Category: Reflection

Competency Education Can Address Readiness Gaps—But Not Alone

December 19, 2014 by
Equity in Competency Education

Equity in Competency Education: Realizing the Potential, Overcoming the Obstacles

This post originally appeared at Jobs for the Future on December 4, 2014.

My youngest brother’s senior year of high school—in a public school in New Jersey—was also my first year running a competency-based high school for over-age and under-credited youth in St. Louis. It is hard to describe just how different his experience was compared to my students’.

My brother attended one of the best public high schools in a state known for its high marks in public education and student achievement. In his final year of high school, he took a handful of Advanced Placement courses, served as student body president, played drums in the school band, wrestled, and still found time to work at the local pizza shop and connect with family and friends. He was accepted into Harvard University and decided to go.

By contrast, most of my students came from schools known as “dropout factories.” These students had significant academic catching-up to do. We did not have demand for AP courses, nor did we have time for robust extracurricular activities.

The starting point of my brother’s and my students’ senior years paints a stark picture of deep and persistent inequities that many young people in under-resourced communities face. In my brother’s case, his age and stage of learning matched. My students, all of whom had transcripts that said they were juniors and seniors, rarely had the full scope of academic, social and emotional skills they needed.

I was reminded of these glaring oppositions when I read Jobs for the Future’s Equity in Education: Realizing the Potential, Overcoming the Obstacles, part of a competency-based education research series produced by its Students at the Center initiative. (more…)

The Courage to Confront Equity Issues in Competency Education

December 17, 2014 by
EPIC Schools NY

From the EPIC Schools NYC Website

Innovators and early adapters of competency education want to do right by kids. The vision of personalized education is that every student will be able to engage in meaningful and highly engaging learning experiences – with the right mix of instructional supports when they need it – so that everyone is successful. Failure is not an option; it’s just part of the learning process.

However, my stomach turns when I hear these very same incredible education leaders dismiss equity because “every student is getting what they need.” In the same ways the police and criminal justice systems have betrayed African-Americans for decades, so too have our schools betrayed low-income communities, African-American communities, Hispanic communities and Native American communities. People may not be in the streets because of their schools, but the distrust is there.

So here are five equity issues I think we are going to need to tackle. They aren’t new or created by competency education. They just get raised in competency education because of the transparency system and our need to constantly nurture respect and trust so that educators can partners with students, families, and communities to resolve issues as they develop.

Keeping Students in School: Policies regarding the graduation crisis have improved greatly over the past decade. Uniform ways of measuring graduation and dropout rates are helping us to be more honest. There have been investments in credit recovery to try and find a way to improve the probability of kids who get off to a rough start in high school still reaching graduation. As a result, graduation rates are increasing…except when they aren’t. Our African-American students, specifically young men, and Native American/Alaskan Native students aren’t seeing much of an increase. Students in ELL and special education hover around 61 percent.

There have been efforts to re-engage students into school (some call it multiple pathways to graduation; some refer to it as serving over-age, undercredited students; others use the terms re-engagement or recuperation). No matter what you call it, these are all efforts designed to help students get back into school and stay there. Competency education must take into account the structures needed to make sure students can climb back on board the college/career track, picking up where they left off.

The Christensen Institute highlights areas of non-consumption as a place to derive the benefits of disruptive innovation. Indeed, online learning can be beneficial, but only in the context of high-quality blended learning that draws on the best of face-to-face instruction for older youth who may have experienced substantial challenges and trauma in their lives. Too many districts are focusing solely on online credit recovery when they should be developing schools such Apex, Schools for the Future, Our Piece of the Pie, and Bronx Arena.

Addressing Inequity in Educational/Social Capital: How much of a child’s learning takes place in school compared to that of their community and family? What type of learning is happening in families and communities, and how does it impact students’ abilities to succeed in school? (more…)

Tackling Work Study Practices in a Competency-Based Educational System

December 9, 2014 by
Sun

Responsive Classroom

Last year, teams of teachers within our district, the Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire, became deeply involved in building Quality Performance Assessments. These assessments are designed to truly assess a student’s competency, or transfer of learning. Our teachers have worked incredibly hard at building high-quality, engaging assessments. Their overall assessment literacy, and the learning that has occurred throughout these processes, has been significant. However, it has also raised additional questions.

