutes regarding high school graduation requirements, state learning standards, proficiency-based learning, and multiple/personalized learning pathways for their member states of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. I’ve cut and pasted them for you here – but if you come looking for information in six months, go directly to their website to make sure you have the up-to-date information. You can find other really helpful resources there, as well. (And remember, proficiency-based education is K-12. When some people see the emphasis on high school, as is the case in these resources, they believe that it is only about older students. It’s not – its just that some states have either led with high school or with graduation requirements that put the emphasis on high school.)

Connecticut

High School Graduation Requirements
Chapter 170, Boards of Education, Sec. 10–221a. High School Graduation Requirements (more…)

High Schools May Be Competency-Based Without Knowing It?

April 25, 2015 by

StudentsDoes your high school offer Advanced Placement or IB tests? If so, you may be participating in a form of competency-based education in the higher education sector.

In his The Landscape of Competency-Based Education: Enrollments, Demographics and Affordability, Robert Kelchen includes AP and IB as a form of Prior Learning Assessment. Kelchen breaks down higher education competency-based education into two forms:

  1. Well-established prior learning assessments (PLA), which grant credits for content a student has previously mastered; and
  2. Newer competency-based coursework, where students progress toward a degree as they demonstrate mastery of new academic content.

I want to emphasize that these two forms apply to higher education. In K12, we are seeing the phrase competency education apply to everything from self-paced online curriculum to the full structural changes as advanced here at CompetencyWorks, which are designed to correct the low achievement and inequity of the traditional time-based system. We don’t think about giving credits to kindergartners who already know how to count to fifty when they enter school, instead focusing on where they are on a very long progression and making sure they are learning in their “zone” (as in, the zone of proximal development). (more…)

Everybody Learns: Communication Tool Kits

April 20, 2015 by
Everybody Learns

From the Common Ground Collaborative website

For any district or school leader starting to talk about the need move away from the traditional, standardized education system to a personalized system, you know that paying attention to communication is important.

First and foremost, you are going to have to be ready to engage in and facilitate conversation – it is through dialogue that people can shed their old assumptions and embrace the idea that we can do better by all of our students through personalization.

However, it helps to organize your thoughts and practice a bit before you go forth. No one should lead with why we need competency-based or proficiency-based systems – we want to lead with the story line of why this is good for kids. Then, as you begin to get deeper into the conversation, you’ll pull out the language to help people understand the limitations of a time-based, A-F system and the potential of one that actually has the structure in place to make sure students are making progress, not languishing in the back of the class.

Here are three resources that will be very helpful in preparing (and also a third piece that just inspired my language and vision after reading it):

And for inspiration, check out the Common Ground Ecosystem to see how folks in Brussels are putting these ideas together. Everybody Learns!

Pushing the Envelope with Student Centered Learning at VLACS

April 14, 2015 by
Steve Kossakoski

Steve Kossakoski

There are a handful of schools pushing past the concept of organizing learning based on credits to take advantage of the incredible flexibility that a framework of competencies of standards allows. Virtual Learning Academy Charter School  (VLACS) is one of these innovators, showing us a possible direction for a personalized education system. (Chugach School District and Bronx Arena are other credit-busters.)

I recently spoke with Steve Kossakoski, CEO of VLACS, to learn about how they are working to redefine what it means to learn and go to school in the twenty-first century.

Reflecting on Innovation and the Power of Student-Centered Learning

Kossakoski started off the conversation explaining that by embracing the tenets of student-centered learning (personalized; competency-based; anytime, anywhere; and learners exerting ownership over their learning), they have started to push the envelope of their own thinking.

He remarked, “In my opinion, competency-based learning alone will not significantly change the model or the outcomes of today’s school. There are a lot of schools converting to competency-based frameworks, but without significant structural change, it will be difficult for these schools to take advantage of the opportunities that a student-centered learning model offers. For example, some schools have created broad overarching competencies while curriculum and instruction still looks the same. Other schools are integrating competency-based approaches within the traditional curriculum while continuing to expect that all learners will master the same set of competencies within a 180-day academic year. I’m a bit concerned that schools will only tinker around the edges of possibility and end up reinventing the traditional model but with a new coat of paint.”

“As an online school, we have a great deal of freedom to innovate, so, as we designed our services based on the tenets of student-centered learning, we worked from the perspective of what’s possible when the limitations of a time and place-based system are removed. We realized that until you provide students with the opportunity to design their own learning pathways, they won’t really own their learning. Offering learners a choice of courses and projects provides kids with some ownership. But how much ownership is it, really?”

He explained that they began to examine the continuum from individualization to personalization. He explained the difference, “Schools tend to individualize by providing learners with a limited set of options. However, personalization requires engaging the learners in a conversation and asking, ‘What do you want to do? Where and how do you want to learn?’ Learners may want to learn in a traditional class, online, in the community, through self-study, or by participating in a project. We are trying to dig deeper into what it means to personalize learning and to extend the capability of our school to fully personalize education. We don’t want learning to be bound by the courses we offer.” (more…)

It’s Definitely Warming Up in New England

April 8, 2015 by

NESCCThere is still snow on the ground, but people were on fire at the New England Secondary Schools Coalition High Schools in Action annual gathering. The sessions were relatively quiet, but the hallways were buzzing:

  • It is really hard to put down the red pen and stay focused on the few standards that are the goal of the learning.
  • We were told we were preparing, preparing, preparing…and then suddenly we were there. We were performance-based.
  • We learned that trying to mix grading styles was making students crazy. They were always trying to figure out the algorithms used in the computerized grading system. I could barely get them to talk about the quality of their work and accept that applied learning isn’t something you can always do quickly.
  • One of the hardest things for some of my students to accept is that they are expected to actually work hard in a proficiency-based system. For some, the traditional system was really easy – especially if they excel in short-term memorization. It is a shocker that they are expected to actually show they can use all the information they have memorized. They realize they have gaps, and that is scary.
  • Some teachers are still having difficulty with organizing their classrooms in a proficiency-based structure. It’s not based on age or length of time teaching – there is something about the mindset, the ability to move beyond what you experienced growing up and what you were taught to do as a teacher, that allows teachers to make the adjustment more quickly or need more time. (more…)
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