Author: Chris Sturgis

Continuous Improvement: Addressing the Needs of Struggling Students

January 17, 2017 by

foursquareThis is the twenty-sixth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

After the first few years of transition, districts begin to have the bandwidth to look more deeply at where students are not advancing or are at a lower level academically than their age-based grade. Although not necessarily done in a linear fashion, there are three ways that districts and schools begin to respond to struggling students. First, they create strategies and direct more resources to struggling students. This often opens a conversation about how to meet students where they are so they build their pre-requisite skills rather than always depending on scaffolding that makes curriculum accessible but often leaves students in the same situation – taking on higher level courses without a strong foundation. (For more on this topic see Meeting Students Where They Are: Academic Domains and The Accountability Paradox.) Second, they begin to explore more deeply how habits of learning impact student achievement, building out their capacity to nurture students. Third, they seek out ways to improve instruction overall so that more teachers within the school have the disciplinary knowledge to help students advance.

At Sanborn Regional High School, the Freshmen Learning Communities are designed to help ninth graders build the skills they need for success and identify where students need additional support. They are finding that the conversations about students with special education needs are more focused on learning and progress than behaviors. The understanding of standards, differentiated instruction, and accommodations for assessments has become much more clear and intentional.

Pittsfield Middle and High School (PMHS) is exploring different ways to respond to the needs of students who are struggling or enter school more than one year behind in grade level. They’ve developed a strong intervention system, with an emphasis on reaching students in middle school. They have reading and math specialists and are providing double doses of reading and math. They also are reaching into elementary school with a special education teacher at every grade level, working to help students learn foundational skills. Still they aren’t seeing the results that they would like so they are continuing to explore what else they can do to ensure students are successfully learning. (more…)

Continuous Improvement: Improving Performance and Personalization through Powerful Data

January 16, 2017 by

dataThis is the twenty-fifth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

Timely, relevant data plays an important role in the transition to student-centered learning. In the process of the transition to competency education, school leadership, educators, and students will want, or even demand, an integrated information system to take advantage of the increased data on student learning. The drive toward improved student performance will increase the demand for data to guide greater personalization. Teachers who recognize the value of tracking student progress based on standards will not be content with the modifications allowed in most traditional student information systems or learning management platforms organized around semesters and courses. They will want to be able to monitor, support, and credential learning on standards regardless of if students are working below or beyond their grade levels. This requires organizing standards in a learning continuum beyond the course structure and displaying data in a way that gives a picture of the student profile—an entire student’s body of work and mastery, not just grading assignments and assessments within a course.

An integrated learning system to support competency-based environments starts with student profiles and standards-based learning continuums. Indicators of a student’s progress on each standard across content areas are key. Many vendors are offering standards-based or competency-based grading, but don’t provide the student-centered approach to managing progress along a learning continuum in all the significant domains. The student information systems that support traditional time-based schools are organized by courses or classes— not students—thus it is very difficult to generate a picture of how students are advancing across disciplines and over the years.

In early stages of the transition, most districts collect data on how students are progressing within the academic disciplines. As the competency-based system is further implemented, tracking of data on student learning often expands to include habits of learning, the type of learning experiences to ensure students are having adequate opportunities to apply learning in real-world settings or projects, and a broader set of domains. Bob Crumley, Superintendent of Chugach School District, explains, “It’s important to send a message that the state testing indicators aren’t the end all, even if that’s the focus of state legislators. It sends a powerful message when the state only tests reading, writing, and math but not social studies or employability skills. As a district, we had to put into place a system that created a meaningful and balanced way to talk about student progress and our effectiveness in all areas. We believe all content areas are equally important. We dedicate staff development and resources on all ten content areas. We monitor progress and celebrate growth in all ten areas.” (more…)

How to Participate in the Equity Technical Advisory Group

January 12, 2017 by

equityAs announced yesterday, CompetencyWorks will be holding a National Summit on Competency-Based Education in June to convene 100 leaders representing a range of perspective, geography, expertise, and racial/ethnic diversity. Yet, across the country there are thousands of leaders and educators who have expertise in competency education who could make valuable contributions to these conversations. Thus, we have designed Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs for short) that will create a participatory process leading up to the Summit to draw on your knowledge and ideas.

The first TAG is coming up soon: We will be focusing on equity from January 30 – February 3, 2017. In the Equity TAG (E-TAG) we will be exploring the question:

How should we frame equity and the strategies to improve equity within a personalized, competency-based system?

Please note: We are asking that only people involved with district or school-wide competency education for at least one year participate in TAGs. These are not designed to support people just learning about competency education. (We suggest that those of you who are new to the topic start by reading the case studies of districts and schools.) You will have opportunity to learn from these conversations as the papers on each TAG prepared for the Summit will be made available in early June as well as the final reports post-Summit.

