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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Five Things for Big Districts to Think About

April 18, 2016 by

Purple FiveIt always happens. You finish a big report and then do a bit more research or have a few more conversations…and realize you didn’t get it quite right.

That’s what happened to me. I finished the report on Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders in June, and come November when I visited Lake County, Henry County, and Charleston County School Districts, I realized I would have organized that report somewhat differently if I’d had the opportunity to learn from bigger (these still aren’t the mega-districts) districts before I started writing.

Here’s the scoop – much of the first wave of districts making the transition to competency-based education have been small districts. They’ve been able to engage their communities at the district level. They often asked teachers to vote before they moved forward. It’s relatively easily to bring in the leadership from different schools to help co-design implementation. It’s been a powerful strategy for districts in communities without big employers, foundations, or intermediaries. But what about bigger districts? How do they think about getting going and scaling strategies?

Below are a few thoughts developed from talking with the incredible group of leaders from Lake, Henry, and Charleston Counties. I’m still learning, so my thinking is likely to continue to develop about how big districts can move forward toward personalized, competency-based education.

1. School Autonomy

In the same way we encourage schools to have developed PLCs before they get started, districts should evaluate how well they are doing in terms of enabling school autonomy. Is it okay for schools to try different strategies? How about if some move faster forward than others – are you going to hold them back? Can schools hire their own teachers? Create their own staffing patterns? Manage their own budgets and use resources as they see fit to meet student needs? Can schools design their own community engagement strategies?

Certainly, you do not want to make all the schools implement at the exact same pace – that’s the old way of doing business. And you certainly do not want to hold back schools that are ready and able to make the transition. Also the rationale and entry points may be different. Kathleen Halbig from Lake County explained to me that it is important to have community engagement at the individual school level because communities have different histories, different narratives, different concerns, and different appreciation about competency education.

2. Tight and Loose

Districts big and small will need to know what they want to hold tight and what is loose for schools to determine on their own. But do we know exactly what should be tightly held in a CBE district? Here are some starting thoughts. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Connecting Learning Targets

April 15, 2016 by

MosaicThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 10, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When we stop thinking about measurement topics and learning targets as isolated boxes, learning becomes much more exciting. Think of targets as mosaic tiles. Think of measurement topics as mosaic tiles of the same color. In a mosaic, there are a variety of tiles and colors working together to make a work of art. We need to do that with our learning targets.

Start by laying out all the targets you typically teach in a year. Take inventory of the mosaic tiles you have to work with. Which ones seem to go together well? Are there any that make an unexpected collection? Just as certain tile colors and shapes compliment one another, different targets can work together in different ways. And just as mosaics incorporate multiple tiles of the same color, engaging learning experiences hold room for multiple targets from the a measurement topic progression. This allows more multiple entry points to the learning experience. Another way to think of this is that it allows students to work at their readiness level while still engaging in the social processing of learning with their peers.

So let’s step out of our mosaic analogy for a moment and see what this could look like. Below are some targets that one might see in the 5th grade:

  • Is skilled at writing narratives that tell the story of an important moment by developing the characters, plot, and setting
  • Is skilled at writing informational pieces that teach about a topic using a variety of information
  • Understands the factors that are used to predict weather
  • Understands purposes and uses of thematic maps
  • Understands the physical features that are common and unique to various parts of the world
  • Is skilled at exploring and inventing art-making techniques and approaches
  • Understands the influence of various nutrients on personal health

(more…)

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Charleston: Personalized Learning at Pepperhill Elementary

April 14, 2016 by
Kayela Clark

Kayela Clark, PL Coach

This is the third post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework and the second on implementation strategies.

I have had a strong PBIS program, we have implemented rigor and relevance…but nothing has changed my school like Personalized Learning; it is like night and day. There is intrinsic motivation for learning now. It is not just ‘because the teacher told me to.’ Now everything has to do with learning.

– Principal Tanya Underwood

Seven hundred students attend Pepperhill Elementary: 90 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, 30 percent are categorized as ESL, and nearly all are African American or Hispanic. With the introduction of personalized learning, disciplinary problems are going down and MAP scores are going up in all grade levels. Thanks to Principal Tanya Underwood, Personalized Learning coach Kayela Clark, and teachers Ashley Austin, Debbie Weathers, and Hannah Ataffi for introducing me to personalized learning at Pepperhill.

A Conversation with Pepperhill Teachers

The Personalized Learning Department at CCSD has created proficiency scales to guide teachers’ professional development. There are proficiency scales for data driven instruction, creating and using proficiency scales, and self-directed learning. Ms. Clark explained that as teachers become exposed to the new practice, they rate themselves and set their next goal. “We have teachers create their own data binders. It helps them understand how students own their data and to engage students more strategically during conversations about their learning.”

Ms. Clark explained that an important strategy she uses when she coaches a teacher is modeling Personalized Learning strategies. She described that when she is coaching teachers, she wants to make sure they feel safe and comfortable. She also emphasized that there needs to be time for individual coaching as well as collaborative learning with others. I could also tell, by the goofy pictures on the wall that are used by teachers to indicate their growth, that fun was part of the equation as well.

