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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States Considering Policies Supporting Competency-Based Education

July 14, 2015 by

LibraryThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on June 26, 2015.

States considering policies to support competency-based education are on the rise. Policy levers that support competency education and personalized learning include innovation zones, school finance changes, planning grants, new assessment frameworks, and pilot programs. This week, we highlight states’ efforts to pass policies that support new models and systems of assessments, including flexibility for locally-developed, performance-based assessments.

How a state structures its assessments and accountability systems can significantly enhance or impede competency education. Acknowledging this, North Carolina HB 439 expresses legislative intent that the state “transition to a system of testing and assessments…that utilizes competency-based learning assessments to measure student performance and student growth.” The bill passed the House by a vote of 112-2 but has stalled in the Senate. North Carolina can still pass the bill but must move quickly in order to do so because the legislature adjourns on July 1.

Federal rules require states to administer summative tests at the end of each school year that include test items from only students’ current grade levels. These single-point-in-time assessment systems discourage schools from implementing personalized, competency-based pathways. (more…)

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Three Factors for Success: Agency, Integrated Identity, and Competencies

July 13, 2015 by

ydThere is growing interest – and I would also argue growing confusion – about all the skills and dispositions that aren’t academic content areas. They are often lumped together under the phrase “non-cognitive.” I fully agree with Andy Calkins that the term “non-cognitive” is problematic. In fact, I would say it is downright silly and makes us sound like we don’t know anything about learning and brain science when we suggest higher order thinking skills are not part of a cognitive process.

However, I don’t think the answer is in finding the right terminology, but in understanding how all these skills and dispositions relate to learning and to the development of young people into what we have called college and career ready. There is significant difference between dispositions such as grit or perseverance and skills related to self-knowledge such as self-control, not to mention skills used in projects and work such as collaboration and communication, and thinking skills such as analysis or evaluation used in almost every academic pursuit. I’m not quite sure where creativity goes at all …perhaps it is a category unto itself.

It’s important to understand these differences and think carefully about how they are nurtured, what they look like developmentally that might be structured as benchmarks, and how they are assessed. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advocating for formal summative assessments. It doesn’t make sense to me to try to have NAEP monitoring grit at this point in time unless we really understand how all these dispositions and skills fit together. And until we determine which ones, if any,  are important to measure. It’s much more important for us to figure out how schools and teachers, working with community partners, develop and assess as a cycle of learning and development.

The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research has just released an absolutely groundbreaking developmental framework that could help us on our way of understanding how these concept fit together. The report, Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework, provides a two-tier framework (captured in this infographic). The authors propose that young adults will be successful when three key factors are in place: agency, integrated identity, and competencies. According to the report, “These factors capture how a young adult poised for success interacts with the world (agency), the internal compass that a young adult uses to make decisions consistent with her values, beliefs, and goals (an integrated identity), and how she is able to be effective in different tasks (competencies).” Underlying the key factors are four foundational components: self-regulation, knowledge and skills, mindsets, and values.

The authors define these factors as:

Agency is the ability to make choices about and take an active role in one’s life path, rather than solely being the product of one’s circumstances. Agency requires the intentionality and forethought to derive a course of action and adjust that course as needed to reflect one’s identity, competencies, knowledge and skills, mindsets, and values. (more…)

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Keeping the Why

July 8, 2015 by

TeacherRecently, I found myself at a conference sponsored by the Maine Curriculum Leaders’ Association. The purpose: to discuss where we are as a state in our ability to award diplomas based on proficiency of concepts and skills. Since each district is tasked with defining their own plan, it was a welcomed opportunity to hear the challenges and successes other districts have been encountering. It was a wonderful day of professional collaboration minus the single moment someone shared that they were excited about the move to proficiency since “students will now be ready when they get to me.” The grade level of the teacher who spoke is not relevant because I saw nodding heads of agreement from teachers of all levels. Is this really why we are doing this? So we know that students are ready for us? My mind took off.

I have heard this phrase uttered before. And, in full disclosure, I would be untruthful if I said those simple words never passed over my lips nor that I gave a head gesture in an attempt to emphasize my point that competency-based learning is worth making a reality. That was before I realized the importance of starting with WHY (thanks Simon Sinek). What was the reason we want this shift in education? In my more recent history of the competency-based movement, I have solidified my deeper understanding of why I want to shift from a system that awards Carnegie Units based on seat time and subject grades to one that asks students to demonstrate competency of skills and knowledge. The truth is, competency-based in not about making sure kids are ready for the next level’s teacher. Maybe that is a good why if you think only of how skills are to be taught. But, by simply adding the words “learner-centered” in front of proficiency-based, we make the reforms in the systems of schooling about what the student needs. In other words, we tag a student’s proficiency not because we want to know they are ready for us. We tag so we know what to prepare so we are ready for them. The difference between the two phrases might seem subtle, and at first glance may even be synonymous, but the effects on the system are not the same. The Why and how we teach and assess shifts when we begin with the learner.

Doug Finn, an educational coach for ReInventing Schools Coalition (RISC), has offered a great explanation of the differences. He shared that the teacher-centered structure, common in most schools, starts with a teacher and then assigns age-appropriate students to build the teacher’s schedule of classes. In contrast, a learner-centered approach starts with identifying what the students’ current needs are, grouping them, and then finding an adult to guide them to the next level of the learning progression. (more…)

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Lesson Learned: Enabling Policy Isn’t Enough, It takes Incentives

July 7, 2015 by

Ohio SealOhio offers all of us a big lesson learned about how states can advance competency education. They have learned from experience that enabling policy isn’t enough, it is going to require incentives to engage districts in full systemic re-design. Several years ago, Ohio created credit flexibility that allowed for districts to award competency-based credits to students. Even though a district could have used this to create competency-based pathways or even make the transition to competency education, there was little uptake. So now the Ohio state legislature passed H.B. 64, which includes funds for pilots in competency-based education. (Go to page 2572 SECTION 263.280. to find information on the pilot.) The Ohio Department of Education is authorized to make two-year grants to five districts, schools, or consortia of districts and schools of up to $200,000 for each fiscal year.

