Category: Reflection

From Formative Assessment to Tracking Student Mastery: The Road to Competency-Based Instruction

August 20, 2015 by
Megan Mead

Megan Mead

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on July 16, 2015.

Once upon a time, classrooms were filled with students who were expected to learn the same thing on the same day. Students rushing to their seats at the first sound of a bell, sitting quietly, taking notes, practicing independently (struggling silently), proving understanding through end of unit tests, and awaiting for their instructors cue to move forward. If you walk into the classrooms of today, you may still see this scene. BUT, in more and more classes across the country, you will see something very different; you will see classrooms that are dynamic and increasingly next gen, classrooms that are breaking the mold in an effort to make the learning experience one that is both personalized and engaging for students.

Fundamental to competency-based learning and any attempt to personalize is mastery tracking, fed by formative assessment. In Formative Assessment to Initiate Learning, we touch on the idea that formative assessment is an ideal starting point on the path to personalization. Next, we dive into why using these results to track mastery is so important.

Learning Productively

Personalization and a competency-based model lead to learning more productively. Looking at a traditional school day, how much time is wasted? How much time is spent on efforts that do not link to directly to instruction? This is not to assume that non-academic events are all a waste of time, this is often where life skills are experienced and memories are made, SO lets focus on the actual instructional time, of instructional time, how frequently are all kids getting the right subject at the right time with the right support?

Realistically, 5% – 10% a typical day is spent on instruction that is targeted. What if we flip that so that learning at the right level in the right the way occupies the majority of the day? Then we optimize customization, increase productivity, maximize motivation, boost persistence — all while radically improving achievement.

Why Track Student Mastery

If we want all kids to reach higher standards faster, then learning productivity is key. We must understand who our students are as thinkers and where they are at academically in order to maximize a sequences of experiences that are tailored for them. If we can do this well, then we can get kids to succeed at higher levels. At the core of this is tracking student mastery. And here are 10 reasons why: (more…)

A Reflection on the Field of Competency Education

August 19, 2015 by

GraphEach summer, CompetencyWorks takes a bit of time to reflect on where we have come from, accomplishments, and emerging issues. Our advisory board is absolutely instrumental in this process, helping us to understand nuances and variations across states.

Below are the highlights of our discussion this year. It’s long, but I think sharing in detail is worth it, especially as each week people contact us seeking help in understanding the field. Please, please, please – we would love to hear your insights and understanding of where we have come from and what we need to think about in terms of advancing competency education. It’s the richness of multiple perspectives that allow us to be as strategic as possible.

I. How Are We Doing in Terms of Expansion?

When we wrote the first scan of the field in 2010, there were only pockets of innovation across the country, each operating in isolation. Five years later, eighteen states are actively pursuing competency education through a range of strategies including proficiency-based diplomas (ME, NH, CO, AZ), integrating competency education into the education code (VT, NH), innovation zones (KY, WI, CT), pilots (OR, IA, OH, ID), and task forces in partnership with districts (SC, WY, OK, HI, DE). Federal policymakers are now familiar with competency-based education in the K12 and higher education sector, with ESEA policy discussions considered pilots for new systems of assessments.

Districts are converting to competency education across the country, with or without state policy enabling the change. In addition to the northern New England states, which have strong state policy initiatives, districts are converting in AK, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, MI, and SC.

New school models are developing that push beyond the traditional organization of school to high levels of personalization, including those at Summit Public Schools, Building 21, Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Making Community Connections Charter School, EPIC North, and Bronx Arena. Schools for the Future has recently announced record-breaking results in its first year of operation.

Some people think the rate of expansion is too slow. Personally, I think we need to really “get it right” – robust competency-based structures, high levels of personalization so our most historically underserved populations of students are thriving, upgraded instruction and assessment aligned to higher levels of knowledge, and effective use of online learning – before we worry about the speed of expansion. Let’s practice what we preach. We are in the midst of huge learning as we deconstruct the traditional system and put into place a more vibrant, personalized system, and it may take us a bit of time. It took us well over 200 years to create the traditional system, and its rituals are deeply rooted into our own personal lives. I don’t think it is a problem if it takes us a few more years to get it right.

The Results from our Early Adopters: The early adopters are now three to four years into implementation (with the exception of Chugach School District, which has been using a competency-based model for nearly two decades). Many have developed the systemic framework within a traditional agrarian, course-based model, which means that at first glance, it appears there is little innovation…until one looks deeper to see the benefits of greater personalization, student agency/voice/choice, consistency of proficiency scales across the school, and greater responsiveness to students who are struggling. (more…)

What I Am Learning from Anthony Kim

August 14, 2015 by
Instructional Models

Click Image to Enlarge

Sometimes I’m a little slow.