The district has also created iTunesU courses for each of the PL practices, which teachers can use to learn online at their own pace. Courses available to teachers include Introduction to Personalized Learning, Shared Vision, Code of Cooperation, Standard Operating Procedures, Goal Setting, Student Conferencing and Ownership, Unpacking Standards, Marzano’s Nine Instructional Strategies, Aligning Assessments with Rigor, Proficiency Scales, Differentiating Instruction, Project-Based Learning, Challenge-Based Learning, and Technology Integration. (more…)

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An Opportunity in ESSA for Performance Assessment Literacy and Teacher Leadership

April 13, 2016 by

Ready for College and CareerThe hope of ESSA is that it will offer a rebalancing for our nation’s accountability principles by moving away from a fixation on high-stakes tests and sanctions. Many (for example, see iNACOL, KnowledgeWorks, and The America Forward Coalition) are advocating using the opportunity to foster greater innovation and implementation of learner-centered and personalized approaches to learning that focus on mastery in a competency-based environment. One key opportunity under ESSA is that seven states will be able to pilot new systems of assessment and accountability that, if designed well, have the potential to support strong, teacher-led practices that integrate teaching, learning, and assessment.

To achieve this outcome, districts will need to invest in their teaching staff, support purposeful inquiry to create cultures of growth, and think creatively about traditional barriers such as schedule and fixed marking periods. Before we know which states will follow New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) pilot or develop other models, states, districts, and schools can begin to lay the groundwork needed. Moreover, a good idea is a good idea, whether or not the federal government approves. Changes in practice and in the culture of teaching and learning take time. Even if a school or district doesn’t ultimately take part in one of the seven ESSA state-level pilots, investing in a strong local system of teaching and assessment aligned to principles of student-centered learning is a good idea. It allows the district to create schools that serve students well by preparing each and every student for success in college, career, and life.

Keeping Students at the Center (The Why)

(more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

April 12, 2016 by

What's NewUpcoming Event: On April 20, CompetencyWorks is hosting an introductory webinar on competency educationRegister here to attend the webinar and learn how we define competency education, explore how schools are implementing competency education, and discuss why educators and communities want to convert to a competency-based structure.

Competency Education News

Ed Policy Advancing CBE

Thought Leadership

Resources

CAPSS released a report identifying the steps to enable school districts to transform Connecticut public education around personalized learning. It identifies policy barriers, provides suggestions on removing those barriers, and provides incentives to encourage districts to implement personalized learning. CAPSS Executive Director Joseph J. Cirasuolo describes why we should be teaching according to the ways students learn in this article.

American Institutes for Research released its most recent publication in a series of reports on deeper learning. Findings in the series include that students in “deeper learning” schools:

  • Reported higher levels of academic engagement, motivation to learn, collaboration skills, and self-efficacy
  • Attained higher scores on both the state achievement exams and PISA.
  • Had higher rates of on-time graduation from high school, exceeding the comparison students by 9 percentage points
  • Were more likely to enroll in four-year postsecondary institutions and selective institutions

However, the new report finds that among the nine school pairs that provided information about eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL), the effect of attending a network high school on on-time graduation was weaker for students who were eligible for FRPL than for students who were not eligible for FRPL.

Follow us on twitter (@CompetencyWorks) and sign up for our monthly newsletter for more information and updates in K-12 competency education.

 

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Florida and Utah Look to Support Districts through Competency-Based Education Pilots

April 11, 2016 by

USThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on March 29, 2016. 

Recently, iNACOL published a piece on competency-based education pilots and how they can help support personalized, competency-based environments for students and teachers. Two states, Florida and Utah, considered pilot bills this session. Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott, signed the bill into law on March 25, 2016, and Utah’s Governor, Gary Herbert, signed the bill into law on March 28, 2016.

States create competency-based education pilots to help launch small-scale, short-term programs that localities use to determine how a larger program might work in practice and go to scale. While innovations in schools are taking hold across states, state policymakers are seeking to help support and foster educators. Pilots support collaboration to help bring together practitioners and educators to share lessons learned, while addressing the changes needed in instructional methods. Pilot programs are one way to connect and support innovators to plan, implement and ultimately scale high-quality competency-based education practices and systems.

Pilot programs provide an entry point for school leaders and educators to get started–combined with the needed flexibility and funding–to design new personalized models to ensure every student is successful through competency-based pathways.

Legislation

Utah’s bill, SB 143, creates the Competency-Based Education Grants Program consisting of grants to improve educational outcomes in public schools. Utah plans to do this by advancing student mastery of concepts and skills through the following core principles, established in the five-part definition of competency-based education by iNACOL and CompetencyWorks:

  • Student advancement upon demonstrated mastery of a concept or skill;
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, and transferable learning objectives that empower a student;
  • Assessment is meaningful and provides a positive learning experience for a student;
  • Timely, differentiated support based on a student’s individual learning needs; and
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

The grant program incentivizes a Local Education Agency (LEA) to establish competency-based education within the LEA through the use of: (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Increasing Engagement

April 8, 2016 by

icebergThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on February 23, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Now that we have thought about “pace” differently in a learner-centered proficiency based system, we can start to talk about the rest of the iceberg: engagement.