Ohio is going to be a state to pay attention to, as they are also encouraging higher education to become competency-based, as well. Thus, we may start to see some innovations about how to create more seamless K-16 competency-based pathways.

Below is the testimony of iNACOL President and CEO Susan Patrick (and co-founder of CompetencyWorks) to the Ohio House Finance Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education regarding competency-based education:

Chairman Cupp and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of the competency-based education pilot program found in H.B. 64.

iNACOL is a non-profit organization with the mission to ensure all students have access to a world-class education and leads the CompetencyWorks initiative.

The competency-based education pilot is an important step for Ohio districts and schools to begin this transition towards providing personalized, competency-based learning to Ohio students.

The iNACOL/CCSSO definition of competency education has five elements:

  • Students advance upon mastery;
  • Competencies include explicit, learning objectives that empower students;
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students;
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual needs; and
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, and the development of important skills and dispositions.

(more…)

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Summer Reading for Newbies: What is Competency Education?

July 6, 2015 by

Dog ReadingWhen Susan Patrick and I started working together in 2009, there were two things written about competency education. There was lots about the classroom practices of mastery-based learning, but only Delivering on the Promise and A New Model of Student Assessment for the 21st Century provided insights into what a competency-based structure rather than a time-based system looked like. They are both still worth reading: Delivering on the Promise captures the transformation that occurred at Chugach School District, and I consider the description of the failings of the traditional system in A New Model of Student Assessment for the 21st Century to be one of the best out there.

Six years later, reports and blogs abound. So where should someone trying to understand competency education focus their attention? This list would be better written by a master-novice (someone who has just learned about competency education), as they would be able to tell you what was most helpful to them (in fact…we would love it if you told us what resources have been most helpful to you so that we are more confident in our recommendations). However, I will do my best to provide a reading list.

Please note: We are still building knowledge and gathering it together so we can learn from each other. I’ve marked gaps in the field of knowledge in italics. 

Quick Overview

  • Great Schools Partnership has developed a great set of resources called Proficiency-Based Learning Simplified. The Ten Principles of Proficiency-Based Learning is an excellent resource. Don’t just skim it. Find a few colleagues and talk together about it.
  • CompetencyWorks developed introductory materials – a general description, one for state leaders, and one for federal leaders. These are helpful, but honestly we really need a fun, animated video to really bring to life what competency education means.
  • CompetencyWorks wiki also has a detailed definition that many people have told me is really helpful in understanding how the five-part working definition informs system-building, school design, and classroom practices.

As I make this list, it’s really clear to me that as a field we are still missing an easy-to-read primer on competency education that helps explain how the pieces of competency fit together to create a cohesive system.

Going a Bit Deeper

Once you’ve read what competency education is, questions will likely abound. The following papers provide more depth. (more…)

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More Schools Going Mastery

July 2, 2015 by
tywls

From the Young Women Leadership Academy Website

The Mastery Collaborative, a program based in New York City’s Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness, announced the eight schools that will be making up the Mastery Collaborative Living Lab for 2015-16. These schools are implementing (or enhancing) a schoolwide mastery system, and as part of the Living Lab will make their classrooms, resources, and expertise available to others interested in mastery-based learning.

The eight schools are:

Bronx Leadership Academy 2 HS (BLA2)

Carroll Gardens School for Innovation (CGSI) (here is a link to my visit)

Frank McCourt HS

Harvest Collegiate HS

NYC iSchool

Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy Int’l HS (KAPPA)

The Young Women’s Leadership School-Astoria (TYWLS-Astoria)

Urban Assembly Maker Academy

(more…)

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Can MOOCs Become System-Builders?

July 1, 2015 by
From Atlantic Article

Image from The Atlantic Website

Something really special happens in the second or third year of implementation in schools that are applying competency education with the spirit of learning and the spirit of empowerment – educators develop a deep sense of urgency to improve their skills so they are in a better position to help students learn.

In the first year or so, there is a shared purpose that the goal is to make sure students learn, not cover the curriculum; educators have figured out the new infrastructure for learning; the understanding of what proficiency means for each academic level has been calibrated; everyone is aware of where as a school they are strong and where they are weak in terms of being able to help students learn; and if a strong information system has been put into place, everyone also knows exactly how students are progressing and which ones need more help. With this transparency about how the school is performing, educators become focused on how improve their instructional tool kits – deepening their knowledge about how to teach their discipline, how to upgrade instruction and assessment to higher order skills, integrating language and literacy practices, how to organize learning opportunities so students are really engaged in robust learning, how to better coach students in building habits of learning….and the list goes on.

It’s a tremendous lift in instruction and assessment led by educators themselves who realize that their own professional skills need to be improved if they are going to help students achieve – I think of this as the transition toward the Finnish model. Teachers have explained that this stage of the transition is both the most challenging and the most rewarding. However, as a country, we are challenged to provide adequate professional development and learning opportunities for teachers that are rooted in the values and practices of competency-based education and are available in just-in-time modules. (more…)

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