Category: Uncategorized

Calling All CompetencyWorks Readers

November 17, 2015 by

SixWe need your help! Although many of you were at the iNACOL Symposium, not everyone could make it. So please take ten minutes to answer six questions. By gathering the voices from all over the nation, we can build on our strengths, make sure we are doing the best job we can in curating resources, draw on knowledge in our networks, and make sure that we are focusing on the things you think are important.

  • What is your elevator speech?
  • What is your biggest AHA! (i.e., insight) about competency education and its implementation?
  • Who have you talked to or listened to who has influenced your thinking? (The question is based on the iNACOL Symposium, but don’t worry about that. We want to find out who is making a difference.)
  • What issue or topic do you think needs us to direct our collective knowledge and creativity as a field to figure it out so that we can unleash the full potential of competency-based education?
  • What resource, paper, video, podcast, or blog have you found particularly helpful that you would recommend for those just starting out on the path to competency-based education?
  • Educators, are you using an information system to support tracking student progress and standards-based grading? If so, what product and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the product?

Just go to Getting Smart’s Voices Hub and you’ll see a link for CompetencyWorks. Or you can go directly to the questions by clicking here.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

October 8, 2015 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMOhio department of education released its application to participate in the state’s new Competency-based education pilot program. It also created self-assessment tools for school districts to determine their readiness to participate in the program.

More Movement in the States


  • Arne Duncan supports Purdue University’s competency-based education program, and he is quoted as supporting competency education and shifting away from time-based systems.
  • An interview with Jennifer Deenik, Living Systems Science Teacher at Souhegan High School, by Jennifer Poon, Innovation Lab Network Director at CCSSO, takes a peek inside New Hampshire’s performance assessment pilot program.
  • Diploma Plus operates small alternative programs for students who have repeatedly failed a grade or are on the verge of dropping out. This interview with William Diehl, chair of the Diploma Plus board, discusses the key components of the schools’ efforts to prepare students who are coming from behind.
  • The Woodrow Wilson Foundation, in partnership with MIT, are creating the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning Sciences, which provides graduate programs in teacher education and school leadership. The Academy will be competency-based with a blended curriculum, and the first class will enroll in 2017.
  • In Giving Students Charge of How They Learn, John McCarthy discusses student-developed products based on learning targets, student-developed rubrics, student-developed conferences, and setting students free to learn with you.

Videos and Films

  • Beyond Measure is a film that challenges the assumptions of our current education system, and paints a positive picture of what’s possible in American education when communities decide they are ready for change. Watch the trailer here.
  • The Illuminating Standards Video Series explore the relationship between meeting demanding state standards and designing powerful learning experiences for all students. The video series are listed by grade level.


It’s Time to Vote…So Someone Can Win $100,000 from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation

September 14, 2015 by

voteStudents at the Center is hosting the Lawrence W. O’Toole Award, “given out each year to an individual, organization, school or district exhibiting great leadership through innovation or courage in moving student-centered approaches to learning forward in New England. The winner will receive a $100,000 grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.”

It’s a great group of people, districts, and organizations doing great work. Two of the nominees are recognized for their work in competency education. Readers of CompetencyWorks will be delighted to see Sanborn Regional School District on the list of nominees for its leadership in competency-based education. (You can get a chance to talk with their leadership team directly at the pre-conference workshop Implementing Competency Education: Insights from Local Leaders at the iNACOL Symposium.) Molly Heath is a teacher at Burlington High School, and is recognized for her development of proficiency-based approaches within the classroom.

Two of the nominees specialize in engagement of youth – Pious Ali from Portland Empowered (who also specializes in community engagement) and Youth on Board. We know that this expertise is instrumental in re-shaping school districts to embrace the values of competency-based systems, including developing student agency. Shawn Rubin from the Highlander Institute is recognized for his expertise in blended learning. Finally, the Hartford Journalism & Media Academy has been nominated for its community partnerships and emphasis on deeper learning.

Time to cast your vote!

