February 25, 2014 by Jason Ellingson
The boxes arrived last week. Those boxes stacked high, full of Iowa Assessment test booklets, answer sheets, and directions for administration. They arrived and are sitting against the far wall of my office – not physically, but philosophically in the way. In two weeks, our students will take those tests. They will spend multiple hours over a course of a week filling in bubbles to demonstrate to the federal and state governments that they have grown academically in content areas like reading, math, science, and social studies. There will be no test on grit or perseverance – except their ability to complete the test without creating a pattern on the answer sheet. There will be no test on creativity – unless they do create a pattern on the answer sheet.
All of this will happen in the midst of a year where my district has truly pushed itself to know the learner better to grow the learner better. We have pushed hard to mold ourselves into what our students need, not mold the students into what we need. We have more teachers that ever using data to revise instruction, using standards-based learning, and thinking about competency-based education. We work toward a new goal of personalized learning in our district – and it is exciting, invigorating, daunting, and … the right work.
So, those boxes sit in my office while I have the pleasure of attending a convening hosted by the Nellie Mae Foundation and KnowledgeWork on the federal accountability framework in light of competency-based education. The convening was a great two days focused on assessment, core CBE principles, the role of the federal government in education, and the unintended consequences of building a new framework that is easy to understand (and which may do more harm to CBE than the current one).
The discussion on accountability traveled far and wide. Some of the main points and questions raised included:
- We do not want to see competency education mandated from the federal government. We want to have federal accountability policy be structured to enable competency education and its core principles. (more…)
February 19, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
I just got back from amazing travels to five districts/charter schools in New Hampshire – Making Community Connections Charter School, Pittsfield School District, Rochester School District, Sanborn Regional School District, and Virtual Learning Academy Charter School. Truly it was a delight to see what it looks like as an entire state moves down the path to transformation. To all the New Hampshire educators and leaders — thank you for your courage, creativity and persevering leadership! Here are my five big take-aways with more detailed posts to follow:
I don’t think competency education works well without personalization. They go hand in hand. Personalization requires an infrastructure that enables us to understand how students are progressing and to keep a keen eye on equity. Competency education requires us to personalize education to make sure students are getting the help they need when they need it. (more…)
February 18, 2014 by Ellen Hume-Howard and Brian Stack
The Need For Change: Brian’s Uh-huh! Moment
I was watching a cooking competition on the Food Network the other day. The contestants were asked to create the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich for a panel of judges to sample. The judges then assessed the sandwiches on a variety of characteristics including overall taste, texture, presentation, and what they called a “wow factor” that included the use of unique ingredients.
This competition really got me thinking. Brady and Cameron, my 8- and 6-year-old sons, and I make grilled cheese sandwiches all the time. Through trial and error, we have learned what works and what doesn’t. Some of our discoveries have included what kinds of cheeses melt best, how much butter to use to get a crispy crust, what kinds of breads produce the best flavors, and how hot to make our pan to get the right sandwich. We’ve made plenty of mediocre sandwiches along the way – overcooked or undercooked, not enough cheese, not enough butter, soggy, or just too dry. Still, even the mediocre sandwiches satisfied our hunger at that moment. (more…)
February 13, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
There is a flurry of conversations about federal accountability policy and assessment going on around the country. You may have heard about it described as accountability 3.0. I had the opportunity to participate in one of the conversations last week and just finished listening to the conversation led by Maria Worthen, iNACOL and Lillian Pace, KnowledgeWorks held today based on their report A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change. And I’m feeling inspired to jot down a couple of my thoughts:
1. Federal policy must NOT mandate competency education. We want it to enable competency education and eliminate any elements that inhibit it. Federal policy can even catalyze it. But at this point in time, federal policy should not expect everyone to do it. There are several reasons for this. First, any top down, bureaucratic approaches are just inconsistent with the student-centered, do what it takes, spirit of continuous improvement that is essential to personalized, competency-based schools. Second, we don’t have enough research and evaluation to tell us about quality implementation or what we need to ensure that special populations and struggling students benefit. We just aren’t ready yet.