The most recent questions have had to do with Work Study Practices (also referred to as work study habits or dispositions/behaviors). The State of New Hampshire defines the four work study practices in New Hampshire as Communication, Creativity, Collaboration, and Self-Direction. For the past six years, our district elementary schools have identified the Responsive Classroom CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-regulation) as the behaviors we will assess in each student. These fit in well with the work study practices the State has identified. Within each performance assessment, teachers have been identifying a specific behavior as the one that will be assessed within the performance assessment itself. For example, a performance assessment may lend itself to having cooperation/collaboration of students assessed, so teachers are including this to be assessed, complete with its own indicators within a rubric as part of the scoring within the assessment (separate from the assessment of academic competencies). (more…)

The Case for Performance Assessments in a Standards-Based Grading System

December 5, 2014 by
DeLoreto

Louis F. DeLoreto

If only measuring students meeting academic standards in the classroom was as easy as it is in the performing arts or athletics. Concerts and games are authentic performance assessments. They provide the opportunity for students to demonstrate their skill levels and grasp of the concepts before an audience. Observers can see and hear the results and make judgments on the level of performance using their knowledge of the criteria commonly used to determine proficiency levels. If only we, the audience, could see how well a student is performing on authentic challenges in the classroom like we do at an orchestra concert or a basketball game.

The principle of demonstrating performance on an academic standard is the same as in the performing arts and athletic arenas. The “audience” wants to see what the student is being asked to do and to be able to understand how they did. However, the traditional classroom performance assessment is not as readily identifiable as the complexity of a musical piece or the competitive level of an opposing team. Therefore, the degree to which the student grasps an academic standard in a classroom is difficult for counselors, administrators, and parents to see and understand in today’s traditional high school assessment systems. (more…)

The Big Three Takeaways of the Magical Mastery Tour

December 3, 2014 by

ThreeAlthough there were many takeaways from my visits to schools in New York City (what Jeremy Kraushar of the Digital Ready team referred to as the Magical Mastery Tour), I’ve selected three to write about here, as they respond to questions we’ve received over the past six months.

Please note: I’m using mastery-based, the term used by NYC, and competency-based interchangeably.

Most of these findings are based on schools that are doing tremendous work in developing highly developed mastery-based models. Descriptions of Bronx International, EPIC North, Bronx Arena, Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, and Maker Academy will be published in the coming weeks. However, one insight discussed below came from a school that shared the difficulties it was having developing a prototype model. While it’s important to learn from challenges as well as successes, schools trying their best to innovate don’t need the light from the internet shined upon them, so we didn’t write up a case study in that particular case. (more…)

Conundrums in Competency

November 13, 2014 by

Question Marks

Originally posted November 11, 2014 by the Christensen Institute.

Over the past several weeks I’ve attended a number of conferences where competency-based (or mastery-based) education was a hot topic. On the whole, there seems to be growing enthusiasm for adopting competency-based approaches that allow students to advance upon mastery and that deploy authentic assessments to test what students can do across disciplines. My conversations at these conferences, however, have convinced me that there are some philosophical and practical areas that administrators are still grappling with. This is a short list of questions that keep coming up in discussions and debates:

We are still operating on a fixed semester, academic calendar-based schedule. Can we implement competency-based education? In many cases, regulatory or cultural barriers make the concept of each student advancing upon individual mastery an overwhelming or impractical framework to impose on traditional academic schedules. For many systems, in the near future, courses or semester-based schedules are here to stay.

One interim shift that these systems might take is to adopt standards- or competency-based grading, whereby a student’s grade is a transparent reflection of what he has or has not mastered. Unlike a “B+”—which tells you that a student did not fully master material, but communicates little else—a competency-based grade can overtly lay out the persistent gaps in a student’s understanding. In such systems, two things may occur: first, there may be opportunities for targeted unit or “competency” recovery to fill in gaps at the end of courses or semesters. Secondly, students may be promoted to new coursework (as tends to happen in the traditional system) but their grades will at the very least show their next teacher a clear map of the areas where they still stand to struggle. The overarching premise here? If for some reason time in your system has to remain fixed, then at the very least you can make grading or certification at the end of a course an honest portrait of mastery and remaining gaps. (more…)

What is the Story that You Will Tell of Your Journey?