Congratulations to Pahara Institute’s 2015 NextGen Leaders

July 28, 2015 by

We know that several sectors of the education innovation field share the problem of lack of diversity. The consequences of this are huge, as we risk not drawing upon the best knowledge and robust networks. We undermine our creativity as a field and fail to credential ourselves as trustworthy to people and communities of color. Most of all, the very fact that our leadership is too, too white suggests to me that we are in fact either operating with explicit bias or allowing ourselves to have implicit bias to shape our field. If we have this problem in our organizations, it is very likely that it is also shaping our practice, technical assistance, and advocacy.

The Pahara Institute is trying to correct this problem by “identifying, strengthening, and sustaining diverse, high-potential leaders who are reimagining public education.” I was delighted to identify at least four members of the Pahara Institute 2015 NextGen Network who are working in organizations that are advancing competency education or blended learning.

Keara Duggan

Keara Duggan

Keara Duggan is a Senior Consultant on the Education Elements Design & Implementation Team. In this role, she partners with school districts to design, launch, and support personalized learning models to accelerate student achievement. She is deeply passionate about ensuring under-served and rural students have access to an excellent education.

Keara began her career as a Teach For America corps member, serving as a third grade teacher on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. Since then, she has managed development, operations, programming, communications, curriculum design, and professional development projects for education organizations in the non-profit and for-profit sector, including Education Pioneers, Teach For America, InsideTrack, and Brooklyn Historical Society. She has also been privileged to be an inaugural member of the Rural School Leadership Academy. Keara received an M.A. in Public History from New York University and a B.A. in History and International/Intercultural Studies from Claremont McKenna College.

Carlos Moreno

Carlos Moreno

Carlos Moreno is a passionate educational leader committed to supporting school and district leaders who are creating high-quality, non-traditional schools. He is currently National Director of School Network Support & Innovation for Big Picture Learning, a nonprofit organization that has developed over 150 such schools in the United States and internationally since 1995.As Big Picture’s National Director, Carlos leads and supports a team of regional directors, designs and coordinates Big Picture’s several annual convenings, and coordinates leadership development and support services for principals in Big Picture’s Network. He also leads Big Picture’s work with scores of non-Big Picture schools that wish to incorporate elements of the Big Picture Learning design. (more…)

Reminder: Submit Proposal for the Competency Ed Strand for the iNACOL Symposium by March 26

March 13, 2015 by

symposiumHi everyone – This is just a quick reminder that the deadline for submitting presentation and workshop proposals is Thursday, March 26, 2015. You can get more information about the Request for Presentation Proposals (RFP) at the conference website. The iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium will be November 8-11, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. The theme is: Connecting Powerful Innovators.

iNACOL is looking for highly interactive sessions – and we know that those of you who have become more advanced in competency education have a lot to share. In addition, we all need to be building up our knowledge on a number of issues: communications, performance-based assessments, how to use blended learning, information management systems, how to use data to drive improvement….and the list goes on. So, consider knowledge-building sessions as well as knowledge sharing.

If you have questions regarding the RFP, please contact Ally Swensen, Chair of the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium Program Committee, at

Competency Education in Practice: Newfound Regional High School Spotlight

December 29, 2014 by
Bristol, NH Central Square Wikipedia

Bristol, NH Central Square

This spotlight originally appeared in the CSSR October 2014 Newsletter.

In 2005, New Hampshire became the first state to abolish the Carnegie Unit and mandate that by SY ’08-’09 all high schools measure credit according to students’ mastery of course competencies rather than seat time. CSSR works with a number of New Hampshire schools through the i3 NETWORK to build the pedagogical and leadership capacity to take on this transformational work. Newfound Regional High School is one of those i3 NETWORK schools.

