Author: Chris Sturgis

Momentum is Building in Colorado

July 30, 2014 by
Colorado flag

From wikipedia.com

Colorado took a big step last year by establishing state policy for a proficiency-based high school diploma. As the Colorado Education Initiative explained the policy, the new graduation guidelines “signal a move away from seat time and toward enabling students to advance based on mastery of Colorado Academic Standards; provide students with a menu of options to demonstrate mastery rather than a single exit exam; emphasize multiple pathways for students to engage in learning; and elevate the importance of next generation student outcomes.”

There are a lot of pieces starting to come together that suggest that Colorado may start catching up with the New England states:

  • State Leadership:  Colorado has formed a Competency-based Study Group to better understand the benefits and challenges of implementing competency education. The study group is being facilitated by Achieve. Members of the group have already visited Lindsay Unified School District in CA and will have a daylong seminar with state officials from Maine. It’s so important for state and district leaders to take the time to visit the competency-based districts and schools to help them understand the fundamental shifts of focusing on proficiency rather than time.
  • Expansion of Competency Education: In addition to Adams 50, one of the early innovators of competency education, Colorado Springs District 11 and Thompson School District are participating in an initiative to expand next generation learning, in partnership with the Colorado Department of Education and The Colorado Education Initiative  (CEI) and funded by Next Generation Learning Challenges. Each district will focus on two schools. Adams 50 has done an extraordinary job in elementary school and is getting results. They will focus on Westminster High School and Ranum Middle School as part of this effort. (See CW post about how high school transformation was constrained by lack of innovation on part of SIS provider.)
  • Intermediary Capacity: Intermediary organizations play a critical role in advancing new reforms, leadership development and the transfer of knowledge. Several support organizations based in CO have substantial capacity around competency education.  The Colorado Education Initiative (formerly CO Legacy Foundation) is now actively supporting competency education along with it’s other initiatives including health and wellness and STEM.  (Here is their description of competency education.) Colorado also is working with the Marzano Research Laboratory (MRL), which has incredible expertise around formative assessment, standards-based grading and a new effort on high reliability schools that includes competency education. MRL has recently acquired the Reinvent Schools Coalition, adding even more capacity. The Regional Education Lab – Central (run by MRL) also is building capacity around state policy issues to better serve its states — Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

If you know of other states that are building momentum, we’d love to hear the details. We want to make sure that we continue to support network building as more states convert to competency-based education systems.

 

Deadline for SXSW

July 23, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.16.28 AMHi all — Just a reminder to all of you who might be considering submitting a proposal to SXSW – the deadline is Friday.  It would be great to have some sessions on competency education from folks who understand it as a school-wide model (as compared to the more limited understanding of it as pacing flexibility that is available in blended learning). Or better yet, how to use self-pacing blended learning within a competency-based school!

To help you prepare a proposal:

I’ve never made it to SXSW before — and it is now on my schedule for March 9 -12, 2015.

What’s New in Competency Education? Sal Khan, Jeb Bush!

July 21, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 8.37.59 AMHere’s more news about competency education. Please notice we are starting to cover higher education a bit more as we know that many readers come to our website looking for information. Also, please know that if we include any information about products and services it is only to help you have a sense of what’s happening, not an endorsement of any kind.

Talking About Competency Education

  • As described in redefinED, Sal Khan spoke at the National Charter School Conference, highlighting what would would happen if we built a house in the same way we educate children.  He ended by saying, “There’s always been this tension when you have standards, when you have high-stakes exams and all that, where, gee, maybe the standards are good, but does it end up teaching to the test? Does it somehow end up taking creativity away from the classroom? The idea is that if teachers can feel good, if their students finish the mission and they’re getting reports on where all the students are, they don’t have to go into that mode, and it will hopefully liberate more class time to do more Socratic dialogue, to do more projects, to do more inquiry.”  (If you haven’t read The One World School House it’s a fun and easy read – just perfect for summertime reading lists)

