CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

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Kentucky Summit on Competency Education

November 1, 2012 by

Lt. Governor Abramson

Earlier this week, people across the state of Kentucky convened for a Summit on Competency Education sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Education and the National Governors association.  I thought it was worth pulling out how they defined competency education as it both succinct and reinforces the relationship with student-centered and personalized learning:

Competency-based education is a method that focuses on mastering specific skills or standards rather than completing course work over a specific period of time. It offers opportunities for all students and is student-centered. This type of education features personalized learning, which takes different learning styles into account by providing different avenues to learn the same content.

Competency-based education can motivate passive students who do not learn well in traditional classrooms because they do not see the curriculum as relevant to their needs. Students can earn college credit while still in high school, and they learn how to learn, a skill they need throughout life.

Topics at the Summit included the role of expanded learning opportunities, the role of career pathways to accelerate student learning towards college and career readiness and higher education. Scheduled speakers included:

  • Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson
  • State Senator Jimmy Higdon
  • Rose Colby, author of Off the Clock
  • Paul Leather, New Hampshire Deputy Commissioner of Education
  • Tom Shelton, superintendent of the Fayette County school district
  • Lu Young, superintendent of the Jessamine County school district
  • Jay K. Box, chancellor of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System
  • Robert L. King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
  • Elizabeth Grant, chief of staff in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education
  • Michael Cohen, president of Achieve

We’d love to hear more about the Summit and next steps for Kentucky! Or if you want to get a sense you can read the twitter feed.



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Getting Butts Out of Seats and Kids Out of Ruts

October 30, 2012 by

Take a minute to see the Colorado Legacy Foundation‘s incredible video.  It is a vibey, upbeat, inspiring video that sets the direction for next gen learning.

This video says it all. Thanks to CLF for getting it so-right.

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Dancing Out Front


A lesson in leadership from a dancing guy

I’m in my fourth year in my teacher leader position here at MAMS.  It wasn’t until about a year ago that I had an overwhelming aha! moment about who I was, or wanted to be, as a leader.  My principal showed me the dancing guy leadership video, and all I can say is that it spoke to me.  Since then I have strived to be the kind of leader who dances out front. I picture myself as a suave tap dancer some days, and other days as a lithe ballerina.

Dancing out front means being the vision.  If I’m supposed to be helping colleagues figure out what a learning target is, I need to give them a learning target about targets.  If I want them to start using progress tracking tools, I need to use progress tracking tools when I work with them.  If the English teachers are supposed to be using a workshop model, I need to use a workshop model.


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Snare Your Students

October 26, 2012 by

Students who are caught up in what they are doing don’t need to be managed, and students who succeed become self-propelling. If you can find a way to make your students’ work personal and meaningful, they will offer extraordinary efforts in the classroom. They willingly pursue challenges that personally matter to them.

I once had a student, Average Joe, who put in no more effort than was necessary for him to ensure that he was eligible to play sports. He was a nice kid, but he didn’t find art exciting. Then I decided to see if I could get my students more engaged by letting them make all of the decisions about their projects. I still identified the concept that they needed to demonstrate, but I let the students design the work that they wanted to do in order to show that they understood the skills and concepts.

The result was that most of the students did better quality work than they had ever done. Average Joe’s engagement was the most startling because he had to publicly defend his change of attitude to his peers. Some of his classmates were perplexed by his sudden dedication to art, but he told them plainly that what he was doing was “his” and because it was his, he wanted it to be “right.” That day, I saw the real power of engagement. I saw Average Joe intrinsically motivated. (more…)

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The Offal Lesson

October 25, 2012 by

The following is reposted from Shawn Cornally from Febuary 2012.

Angel Wilford talks about the frustrations of a class without competency education in the video available below.

This Friday my classroom was visited by a few Iowa-state legislators. Our school is receiving attention for its work on assessment reform, which is by no means limited to what’s happening in my classroom. Even the most entrenched traditional teachers are experimenting with how they assess, and that means students are engaged with the meta-work of how education is done.


The legislators talked to a panel of teachers and students for about 90 minutes. The students were convincing, the teachers were passionate, and I think everyone left with the impression that schools everywhere should benefit form the successes and failures we’ve had here at Solon:

Failure:Reassessment frenzy. This needs to be controlled and philosophically sound. The students can’t still be addicted to points when you introduce student-initiated reassessments (this took 2 years to hash out)
Success: Students are reporting more retention and enjoyment of school in general. They’re saying things like, “I know what I know.” This is a positive change from how it used to be.
Failure: Students try not to do any practice or studying because it’s not worth credit. It can take up to two months for them to mature, depending on their age. That’s a lot of time.
Success: Students eventually learn that studying and homework are just what normal people call “learning.” (more…)

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Target Practice

October 22, 2012 by

I work in a school moving towards a vision of customized learning.  I work closely with our “phase 1 teams,” the eight teachers in our building taking the first giant-steps closer to that vision.  I work with all the other teachers in our building too, all of them at varying levels of comfort with and understanding of performance-based practices.  I work with them in their classrooms.  I work with them in planning meetings.  I work with them in our professional development sessions. I work with them in short copy-room consultations. I work with them at multiple-day workshops.

