ACHIEVE Releases State Policy Framework

August 1, 2013 by

The expansion of competency education is being driven by school innovators, district leaders and courageous state leadership. As we continue to expand, there will logobe a second set of states, districts and schools joining on that believe that competency education is the right thing to do for their students but may not be fully ready to take on the hard work of innovation on their own.  So it’s important that we have the full cast of education organizations — advocacy organizations and specific stakeholder associations – fully understanding and engaged in advancing competency education.

ACHIEVE is one of the organizations to dive in early into this work by setting up a Working Group in 2012 that includes representatives from Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin. The Work Group also engaged organizations such as Advance Illinois, Alliance for Excellent Education, Business Education Compact, Carpe Diem, CCSSO, Data Quality Campaign, Digital Learning Now, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Nellie Mae Education Foundation and Western Governors University. Both Susan Patrick from iNACOL and I participated as well.

They’ve just released a State Policy Framework Advancing Competency-Based Pathways to College and Career Readiness to provide guidance to the next set of states that are planning to take a step towards competency education.  Stay tuned – there is more coming. In a few weeks, ACHIEVE will release more resources including a school-level report card and policy brief that focuses on how to implement equity within a competency education system.

Lens 3: Meeting Facilitation


Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 11.43.02 AMIn earlier posts, I described a framework of leadership I believe is needed if the work of converting to a student-centered, proficiency-based system of learning is to be successful. I base my thinking on my own experiences and the tales of leaders gone before. The framework is built around four lenses. They are building a leadership team, action planning (both described in earlier posts), meeting facilitation, and culture. This post looks to further describe the lens of meeting facilitation.

I remember the excitement I felt the night before my first team leader meeting. I laid awake visioning different scenarios of how I should act. I could sit quietly and listen to the experts discuss teaching and learning. I could share some thoughts of my own? What should I share? What do I know? Would I say something stupid and lose their respect? Did I even have their respect? The night went on but sleep did not.

The morning came. I hurried to the meeting carrying my Team Leader Binder under my arm as though I was tasked with delivering the Magna Carta. I pushed the door open and found an empty room. I took my seat and waited. People trickled in like a slow drip from the kitchen faucet. They gave me a cordial smile and took their seats. With one minute to go, the assistant principal entered the room. She did not sit. Instead she stood at the head of the conference table and opened her binder like a maestro getting ready to lead the orchestra. She watched the clock. As the clock struck eight, she began.

“Looking at the agenda, we have picture day next Monday. Any questions?” She glanced around the room, but it was clear she was not looking for any. Instead we moved to the next item. “Grades will close on January 23. Any questions?” With the same interest in hearing input, she moved onto the next item, then the next. When all the agenda items were covered, she closed her binder and said, “See you next week.” Without even looking at the leaders, she vacated the room. The leaders followed, congratulating each other on finishing the meeting in under 15 minutes. I sat in my seat wondering what had just happened. (more…)

Retake Policy: Lessons Learned from Pat Benatar

July 29, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 3.08.52 PMAs an Eighties baby and a fan of sample based music, I have spent a great deal of time surrounded by crates of vinyl. The history educator in me sees these as cultural artifacts: moments frozen in time that convey the values and feelings of people willing to put themselves out to the masses.

This same act is one we see in our students every day. In their attempts to be competent, they put out their best work for all to see. Depending upon a number of factors, that work hits or misses the mark. In the competency-based classroom environment though, the expectation is that education is not a “one-and-done” event, but rather a “move on when ready” model.

So the question is posed: How do we juggle the ideal with the real in the realm of retake policy? Below is a plan that I put into place with my classes and has seen some great successes. (I would love to hear your feedback and personal ideas/experiences in the comments!)


1. For the summative assessment, require a minimum to show best effort:

By clearly stating what the expectations are when introducing the summative, we can better communicate where the line of rigor is to allow a student to show that they put their best effort forward. When used in my classroom, some of the minimums that have seen success are a minimum grade on the original summative, and the summative needing to be submitted on time. In the traditional setting, I have also seen this bar move according to the expectations of the classroom teacher—for example, the beginning of the semester may require a certain grade for the opportunity to retake and as the semester progresses, that minimum grade might be increased.