If a student is not engaged, and therefore running into the “problem of being behind pace,” there are really only two possible explanations for why:

  1. The content is above, or below, a student’s readiness level
  2. The learning environment is not engaging to the student

Humans, of all ages, don’t learn unless we want to and we can. If we are not interested in something or can’t see how it connects to our life in some way, forget it. Likewise if we are trying to do something that is way too hard, or way too easy. I’m talking about motivation theory and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Understanding and applying those ideas are essential to creating a learning environment that is engaging…. to the student.

Let’s start at the beginning of a unit of study. When we approach from the perspective of motivation theory and ZPD we first worry about figuring out what the students already know and are able to do. We also worry about getting them to want to learn the content of our unit. Using a strategy called “The Gapper” will help us get there. (more…)

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Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions

April 7, 2016 by

ClassroomThis is the third in a series of articles specific to the developing understanding of skills and dispositions of educators working with students in a competency-based educational system. There has been increased recognition nationally of the importance of skills and dispositions and how these are intertwined within the overall growth and College and Career Readiness of learners. The skills and dispositions are referred to in a number of ways (Non-cognitive skills, Habits of Learners, Work Habits, General Learning Outcomes, “soft skills,” etc.) Our school has been delving into skills and dispositions for the past few years, but we have found that there are limited resources to support our work, and, at times, this has caused frustration. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with the recently released Essential Skills and Dispositions Frameworks (Lench, S., Fukuda, E., & Anderson, R. (2015)) this upcoming school year to support our continued learning in this area. For the purposes of this series of articles, we will be using the term the State of New Hampshire recognizes, Work Study Practices, for skills and dispositions. Locally, we have aligned the Responsive Classroom’s CARES to our State of New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices, which are referenced in this series of articles.

To read the first article in this series, please click on the following link: Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions. The second article may be accessed by clicking here: Collecting a Body of Evidence.

Memorial School is a Pre-K to Grade 5 elementary school in southeastern New Hampshire, part of the Sanborn Regional School District. As we have made our transition to a competency-based educational model, our recognition of the importance of skills and dispositions has evolved significantly. This evolution in understanding has progressed from our very early days in our journey when we realized that academics and academic behaviors MUST be separated. Today, our teachers recognize the importance of providing time for students to reflect on their own strengths as well as areas for growth within these skills and dispositions. And our growth will continue to evolve, as teachers have begun developing lessons and opportunities for learning for students within their classrooms within these important competencies.

Growth in these areas, for our elementary students, will not happen all by itself. It is imperative that teachers willingly and mindfully plan lessons that will help students to make connections and assist them along in their learning journey. It is also imperative to debrief, reflect, and provide meaningful and timely feedback, just as it is within any type of formative assessment that is happening within a classroom.

The insight of two of our teachers below outlines their work with their students specific to the instruction of these invaluable competencies within not only their classrooms but outside of their classrooms and in the greater world itself. Their reflections provide a glimpse into the world of both a first grade classroom and a fifth grade classroom, and describe how students’ increased self-awareness and understanding of the CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-regulation) within their own learning are having a tremendous impact on not only the individual learner, but the entire classroom community as a whole. (more…)

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Competency-Based Education Task Forces: A State Policy Mechanism to Foster Personalized Learning by Creating Dialog, Surfacing Barriers and Providing Solutions

April 4, 2016 by

Conference TableThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on March 23, 2016.

Transitioning from a traditional seat time based system to a competency-based learning system often requires changes at multiple layers in policies from the school level to the state-level. State policy makers can provide thought leadership in their states by creating a space for dialog between policy makers, stakeholders and communities across the state by establishing a formal statewide task force for competency-based education (CBE). A CBE task force brings together a group of experts and stakeholders to examine the issue in depth, to consider needs in policy and practice, and to provide recommendations and next steps in a state.

States (generally legislators through sponsoring legislation) establish task forces for the purpose of studying policy issues related to CBE. The needs and issues will vary state-to-state because of the differences in educational statutes, regulations and capacity, but CBE task forces offer a future-focused approach by providing a safe space to identify barriers, needs, and consider options to best enable competency-based pathways.

Why CBE Task Forces are Important

An education task force convenes to study a specific topic. During this time, a task force often engages with educators and experts on best practices and policies regarding the topic of the task force.

Establishing a CBE task force allows the members to study CBE policies and practices. CBE task forces enable CBE by encouraging state leaders to develop a deeper understanding on the need for and the benefits of creating competency-based pathways to ensure student success and the importance for educators to personalize learning to meet students’ needs. The CBE task force will interview educators from competency-based education systems, learn what policies are supportive and which are barriers, identify educator capacity needs, evaluate system capacity and provide recommendations for getting started with aligning systems to support CBE. (more…)

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