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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Wells High School: The Timeline to Transformation

January 19, 2016 by

WellsThis post is part of the Maine Road Trip series.

The sign that greets you as you drive into Wells, Maine labels the town the friendliest in Maine. Certainly the young women working at Aroma Joe’s, where I stopped to get my caffeine fix on a brilliant fall day, were over-the-top friendly.

Wells High School is situated along the Maine coast, serving a student population of 440 students running at about 18 percent FRL. This means the school has to mitigate a huge gap in terms of social and educational capital available to students outside of school. They are doing very well with a 98.4 percent four-year graduation rate, the highest in Maine. (more…)

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5 Ways to Build a Student Agency in the Digital Age

January 18, 2016 by

High School Students Taking Part In Group Discussion

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on December 7, 2015.

Recent research findings demonstrate a strong link between one’s sense of empowerment, or “seeing oneself as a causal agent in one’s life,” and the level of an individual’s success in life. A developing sense of agency likely serves as a foundation for the acquisition of many essential skills, including grit and resilience, which allow us to overcome the many obstacles that we encounter throughout our lives.

Yet, our youth today may feel that external social forces are controlling their lives much more than their own internal compasses. In the Digital Age, as Howard Gardner and Katie Davis expressed in The App Generation (2013), young people are practicing constant self-protection, self-polishing, and self-tracking online, which is taking away time from quiet reflection and identity construction. In Disconnected (2014), Harvard researcher Carrie James identified such alarming issues in the digital world as invaded privacy and a slipping sense of ownership. (more…)

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How is Personalized Learning Changing Lives? Ask Thomas Rooney.

January 16, 2016 by

This post originally appeared on the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Ed Fly Blog on December 9, 2015.

Nestled in Central California, Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) is meeting and exceeding expectations. And part of the district’s winning formula includes competency-based learning.

The Lindsay community certainly faces challenges. One hundred percent of all students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. More than 90 percent of students are Hispanic or Latino, 50 percent are English Language Learners and 13 percent meet federal standards for homelessness.

Despite these incredibly difficult circumstances, LUSD is transforming education to a personalized system where all learners are met at their own level. These students are guaranteed success, challenged, and are pushed to leave LUSD ready to choose college or their career. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Common Assessment

January 15, 2016 by

CellThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 16, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

What do all of these student products have in common?

  • A children’s book page showing an animal cell, with labels and simple explanations of how the major organelles work.
  • A Prezi showing an animal cell. The presentation zooms in on different parts of the cell with a narrator explaining their functions.
  • A pop song about the animal cell. Each verse focuses on a different organelle.
  • A multi-paragraph essay describing the key parts of an animal cell.
  • ​A hand-sewn felt animal cell doll with all the major parts labeled and a display box with descriptions each major part.

These example products are all exactly the same, but different. While each product clearly connects to different skills sets or interests, each addresses the same learning target and level of rigor: (more…)

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Advancing Personalized Learning with Purpose

January 14, 2016 by

PencilThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on November 19, 2015. 

At last week’s iNACOL Symposium, the conference halls were abuzz about the promise of personalized learning. In the same week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released a report in partnership with RAND profiling promising academic results across schools pursuing a range of personalized approaches over the past two to three years. These conversations and findings mark an encouraging departure from our industrial model of education. Champions of personalized learning are rejecting the century old premise that students ought to experience school on the basis of standardized curriculum, age cohorts, grade levels, and seat time. And increasingly, there’s data to support this case. (more…)

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What is it Going to Mean to Have a Proficiency-Based Diploma?

January 13, 2016 by

GraduationWhat is a high school diploma and what does it mean? It certainly isn’t something written in stone – it can be whatever we want it to be. What we need it to be is meaningful to students, parents, colleges, educators, and employers. As we shift to competency education, we have the opportunity and often an urgency to revisit artifacts of the traditional system, either imbuing them with new meaning or redesigning them to better support students and their learning.

One of the strategies states are using to move toward competency education are proficiency-based diplomas. It’s an interesting strategy. It’s a strategy that demands the diploma mean something rather than an ever-increasing set of required courses and credits. It doesn’t actually say a school has to be competency-based. If they think they can get all their students to the level of proficiency required to earn a diploma in the traditional system, they wouldn’t really have to make any changes, would they? However, districts do start to change immediately to a competency-based or proficiency-based system under this strategy, as they know there is no way they can do it in the traditional system. (more…)

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RSU2: Moving Beyond the Test Score with Hope


hopeThis post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. This is the fourth post on my conversations at RSU2 in Maine. The first post is on lessons learned, the second is a look at Richmond Middle and High School, and the third looks at meeting students where they are.

Several times during the day with the RSU2 team, we touched on how important it is to think of what we want for students beyond test scores. Zima emphasized that he wants the students at RSU2 to be filled with hope – to have the skills they need to change their own environments and shape their futures. He referred to a video of Brandon Busteed, Education Director of Gallup, as he spoke before an Iowa Business Summit to Drive Education Reform. Busteed’s argument is that we are aiming at the wrong things in education. Our focus is all on academic test scores when the more important focus should be on building hope and engagement within the long-term goal of building well-being. (more…)

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Kids in the Pipeline During Transition to Proficiency-Based Systems

January 12, 2016 by

PipelineI have made the case for “turning the switch” to a proficiency-based model versus “phasing in” a new approach to educating our youth. I have discussed the preparations that I believe are necessary to successfully implement a proficiency-based system. How could I have missed this!? I expected our proficiency-based model to be so much better for our students than the traditional approach, yet many of our learners are struggling. What’s going on and why? What can be done? With hindsight being 20/20, what should we have done differently with our implementation?

What’s Going On and Why?

The jump to expecting students to demonstrate proficiency on clearly identified targets based on national standards is a step up for all, perhaps a bigger step for others. The expectation that students demonstrate proficiency on all standards assigned to a course is a significant change from a traditional system where a student need only score 70 percent (or less) to achieve credit and move on. Of course, we can look at this issue from a different view and state that students have been allowed to move on without 30 to 40 percent of the knowledge, concepts, and skills necessary for success at the next level. Many of us refer to this as the “Swiss Cheese Effect” of what our traditional high school model has allowed for…generations.

Now that we have made the transition to our proficiency-based model, we have students in high school whose clock is ticking toward graduating with their class. They are the kids in the pipeline without the foundational skills required to be able to demonstrate proficiency in required topics. We need to remember that students come to the system with eight to eleven years of “Swiss cheese.” The pressure on learners and our learning facilitators to fill holes in learning and complete graduation requirements is extraordinary. This, to use Chris Sturgis’ analogy, is one of the “elephants in the room” that needs our attention…in a hurry.

What Can be Done?


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