April 21, 2015 by Brian Stack
I am the Principal at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. Our district has used a competency education model for the past five years and is one of the districts that is part of the exciting PACE (Performance Assessment of Competency Education) pilot program for school accountability. I am often asked by administrators who are looking to transition their schools to this kind of a model what it is like to communicate it to parents and families. This is something our school tries to do on an ongoing basis. Just this week, my two assistant principals and I held an evening coffee hour sponsored by our Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) to discuss the topic in more detail. It was a very well-attended evening. Below is a summary of how that evening was structure. It was first written and shared on my Principal’s Blog for parents who were unable to attend, but I am also sharing it with all of you on CompetencyWorks in the event that it could help you structure a similar event in your own schools.
Last night’s PTO meeting agenda said that school administrators would be available to lead a discussion on competency-based grading, but really it was all about chocolate chip cookies. What makes for an exemplary cookie, the one that is over-fresh with a sweet, rich, buttery flavor? The one with a real chocolate taste in each bite that complements that rich and flavored dough? You can’t teach someone how to make such a cookie until you take the time to define the criteria that you would use to assess it. It was through the lens of this scenario that Sanborn Regional High School Principal, Brian Stack, and Assistant Principals, Ann Hadwen and Michael Turmelle, helped everyone in the room understand the big picture of competency education, grading, and assessment and how it is working to provide a more rigorous education for all students.
Competency Education – The Big Picture (more…)
April 20, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
From the Common Ground Collaborative website
For any district or school leader starting to talk about the need move away from the traditional, standardized education system to a personalized system, you know that paying attention to communication is important.
First and foremost, you are going to have to be ready to engage in and facilitate conversation – it is through dialogue that people can shed their old assumptions and embrace the idea that we can do better by all of our students through personalization.
However, it helps to organize your thoughts and practice a bit before you go forth. No one should lead with why we need competency-based or proficiency-based systems – we want to lead with the story line of why this is good for kids. Then, as you begin to get deeper into the conversation, you’ll pull out the language to help people understand the limitations of a time-based, A-F system and the potential of one that actually has the structure in place to make sure students are making progress, not languishing in the back of the class.
Here are three resources that will be very helpful in preparing (and also a third piece that just inspired my language and vision after reading it):
And for inspiration, check out the Common Ground Ecosystem to see how folks in Brussels are putting these ideas together. Everybody Learns!
April 15, 2015 by Aditya Agarkar
This post was originally published at Getting Smart on January 17, 2015.
Don’t you think it’s time we retired those Scantron machines? Since the 70s, they’ve been trusted in hundreds of school districts across the country to tally the scores of students who filled pink ovals with #2 pencils. The Scantron machine heralded the pervasive use of multiple-choice questions in the decades that followed. Today, with all that we know about how to assess a student’s mastery of a topic, MCQs are an anachronism — like cassette tapes and typewriters. As readers of this blog are well aware, the education sector is undergoing the same technological innovation that has swept through businesses and households — and the rate of change is accelerating.
With all this technological progress underway, why are MCQs are still in use? One reason is that they are the default question format for many of the technology-assisted tools that, when introduced, made the assignment and grading process much more efficient and scalable. However, MCQs are simply not the best way test a student’s knowledge because they shed little light on the student’s ability to apply, integrate, and synthesize knowledge. Information gleaned from a MCQ test can often be misleading because students can guess the right answer or game the system to eliminate all the wrong choices – even if they don’t understand the question or know any of the correct answers. (more…)
April 8, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
There is still snow on the ground, but people were on fire at the New England Secondary Schools Coalition High Schools in Action annual gathering. The sessions were relatively quiet, but the hallways were buzzing:
- It is really hard to put down the red pen and stay focused on the few standards that are the goal of the learning.
- We were told we were preparing, preparing, preparing…and then suddenly we were there. We were performance-based.
- We learned that trying to mix grading styles was making students crazy. They were always trying to figure out the algorithms used in the computerized grading system. I could barely get them to talk about the quality of their work and accept that applied learning isn’t something you can always do quickly.
- One of the hardest things for some of my students to accept is that they are expected to actually work hard in a proficiency-based system. For some, the traditional system was really easy – especially if they excel in short-term memorization. It is a shocker that they are expected to actually show they can use all the information they have memorized. They realize they have gaps, and that is scary.
- Some teachers are still having difficulty with organizing their classrooms in a proficiency-based structure. It’s not based on age or length of time teaching – there is something about the mindset, the ability to move beyond what you experienced growing up and what you were taught to do as a teacher, that allows teachers to make the adjustment more quickly or need more time. (more…)
April 6, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
Every month (if not every week), competency education is being incorporated into other frameworks and organizations. For example, competency-based progressions are included in definitions of personalized learning, student-centered learning, and another version of personalized learning. Organizations continue to include competency education in their national meeting agendas, when launching new initiatives, and for building organizational capacity. There are over forty organizations including, addressing, and/or advancing competency education in their work now. (If your organization isn’t on this list and you want it to be, please email me at chris (at) metisnet (dot) net.)
