Author: Chris Sturgis

Who Should Determine What Proficiency Is?

April 22, 2014 by
idaho

map data (c) 2014 Google

Governor’s Task Force on Improving Education in Idaho has been considering mastery-based education (Connecticut also uses this term). No recommendations to the state legislature were forthcoming, because, according to the news story, “they haven’t settled how to measure ‘mastery,’ or even who will make that decision. Some urged local control, while others argued if Idaho is providing funding to these schools, the state should be entitled to set forth some expectations.”

Fascinating that they saw it as an either-or decision rather than something that they might be able to construct together. New Hampshire started out with an emphasis on local control in designing the competency frameworks, but superintendents and school boards soon realized that resources can be better used in ways other than recreating the wheel in each of their districts.  So the state department of education led a process of co-designing to create statewide competencies that capture the big ideas we want students to be able to achieve in math and English language arts. (more…)

Upcoming: Adams 50 Tells Their Story

April 21, 2014 by
dr. swanson

Adams 50 Superintendent Pamela Swanson

REL Central has organized a webinar Competency-Based Education Systems: One Colorado School District’s Experience at which leadership from Adams County School District 50, fondly known as Adams 50, will discuss their approach and lessons learned.

Dr. Oliver Grenham, Chief Academic Officer and Dr. Pamela Swanson, Superintendent will present the district’s instructional model for all learners (including instruction and assessment) and discuss particular concrete examples. The presenters will also discuss challenges and steps they have taken to address the challenges as they have strived to implement a competency-based system.

The webinar is May 14, 2014 from 1:00-3:00 pm MST. You can register here.

10 Principles of Proficiency-based Learning

April 18, 2014 by

simplifiedGreat Schools Partnership continues to produce great resources to support states and districts converting to competency education. They have drawn from what districts are doing in New England and have created Proficiency-based Learning Simplified resources. They are a good resource for states, districts and schools to start the conversation about the new policies and practices that need to be put in place. We know that we are on a journey, and its a creative one, so don’t be surprised if you find that you want to take these ideas further or that you come up with other ways to address the policy and practice elements. No matter what, these resources will save you time in getting started and structuring the conversations needed to build clarity and consensus.

Here’s GSP’s 10 principles of proficiency-based learning: (more…)

Light At the End of the Tunnel

April 14, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.26.36 PMAfter finishing a round of site visits in New Hampshire and Colorado I had come to the conclusion that it was the lack of innovation in the private sector that was the biggest barrier to competency education. Everywhere I went, educators complained about their Student Information Systems (SIS) as unable to accommodate personalized learning and pacing.

The best that the SIS vendors (Power School and Infinite Campus were the systems used by the schools I visited) could do was add standards into courses so that teachers could do limited standard-based grading.  However, there was no way to indicate learning gains if students were working on standards before or beyond the course. The most worrisome issue was that it was impossible to generate student learning profiles that showed progress along a learning progression.  The course-based rigidity of the SIS systems required schools to operate two information systems and teachers to enter data twice because of interoperability issues. In one district, the leadership said that the inability of their SIS provider to innovate around personalization had limited full conversion of their high school

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As much as lack of innovation can be a barrier, the reverse is also true. Innovative technology that really understands personalization is going to help us jump into the future.  Seriously, I can barely contain my excitement after seeing Empower, the upgraded version of Educate used by many of the proficiency-based districts around the country.  Empower enables two new capacities that are going to open the door to innovation and zoom in on learning: (more…)

District Transformation in Danville

by

danvilleI’m itching to go to Danville, Kentucky after listening to Superintendent Carmen Coleman on the webinar How Competency-Based Education is Transforming Assessment and Accountability Systems in School. She walked us through the process that Danville took towards a personalized, competency-based system (fyi — Kentucky uses the term performance-based).

School Board Leadership: The school board read The Global Achievement Gap, followed by school board and educator site visits to High Tech High and NYC’s iZone.  Their experience was “disturbing” as they saw that their own students weren’t being given the opportunity to do the same level of work – “even what we would have considered gap students were outperforming our AP students.” In addition to visiting schools, Danville had teacher exchanges where they brought teachers from other schools to Kentucky. (more…)

Don’t Miss These Webinars

April 10, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 9.16.23 AMThere are more and more webinars coming up on proficiency-based or competency-based learning. We list them on Upcoming Events to the right of our web page — but just in case you missed them here they are:

How Competency-Based Education is Transforming Assessment and Accountability Systems in Schools Thursday, April 10, 2014, 3:00-4:00 PM ET

The final webinar in iNACOL’s  CCSSO Innovation Lab Network Webinar Series will feature Carmen Coleman, Danville School District, Kentucky  and Erica Stofanak (one of our contributing authors) Curriculum Instruction & Assessment Coach, Rochester School District, New Hampshire who will discuss measures for tracking student progress and growth, the various formative and summative assessments systems that are now in place, measuring teacher effectiveness, and the variety of reports utilized by administrators and teachers to indicate progress towards common goals. Various assessment tools will be shared that can be modified and utilized in other schools and districts with a similar vision.

Understanding Grading in Competency-based Schools Thursday, April 24, 2014, 2:00-3:00 PM ET

In this CompetencyWorks webinar Abbie Forbus and Brett Grimm from Lindsay Unified School District in California, will share Lindsay’s grading practices.  Lindsay Unified, a Race to the Top winner, has a strong personalized, performance-based system and well-developed grading system that emphasizes providing feedback to learners. Forbus and Grimm will provide an overview of the values and educational philosophy that guides Lindsay’s grading policy.  Then going into more depth, they will present the structure, practices, and reporting mechanisms. During this webinar you will learn how their information management system enables teachers, students and families to monitor student learning and progress along their learning progression. The final segment of the webinar will offer a discussion on implementation challenges and emerging issues.