REGISTER for the Equity Technical Advisory Group here. (You can actually sign up for any of the TAGs. We ask for contact information and a sense of your expertise, and, at the bottom, you can sign up for the TAGs.) (more…)

Three Lessons Learned from New England States Transitioning to Competency-Based Education

January 11, 2017 by

This is the sixth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

david-prinstein-quoteWhat can we learn about state-level strategies from New England states transitioning to competency-based education? At this point in the evolution of competency education, there are a few solid lessons to be learned from the New England region. It is helpful to compare and contrast the different approaches of the states, looking for powerful insights into the considerations of different strategies and approaches, as this provides deeper understanding and can shine a light on what is the best path for a state. Some states, such as Connecticut, may want to create enabling policies, while others, like Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, will contemplate bolder, more comprehensive steps toward transformation.

However, context matters: considerations need to include public demand and level of public trust, what is already in place, the degree to which districts and schools have already embraced some or all of the elements of competency education, level of consensus among leadership, competing agenda items, and the structural and financial issues that shape schools, such as district consolidations, funding, and political turmoil.

Three Important Lessons Learned

  1. Educators turn to competency-based education because it makes sense regardless of the state policy. Given the strong state leadership in establishing comprehensive competency-based policy in most of the New England states, it would be easy to think that state policy is always the first step in making the transition to competency-based education. However, there are innovators and schools considering competency-based education in Massachusetts with little encouragement from state leaders. In Maine, one of the original sources of early innovation were the districts that formed the Maine Collaborative for Customized Learning.
  2. Policy is important, but not sufficient. Establishing high-leverage policy such as proficiency-based diplomas or credits will direct districts toward competency education. However, it doesn’t mean they will move quickly to implementation or that they will implement it effectively. Creating innovation space doesn’t necessarily produce a groundswell of innovators. Statewide change requires a combination of innovation space, support, networks, and political coverage. Maine provided upfront training to a “coalition of the willing” before passing a policy that created proficiency-based diplomas. Vermont and New Hampshire have extensive support strategies, although they are very different in design. Most importantly, community engagement strategies need to be deployed to provide opportunities for shaping the vision of the district and schools as well as to learn about competency-based education practices.
  3. Walk the talk by using similar guiding principles as those found in personalized, competency-based districts. It isn’t going to work for states to use traditional change and communication strategies if they want to move beyond the traditional system. For example, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to implement competency-based education through compliance strategies. Compliance assumes that the state knows exactly what should be done when, in fact, there are many ways to design personalized, competency-based models. The paradigm shift is too important to the process of transformation—educators and community members need the opportunity to learn, to reflect, and to decide that this is what they want to do. In addition, the large systemic changes have many implications to be considered. Co-design or collaborative processes that draw on multiple perspectives is a much stronger strategy.

(more…)

A Timeline of K-12 Competency-Based Education Across New England States

January 10, 2017 by

This is the fifth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

The New England region stands out for its early innovations, bold vision, and high percentage of districts becoming competency-based. Yet, a quick glance at the timeline shows that the earliest models popped up on both sides of the country – in Boston and Anchorage – around 1995. So why is it that competency-based education has taken hold in New England with such momentum?

timelineLet’s take a look at a few of the possibilities.

A Good Idea Creates Continuity

The New England states have not had continuity in leadership. Governors have changed, as have the Secretaries of Education and other key personnel. Complicated budget issues, volatile political dynamics, and redistricting have demanded attention. Yet competency education has continued to be a major priority. Why? Because there are enough people in influential positions who believe in it. Some have argued that because students in New England states are relatively high-achieving, there just isn’t any other way to generate improvement except to create a more personalized, flexible system. Moreover, many educators will vouch for it, affirming that once you understand what competency education can do, there is no going back. With strong local control, this makes it harder for state leadership to change course because the policy is perceived as beneficial to students and educators. (more…)

The Trouble with Prescriptive Policies When Paradigms are Shifting

January 9, 2017 by
david ruff

David Ruff

This is the fourth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England. For a more in-depth look at this issue, join David Ruff of Great Schools Partnership and Paul Leather of New Hampshire Department of Education on January 11th for a CompetencyWorks webinar to explore K-12 competency-based education policy and practice across five New England states. Register here.

How can a state bring about a much-needed change when the only way to ensure effective implementation is for educators to want to make the change?