2. Assessment comes before accountability. It’s almost impossible to untangle accountability from assessment in today’s policy context. That’s because the accountability system has required states to have a specific type of assessment system. This is a huge problem because assessment should be focused on helping students to learn. Instead we see it as part of the accountability system. I know this is too simple… and all the accountability and assessment experts out there might dismiss this. But I just don’t think we can go where we want to go if we start with the requirements of today’s accountability system driving learning. So I think we need to define what is really important for systems of assessments and then draw from that what might be valuable for any type of accountability system. Let’s keep our priorities straight by focusing on assessment and accountability not accountability and assessment. (more…)
February 11, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
I received two emails today that indicate that the “field” of competency education is strengthening. First, Marzano Research Laboratory (MRL) announced that it is acquiring the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC). MRL and RISC have a long-standing relationship. The acquisition will strengthen RISC (Rick Schreiber will continue as executive director) and expand MRL’s capacity to provide technical assistance related to competency education. It also indicates that there is enough momentum in competency education for MRL to see this as a new market niche.
The press release quoted Dr. Marzano, ” “I am thrilled at the opportunity to take this relationship to the next level. The RISC model puts together all the critical components that we’ve known for years are important to school reform. What’s nice about it is, it has them all and it has them in a framework where they all interact and they are all very concrete. And the best part about it is that there are actually districts that have implemented the model that are demonstrating results in terms of student learning and student achievement. This is a pretty powerful model. It’s got some strong evidence that it works.”
The second email was an announcement of a webinar with Dr. Robert J. Marzano and Richard A. DeLorenzo, Cofounder of the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC), Former Superintendent of Chugach School District on February 18, 2014 1:00-3:00 pm MST. (Register Here)The goals of this webinar include: answering the question “What is competency-based education?”; addressing misconceptions about the role of standards in a competency-based school system; sharing current and existing research about competency-based education; and sharing experiences and challenges in implementing competency-based school systems.
The expansion of competency and high quality implementation has been constrained by limited technical assistance providers. This is an incredible step forward for all of us.
February 10, 2014 by Stephanie Krauss
In 2008 I was asked by the City of St. Louis Mayor’s Office to consider starting a school for youth who had dropped out. I agreed. These youth deserved a quality education. The school would be hard to build and harder to sustain, but worth a try. Given that our students were all over-age and under-credited, we knew that seat-time meant that many would age-out of the system before they could graduate. Hence, we decided to be competency-based. (Click here for the 21 by 21 model overview, FAQ’s, Youth Readiness Taxonomy and the Design Process)
Hundreds of local volunteers and over a dozen community-based organizations poured sweat equity into planning and start-up, pledging their ongoing support. A private technical college agreed to house us. The state declared us a needed demonstration project. We had mayoral endorsement and a sponsor.
Thus Shearwater High School was born. All signs suggested we would work. And at first we did. We had passionate staff, community support, private money, and resources. Youth applied, showed up, learned. Applicants bloated our waiting list. We worked tirelessly. Most of the time we enjoyed what we were doing.
If you had told me that just a few years later we would close, I wouldn’t have believed you.
So, what happened? Here are the four primary reasons that my school failed: (more…)
February 5, 2014 by Caroline Messenger
Sometimes in teaching we deal in “revelations:” big ideas that students are supposed to get at the end of a unit or learning progression. They are supposed attain these foundational concepts and understandings after progressing through a sequence that is designed to end at a particular point – a point we as educators decide upon when we create a unit of study or a curriculum.
According to Wiggins and McTeague, we are supposed to plan for the big ideas before we even start teaching. We are supposed to plan for where we end up before we even begin. And there’s a lot of good reasoning why. If we know where we’re going, then we can ultimately plan for how to best get there. But there’s a troublesome piece to that. Sometimes our “best” way to get there doesn’t suit some of the students in the room. And sometimes our endpoint is too fixed. Sometimes we create a round hole while students craft a square peg.
Are we right? Are they wrong?
A straightforward definition of a learning progression is to examine it as a “sequenced set of building blocks that students must master en route to mastering a more distant curricular aim.” (Popham, 2007)
Currently, the Common Core has replaced the teacher and the school as the determinant of when students should master concepts and skills. It is our learning progression and it has already determined our “distant curricular aims.” I know students should be reading at particular levels at particular times. I know students should have mastered persuasive writing by the time they come to ninth grade, so that my objective is to continue the work associated with argumentative writing. And educators involved with mathematics have their own timing issues as the Common Core has redirected particular math skills to brand-new points in time.
