Category: School Models

Why We Use Digital Badges at Del Lago Academy

May 3, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on March 23, 2017.

Del Lago Academy in Escondido, California, is a public high school of about 800 students focused on Applied Sciences. Educators here really want students not only to have desirable skills and knowledge for potential employers but to do meaningful work in school that feels relevant and connects to their lives now.

In order to ensure we’re meeting these objectives, we realized we needed a way to assess what students were doing throughout the scientific process and not just by observing the final projects they turn in. Thus our digital badging system, Competency X, was born.

Digital badges fill in the gaps for how we describe what scholars know and can do in the real world. Traditionally, most scholars only have a transcript of coursework to represent what they can do. Digital badges unbundle the competencies within both courses and workforce experiences to help fill in the gaps of larger credentials (e.g., degrees and certifications). This allows them to be more precise about what a learner is capable of accomplishing. (more…)

Juarez Community Academy: When Big Schools Become Competency-Based

April 25, 2017 by

Principal Juan Carlos Ocón

This is the seventh post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

There are always exceptions, and Benito Juarez Community Academy (Juarez) in Chicago is one of them. At CompetencyWorks, we tend to advise against using grading as the entry point into competency-based education. It can create confusion and anxiety, especially in high schools, before the full competency-based infrastructure has been put into place. Yet Juarez successfully moved to standards-based grading, having used the practice for the last seven years, and is now ready to move to a fuller competency-based model. Actually, I think they have already taken the substantial steps to restructure their school as competency-based.

When Juan Carlos Ocón became principal, Juarez had been on the list of the forty worst schools in Illinois. In 2010, it jumped off that list. In 2008-2009, principal Ocon and his team began a deliberate and strategic shift from a content-based curriculum to a standards-based curriculum. This was a necessary shift that allowed the school to focus on what students should know and be able to do. In the spring and summer of 2010, Juarez adopted the College Readiness Standards. In 2011, Juarez continued to develop a schoolwide shift from what teachers teach to what students learn. Ocón explained, “After analysis and research on instructional and grading models, we needed to shift our focus from what teachers teach to what students learn. That is how we were going to improve rigor in the classroom. Benchmarking, therefore, is a system of instruction that is focused on student assessment and skills mastery.

At Juarez, we had a lengthy conversation with about fifteen teachers and administrators. I apologize, as I was unable to put everyone’s names with what they said as I normally try to do. Next time I visit Juarez, I’ll do better so that readers can get to know the leaders, administrators, and teachers there.

Background

Serving 1,600 mostly Hispanic students, Juarez is a neighborhood school offering an IB program and 5 CTE programs. There is a strong college counseling program that includes resources for DREAMers. In 2008, they began to introduce standards-based grading (SBG) with school-wide implementation in 2010.

They are now in a process of preparing for the transition to competency-based education or what they referred to as “resetting.” Principal Juan Carlos Ocón explained, “Moving to competency-based education is forcing us to revisit our core values.” The leadership team, including teacher leaders, organized a retreat with Camille Farrington and members of the UC Consortium on School Research to clarify their philosophy about education and equity.

Juarez is part of the high schools organizing the pilot under the state’s Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program. (See CBE in Chicago for more information.) (more…)

Servant to Two Masters: Balancing Skills and Content at Lindblom

April 20, 2017 by

This is the sixth post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

I met with several teachers at Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy (Lindblom) to discuss their experience in PBL. Three years into implementation, they estimate that about 90 percent of the teachers believe in the principles of PBL and about 50 percent have implemented strategies to match those principles.

Changing Practice

Casey Fuess, high school choir and teacher representative on the local school council, said, “Without clear learning objectives, teacherspurposefully or not—focus on engaging students for the sake of order and discipline. Instead, PBL leads teachers to plan the instructional environment to meet specific learning goals. PBL pushes teachers to think about how to intrinsically engage students with relevant material and the opportunity to see themselves getting better over time. Our students know that success is possible. PBL shifts teachers practices – we are always asking, ‘What do you want students to know, where is each student in their learning, and how can we create engaging projects that will help them get to the next step?’”

Nell Kemp, biology and biotech, explained, “Teachers need to have confidence in their practice and in themselves as learners. PBL can be difficult if teachers haven’t embraced the philosophy or don’t have a love of their content.” In hindsight, Kemp wished she had been able to take a full year to think about what proficiency-based learning looks like in the classroom.  

Supporting New Teachers

Everyone agreed that new teachers need support on classroom management – no matter what kind of classroom management. Schools need to build in support for teachers to use the classroom management practices designed around student agency and personalization. Molly Myers, AP geography, explained that professional development from Doug Finn of Marzano Research Labs was instrumental in learning how to organize classroom structures and procedures to support greater agency and personalization. The teachers are also exploring how to have more metacognitive reflection so students can better manage their learning processes. Myers emphasized, “Just let the experienced teachers who love their content go. They will create wonderful learning opportunities for students.”

