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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Using Blended Learning in the Classroom

March 9, 2015 by

ChairsYou don’t have to be part of a proficiency-based learning (PBL) environment for very long to see the benefit of using technology. PBL shifts learning from the “sage on the stage” method to one where students are direct stakeholders. They are asked to be in charge of their learning, making decisions about how, where, and often when they will work through content.

Many schools in Maine are making this transformational leap. My district is one of them. We recognized right away the importance of providing an “anytime, anywhere” learning platform that gives students access to standards and content around the clock. What we haven’t given enough time to, however, is dealing with the difference between posting information in the school’s learning management system and structuring the blended learning environment to maximize learning rather than access.

Blended learning is more than just making a website, posting assignments, and waiting for the magic to happen. It’s a model of teaching and learning that helps move the walls of the classroom and provides learning opportunities (as opposed to homework opportunities) both in and out of the classroom. It is designed intentionally to require students to engage with the content in a variety of ways that suit their learning style. Collaboration is essential. Good blended learning uses strategies that provide opportunities for students to revisit their learning, reflecting on what they’ve learned, and that allow time to think about how all this becomes personal. It helps students apply what they learn rather than memorize facts. The tools and resources available in a blended learning environment maximize learning, plain and simple.

In a perfect world, developing a blended learning environment would look like this: (more…)

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New Hampshire Testing Pilot Breaks the Federal Accountability Mold

March 6, 2015 by

NHThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on March 5, 2015.

This week the U.S. Department of Education made a groundbreaking decision to allow four school systems in New Hampshire to pilot a new accountability regime based on a mix of local and state assessments. This first-of-its-kind policy marks an important policy development for competency-based systems and signals a move in the right direction for federal accountability.

New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) pilot will allow locally managed assessments to count toward federal accountability requirements. New Hampshire’s PACE project began in 2012 as an opt-in effort for districts to coordinate local approaches to performance assessment. Starting this year, the four PACE implementing districts—Sanborn Regional, Rochester, Epping, and Souhegan—will administer the Smarter Balanced assessment once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school (in three grades instead of seven). In all other years when students aren’t taking Smarter Balanced assessments, the PACE districts will administer carefully designed common and locally managed “performance assessments” that were developed by the districts themselves and validated at the state level.

Although there is a range of definitions of what constitutes a performance assessment, according to the New Hampshire DOE, “[p]erformance assessments are complex, multi-part tasks that ask students to apply what they have learned in sophisticated ways.” The state emphasizes that different mediums may qualify as evidence of mastery. The Department explained that these assessments vary by context and subject, and sometimes by a student’s particular interests: (more…)

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Green Light for New Hampshire

March 5, 2015 by

Green LightCongratulations to New Hampshire! The U.S. Department of Education has approved New Hampshire to use performance-based assessments in four districts that have been part of PACE.PACE is developing:

  • common performance tasks that have high technical quality,
  • locally designed performance tasks with guidelines for ensuring high technical quality,
  • regional scoring sessions and local district peer review audits to ensure sound accountability systems and high inter-rater reliability,
  • a web-based bank of local and common performance tasks, and
  • a regional support network for districts and schools.

NH will be using SBAC for some grade and the performance assessments for others. New Hampshire plans to expand PACE to eight districts next year.

This is an enormous step forward to building out the systems of assessments that emphasizes higher order skills by using performance assessments. More to come later!


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Out on a Limb: Holding Ourselves Accountable

Lydia Leimbach

Lydia Leimbach

This post originally appeared at Teacher Tech on November 30, 2014.

I had a conversation with a colleague on one of the last days of school that has stuck with me ever since. We were discussing classroom management (I had just posted my “Distracted by Tech” article). My colleague said, “I get so tired of listening to complaints from some of our staff. All I hear is what the students haven’t done or won’t do and what they (the teacher) isn’t going to do. I’d love to hear how teachers hold themselves accountable for student success.”

I write often about strategies for holding students accountable when using technology but rarely have I thought about my own accountability when teaching.

This post isn’t really about tech integration and may offend some people. It’s not my intent. My intention is to spur thinking for those who are stuck and frustrated and perhaps are thinking laptops and phones are the cause of the learning blockage.

Teacher accountability isn’t easy. It’s not about how detailed my lesson plans are or how clear my directions for projects are. It’s not about how much kids like me. It’s about how effective I am in my teaching practices. In a nutshell, teacher accountability means that I take a regular look at my teaching practices, my classroom management, and my personal pedagogy and see how well it is meshing with student achievement.

