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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How Can We “Do School Differently”? Lessons from Springpoint’s StorySLAM at iNACOL

November 21, 2016 by

At iNACOL’s Blended and Online Learning Symposium this fall, Springpoint hosted a StorySLAM—a session where principals, teachers, and students in competency-based high schools shared their stories in the style of The Moth’s live storytelling format. Focused on the theme of “Doing School Differently,” these compelling stories describe everything from a seasoned principal’s experience adjusting his school’s model to a student’s story of agency and empowerment in a new high school.

Watch and listen to each story below.

Rick Reynolds, founding principal of PACT (Problem-based Academy of Critical Thinking) recounts the intensity of moving to a new city to design a brand new, innovative high school. With a focus on adjustment in the face of challenges, Reynolds traces his school’s pivot from a heavily tech-driven model to a more balanced approach. Most of the changes were spurred by teachers and students themselves, and were successful as a result of the strong culture at the school. As Reynolds says, “when you create a school and kids feel empowered, and teachers are as passionate as you are, they will not be quiet if something is wrong.”

 

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

November 18, 2016 by

What's NewNew Policy Resources for ESSA

School Models

Thought Leadership

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Crucial Mindsets

November 17, 2016 by

love-of-learningIn order to transition to an effective learner-centered proficiency-based community, we have to make some important shifts in our stances as educators. Sometimes these shifts are subtle and nuanced. Other times they are clear and straightforward. Focus on and change in instructional practices will only take a learning community so far if the underlying philosophical stances do not change.

Before we go any further in exploring some of the crucial mind shifts, take a moment to check in on your own stances using the following survey. Take your time with it, and be completely honest. This survey is completely anonymous and for reflection purposes only. Emails and names are not being collected. You will be able to see a breakdown of how people responded.

Personalized Learning Check In

Now that you have checked in, honestly, with your educational stances, let’s talk about where we really need to be operating from in order to truly have a learner-centered proficiency-based learning community. (more…)

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Treat or Treat? Competency-Based Learning Under ESSA

November 16, 2016 by
jennifer-brown-lerner

Jennifer Brown Lerner

This post originally appeared at American Youth Policy Forum on October 31, 2016.

As my own children are feverishly planning which houses to visit tonight, based upon who has given the best Halloween candy in the past, I’ve been thinking a lot about tricks and treats. We don’t often evaluate education policy through this lens, but I think it might be useful, considering the support (or lack of) for competency-based learning under ESSA, the recently passed federal law governing K-12 education. In this post, I will explore two aspects of ESSA, assessment (including the assessment innovation pilot) and accountability, which have been touted as supportive of competency-based learning, but perhaps more like the neighbor who hands out boxes of yogurt-covered raisins, a treat that tricks us into thinking it is healthy.

Assessment

Under ESSA, states can move away from single, end-of-year exams to assessments which measure demonstration of mastery and integrate many points of learning evidence that produce an annual summative score. I’d file this change squarely in the category of treats in support of competency-based learning.

Yet, it also feels like there are some tricks associated with this one.  Pivoting an assessment system from the current model of annual tests is going to be a heavy lift for state agencies, districts, and educators. While end-of-course exams might not be the best mechanism to measure mastery, for better or worse, they are what we know and what we know how to do.

The trick of this treat is the limited investment under ESSA to support educators and school leaders in developing and transitioning to a more robust assessment system. Before you take issue with my point, I recognize there is SOME funding, which is better than nothing. There are still grants to states for the development of assessments with new uses for these funds, but it does not specifically include professional development. Note that under Title II Part A, states can utilize up to 3% of their funds for developing and supporting principals and school leaders with the transition to personalized, student-centered (which could be, but don’t necessarily have to be a competency-based) learning environment. But, in my opinion, this is like getting a single Tootsie Roll that might even fall out of your candy bag.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Innovative Assessment Pilot, a demonstration program authorized under ESSA to allow a select group of states or consortiums of states (no more than 7) to pilot high-quality, rigorous assessments.  Modeled after PACE which New Hampshire received authority to introduce through their NCLB waiver, states would develop and utilize assessments which validate mastery of academic knowledge and competencies through performance tasks.

