Fulton County Schools: A Big District Approach to Competency Education

October 9, 2014 by
Dr. Scott Muri

Dr. Scott Muri

I had the opportunity to talk last week with Dr. Scott Muri, Deputy Superintendent of Academics for Fulton County Schools (FCS) in Atlanta, Georgia. I knew that FCS was moving aggressively towards personalization, but I had never been quite sure how they saw competency education fitting into their strategy. (Although one definition of personalization includes competency-based progressions, in my opinion schools can be highly personalized without being competency-based: They can focus on completion rather than proficiency, they can pass students on with Cs and Ds, and they can personalize within age-based cohorts without opportunity to move beyond their grade level.)

When I asked Dr. Muri about their approach to competency education, he replied, “How can one  think about personalization without looking at competency education?  One is embedded in the other. If you don’t have a competency-based infrastructure, there is no way of knowing if your personalized approach is resulting in students learning.”

(more…)

Virgel Hammonds’ Six Insights into Leadership

October 8, 2014 by

virgelThis is the second in a two part series on RSU2 in Maine.  The first post is A Quick Update from RSU2 Maine

We all know that the magic ingredient to successfully bringing about any systemic reform is leadership. We know it, we talk about it, but what exact leadership style and strategies are needed?

I’ve listened to superintendents, district teams, principals, and teacher-leaders talk about the importance of leadership in converting schools to competency education. There seems to be something special about the type of leadership that is needed, but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it until I spoke with Virgel Hammonds, superintendent of RSU2 in Maine.

Hammonds issued a caveat at the beginning of our conversation on leadership, reminding me that he considered himself a new superintendent and that he was still figuring out the role. He then laid out six insights about what is required of district leadership in proficiency-based systems that struck me as coming from the voice of experience.

1. No One Has All the Answers

Hammonds described the trap that captures educators as they ascend the career ladder. As authority increases, education leaders are positioned as the ones who have the answer. The trap is that having the final say can easily come to mean “the one who has the right answer.” Leaders can start to feel that they have to have the right answer, or worse, that they in fact do have the answer.

Hammonds explained that leaders have to move away from this thinking, “As districts and schools convert to proficiency-based learning, they are knocking down load-bearing walls. It’s impossible to have all the answers because any organizational change often has multiple consequences.” He said learning to be a superintendent in a proficiency-based district meant he had to let go of the pride of having all the answers. “No one person is going to do this all by themselves or be able to figure it all out entirely by themselves. Instead, we have to ask ourselves, ‘How can we take a position of trust and respect that can harness the collective intelligence needed to bring about transformative change?’”

2.  Make Decisions Around the Best Interest of Students

Hammonds said that he is often asked about the Lindsay story (he was a high school principal in that California district) or the RSU2 story, as if there is a step-by-step process that other districts can follow. “It’s not about one method. Every district and school has its own history and culture. They need to be able to tap into the assets of their communities and schools to develop the vision, guiding principles, and process that is right for them.” (more…)

Oct 14 3-4 ET: Webinar on International Practices that Inform Competency Education

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Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 8.08.57 AMOn Monday October 13th CompetencyWorks will release  An International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad by Sara Frank Bristow and Susan Patrick. It’s a great read about how international approaches to education can inform competency education. The authors draw from Finland, British Columbia (Canada), New Zealand and Scotland as well as highlighting schools in other countries.  I found it incredibly helpful in thinking more carefully about what is possible.

We also have a webinar planned for Tuesday, October 14,  2014 from 3:00-4:00 PM Eastern. Sara and Susan will walk through their findings and discuss implications for our work here in the U.S. As always, we expect the chat room to have a lively conversation going on as well.

Register here for the webinar.

 

 

Quick Update from RSU2 Maine

October 7, 2014 by

rsu 2This is a two-part series on RSU2. Come back tomorrow for a conversation with Virgel Hammonds on leadership.

I crossed paths with Virgel Hammonds, Superintendent of RSU2 in Maine, on a Digital Promise  call about competency education. We hadn’t had a chance to talk for a while, so we scheduled another quick call. I asked Virgel about what they had been learning and how they had been enhancing their proficiency-based approach (Maine uses the term proficiency-based learning). Some of the changes are evident on their website, such as replacing the term “school” with “learning community.” Knowing the strength of the team at RSU2, I knew that there would be valuable insights or new approaches that we could all learn from.

Hammonds reminded me of the elements that they have implemented throughout their school district:

  •  Shared vision emphasizing student voice and choice, development of strong habits of learning, variation in how students learn, and development of higher-level skills.
  • Transparent measurement topics and learning targets. (Measurement topics are the standards for learning.  They are the curriculum frameworks that guide teachers in their instruction and lesson planning. They are the standards that all students must achieve.)
  • Shared understanding of proficiency within school and across schools.
  • Information system (Educate) to support and provide transparency for tracking student progress and pace.

Three areas of insights and advancement are described below.