For me this falls into four segments: (more…)

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Advice for School Principals on Implementing Competency Education

March 4, 2015 by
Brian Stack

Brian Stack

This past week, I had the pleasure of spending some time with school principals from Henry County, Georgia in an effort to help them get ready to start their own competency education and personalized learning journey. Henry County has committed to a redesign structure framed around five personalized learning tenets: Learner Profiles, Competency Based Learning, Project Based Learning, 21st Century Skills, and Technology Enabled Learning. Work is now underway in their schools to move their plan into action from just a few cohort schools to all of the schools in their county. As a high school principal from New Hampshire who underwent a similar school redesign just five years ago, I came to Georgia to offer these great principals some words of “wisdom” from a practical sense, using my own redesign journey as a guide. The experience for me personally was an opportunity to reflect back on what I have had to do as a school principal to help support this massive change process in our school community. The focus of this article is to share some of that advice for other principals who are likely to start this kind of work in the coming months or years.

To frame my advice, I will use the work of Kotter (1996) on leading change in an organization. Although Kotter’s work was written originally for the business world, it can easily be transferred to education. It is a perfect guide for principals who are leading a transition to competency education in their school. To illustrate his research in a practical manner, Kotter (2005) later wrote a fable about a colony of penguins living on an iceberg off the coast of Antarctica who discover that their iceberg is going to melt over the coming season and they need to convince the colony that they need to relocate and change how they live. Five years ago our school district used this fable to help our administrators, myself included, understand their role in the redesign and change process. The fable follows Kotter’s multi step process for successful change and will frame my advice for principals.

1) Set the stage by creating a sense of urgency and pulling together a guiding team. (more…)

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Can Federal Grants Drive Personalized Learning?

March 3, 2015 by

US CapitolThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on February 13, 2015.

As ESEA debates heat up on the Hill this month, in addition to reconsidering the federal role in school accountability, there has been a growing discussion about whether and how the federal government should fund innovation in education. There are a variety of programs under consideration that could make this happen.

For example, earlier this week, Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) re-introduced the Investing in Innovation in Education Act, which would award money for classroom technology investments, among other things. And Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are floating the 21st Century Classroom Innovation Act, which calls for the government to carve out supports for school systems that are blending face-to-face and online instruction.

Although federal innovation grants are not new to the education field, they could be a potent driver of moving personalized learning forward. What are the potential benefits of a federal innovation agenda and where would these dollars be best spent? Here are three areas to consider: (more…)

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Six Trends at Lindsay Unified School District

March 2, 2015 by
Tom Rooney

Tom Rooney

This is the first post in a series on Lindsay Unified School District. Read the second, third, fourth, and fifth posts here. 

If your district is thinking seriously about converting to competency education, you should definitely bring a team to visit to Lindsay Unified School District. When I was last there, they had forty-plus educators from two districts in California, seven from Colorado, and one from Florida. You can register here for a site visit. (For funders out there – it’s worth considering figuring out how to do a virtual tour, as more people want to visit than Lindsay can accommodate and it’s expensive for districts to send a team. Just think how we could also reduce our carbon footprint if videos were available.)

One of the highlights of the visit was Superintendent Tom Rooney’s opening talk. I’ve known Tom for several years but have never heard him as sharp, urgent, and impassioned. After watching the video Transformational Learning (available in Spanish, as well), Rooney talked about graduation day as a great day for students. “This is a great day for educators, as well. We are saying to the world, ‘We’ve had them for twelve or thirteen years and we’re sending them out into society. They are our product, our contribution to society.’” He then continued, “The reality for many of our graduates is that they soon find out they didn’t get what they needed. Some of the kids fall into deep despair when they realize they have been betrayed. They were told that they are ready, but they’re not.”

Rooney then told a story that occurred when Virgel Hammonds was a new principal at Lindsay Unified High School (Hammonds is now the superintendent at RSU2 in Maine). It was late spring and Hammonds was just getting settled into his office, when in walked a father and his son who had graduated the week before. The father took a newspaper off the desk and gave it to his son, asking him to read it. After a few minutes of silence, the young man looked up with his tears in his eyes. “Dad, you know I don’t know how to read.”

Betrayal indeed. This is a betrayal that occurs all across our country. (more…)

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All Together Now….the Magical Mastery Tour

February 27, 2015 by

BeatlesMonths 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.

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