This might sound like a delectable treat in support of competency-based learning, but hold off on your salivating until after you understand the fine print. States have five years to develop their systems, demonstrate comparability to the current state assessment, and scale the assessment system statewide.  Given our track record and attention span in K-12 education for pilots and innovations, I question whether or not this pilot will propel us towards performance-based assessment systems. (more…)

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Rollout Strategies

November 15, 2016 by

rolloutThis is the eighteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

To date, there is no magic formula for how to roll out the conversion to competency education. Districts consider where leadership and enthusiasm is in place, where faculty is ready for the change, and where the most urgent need is based on academic scores. Adams 50 started with elementary schools, Lindsay Unified started with the high school and has now rolled all the way back to elementary school, and Pittsfield School District started with their Middle High School. At Sanborn Regional School District, significant elements of the effort began at the elementary and middle school levels and eventually progressed to the high school level. RSU2 asked faculty to vote whether they wanted to go forward before moving toward the transition after a year of inquiry and research. They then developed a rollout strategy to implement their learner-centered instructional strategies throughout the entire K-12 system.

In Chugach School District, district leadership clearly and publicly announced the direction, then each school developed their individual timeline. Some schools jumped in headfirst, while others phased in the new system over time, content area by content area. Along the way, each school shared successes and challenges, learning from each other, and eventually all realized they successfully achieved the same transition.

Medium and large districts have to think about scaling strategies upfront. Lake County began with eight launch schools that implemented at an accelerate rate with the help of a personalized learning facilitator. Charleston County School District started with three high schools and their feeder schools to serve as the early adopters of the personalized learning framework. Each school created demo classrooms that had full implementation with all other teachers taking advantage of personalized, competency-based professional development to build new practices and strengthen instruction/assessment. Henry County has organized its transition plan around cohorts of schools and a strategy to “pay it forward” so that educators have opportunity to share their learning with each other. (more…)

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Preparing for Leadership Lifts

November 14, 2016 by

airplaneThis is the seventeenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

The transition year(s) is the period of time when people use the phrases “building the ship in the water” and “constructing the plane in the air.” Educators are doing double-duty setting up the new system while also educating students within the traditional system, which makes this a time of excitement, nervousness, challenge, and frustration. Below are a few of the major activities that districts undertake during the transition year(s).

The leadership demands are high during the transition years—it is crucial that the culture of learning is reinforced, as teachers may feel that they aren’t succeeding in either the traditional system or the new one being put into place. Moreover, as teachers begin to focus more sharply on helping students learn rather than delivering a curriculum, their own gaps in skills will become evident. Leadership will find that the shared purpose and guiding principles emphasizing learning and collaboration can become a shield to minimize the disruption caused by top-down policies that emphasize evaluations of individual teachers.

Oliver Grenham and Jeni Gotto of Adams 50 in Colorado warn that districts converting to competency education need to be ready for a “bumpy journey,” as it is impossible for everything to be perfectly designed. Their advice is for educators to: (more…)

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Launching the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative

November 11, 2016 by

research-collaborativeThere is increasing evidence supporting the growth of student-centered learning (competency-based learning is one of the four elements) to promote success for all students and drive equity in education. Yet, work remains. How can we curate research-based best practices for implementation? How can we scale student-centered learning, knowing implementation varies based on local contexts? How do we intentionally foreground equity in new school designs to prevent defaulting to the status quo? How can we overcome barriers from policy and the traditional system?

In early November, Jobs for the Future, in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, launched the Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative, a new effort to investigate and evaluate what we know about student-centered learning and leverage that knowledge to effect meaningful change at scale. For more information on the Research Collaborative, view their concept paper.

The goals of the Research Collaborative are three-fold:

  1. Catalyze: Support new and innovative research that catalyzes action and builds coherence within the field.
  2. Curate: Curate best and most relevant scholarship and practices and communicate findings.
  3. Connect: Connect research and implementation to learn from and inform policy and practice.

JFF hosted a convening to announce this new Research Collaborative including researchers, experts, practitioners, funders, and policymakers to bridge the gap and create dialogue between research and practice. The following nine Distinguished Fellows will take on this work over two years: (more…)

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Telling Our Story

November 9, 2016 by

I am feeling really good that we are finally filling the gap of videos that communities can use to learn about competency education and launch conversation about setting a new vision for education in their own schools.

Lindsay Unified School District has produced a 30-minute video about why we need to change from a traditional system to a performance-based system that you can use in your communities to generate conversation. The video is Superintendent Tom Rooney telling the stories of different Lindsay learners with people in the Lindsay community acting out the stories. As always, Tom speaks from his heart – even though I had heard him tell some of these stories before, several brought me to tears. In many ways, the video also helps to challenge bias that we may hold about our students and families. For example, the last story about a young man who wants to go to college even though his father’s expectations are that he would join him in the fields is told with stereotype-busting respect.