My concern is that a lot of resources are going toward advancing competency education at the state level when we know that educators need to come to their own conclusions that they can do better by the children in their classrooms and communities. Certainly it is important to help state level leaders understand competency education, begin to build needed alliances, and prioritize a policy agenda. However, I would argue that at this point in our development, it is even more important to begin to generate more demand for competency education from the ground up. (more…)
March 24, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation just opened up a request for proposals for their Amplifying Student Voice and Leadership work. Through this RFP, the Foundation will select up to four new youth organizing groups to build public understanding, support, and demand for student-centered learning. These new grantees will be located in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont, or a combination thereof. Through this work, the Foundation seeks to amplify student voice and leadership across New England.
Below are the links to the materials you will need to apply to this RFP:
Request for Proposals
Nellie Mae Budget Template
Please respond to Delia Arellano-Weddleton, Program Officer, with any questions.
I think this is an incredible opportunity – we need so many more youth organizing groups in our country, no matter if we are designing the purpose or if it is open so that youth organize around the issues that are important to them.
March 17, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
Today, CompetencyWorks released a new paper, Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning: Insights from Experts. The paper is based on a two-day conversation with twenty-three incredibly insightful people who work in competency education, personalized learning, and blended learning – and the paper only captures a small portion of the rich conversation. (See A Mountain of Knowledge to Climb for more background) There are several parts to the paper, including:
- an exploration of the relationship between personalized learning, competency education, and blended learning and the concerns about equity that arise in each;
- issues that district leadership will want to consider in managing change, such as providing greater autonomy to schools;
- guidance for competency-based schools to enhance their instruction through blended learning; and
- how districts that have integrated blended learning can take the next step towards becoming competency-based.
Blended learning can help in competency-based schools in so many ways – sometimes with a tidbit of risk we need to guard against. We all know that high quality adaptive software can be helpful for students to develop their foundational skills. Blended learning can also help to offer students the opportunity to take what they are learning and go deeper, or begin to use what they are learning in knowledge creation. These aren’t discrete activities such as extra credit or helping peers. This is the opportunity for students to be highly challenged. Blended learning can be used to offer additional challenging projects that students can take on (call them honor projects, if need be) to strengthen their learning by asking them to further apply their skills to new situations (Level 4 Depth of Knowledge). Students will be able to access the challenges or problem-based learning independently so teachers can stay focused on supporting students who are still struggling to reach proficiency. The risk here is that schools only offer deeper learning to the high-achieving students, which is totally unacceptable. So we need to create both/and – embedding Level 4 work for all students into the school design at some point in the schedule and curriculum, and offering Level 4 work for students who have advanced to proficiency in the unit or course.
Another way blended learning can be helpful is to allow students to advance to the next level of learning once they have reached proficiency on a unit or course. This requires us to strip the ceiling off the education system by offering units online so students can advance. The risk is that that this will turn into a dynamic that so-called faster students are considered the better students. I’ve already visited schools where students talk about faster and slower students – it was done respectfully but was definitely a way for some students to differentiate themselves from their peers.
There are also challenges in using certain types of online learning in competency-based schools. These are raised in the paper and hopefully vendors will take these into consideration as they further develop their products.
We’d like to hear from you — How is your district/school using blended learning? What are the lessons learned and insights? What would your advise be to districts/schools about how to best implement blended learning to support students build and apply their skills?
March 16, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
Tomorrow, CompetencyWorks releases a new paper, Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning: Insights from Experts. I thought you might be interested in the background that led to the paper.
How can an emerging field of work advance quickly and with quality? It’s a question that foundation staff are constantly talking about, not to mention state and federal policymakers as they try to advance new ideas rather than enforce compliance with the old.
When Susan Patrick and I started talking about this idea, we realized that the model of state policy + supports certainly was a strong approach. However, it is unlikely that every state is going to be ready to to take the leap and invest in a high quality approach to helping districts convert. Furthermore, we think of competency education as a primarily bottom-up strategy – educators turn to it when they come to the conclusion that the traditional system is actually undermining their efforts to help students learn. So how can we advance the field when it requires voluntary leadership…or ownership of the idea? (more…)
February 27, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
Months later …and I’m still processing everything I learned on my Magical Mastery Tour of New York City. Most of the schools I visited were profoundly student-centered in the sense of designing around the needs of those students who face the greatest challenges. Increasingly, I’m thinking that we need to draw from the schools that have designed for students with special education needs and language needs, such as Carroll Gardens and Bronx International. If these students are in the center of the design, rather than considered sub-populations, I think we have a much better chance of seeing improvements in equity.
I’ve organized all the links in one place below to make it easier for you to take the tour yourself.
And check out the video in Shifting to Mastery-Based Approaches in New York City Public Schools by Jeremy Kraushar of Digital Ready.