November 7, 2014 by

Business man showing superhero suit“Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound……”

….Superman? No, not really. Looking back over the past several years in competency education, perhaps SuperPioneer is a more apt superhero symbol. In the early days of competency education, the road ahead of us was somewhat unchartered, with unknown hazards and delays along the way. The early pioneers were a bit lonely without the familiar guideposts and waypoints that normally give direction. GPS? No such thing. But one thing could be counted on—with each rising of the sun, we were that much closer to journey’s end.

What is the story that you will tell of your journey down the road to competency education? What legacy will you leave to those who follow in your district after you step off the path? These may seem like silly questions, but I do believe they are important ones. You see, we are at a unique time in the history of education. In leaving behind what some people are already calling the “dark era in education,” we find ourselves at that fork in the road where we can either forge new experiences unleashed from the past, or we can choose the path that guarantees the journey ahead will repeat the last hundred miles. (more…)

Is There Enough Time for Learning?

November 4, 2014 by
Oliver Grenham

Oliver Grenham

Because of the growing number of mass-administered, required tests under state and/or federal law, there is an increasing and unsustainable demand being placed on student time in school. In recent years, these mandated test increases have affected students in Colorado at all grade levels, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

While student assessment is vital to learning, excessive testing is not, particularly in the way it is handled today. The quantity and quality of instructional time is what matters most for productive learning to occur.

Our experience in Adams County School District 50 has shown that a mass administration of the same test to students of the same age at the same time does not promote learning. In fact, it penalizes students, their teachers, and their schools. An overemphasis on testing significantly reduces the quantity and quality of time that could be better utilized in closing the achievement gap: something our data shows we are successfully doing.

The Teaching Learning Cycle in a Competency-Based System

We all know that teaching and learning take place in the classroom. As educators, we refer to this cyclic process as the Teaching Learning Cycle.

Teaching Learning Cycle (more…)

Social Learning & CBE – Competency Education is a Team Sport

October 27, 2014 by

This blog was written with the help of Michelle Allman, Andrew Skarzynski, Kristine Kirkaldy, Matt DeBlois, Sung-Joon Pai, Kippy Smith, Allison Hramiec, and Leslie Appelbaum.

Looking back, my whole school experience feels like a big group adventure. I know I did things alone – strong memories of this at home for sure – but learning was mostly one big, interactive social scene. And I was on the shy end of the human personality spectrum.

I say this because I think competency-based education with its emphasis on personalization, viewed from the outside, is often seen as an individual pursuit that surely must compromise the social aspects of learning that we know are important for – and to – students (especially teens!). Off I go, following my own personalized path, which is different from your path; my solo quest to master what I must master… which must look like this in practice:

Loneliness of the long distance competency-based ed student?

Loneliness of the long distance competency-based ed student?

(more…)

Reflections after Two Years of Performance Assessment Cohorts in New Hampshire

October 22, 2014 by

Originally posted on September 22, 2014 for the Center for Assessment’s Reidy Interactive Lecture Series.

Let’s now return to the question posed in an earlier post: what have we learned about the possibility of sparking systemic implementation of performance assessment? These reflections come from the NH Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) districts, as well as recent check-ins with team leads who participated in 2012 and 2013 Performance Assessment Network Cohorts. Half of these team leads reported that the work has been brought back to the rest of the school, and teachers outside of the group that attended the institutes are using performance assessments, while in other schools, QPA implementation has been more limited to the teachers who attended the institutes.

A strong, coherent vision helps people see the big picture

Administrators need to understand the big picture first and then set up the enabling conditions for the implementation to happen and the work to be sustainable. Participating in the 5-day training helps administrators develop their own instructional leadership and understanding of performance assessment. As one team leader noted, “[we] need administration to attend sessions, to show the seriousness and importance of this work, and get a solid team of committed individuals.” A recent post by a PACE district elementary principal illustrates how one district has integrated the training into their vision.

It takes time and effective structures to create a collaborative professional culture

A collaborative culture enables educators to use QPA protocols to engage in quality design, analysis, and instructional decision-making. PACE districts and 11 of the other administrators reported having Common Planning Time (CPT) built into their schedules. About half of those administrators said that the CPT was being used to specifically develop the QPA work. Two other schools that didn’t have CPT had time for the QPA group to meet to advance the work on their own. Structures provide the space, but the CPT must be used effectively. As one teacher at a PACE district school noted, “If we hadn’t done all work in the past becoming PLCs [professional learning communities], setting goals for our teams and norms, having expectations of our teammates then we wouldn’t be where we are. We couldn’t sit at a table and talk about what happens here.”

(more…)

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