Aligning Instruction and Assessment to Higher Levels

Hammonds explained that a big aha! for educators at RSU2 over the past year was the importance of aligning instruction as well as assessment to the specific performance levels in the knowledge taxonomy.  RSU2 uses the Marzano taxonomy (Retrieval, Comprehension, Analysis, Knowledge Utilization, Metacognition, Self-system thinking). At RSU2, learning targets identify at which performance level students need to be able to show proficiency based on Marzano’s taxonomy and assessments are aligned accordingly. Over the past year, teachers had realized that their instruction was sometimes lower than the performance level, and they’ve been working to improve their instruction so it fully aligns with the learning targets. (more…)

What’s New in Competency Education in K12 and Higher Education (October 6)

October 6, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMComing up soon: CompetencyWorks is releasing a report A Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad with a webinar on October 14th  at 1 pm ET. Register here.

And here’s a peek at what’s new in competency education. Scroll down for information on higher education.

K12

  • Conferences
    • The New England Secondary School Consortium is calling for oroposals from NE schools to present at the 6th Annual High School Redesign in Action Conference, March 26-27, 2015. Proposals must involve the sharing of practices that are aligned with personalized learning and the NESSC’s Global Best Practices. If you’re interested in presenting at this year’s conference, visit our website for further details and guidelines. Proposals must be submitted by October 27, 2014.
  •  Papers

A Higher Education Journey Toward Standards/Competency-Based Principles

October 3, 2014 by
Randy Peters

Randy Peters

In our work with school administrators who are leading innovative standards or competency-based initiatives, we are often reminded by our PK-12 colleagues that they (and their stakeholders) tend to view colleges and universities as hindrances or barriers to implementation rather than partners. In light of this feedback and our own experiences in the profession, we have felt compelled to explore some standards/competency-based strategies in our program area at Drake University. It has been a gradual process, informed by the inclusion of reform strategies that we’ve begun teaching in our education leadership classes and, later, explored in our research, and attempted in varying degrees in our own pedagogy, as well.

First, we began advocating with our grad students/aspiring administrators for the development of professional learning communities, such as those described by DuFour and Marzano in their book, Leaders of Learning (although we’ve felt that any movement toward a more collaborative, empowered, and shared leadership model would be an improvement over what has been in place historically). In introducing this model, the basic professional learning community questions (What is it we want our students to know? How will we know if they are learning? How will we respond when they aren’t learning? How will we enrich/extend learning for students who are proficient?) led to some conclusions that have greatly influenced our practice. (more…)

Is Competency-based Education Feasible Without a Guaranteed Viable Curriculum?

October 1, 2014 by

guaranteed and viableCompetency-based education has gathered much energy and momentum across the nation during the past year, evidenced by the increase in the research and policy forums addressing the subject. Accompanying the interest is a dawning realization that organizations cannot fully implement an authentic competency-based system under the auspices of the flawed paradigm that preceded it. Policy wonks are left scratching their heads, wondering how best to negotiate a middle ground between defects of the traditional model and the promise of a competency-based system (CBS). Unfortunately, there is no middle ground; just as there was no middle ground in moving from VHS to DVD, you just need to convert. (more…)

Preparing for Conversations with Parents

September 29, 2014 by

 

Sajan George

Sajan George

Sajan George, founder of Matchbook Learning, kicked off a rapid fire email exchange that produced some incredibly helpful ideas about how to tell parents for the first time that their child is on a different academic level than their grade level.

Sajan’s original quest was to learn from other education leaders who had successfully explained to parents the Two Big Whys:

  • Why is my child not at grade level?
  • Why are you starting them on an academic performance level rather than on grade level?

If the student is substantially behind, teachers will have to be ready to answer a third Why:

  • Why is my child’s target for growth an academic level or two rather than their grade level? (Listen between the lines, they are really asking, Will they ever catch up?) (more…)

What’s New in Competency Education (September 26)

September 26, 2014 by

You’ll find updates about competency education in K12 and in higher education below.Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AM

K12

  • Achieve has released a Student Assessment Inventory, a tool district leaders can use to take stock of their assessments and assessment strategy, and do so from a student perspective.

Re-Imagining School Info

September 25, 2014 by

Information design challengeI’ve been thinking a lot about report cards since I read Hot on the Paper Trail about the power of receipts by Baratunde Thurston in Fast Company. Thurston opens with a question posed by and Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey, “What if we see the receipt more as a publishing medium? A product unto itself that people actually want to take home, that they want to engage with, be fully interactive with?”

It got me thinking: What if we saw the report card as more than a static report? Could it become a tool that children want to take home, a tool that could be fully interactive for students, parents and teachers?  I started pushing my thinking. What if we “badged” report cards? Parents could put a bright chart on the fridge and students could bring home stickers every time they hit proficiency on a learning objective.  What if school sent an email or tweet to parents every time a student hit the proficiency mark, which could be easily retweeted to grandparents? (more…)

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