Competency Education Included in Reports and Recommendations

  • Nellie Mae Education Foundation (the foundation that took the lead in establishing CompetencyWorks) has released a reference guide Putting Students at the Center that defines the four tenets of student-centered learning: personalized learning, anytime/anywhere learning, student-owned learning and competency-based learning. Competency education is described as: “Students move ahead based primarily on demonstrating key learning milestones along the pathto mastery of core competencies and bodies of knowledge (as defined in deeper learning). Tasks and learning units might be either individual or collective; and students have multiple means andopportunities to demonstrate mastery through performance-based and other assessments. Eachstudent is assured of the scaffolding and differentiated support needed to keep progressing at apace appropriate to reaching college and career and civic outcomes, even when unequal resourcesare required to achieve a more equitable result.
  • The Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet released a report Learner at the Center of a Networked World. Recommendation 1, Action Step B is Support pilots for new competency-based learning approaches that recognize knowledge, skills and competencies achieved in or outside of schools.”  In their post on the release of the report, Jeb Bush and Rosario Dawson write, “Students must have access to interoperable learning networks that allow them to earn credit for what they have learned regardless of where they learned it — whether from a museum, a library, an after-school program, a massive open online course (MOOC), or in the classroom. In these competency-based models of learning, what you know is more important than where you go. These credits should be recognized by schools and institutions of higher education as well.”
  • Southern Regional Education Board included Competency-based Learning in its 10 Critical Issues in Educational Technology. A word of caution — the way it is written it suggests that using technology will help you develop competency-based environments.  However, using technology doesn’t mean a school is competency-based.

Higher Education

  • Inside Higher Education reports that “The U.S. House education committee on Thursday advanced a package of legislation that would boost federal support of competency-based education, overhaul how cost information and other data is provided to prospective college students, and require more counseling for federal student loan borrowers.” H.R. 3136, Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act of 2014 “would reserve $1 million from funding for the Department of Education to authorize the Secretary to select up to 20 eligible entities to participate in demonstration projects related to competency-based education. Competency-based education focuses on measuring student achievement through an assessment of a student’s knowledge and skills rather than by the completion of clock or credit hours.”

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Five Reasons Competency Education Will Improve Equity

July 15, 2014 by
Chris Sturgis

Chris Sturgis

Why do we think that competency education is a better strategy to serve our lowest achieving students, including low-income students, minority students, English language learners, and those with special educational needs? Here are my top five reasons:

  1. Competency education is designed to identify and address gaps in knowledge and skills. We will always have students with gaps in knowledge, whether because of poverty-induced mobility, recent immigration, military transfers or health issues. When we identify and address gaps, students have a better chance at progressing.  As Paul Leather, NH’s Deputy Commissioner of Education, has pointed out, “We learn by connecting concepts and building expertise over time. If we do not learn a concept, new learning cannot be built on it.” (from Necessary for Success)
  2. Transparency and modularization is empowering and motivating. They are the ingredients for student ownership. Success begets success, as students see short-term gains and clearly marked next steps. Transparency also challenges bias and stereotypes that may contribute to lower achievement. (more…)

Find Out What’s New in Competency Education

July 14, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 5.46.42 AMHere are some of the recent highlights about competency education!

Upcoming

  • American Youth Policy Forum (one of CompetencyWorks founding partners) is holding a forum on District and State Considerations for Incorporating Expanded Learning into Competency-Based Systems on Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 1:00-2:15 PM ET. Speakers include Stephanie Krauss, Senior Fellow, Forum for Youth Investment, Kate Nielsen, Senior Policy Analyst, National Governors Association, and Michelle Un, Project Manager, Research & Data, Rhode Island After School Plus Alliance. You can register here.

Analysis and Reflections

Updates on Districts and States

  • Follow Sandburg Elementary School in Freeport Illinois as they convert to a personal mastery model. The first step was a “focus on student voice and choice since it is the foundation of personalized mastery. They would start with three concrete strategies – the code of collaboration, monitoring the code of collaboration, and parking lots. Kleindl decided that teachers could determine how far they wanted to take each of these strategies, but at a minimum they had to demonstrate a basic level of implementation.” Thanks to West Ed for sharing their story.
  • Portland Maine has updated high school graduation requirements including proficiency-based requirements, a capstone project and post-secondary plan. The chair of the Portland Task Force developing the graduation requirements, Kate Snyder, explains “There is that sort of flexibility so it’s not just about the magic four years, or the time in a seat,” said Snyder. “It’s really about, are you able to demonstrate that you’ve mastered a subject area, that you can demonstrate proficiency, and that we’re all satisfied that you’re ready to move on.” (more…)
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Can Competency Education Work in Urban Districts?