Without fail, at some point when I am working with an individual or a group, not matter what the context of or reason for our work, the conversation bumps into the question “What is the learning target?”” Well, sometimes it feels like more of a crash. I ask this so often that it is practically my catch phrase .  What I want them to do is clearly articulate is the end goal of their instruction.  It can totally change the direction of a conversation about learning and teaching.

Crystal clear learning targets are the terra firma of any effective feedback, instruction, or assessment.  Learning targets are literally what you want your students to aim for. A good learning target is a single, measurable statement of what a student is expected to be able to do or know and does not include any assessment language. All learning targets can be categorized as either procedural or declarative knowledge.  Procedural targets always begin with “The student is skilled at…” It involves knowing how to do something. Declarative targets always begin with “The student understands…” Using Declarative knowledge involves knowing about something. Every content area has knowledge in both categories, but the balance may be different.  Think English Language Arts vs. Social Studies. Here are some examples to help you process that: (more…)

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Three Big Take-Aways from Maine

October 19, 2012 by

Classroom after classroom, school after school, district after district – an incredibly powerful commitment to student-centered proficiency-based instruction has taken root in Maine.  What you see on the videos is what you see in the classrooms. What’s more, it is incredibly consistent classroom after classroom:

  • High level of transparency about learning targets and rubrics between students and teachers.
  • Customized learning with students working at their own pace within a band of what it means to be “teacher-paced” with choices about how they will pursue their learning and build evidence of their learning.
  • Teachers organizing themselves to enable students to get what they need, working at their own achievement levels so that they can experience success.
  • Teacher collaboration and professional development driven by proficiency.

During a rapid-school-visit tour across four school districts led by Maine’s Superintendent of Instruction Don Siviski, my personal understanding of competency education shifted. Here are my big Ah-Ha’s from my visits.  I’ll write in more detail about the site visit later.

1) It’s All in the Mindset:  The members of the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning are building a culture of respect and learning. It’s based on the work of Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck . (Click here and scroll down to learn more about Mindset by Carol Dweck).  Here is the basic idea:

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work— brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great  accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.


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When the Math Doesn’t Work

October 16, 2012 by

Last week there was a great piece Why Students Who Underperform Drop Out on the PBS Newshour.  Ray Suarez interviewed Stephanie Krauss, Shearwater  Education Foundation, Victor Rios, Professor, UC Santa Barbara and Adam Steltzner, NASA Curiosity Mission.  It was an interesting group with Krauss and Rios being former dropouts and Steltzner almost not graduating. The conversation was primarily on how to re-engage students who have gone “into the wilderness”.  In the midst of this conversation Krauss raised the issue of seat-time and competency education. Watch the show or you can check out Krauss’s discussion on seat-time below.


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Q&A: It’s About Time For Proficiency-Based Learning


The following is reprinted from GettingSmart.

Diane Smith for the Business Education Compact (BEC) released “It’s About Time: A Framework For Proficiency-Based Teaching & Learning”this year in response to a need expressed by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), which identifies the ways that eliminating seat time and moving toward proficiency-based teaching and learning can improve student achievement.

The workbook provides a roadmap for proficiency-based learning with formative and “just in time” assessments, grouping, learner profiles, personalized learning plans, learning targets, and more. It couples activities in a blended learning environment to offer in-class review time, online learning tutorials, study packets, quick reviews, extended learning time, and flexible schedules for students.

Similar to the personalized learning plan outlined in the DLN Smart Series paper “Data Backpacks: Portable Records & Learner Profiles” produced by Digital Learning Now! (DLN), the workbook suggests Common Core aligned assessments stored electronically for district-wide use among administrators and teachers. DLN points to the ways that “Data Backpacks” and “Learner Profiles” can help teachers improve personalized learning from Day One with assessment data, learner preferences, etc., taking the concept of Smith’s electronic assessments steps further. (more…)

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No One Graduates Before They Are Ready

October 12, 2012 by

“I’m not going to tell you. I know what a lexile means, but I’m not going to tell you mine.” And in the next breath: “I blew the test. I tested at third grade. I’m good at reading. I’m actually supposed to be in 10th grade. But I blew it and I tested at third grade.”

This was my first conversation with a student at Schools for the Future in Detroit (SFF is a Next Generation Learning Challenges winner). It was in response to a question about the different tests that the students had been taking during the first two weeks of schools. The students did know what a lexile was and what their individual lexile was. They understood that the set of assessments they had just finished were being used to set their educational path. As we were talking, some students were beaming as they were going to move to Core 2. Others were frustrated that they would be assigned to Core 1 but were very determined to do better. This tension is part of being transparent. It’s a step in engaging students that have been lost in our education system. No more lying to them that they are doing okay because they got a C and passed on to the next class. This is a competency-based environment.  (more…)

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