Newfound Regional High School | Bristol, NH

The school motto, “working to provide a personalized, competency-based education for every student,” is deeply engrained in the work the school has done to implement competency education and aligned performance assessment. School Redesign Coordinator Jim LeBaron is quick to emphasize the dramatic cultural shift that is taking place within the building, but acknowledges that for educators: “seeing kids engaged and taking ownership of learning is a big win for getting educators on board.” The road to where they are now has not always been easy and LeBaron offered up several tips for schools looking to do similar work:

Writing Competencies

Having departments work together to determine overarching competencies within their disciplines is superior to individual subject areas developing their own competencies. These overarching competencies allow for more interdisciplinary work, thematic projects, and a more vertically aligned pathway through the content areas. At Kearsarge, the autonomy of classroom teachers to develop their own unit plans and the autonomy of individual students to personalize their own learning pathways was maintained. By not prescribing performance tasks aligned to the competencies, students are expected to choose how they will demonstrate mastery. (more…)

A Deeper Dive into the EPIC North Design (Part 2)

December 8, 2014 by
Mr. Dash

Mr. Dash’s Science Class

This article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. For the full story, start with my overview of the Magical Mastery Tour and the three biggest takeaways. Part 1 of the EPIC North visit can be found here or just scroll down the page.

The EPIC North school design is best explained by the students themselves.

Teachers give us guidelines for our projects. We can learn in different ways, including learning from outside of school. We have to figure things ourselves and we have to learn how to do it ourselves. But we are never all by ourselves. Teachers are always there to help us.

Like most mastery-based schools, EPIC is founded on the idea of student ownership, transparency of learning expectations, and demonstrating proficiency before advancing to the next stage of learning. In this case, EPIC embeds the mastery-based structure within a tightly woven culture and programming based on youth development and future focus through CORE and Summer Bridge.

A Personalized, Mastery-Based Structure

Across the three EPIC high schools, staff and students use technology as a means to personalize learning. Students interact with the schools’ LMS (Educate) and relevant Google programs to receive, complete and submit assignments, collaborate, and track their learning progress. Currently the schools are implementing a one-to-one (student to device) program. In classes, teachers use both procured and teacher-generated digital content. In classes like targeted support, students use interactive software to practice and develop their skills towards mastery. As students access material and produce works, staff are available to provide direct support and guidance. However, it is important to note that at EPIC schools, teaching and learning is highly blended. In addition to technology use, students participate in class activities, discussions, and labs that require collaborating with peers and working with teachers. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education

November 26, 2014 by


Early Progress: Interim Research on Personalized Learning was released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rand Corporation last week. They define personalized learning as, “Systems and approaches that accelerate and deepen student learning by tailoring instruction to eachstudent’s individual needs, skills, and interests.Students have a variety of rich learning experiences that collectively will prepare them for success in thecollege and career of their choice. Teachers play an integral role by designing and managing the learning environment, leading instruction, and providing students with expert guidance and support to help them take increasing ownership of their learning.” At the iNACOL Symposium last week Vicki Phillips introduced a four part operational definition (you can find it on Ed Week) that includes competency-based progressions, flexible learning environments, personal learning paths, and learner profiles.

So You Think You Want to innovate? Emerging Lessons for State and District Leaders Working to Build a Culture of Innovation by 2Revolutions and The Learning Accelerator is a toolkit for district and state leaders.

An Up-Close Look at Student-Centered Math Teaching released by the he Nellie Mae Education Foundation finds that students in more student-centered math classrooms are more highly engaged in what they are learning and show growth on problem-solving skills, as compared to students in less student-centered classrooms. Led by researchers Dr. Kirk Walters and Toni M. Smith, the study also finds that: (more…)

What’s New in Competency Education in K12 and Higher Education

August 26, 2014 by

K12 ResourcesScreen Shot 2014-06-23 at 5.46.08 PM and Events

In the News

  • The Des Moines Register’s article Five Trends to Look for This School Year includes student-led conferences and student setting the pace. Shawn Cornally from Iowa Big is quoted, “”Some students move much faster, and some students move much slower, but they learn it a lot better.”
WordPress SEO fine-tune by Meta SEO Pack from Poradnik Webmastera