I loved the ideas that Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements, put together in his post Interested in Innovative School Models? What to Consider to Make Sure They Are Successful – merging together 1) depth of learning, 2) acceleration of learning, and stages of student independence or student agency.

But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to hear Kim present at the New Hampshire Educators Summit last week (click here for video) that I actually started to really comprehend what this all means. And honestly, my guess is that these ideas are so profound that I’m just starting a journey of understanding what this means for competency-based schools. (I might call these types of inquiries a “learney” – a journey of learning.)

One of my huge pet peeves is that a lot of writing about blended learning only talks about the tech part and fails to provide an overall picture. Rarely does it talk about what is needed for blended learning  to address the tremendous change that is happening with the introduction of the Common Core – moving from a focus on recall and comprehension, the first two levels in most knowledge taxonomies, toward the higher (and deeper) levels of analysis and application. Much of the knowledge base on blended learning focuses on models, products, and the necessary tech infrastructure….but not about what needs to be happening the rest of the time in the classroom to provide deeper learning.

Kim did not fall into this trap. Instead, he illuminated how blended learning can help us build capacity for deeper learning. By using the three-part axis of depth of knowledge (such as Bloom’s or Webb’s), stages of independence (students move dependent on direction from the teacher and toward self-directed learning), and acceleration (students start at different points and progress at different rates, meaning a student who is behind grade level may actually be learning at a much faster rate of learning), he provides a robust picture of what schools need to be able to do and how they can best do it using technology. (more…)

Three Factors for Success: Agency, Integrated Identity, and Competencies

July 13, 2015 by

ydThere is growing interest – and I would also argue growing confusion – about all the skills and dispositions that aren’t academic content areas. They are often lumped together under the phrase “non-cognitive.” I fully agree with Andy Calkins that the term “non-cognitive” is problematic. In fact, I would say it is downright silly and makes us sound like we don’t know anything about learning and brain science when we suggest higher order thinking skills are not part of a cognitive process.

However, I don’t think the answer is in finding the right terminology, but in understanding how all these skills and dispositions relate to learning and to the development of young people into what we have called college and career ready. There is significant difference between dispositions such as grit or perseverance and skills related to self-knowledge such as self-control, not to mention skills used in projects and work such as collaboration and communication, and thinking skills such as analysis or evaluation used in almost every academic pursuit. I’m not quite sure where creativity goes at all …perhaps it is a category unto itself.

It’s important to understand these differences and think carefully about how they are nurtured, what they look like developmentally that might be structured as benchmarks, and how they are assessed. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating for formal summative assessments. It doesn’t make sense to me to try to have NAEP monitoring grit at this point in time unless we really understand how all these dispositions and skills fit together. And until we determine which ones, if any,  are important to measure. It’s much more important for us to figure out how schools and teachers, working with community partners, develop and assess as a cycle of learning and development.

The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research has just released an absolutely groundbreaking developmental framework that could help us on our way of understanding how these concept fit together. The report, Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework, provides a two-tier framework (captured in this infographic). The authors propose that young adults will be successful when three key factors are in place: agency, integrated identity, and competencies. According to the report, “These factors capture how a young adult poised for success interacts with the world (agency), the internal compass that a young adult uses to make decisions consistent with her values, beliefs, and goals (an integrated identity), and how she is able to be effective in different tasks (competencies).” Underlying the key factors are four foundational components: self-regulation, knowledge and skills, mindsets, and values.

The authors define these factors as:

Agency is the ability to make choices about and take an active role in one’s life path, rather than solely being the product of one’s circumstances. Agency requires the intentionality and forethought to derive a course of action and adjust that course as needed to reflect one’s identity, competencies, knowledge and skills, mindsets, and values. (more…)

Keeping the Why

July 8, 2015 by

TeacherRecently, I found myself at a conference sponsored by the Maine Curriculum Leaders’ Association. The purpose: to discuss where we are as a state in our ability to award diplomas based on proficiency of concepts and skills. Since each district is tasked with defining their own plan, it was a welcomed opportunity to hear the challenges and successes other districts have been encountering. It was a wonderful day of professional collaboration minus the single moment someone shared that they were excited about the move to proficiency since “students will now be ready when they get to me.” The grade level of the teacher who spoke is not relevant because I saw nodding heads of agreement from teachers of all levels. Is this really why we are doing this? So we know that students are ready for us? My mind took off.