Maine Releases New Resources for Personalized, Proficiency-Based Education

July 24, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 2.38.39 PMThe Maine Department of Education has just released a new video on their efforts to transition to personalized, proficiency-based education. This is a delightful, inspiring, informative video on the interdisciplinary academies (innovation, ecology and international) at Troy Howard Middle School.

Also check out Maine’s new website Getting to Proficiency: Helping Maine Graduate Every Student Prepared. It’s designed to provide technical assistance for districts and schools that are getting started in proficiency-based education.  It’s a model for other states who are starting to put together introductory materials for their districts. Be sure to check out the planning tool.

Nominate Your Favorite Competency Education Superintendent


ltlfbanner_jeson650x121Hi all — Ed Week is running a Leaders to Learn From special report. They are looking for nominations of superintendents or other district-level administrators who have brought fresh, successful ideas to their school communities in any area from academics to daily operations.

So let’s nominate all of our incredibly wonderful competency education innovators. They want to know about specific innovations so don’t just say competency education. Give an example of a specific practice they brought in to your district — new grading, an information system to support teachers and students, a new way to use competency education data to run special education courses, ways to provide more supports to students, flexibility in the calendar.

Nominations Close on August 1st. You can nominate someone here.

Changing To a Competency Based Grading System: A Student View


Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 8.59.59 AMMy New Hampshire high school made the shift to a competency-based grading and reporting system two years ago. Educators who talk to me about that experience often want to know what that change process looked like from a student’s perspective. Surprisingly, most students were comfortable with the shift provided that they believed the school and teachers were effective at explaining how their grade would be calculated. The students who seemed most reluctant to change at the beginning were the ones who were already performing at a high level in the old system. These kids knew how to play what I like to call the grading game. They didn’t always test well, but they knew they could always compensate for that by doing all their homework, raising their hand every day in class, and bringing in canned goods on Thanksgiving week for extra credit points. The problem is that these behaviors made the assumption that, if students had good study habits, then they must have learned. When we think about it this way, it seems outrageous to support a system that doesn’t directly connect to competencies – the ability of a student to apply content knowledge and skills in and/or across the content area(s).

To help educators understand what I went through when my school made this shift, consider the following set of fictitious letters between a student and I. These letters are adapted from actual scenarios that I faced in the first year of implementation.



Dear Mr. Stack,

I am writing to you to express my displeasure that our school changed its grading practices for the upcoming school year. I have always been an “A” student. I do all of my homework, I always raise my hand to participate in class, and I always turn in my assignments on time. I am not; however, a good test-taker. In the past my teachers have always known this and they have compensated by giving me extra credit opportunities, making my homework worth more points, and giving me lots of participation point opportunities.

With this new grading system, it seems all the emphasis is being placed on doing well on tests. Homework is worth practically nothing. It seems due dates don’t matter. I am very concerned that I am no longer going to be an “A” student.

Why would our school change to a system that is going to hurt kids like me? I am very discouraged.


Nicole (more…)

A Learning Progression To Support Teachers

July 23, 2013 by

photoAll twelve of us sit around the table in our workroom, pouring through the Customized Classroom Facilitator Continuum.  I half skim the paper in front of me, half scan the faces of my colleagues.  On one of my scans I catch my principal’s eye.  He’s scanning too. We finished our first draft of the progression yesterday, and this is the moment when we find out if our work makes sense.  I’m a little nervous.

The teachers in the room with us, the Phase 1 teams, are all taking the first steps towards our vision of customized learning.  It is now April and all of us are tired, a little ragged, from stretching into this first year.  These people are the best people to look at this progression and give us honest, brutal feedback.  And they will.

The Customized Classroom Facilitator Continuum is a learning progression, just like any other learning progression, but for teachers.  A learning progression takes a skill or concept, breaks out the different aspects of that skill or concept, and arranges learning targets from simple to complex.  There are different kinds of learning progressions depending on content and skill, as Fritz Mosher touches on in his CPRE policy brief “The Role of Learning Progressions in Standards-Based Education Reform,” as well as different formats for organizing them.  The Customized Classroom Facilitator Continuum takes the skills and understandings needed to create and support a personalized learning environment and arranges them by the following philosophical lenses: (more…)

Lingering Questions #2: Flexibility in Instruction and Delivery

July 22, 2013 by

CBE, when done best, requires an interdisciplinary approach to learning, which in turn requires an interdisciplinary approach to teaching. — Jennifer Davis, Innovation Lab Network

This was originally published on the College & Career Readiness & Success blog.