This is what some might called the paradigm-changing policy paradox shared by the New England states and most states across our country. This tongue-twisting, profoundly complex paradox is created because of two dynamics. First, given that competency education requires a paradigm shift or a change in values and assumptions, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to implement effectively without educators embracing those values. When the policies and practices of competency education are placed upon the old values of fixed mindsets and compliant students, classrooms become overwhelmed by linearity and checklists as students tediously climb a ladder of standards. It is very difficult to mandate or require people to believe differently or do something they don’t think is valuable. There has to be an opportunity to engage, reflect, and learn. Second, the states in New England (similar to most states across the country) value local control and are resistant to policies or regulations that feel like a mandate. Thus, prescriptive policies are unlikely to engage districts, schools, and educators and may even produce substantial pushback.

ellen-hume-quoteGiven that it is impossible to mandate that people accept new values and beliefs, state policy to advance competency education will not immediately translate to transformation of the education system, regardless of how bold, intricate, or high-leverage it is. What are state policymakers to do? How can they drive toward a new education system while not actually mandating that any school change? If competency education is more easily and effectively implemented by educators who have come to their own conclusion that it is needed, how do you engage districts and schools through state policy to want to convert?

Thus, states are challenged to find ways to engage districts in the learning that it is needed to implement competency-based education. (By the way, this same paradox challenges districts, principals, and teachers as they seek to engage and motivate school leaders, other teachers, and students). (more…)

Five Drivers of Transformation in New England States

January 5, 2017 by

fiveThis is the third post in the series on Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

Competency education is advancing in New England through a combination of shared vision and values, mutual respect and collaboration, and courageous leadership that is motivated by a sense of urgency to do better for students, communities, and the economy.

The following five concepts are the core ideas that are driving change in New England at the school, district, and state levels.

  1. Theory of Change Based on New Values

In most of the New England states, competency-based education is advancing with a new set of values that are the foundation of competency-based education as well as being used by principals, districts, and even state policymakers to catalyze the transformational process:

  • A growth mindset that deeply believes that with the right conditions, educators can learn the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are needed to help every student succeed and to teach within a personalized, competency-based system.
  • A strong culture of learning and supporting communities of learners, which eliminates the culture of “blaming and shaming.”
  • Transparency and mutual accountability that builds trust and respect, establishes continuous improvement, and increases responsiveness.
  • Autonomy and empowering strategies that engage others in problem-solving and co-creating new systems and practices.
  • Personalization that responds to the unique contexts and needs of districts, schools, and educators rather than one-size fits all policy, technical assistance, and professional development.

These values are used to shape classrooms and the school day, upgrade district operations, and redesign statewide policies and structures. They are also driving the leadership approaches and change process needed to transform schools.

  1. Coalitions of the Willing

Working independently, courageous district leadership might have been seen as marshalling unique efforts. However, local collaboratives and regional networks such as the New England Secondary School Consortium amplified the lessons learned, created political coverage, and created avenues for communication with state leadership as well as other stakeholders such as parents and college admissions officers. Thus, the effort in New England to date has been driven through a coalition of the willing.

  1. From Compliance to Support

State leadership in these three states has begun to reduce the reliance of the state education agencies on compliance. Instead, they are seeking to provide more support to help create the conditions necessary for transformation. This is an important step in creating a statewide culture of learning and organizational agility so that districts, schools, and educators can be more responsive to students’ needs. To do so requires that state education agency staff become substantially more sensitive to the context in which districts operate and their long-term strategies. (more…)

December CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

January 1, 2017 by

calendar-page-decHere are the highlights from December 2016 on CompetencyWorks. Happy reading. And let us know if you have questions you want us to delve into!

SITE VISITS AND CASE STUDIES

Implementing Competency-Based Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders

Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England

 

HIGHER EDUCATION

December 19: Making the Case for CBE Programs: Evaluation for Improvement in CBE Programs

What’s New in Competency-Based Higher Education? by Natalie Abel

(more…)

Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England

December 27, 2016 by

treesThis article begins the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England. On January 11th, CompetencyWorks is hosting a webinar to explore K-12 competency-based education policy and practice across five New England states: Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont (with a brief look at Massachusetts). Paul Leather of New Hampshire Department of Education and David Ruff of Great Schools Partnership will join Chris Sturgis in exploring lessons learned from New England.

Competency education is expanding across the country as a means to ensure that all students are mastering the skills and knowledge to be successful in college, careers, and civic life. In the New England region, competency education is developing and expanding at unprecedented rates: about one-third of districts in this region are planning or transitioning toward competency education. This series consolidates insights offered by the hundreds of policymakers and education leaders across the New England region who are leading this transformation and creating competency-based systems to better serve students.

This series begins by looking at why and how the New England region embraces competency education. It then turns to insights into the policy strategies being used across states and analyzes the impact of competency education on quality, equity, scaling, and sustainability. Throughout the series, we will add snapshots of the New England states.

Major Lessons Learned

There are three major lessons learned that need to be taken into consideration by anyone advancing competency education: (more…)

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