July 10, 2014 by
triangle

Designing for Autonomy

I’ve been hearing this question by foundations that are excited about competency education but are focused on investing in solutions for big districts in order to reach the most low-income students. (Interesting that Puerto Rico is the third largest school district and I don’t know of any foundations investing there.) “Urban” can be a code for students and families with brown and black skin that don’t have much in the way of financial assets. For those who need proof points that CBE works for “urban students”, the Barack Obama Charter School in Los Angeles is one. (Read the CompetencyWorks blog about it here.) I believe in this instance, however, the concern about competency education’s workability in urban districts is more about the size of the districts and the difficulty of introducing reforms.

My first advice to foundations that want to support big districts is to expand their boundaries. There has been a demographic shift over the past 20 years, with poverty slipping into inner ring suburbs. Adams 50 is an example of a suburban district at the edges of Denver that decided they had to do something different as they realized that the traditional system was in their way of responding to a changing student population. (Read the CompetencyWorks blog about it here.)  Foundations can take advantage of this “opportunity” by investing in the neighboring smaller districts that are trying to find responses to increasing poverty in their communities.  Not only will you create a proof point for the surrounding districts, you will also begin to build a cadre of educators that can easily train others or even take on leadership in the large districts. (more…)

Last Week’s News on Competency Education

July 3, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 5.46.08 PMHere are a few highlights about competency education from last week!

About K-12

  • The Washington Post interviewed Camille Farrington, author of Failing at School: “Instead of using units and seat time and accumulating credits, let them have real world experiences and then come back and show they have these competencies that they need.”
  • Andy Calkins, Deputy Director of Next Generation Learning Challenges, discusses the relationship between personalization, blended learning and competency education emphasizing degree of individualization and transformation in Moving Towards next Generation Learning.

About Higher Education

  • Western Governors University’s Teacher Prep, a competency-based program, is ranked as #1 Teacher Prep Program by U.S. News and World Repor
  • New England Board of Higher Education is hosting a meeting on October 20th on the Case for Competency-based Education: A New Age of Teaching and Learning. Speakers include: Alison Kadlec, Vice President, Director of Public Engagement Programs, PublicAgenda; Amy Laitinen, Deputy Director, New America Foundation; Mike Offerman, Consultant, President Emeritus, Capella University; Pamela Tate,President, Council of Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL); Barbara E. Brittingham,President,Commission on Institutions of Higher Education,New England Association of Schools and Colleges; Michael Milligan, Executive Director, Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology; Carol Geary Schneider,President, Association of American Colleges and Universities; Linda Schott, President,University of Maine Presque Isle; Sally M. Johnstone,Vice President for Academic Advancement,Western Governors University; Scott Kinney,President, Capella University; Kate Kazin, Chief Academic Officer, College for America at Southern New Hampshire University; Roxanne Gonzales, President,Granite State College; Becky Klein-Collins, Senior Director of Research and Policy Development, CAEL; Ed Klonoski, President,Charter Oak State College; Jay Box, Chancellor,Kentucky Community and Technical College System; Charla Long, Dean, College of Professional Studies,Lipscomb University

 Happy Fourth of July!

Performance-based Assessments as a Tool for Building Lifelong Learning Competencies

June 30, 2014 by

I’m sharing this article on Laconia High School that was originally published in the Center for Secondary School Reform Winter 2014 newsletter. Competency-based schools can learn a lot from schools that have used performance-based assessment as their entry point. This article caught my attention because of the strong integration of youth development — young people developing a strong sense of themselves within a context of their communities as well as an understanding of their own motivation.  I realized that this type of performance-based assessment can be a valuable tool in developing lifelong learning competencies (i.e. habits, college readiness skills or 21st century skills).