To say the path to knowledge and skills has changed would be a tremendous understatement. (more…)
January 29, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Vermont Department of Education
Over the past few days I’ve received links to several resources on personalized learning plans including:
And it got me thinking about personalized learning plans…
- Different Ways to Personalize: The personalization of learning is a necessary ingredient if we are going to get all students to proficiency each step of the way in their learning progressions. However, there are many different ways to personalize learning, and each has a cost. Not every school is going to personalize in every way … at least in the short-run. Schools may focus more on providing students with the ability to choose how they learn and how they demonstrate learning, or they may focus on investing in expanded learning opportunities such as internships, real-world projects, and opportunities to develop students’ talents in music or sport. Perhaps it will be through a wide range of courses or opportunities to create projects. Blended learning is an important ingredient as it enables personalization in terms of pacing as well as structuring choice. And sometimes personalization isn’t about choice – it’s about having knowledgeable educators providing the right type of instruction, feedback, and interventions to help struggling students succeed (more…)
January 24, 2014 by Bob Sornson
Our growing national commitment to early childhood learning success will probably continue to produce mediocre results. Despite a greater awareness of the importance of early learning success, we still offer preschool and K-3 programs that are substantially the same as the programs which have led to present outcomes. Most schools have not yet learned to use systematic measurement of progress toward competency in the essential outcomes which are the foundation of learning success for life.
Amazingly most schools don’t even try. Schools were designed to deliver content, test kids, give grades, and allow less successful learners to choose to leave school for other pursuits. We’ve increased the quantity of content we deliver (way too much). We argue about the list of standards that we should “cover” (a huge distraction from more pressing issues). We push forward with the delivery of content whether students are successful or not, without assuring that key competencies are achieved. Then we wonder and complain when students disengage from learning.
In a January, 2013 Wall Street Journal article, Bill Gates argued for the power of systematic measurement of progress: “Setting clear goals, choosing an approach, measuring results, and then using those measurements to continually refine our approach—helps us to deliver tools and services to everybody who will benefit, be they students in the U.S. or mothers in Africa.”
A poor rural school in Mississippi began implementation of systematic assessment toward essential early learning outcomes in 2008-09. Using the Essential Skill Inventories they learned to:
- Clearly identify essential learning outcomes
- Use systematic measurement to determine the readiness levels of your students in relation to essential outcomes
- Offer responsive instruction and carefully monitor progress until these skills/objectives are deeply understood (competency)
- Allow students to move on to more advanced learning as soon as they are ready
In their first years of implementation at Simpson Central School, teachers reported struggling with knowing how to embed assessment opportunities into instructional design, and questioned their ability to use observational assessment to help measure progress. They had difficulty staying on the schedule for updating their classroom skills inventory. Some teachers reported that “covering lessons” was more comfortable than planning instruction around the complex learning needs of their students. But with good leadership, they persisted. (more…)
January 16, 2014 by Bill Zima
Lately, I have been reflecting on my past experiences. Not because of illness or a milestone, but because I read something in a Tweet. Seems as though some people are concerned about proficiency-based learning. The worry is that it can lead to the creation of “microstandards” which kill deep learning and replace it with simplistic, discrete tasks that students master and check off before moving on to the next. While I have seen schools take standards and create worksheet factories so students can demonstrate mastery of the standards by simply completing the packet, I do not blame the breaking down of the standards. I believe it is good practice to identify the foundational knowledge a learner needs to apply to demonstrate understanding of a learning target. Instead, I believe the issue lies in educators not putting the pieces back together.
This revelation is what has caused the flashbacks to my previous work experiences. I did not start out as an educator. Before finding my way to the principal’s office, I worked as an engineer, a research scientist, and an animal trainer for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Regardless of the special skills required for each job, I approached issues and challenges the same. I needed to know my intended outcome, identify from where I was starting, break down the gap to script the critical moves to get me there, execute the script, and then put the pieces back together. (more…)