Proficiency- & Competency-based Learning: Emerging Research on Implementation and Outcomes. May 5 12:30 – 2 ET.

Sponsored by REL-NEI, this webinar will explore emerging research on proficiency-based learning and its implications for practice in states, districts, and schools.  Jennifer Steele at RAND Corporation and Erika Stump at the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation will present findings from their newly published studies.

Proficiency-Based Learning Simplified: Supporting Students with Disabilities May 21  3-4 ET

In this Great Schools Partnership webinar Angela Hardy, Senior Associate, Great Schools Partnership
Jon Ingram , Senior Associate, Great Schools Partnership, Shannon Shanning, Special Education Teacher, and Bruce M. Whittier Middle School, Poland, ME will  address the role of Individual Educations Plans in a proficiency-based system, including the development of appropriate modifications to ensure that students with disabilities achieve proficiency.

A Tale of Two States

April 9, 2014 by

taleoftwostates-mapI had a quick conversation with Sal Khan last month that really highlighted the importance of the questions, What do we think competency is? and How do we measure it?

The different ways we think about competency and what we want for our students is one of the underlying issues causing confusion in the field. It also has powerful implications for whether we are going to help students develop higher order/deeper learning skills.

If you think that competency education is completing a course of study on adaptive software (FYI – this doesn’t meet the field’s working definition) or getting a certain score on the SAT, you will make different design choices than if you think competency is being able to apply skills in new contexts.  Another way to think about this is using the knowledge taxonomies: If you think competency is at Level 2 Comprehension, the way you design your schools is really different than if you set it in general at Level 3 Analysis or Level 4 Knowledge Utilization. So if we are talking about proficiency-based diplomas and competency-based credits — How do we know when a student is competent?

This issue jumped out when I saw that New Mexico is implementing an Alternative Demonstration of Competency for students who can’t pass the high school exit exam. New Mexico is on a slow road (think snail) to personalized, blended, and competency education, so I was curious to know how the State was thinking about competency (click here for overview of policies).  Usually, I wouldn’t refer to exit exams within the realm of competency education because they have nothing to do with transparency of learning progressions, empowering students to own their own education, providing adequate supports and time, and making sure students reach proficiency each step of the way. My personal analysis is that high school graduation exit exams are policy hammers used by state government to get schools to do better by kids, but in fact, they knock kids down as they try to enter adulthood without a diploma.  In reading the details of the Alternative Demonstration of Competency, however, it sounded so much like Colorado’s new proficiency-based diploma policy and its emphasis on cut scores that I thought it best to highlight it here. Perhaps New Mexico is backing its way into competency education? (more…)

Gateways, Not Grades

April 2, 2014 by

This is the second of a two-part series on Making Community Connections Charter School. Click here for Part 1.

 In our traditional system, students progress in age-based cohorts, with most students progressing regardless of what they know and somej curve being retained to repeat a year.  Competency education expects students to get the support they need so that they are proficient, offering flexibility as needed, such as allowing students to continue to focus on gaps or areas where they are not yet proficient (i.e. competency recovery) in the summer or the coming school year.  The challenge for the school is to keep students on track AND provide flexibility to ensure they become proficient, which means rapid response when students struggle and more intensive interventions as needed.

Making Community Connections Charter School (MC2) has a different understanding of what it means to be on track. It’s not just an arrow, angling up at 45 degrees. It’s the J curve, which predicts that as students become more mature, with the habits to be successful learners, they will take off and learn on a much steeper trajectory. Under this theory of learning, how does MC2 make sure students are on track and progressing?  (more…)

Igniting Learning at the Making Community Connections Charter School

April 1, 2014 by

This is the first of a two-part series about Making Community Connections Charter School. Click here for Part 2.

 

“As a learner, I grew in the way a fire would if you sprayed gasoline on it.” – From a student’s graduation portfoliomc2

That’s what Making Community Connections Charter School (MC2) is all about –creating dynamic learners. At MC2, serving grades 7-12 in Manchester, New Hampshire, it feels like they wiped the slate clean of all the traditional ideas of what makes a school and started to design the school from scratch.  It’s deeply student-centered in its design and operations.  Its theory of change is built upon a deep understanding and appreciation of adolescent development, motivation, and learning sciences. MC2 is a model that will work for any student. At its center, it is designed around the kids who are educationally challenged (about 35% of MC2 students are classified as having special education needs), have already had a tough time in life by age 14, who have felt betrayed by the adults in their lives, and are drawing from their own reservoirs of stubborn hope that things can get better.

This case study on MC2 is broken into two parts. The first is on the design principles and the theory of action driving the school. The second is on how students progress and the implications for teachers. (more…)

Next Stop, Level 4

March 24, 2014 by

elevator buttonsDepending on which knowledge taxonomy you use, the highest level with the deepest learning is either Level 4 or Level 6. As we think about equity in a personalized, competency-based world, how do we ensure that all students – even those who entered school at an earlier point on the learning progression than their peers and are on a steeper trajectory – have the chance to deeply engage in learning? How do we make sure that students who want extra challenges but want to stay with their peers can continue to grow without advancing to the next level of studies?

The granularity of standards may be too fine to have students trying to do Level 4 for each one. Learning progressions organized around anchor (power) standards and essential understandings will lend themselves more easily to knowledge utilization. Still, we know that incorporating projects, designed by teachers, students or together, takes time, planning, resources and flexibility. So how are schools managing to create Level 4 opportunities and ensuring that all students have a chance to dive deep into their learning?

Schools are using a variety of techniques: (more…)

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