This article didn’t specifically raise the issue of racial or gender identity and how the interplay of motivation, behavior and choice might vary when students encounter institutional racism or sexism. I imagine if these performance-based assessments were implemented in Manchester instead of Laconia, the issue of how opportunity might vary based on race, gender and income would arise quickly in the discussion. Perhaps it did in Laconia as well?

 

Laconia High School’s Performance Based Assessments

Laconia High top 10 scholars.

Laconia High top 10 scholars.

Laconia High School is implementing Performance Based Assessments (PBAs) that tie content learning directly to students’ college and career aspirations. This is done using a vertical design that consistently integrates students’ voices and choices into the curriculum delivery each year throughout each student’s four-year educational career.  In this way, we are working to ensure students graduate from our educational community with the skills needed to move toward their chosen goals.

Laconia High School has been part of the CCSR i3 Network for four years. Our original direction involved the development and implementation of Extended Learning Opportunities. The philosophy behind ELOs seemed to work well for those students who had the discipline to stick with the work they designed and the structured due dates that came with it. In the last two years, we have worked to integrate that philosophy into our overall four-year program so that students developed the desire to “own” their education. This has resulted in greater engagement for our students. Students have an increased awareness of the relevance of what they are learning, they are more aware of how their education can be connected to the future they want to have, and they are regularly asked to assess how their current performance is moving them toward or away from the goals they have set.

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Learners Rule

June 25, 2014 by

cover, learners ruleI took a few hours out from gardening yesterday to dive into Learners Rule by Bill Zima, principal at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham, Maine. Described as a work of tactical fiction, it’s a book about the power of personalized, proficiency-based systems (Bill is from Maine, so we’ll use the term proficiency-based in this blog).  What’s fascinating is that the term proficiency-based learning is not mentioned once in this book. It’s about learning and nurturing learners.

For educators who want to know what proficiency-based learning looks like and how to do it, I don’t think there is any better resource available than Learners Rule.  It is also probably the best resource we have right now available to help teachers identify the shift in thinking and practice that happens when we move from batch to personalized learning. There are even pictures of the different tools at the end.

I finished the book book hungry for more, as it doesn’t touch on the school-wide changes that have to happen, nor on the way teachers begin to collaborate around students and their learning. We’ll just have to be patient – hopefully, Bill will write a sequel.

Below are three connections and insights that popped out for me (and there were many more) while reading Learners Rule. (more…)

What Do We Mean by Completion?

June 24, 2014 by

cover of A framework for selecting quality course providersI always save an hour or two on Friday afternoons to read about things I don’t know much about. It’s a practice I started years ago as program director at Greater Boston Rehabilitation Services as I needed to be comfortable talking about issues through a broad spectrum of perspectives. There was always more to be learned. In fact, it was where I was first came upon the work of Peter Senghe and the concept of personal mastery.

Increasingly, I find myself reading anything and everything about education through the lens of competency education. What would be the implications if systems were competency-based? How might we think about these issues if we consistently placed  student agency, student learning, pace and progress front and center to all decisions?

Last week I dived into A Framework for Selecting Quality Course Providers at Competitive Prices from Digital Learning Now. State contracting for online courses is a topic I know nothing about but care about deeply, as it is imperative that students in rural communities, alternative schools or any small school have access to a much wider set of courses,  especially where there is a dearth of teachers (Advanced Placement physics, for example). It is also going to be an essential capacity if schools are going to lift the ceiling and let kids fly beyond their grade level.

As the paper was so accessible, the competency education lens flipped on immediately as I read about how states can structure a mix of base pay and incentive pay based upon completion. Completion? How exactly are states defining completion? In a competency-based state or district, completion with a C or D, i.e. with gaps in knowledge, isn’t acceptable. In competency education, completion equals proficiency. Will this mean that states will create statewide understanding of what completion means in terms of proficiency at a specific depth of knowledge in order to clarify contracts with online providers? (See the discussion in Idaho about whether states or districts should be determining what mastery is.)  This could be an important state level function that is done in partnership with districts so that a shared understanding of proficiency/completion is created. (more…)

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