(more…)

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Empowering Teachers

November 8, 2016 by

glassesThis is the sixteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

In competency-based schools, a collaborative and empowered cadre of teachers is the engine that drives learning. Student learning depends on a strong adaptive instructional cycle that, in turn, depends on skilled teachers using their professional judgment that, also in turn, depends on the structures and cultures of the organization. Missy DeRivera, a homeschool teacher at Chugach School District, explained, “The leadership question is always central to our work. Is this best for kids? That is at the core of our entire district. We identify what is best for kids and then we figure out how to make it happen.”

Strong Professional Learning Communities

It is difficult, if not impossible, to build the calibration mechanism that is essential for competency education to be effectively implemented without strong professional learning communities. It is also an ingredient for an empowered cadre of teachers. Sanborn Regional School District placed PLCs as core to operations right from the start. Their administrative team recognized that reorganizing in the district would require an investment of time, and opted for Professional Learning Community meetings over weekly informational staff meetings. As Ellen Hume-Howard, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, stated, “Doing this has been challenging and the administrators have worked hard at communicating to staff in other ways, but we believe PLC time is important and our calendar reflects this belief.”

Jonathan Vander Els, Principal of Memorial Elementary, emphasized that one of the principal’s most important leadership functions is to support PLCs, making sure they have the time to meet and are staying true to the norms that allow them to be a source of collaborative, professional development. “Principals and district leaders have the power to make sure there is freedom to have hard conversations in safety,” he said. “It starts with distributed leadership models that understand and value teacher leadership in creating a dynamic learning culture within the school.”

Aligned Human Resources System

Soon after converting to competency education, many districts find that they need to modify their human resources operations, including hiring, orientation, professional development, and evaluation.

Hiring and Orientation

Competency education is changing the way districts think about hiring. In the traditional model, they searched for teachers who had experience in teaching the curriculum for a specific grade. “Now we look for teachers who are interested in teaching students and know the discipline so they can help students who are in different places along their learning progressions,” explained Ellen Hume-Howard, Director of Curriculum Development at Sanborn Regional School District. Doug Penn, Districtwide Principal at Chugach, emphasized this with, “We don’t hire teachers, we hire members of a team. We don’t want people to compartmentalize.”

At Lindsay Unified School District, the hiring process is more robust now than it has been in years past. Prospective employees are introduced to the model ahead of time to gauge their interest, and the final step is an in-depth conversation with the principal regarding the district philosophy. “We always empower our staff,” said Jaime Robles, “so we need to make sure we hire individuals who share our belief systems on how students learn and what motivates them.” At Sanborn, much of the orientation takes places within PLCs, while new teachers at Pittsfield School District are assigned a mentor to help them align competencies, rubrics, and assessments, as well as learn how to manage a personalized classroom. (more…)

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Policies for Personalization: Levels, Pace, and Progress

November 7, 2016 by

scaffoldThis is the fifteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating the policies that will support greater personalization.

Districts will need to develop a set of policies or guidelines regarding pace. The function of keeping students learning at a meaningful pace (as compared to delivering curriculum) is one of the most important and challenging aspects of the conversion to competency education. As a field, we have yet to create new language, concepts, or metrics that help us understand pace and progress. As you consider the following questions, understand that you are on the edges of the frontier.

What academic level are students? As students enter a competency-based school, teachers will need to know their academic levels. Some schools do formal assessments using an array of formats. Some turn to one assessment system, such as NWEA Map or Scantron. Others have found that this can be off-putting for students, and look to teachers to use their professional judgment in leveling students. Teachers continue seeking understanding of the skills and knowledge students bring into the classroom by using pre-assessments to assess what students know or don’t know so they can respond more quickly to students who need extra help.

What is a meaningful pace? Flexibility in pace and pacing is one of the most important concepts in competency education and also one of the most challenging. Making Community Connections Charter School‘s Kim Carter explains, “One of the most significant distinct aspects of a personalized competency-based system is the ability to adjust pacing to meet every learner’s needs. This shouldn’t be construed to mean that each learner gets to set his or her own pace. At MC² we rely on ‘negotiated pacing with gradual release.’ This is an integral aspect of developing student agency and the central role of managing motivation in an educational system designed to create proficiency not just in facts and skills, but in habits and dispositions to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners. Determining progress is very clear in a competency-based system because of the transparency of the learning objectives. Pace is the progress (amount of learning) divided by an amount of time. Depending how a district has developed their academic levels, competency-based schools can determine the expected annual rate of learning.” (more…)

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