I have heard this phrase uttered before. And, in full disclosure, I would be untruthful if I said those simple words never passed over my lips nor that I gave a head gesture in an attempt to emphasize my point that competency-based learning is worth making a reality. That was before I realized the importance of starting with WHY (thanks Simon Sinek). What was the reason we want this shift in education? In my more recent history of the competency-based movement, I have solidified my deeper understanding of why I want to shift from a system that awards Carnegie Units based on seat time and subject grades to one that asks students to demonstrate competency of skills and knowledge. The truth is, competency-based in not about making sure kids are ready for the next level’s teacher. Maybe that is a good why if you think only of how skills are to be taught. But, by simply adding the words “learner-centered” in front of proficiency-based, we make the reforms in the systems of schooling about what the student needs. In other words, we tag a student’s proficiency not because we want to know they are ready for us. We tag so we know what to prepare so we are ready for them. The difference between the two phrases might seem subtle, and at first glance may even be synonymous, but the effects on the system are not the same. The Why and how we teach and assess shifts when we begin with the learner.

Doug Finn, an educational coach for ReInventing Schools Coalition (RISC), has offered a great explanation of the differences. He shared that the teacher-centered structure, common in most schools, starts with a teacher and then assigns age-appropriate students to build the teacher’s schedule of classes. In contrast, a learner-centered approach starts with identifying what the students’ current needs are, grouping them, and then finding an adult to guide them to the next level of the learning progression. (more…)

Can MOOCs Become System-Builders?

July 1, 2015 by
From Atlantic Article

Image from The Atlantic Website

Something really special happens in the second or third year of implementation in schools that are applying competency education with the spirit of learning and the spirit of empowerment – educators develop a deep sense of urgency to improve their skills so they are in a better position to help students learn.

In the first year or so, there is a shared purpose that the goal is to make sure students learn, not cover the curriculum; educators have figured out the new infrastructure for learning; the understanding of what proficiency means for each academic level has been calibrated; everyone is aware of where as a school they are strong and where they are weak in terms of being able to help students learn; and if a strong information system has been put into place, everyone also knows exactly how students are progressing and which ones need more help. With this transparency about how the school is performing, educators become focused on how improve their instructional tool kits – deepening their knowledge about how to teach their discipline, how to upgrade instruction and assessment to higher order skills, integrating language and literacy practices, how to organize learning opportunities so students are really engaged in robust learning, how to better coach students in building habits of learning….and the list goes on.

It’s a tremendous lift in instruction and assessment led by educators themselves who realize that their own professional skills need to be improved if they are going to help students achieve – I think of this as the transition toward the Finnish model. Teachers have explained that this stage of the transition is both the most challenging and the most rewarding. However, as a country, we are challenged to provide adequate professional development and learning opportunities for teachers that are rooted in the values and practices of competency-based education and are available in just-in-time modules. (more…)

Insights from ReSchool Colorado: Ensuring Quality and Equity

June 22, 2015 by

reschoolMy conversation with Amy Anderson and Colleen Broderick, the ReSchool Colorado team at the Donnell-Kay Foundation (see Thinking Way, Way, Way Outside the Box at the Donnell-Kay Foundation), has caused me a great deal of agitation. I just can’t stop thinking about how we ensure quality and equity as the education system is re-engineered around learning, pace, and progress rather than time, curriculum delivery, and sorting.

The ReSchool effort is aimed at creating a statewide system of multiple providers designed for learners from birth through young adulthood to allow them to bundle together their educational opportunities. Learners will have highly personalized pathways, which may or may not include learning together in a cohort over time, with a competency-based infrastructure providing the glue to the system. My brain goes a bit into overdrive trying to imagine this, but the overall concept seems sound (really different, but sound)…at least, until I start to think about how one ensures that students are getting what they need and in an equitable fashion. Then I think we need to have very intentional strategies to ensure quality/equity—such as advocacy to make sure students are getting the supports they need and calibration.

Donnell-Kay Foundation has been tackling one element of this through an inquiry process focused on advocates and advocacy. Advocates will play a central role in the ReSchool system (I assume because choice is a strong value undergirding the system they are designing, parents would select an organization or an individual that provides advocacy services), helping parents and students to bundle together the right mix of learning opportunities in support of their making progress within four competency-domains: academic preparedness, disciplined, socially aware, and a solution seeker. (more…)

Reflections on Accelerating the Implementation Process

June 19, 2015 by

Acceleration“We have to figure out how to make implementation easy and faster.”

I hear this statement from time to time and it always makes me wonder. It makes me wonder about a number of things.