On June 24th, the American Youth Policy Forum and the College and Career Readiness and Success Center at the American Institutes for Research co-hosted a webinar on “State Implications for Competency-based Education Systems.” Presenters included Kate Nielson, Policy Analyst, National Governors Association; Diane Smith, Director, Teaching and Learning Initiative, Oregon Business Education Compact; Sandra Dop, Consultant for 21st Century Skills, Iowa Department of Education; Carissa Miller, Deputy Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Following the webinar, we collected a series of lingering questions from participants on a range of topics. Their responses to the second of three important questions is below:

Competency-based learning calls for more flexibility in terms of how content is delivered and an emphasis on project-based learning opportunities that often require interdisciplinary approaches. How have states thought about this type of instruction in competency-based systems and what implications might it have for teacher preparation, ongoing professional development, and even teacher credentialing?

Jennifer Davis, Director, Innovation Lab Network, CCSSO (responding in place of Carissa Miller) – This question hits the nail on the head – CBE, when done best, requires an interdisciplinary approach to learning, which in turn requires an interdisciplinary approach to teaching.  Many sites implementing CBE have re-defined the role of teachers as “learning facilitators” who work with other teachers in cohorts, camps, or teams that collaborate around the needs of a designated group of students, sometimes following those students from year to year to preserve continuity.  Schools provide time and space for these teachers to plan together, and also often provide coaching to support teachers who are new to the system.  Districts and states have a responsibility to ensure that professional development and teacher preparation programs are reflective of the new roles for educators. Some states are looking to redesign teacher preparation programs in an effort to make them more competency-based. (more…)

The Envelope Please…And the Winners Are…

July 18, 2013 by

The Next Generation Learning Challenge announced the Wave IV Cycle 1 winners this week. (Disclaimer: I’m one of the reviewers for NGLC.) There are a number of grants that are going to offer valuable insights into competency education. One of the things we will need to pay attention to is the difference between those that have a full competency-based infrastructure that is similar to or expanded beyond our working definition, and those that may emphasize proficiency (or mastery) without the same level of formality. We really need to understand what are the key elements to which we need to have absolute fidelity.

We are also starting to see 2.0 versions from the leading innovators, including New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy, Boston Day and Evening Academy, and Florida Virtual School.  They are exploring moving to fully competency-based learning progressions rather than using courses to organize units of learning. They are also moving toward new information systems and integration of what we are learning from experiential learning, mind-body connections, and social-emotional learning.

A few of the winners are described below:


Launch Grants

VIRTUAL LEARNING ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL (NH), the statewide online charter school is redefining “school” to mean wherever learning occurs, whether in a classroom, online, or in the community through VLACS Aspire, a 100% self-paced competency-based approach (rather than a course-based curriculum), that harnesses the face-to-face learning potential of internships, service-learning, and distributed learning team-based projects. (more…)

ELO and CBE: A Match Made in Heaven

From RIAPA website

From RIAPA website

Once upon a time, I was involved in the school-to-work effort and one of the constant, churning complaintswas the difficulty employers, schools and community organizations had in talking to each other – different values, different timeline, different jargon. And oh those acronyms….how we stumbled over them again and again.

As I’ve talked to people across the country, such as Adam Greenman, from the Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance (RIAPA), I’ve started to wonder: Can competencies become a common language between students, schools, community organizations and employers?  I’m starting to think the answer is YES!

Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) are opportunities for community-connected learning experiences that earn credit within and beyond the traditional classroom.

Competency education may in fact offer a way to bridge these different sectors in a number of different ways. First, the academic competencies that students are working on can help drive project design at internships. Think about it – our schools aren’t really designed for knowledge utilization – that is the 4th level on Marzano’s taxonomy of knowledge.  Maybe the real-world is where students are going to be able to demonstrate they can really apply what they learned. (more…)

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