“Teachers need to be reflective,” added Myers. “We have to own our failure as educators. We have to use them as an opportunity for learning to improve our skills.” (more…)

Getting Results at Lindblom

April 18, 2017 by

This is the fifth post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy (Lindblom) is relatively new to proficiency-based learning. They are in the third year of implementation; year one was spent introducing new practices, which were then introduced school-wide in the second year. The structures they have put into place include vertically aligning a transparent set of academic standards, introducing habits of learning, developing strong flex schedules, and implementing four-year looped advisories, universal revision policies, and standards-based grading. They are a school that is constantly trying to figure out what works best for students and is sustainable for teachers.

Getting Results

Lindblom is seeing results with the introduction of proficiency-based learning structures and practices. These results include higher on-track indicators, increased GPA, more scholarships being awarded, and an increase of selective college admissions. Scholarships have increased from $15 million to $55.5 million. The rate of students going to highly selective colleges increased from 15 to 30 percent, including two students going to West Point and one to Stanford. As Principal Wayne Bevis explained, “These are life-changing colleges for minority and low-income students.”

Lindblom Before & After PBL Implementation
Data Point Before PBL Today with PBL
Freshmen On-Track 83% 99.3%
Unweighted GPAs 2.4 3.0
Highly Selective Colleges Acceptance     17% 31%
Scholarships $15,000,000     $55,500,000


It’s important to understand the context of these results. A recent report from the 
University of Chicago looked at the question of whether selective schools benefit low-income kids. Their finding was that neighborhood schools were a better choice for highly skilled kids because they were able to generate higher GPAs that led to more selective colleges. Lindblom challenged that finding by putting into place proficiency-based learning structures that led to students building their skills and earning higher GPAs. (more…)

Personalizing Learning at West Belden

April 13, 2017 by

This is the fourth post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

After the visit to Lovett Elementary School, our tour (sponsored by LEAP) headed over to CICS West Belden (K-8), a Distinctive Schools campus, for a quick visit. Ninety-five percent of students are low-income and more than 90 percent are Hispanic.

West Belden was an early adopter of personalized learning in Chicago, and the school is quickly becoming a national exemplar in the space with about seventy-five tours per year. Using a personalized approach supported by blended learning, they’re seeing substantial growth results.

To jumpstart their journey to personalized learning, West Belden competed and was selected for LEAP Innovations’ Breakthrough Schools program, which provides design support, access to national experts and innovative school models, and grant funding to school teams as they implement personalized learning school-wide. West Belden turned to personalization for three reasons: stagnation of student growth, desire for increased student engagement, and teacher readiness. West Belden is organizing their school around co-teaching, multi-age learning environments. They have two teams for first through third graders and two teams for fourth and fifth graders. Kindergarten and middle school all operate with single grade levels (with multi-age electives for middle school). Their definition of personalized learning includes: (more…)

Loving Learning at Lovett Elementary

April 11, 2017 by

Dr. Haney from Chicago Public Education Fund

This is the third post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

During my visit to Chicago, I joined a tour hosted by LEAP to Lovett Elementary School. It was a group tour, so I didn’t have the opportunity to dig in as deeply as I do with other school visits. Lovett is starting with personalized learning as their entry point. They have some of the things one would expect to see in a competency-based school but not all.

These are just a few highlights:

Lovett Elementary School vibrates with energy. Dr. LeViis Haney, principal of Lovett, explained, “A few years back, we came up with the tagline, ‘Love it at Lovett.’ The problem was the kids didn’t really love it at Lovett. So we asked ourselves, ‘How can we transform the environment so that kids really would love learning?’”

At the time, the school was very traditional, with thirty students “jammed” into classrooms with one teacher. Many of our students come “from down the hill,” referring to the income levels of the community. Nearly all students are on Free or Reduced Lunch. Many of our parents didn’t do well in school themselves and their opinions of schools and teachers were informed by their own less-than-positive experiences.

Haney described their previous top-down, compliance based-culture: “Everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing. Teachers were teaching the curriculum and kids were listening and receiving knowledge. Students went from one worksheet or workbook to the next. The problem was that all the instruction was just one-way without consideration of students’ needs.” The results were manifold: a high percentage of disciplinary office referrals and high suspension rates; teachers were isolated and only felt responsibility for their classrooms; technology integration was almost nonexistent and didn’t come with teacher training; and there were low rates of parent satisfaction and high rates of student apathy. (more…)

Leap Innovations – Learning Exponentially for Advancing Potential

April 6, 2017 by

This is the second post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

Although only three years old, LEAP (Learning Exponentially for Advancing Potential) is already making a difference in the Chicago region and nationally. I had a difficult time finding LEAP Innovations in the old Chicago Merchandise Mart. Exiting the elevator, I followed the signs for the suite number. I found myself surrounded by very hip people half my age all dressed in black (although a few neon ties or scarves were to be seen), wandering around in intense conversations, eyes locked to their phones, or meandering dazedly toward the equally hip café in search of coffee. The receptionist informed me that I was, in fact, in the right place: LEAP is based within 1871, “the country’s largest tech incubator.” That explained it all.