1) Quality before Speed: At this stage of development, shouldn’t our concern be more about understanding what high quality implementation looks like rather than methods to speed it up? Perhaps we can speed up the implementation process as we know it, but I’m not convinced that we know what high quality implementation looks like yet. The list of questions I have is worthy of its own blog post, but let me start with two significant issues. First, we have not figured out the best ways or the real cost of helping students who enroll in a school academically behind their age-based grade, those with special education issues, or those learning English. Second, we also haven’t taken the ceiling off the system consistently so that students can actually advance when they have demonstrated mastery. What is preventing us from making sure seventh graders can be doing ninth grade math? One might say that both of these should be considered school-level autonomies. However, I also think they are structural issues about the responsiveness of districts and schools to students’ needs.

2) Speed, Shared Vision, and Deep Personal Growth: Several months ago, someone asked me for feedback on an implementation plan for a district. There were lots of project benchmarks, timetables, specific activities, and ideas for who was going to do what. But what it didn’t have was any time or resources allotted for engaging the community in building a shared vision or understanding why the traditional system is a barrier. Nor did it have any lead time for the district staff and school leaders to deepen their understanding of competency education or strengthen their distributive leadership styles. (See Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders for more discussion on creating shared purpose and leadership styles.) (more…)

Thinking Way, Way, Way Outside the Box at the Donnell-Kay Foundation

June 15, 2015 by
dk foundation

From the DK Foundation Website

Imagination. It’s overflowing at the Donnell-Kay Foundation (DKF) as they think about how to ReSchool Colorado.

Imagine what school would be if it could take place anywhere, anytime, and in the context that is most meaningful for students. Imagine if we tossed out the ideas of courses, annual calendars, daily schedules, textbooks, and even the concept of school as we know it. Imagine what a statewide system might look like if there were multiple providers designed for learners from birth through young adulthood to allow them to bundle together their educational opportunities (think playlists, but with a wide range of learning experiences).

The goal of the ReSchool team at DKF, led by Amy Anderson and Colleen Broderick, is to develop a broader eco-system of opportunities starting with non-consumers. According to the Christensen Institute, focusing on non-consumers means providing a “whole new population of consumers at the bottom of a market access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.” The DKF is starting by targeting families not using early childhood education services and older teens/young adults.

The reason they can think way, way, way outside the box is that the heart of the system is a competency-based infrastructure organized around four large goals: academically prepared, disciplined, socially aware, and a solution seeker. The idea is that a statewide system could be designed to have tremendous flexibility as long as there is a unifying structure to deeply personalized paths. Rather than schools, there will be advocates (organizations providing advocacy services) to help learners set goals and organize the right set of learning experiences for them. (more…)

Needed: Partners with Assessment Expertise

June 2, 2015 by

MeasurementI had a sense of dread as I flew to Colorado to join the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment for its annual Colloquim on Assessment and Accountability Implications of Competency and Personalized Learning Systems. A room full of experts on measurement? I was prepared to have any ideas I might have about what assessment looks like in a fully developed competency-based system destroyed in a Terminator-like fashion.

Instead what I found was a room of incredibly thoughtful, creative, forward-thinking people who are willing to explore along with all of us how we might organize a system that keeps the focus on learning while using discrete and meaningful mechanisms to ensure rigor and equity. Along with myself, Ephraim Weisstein, founder of Schools for the Future, Maria Worthen, Vice President for Federal and State Policy at iNACOL, and Laura Hamilton of Rand were invited to the Colloquium to kick off the conversation. My brain started churning as I listened to the presentations from Kate Kazin, Southern New Hampshire University; Samantha Olson, Colorado Education Initiative; Christy Kim Boscardin, University of California, San Francisco; and Eva Baker, CRESST.

And then my brain went into overdrive listening to the insights of the team of assessment experts as they sorted through the conversation, explored different options, and identified where there was opportunity to create a system that generated consistency in determining levels of learning. It would be a system in which credentialing learning generates credibility, a system that allows us to trust when a teacher says a student is proficient, providing us with real confidence that they are, in fact, ready for the next set of challenges.

Some Big Take-Aways

Below are some of the big take-aways that Ephraim, Maria, and I came away with.

1. Get Crystal Clear on the Goal: It’s critical for the field and competency-based districts and schools to be explicit about their learning targets (however they might be defined and organized) so results can be evaluated and measured. There are a variety of ways of structuring competencies and standards, and we need to think about the ways in which we can measure them (or not).

2. Consider Applying Transparency to Designing Assessments: We all operate with the assumption that summative assessment items have to be hidden in a black box. However, we could make test items transparent – not their answers, of course – but the questions themselves. Consider the implications—lower costs, more sharing, more opportunity for the stakeholders to understand the systems of assessments. It’s worth having an open conversation about the trade-offs in introducing transparency as a key design principle in designing the system of assessments to support competency education. (more…)

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