The LEAP Framework

The most important thing to know about LEAP is its framework. It’s one of the best ones out there that can guide districts in understanding what a next generation model might look like. It’s powerfully written in that it focuses on the student experience.

The LEAP Learning Framework has four components:

  • Learner connected: Learning transcends location in relevant and valued ways, connected to families, communities, and networks
  • Learner focused: Understand each individual learner’s needs, strengths, interests, and approaches to learning
  • Learner demonstrated: Allow learners to progress at their own pace based on demonstrated competencies
  • Learner led: Enable learners to take ownership of their learning so that it can dynamically adjust to their skills, curiosity, and goals

You can listen in to CEO Phyllis Lockett and Chief of Staff Amy Huang talk about personalized learning on the Dell Foundation podcast. Chris Liang-Vergara, Chief of Learning Innovations, is leading the efforts to improve the framework. They are collecting feedback on the framework as we speak. A 2.0 version will be released soon.

Please Note: The third component (learner demonstrated) in LEAP’s framework focuses on flexible pacing. At CompetencyWorks, we don’t emphasize pacing. In fact, we believe that pace matters. We understand competency education to be a structure to replace the traditional structure. It is designed to make sure that students are successful. Providing students with more time really means providing them with more instructional support. 
(more…)

A Journey of Discovery at Broadway Elementary

March 30, 2017 by

Bingham with shared vision artifacts

This article is the fifteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

“When I haven’t done it myself, I call on Bil P.” That’s Scot Bingham, principal of Broadway Elementary in District 51, describing how tightly he works with the professional learning facilitator assigned to his school. Broadway Elementary is a small school with 240 students and seventeen certified staff members. The strength of this size is that decisions can be made together. The weakness is that it is very difficult to free up collaborative staff time. So Bingham seeks opportunities to support learning whenever the opportunity comes up.

As a demonstration school, Bingham and second grade teacher Shannon Morlan were part of the third wave of visitors to Lindsay Unified. (See Building Consensus for Change.) Bingham reflected on how the visit to Lindsay has influenced him, “Broadway Elementary is considered a good school, but I knew we could do better. After Lindsay, I understood how we could do it. What resonated with the teachers during the visit was that students are highly engaged in a performance-based learning school. We didn’t see students sitting in class not understanding, or bored because they already understood.” One hundred percent of the staff at Broadway agreed to go forward and become a demonstration school.

In our conversation, Bingham generously reflected on what he has been learning in this intense year of strengthening culture and climate, introducing effective practices, and beginning to build transparency. Here are a few of the highlights. (more…)

R5 High School: Abuzz with Learning

March 23, 2017 by

This article is the thirteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

One of the reasons I believe D51 is going to be successful in implementing performance-based learning is that they already have a 100 percent strategy in place, with four alternative schools designed to make sure that every student, even those who left school and want to re-enroll, have options. It means they are putting resources toward serving 100 percent of the students. Even more so, they have demonstrated that all learners are valuable by co-locating two of the alternative schools, Summit and R5, in a brand new building (many district-run alternative schools I’ve visited have been in portable classrooms, old buildings, and very dingy basements).

D51 has thought strategically about the mix of high school programming that is needed. In addition to the four comprehensive high schools, there is Summit (a transitional program for students who do best with more support and structure); Valley High School (a small school model); the Career Center; and R5, an early stage performance-based high school designed for students who need flexibility and opportunity to advance more quickly than traditional course-based schedules will allow. R5 High School, which is based on Respect, Responsibility, Relevancy, Readiness, and Relationships, is the only high school of the seven demonstration schools in District 51.

Observation and Inquiry: Is having strong, comprehensive multiple pathways to graduation that ensure students can take a “leave of absence” and return to school at a later date to complete their diploma an indicator that districts are committed to helping all students reach proficiency? Will those districts that have expanded alternative schools to be better able to reach out and, when needed, re-engage 100 percent of their students (as opposed to maintaining a one-way door out of school) be better positioned to implement strong, continuous improvement efforts? Should we create formal leave of absence policies so that there are triggers about what this will mean regarding when students might graduate?

(more…)

Performance-Based Learning in a Dual Immersion School

March 20, 2017 by

DIA1This article is the twelfth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

The Dual Immersion Academy (DIA) is not one of D51’s performance-based learning demonstration schools – it’s one of the schools that is going forward and building the effective practices because it simply can’t wait. Bil Pfaffendorf, a professional learning facilitator, and I made a quick stop to learn about how the efforts in building the effective practices were going. I am so glad I did, as I realized that the deep conversations about teaching and learning are rippling throughout the district – not just in the demonstration schools.

Principal Monica Heptner outlined the structure of the school: Of the 285 students K-5 that DIA serves, approximately 50 percent are English Language Learners and the other half are there to learn Spanish. Language is an intentional set of skills developed at DIA, with students building their skills in both languages. There are two language progressions, and students are tracked on both. Students come to school with different levels of familiarity with each of the languages. Students receive literacy in both languages, with math and reading in English and science and social sciences in Spanish.

Heptner provided examples of their progress in incorporating the effective practices, some of which had been previously used in the school to some degree: (more…)

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