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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Communicating With Parents on the Transition to Competency Education

April 21, 2015 by
Brian Stack

Brian Stack

I am the Principal at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. Our district has used a competency education model for the past five years and is one of the districts that is part of the exciting PACE (Performance Assessment of Competency Education) pilot program for school accountability. I am often asked by administrators who are looking to transition their schools to this kind of a model what it is like to communicate it to parents and families. This is something our school tries to do on an ongoing basis. Just this week, my two assistant principals and I held an evening coffee hour sponsored by our Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) to discuss the topic in more detail. It was a very well-attended evening. Below is a summary of how that evening was structure. It was first written and shared on my Principal’s Blog for parents who were unable to attend, but I am also sharing it with all of you on CompetencyWorks in the event that it could help you structure a similar event in your own schools.

Last night’s PTO meeting agenda said that school administrators would be available to lead a discussion on competency-based grading, but really it was all about chocolate chip cookies. What makes for an exemplary cookie, the one that is over-fresh with a sweet, rich, buttery flavor? The one with a real chocolate taste in each bite that complements that rich and flavored dough? You can’t teach someone how to make such a cookie until you take the time to define the criteria that you would use to assess it. It was through the lens of this scenario that Sanborn Regional High School Principal, Brian Stack, and Assistant Principals, Ann Hadwen and Michael Turmelle, helped everyone in the room understand the big picture of competency education, grading, and assessment and how it is working to provide a more rigorous education for all students.

Competency Education – The Big Picture (more…)

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Everybody Learns: Communication Tool Kits

April 20, 2015 by
Everybody Learns

From the Common Ground Collaborative website

For any district or school leader starting to talk about the need move away from the traditional, standardized education system to a personalized system, you know that paying attention to communication is important.

First and foremost, you are going to have to be ready to engage in and facilitate conversation – it is through dialogue that people can shed their old assumptions and embrace the idea that we can do better by all of our students through personalization.

However, it helps to organize your thoughts and practice a bit before you go forth. No one should lead with why we need competency-based or proficiency-based systems – we want to lead with the story line of why this is good for kids. Then, as you begin to get deeper into the conversation, you’ll pull out the language to help people understand the limitations of a time-based, A-F system and the potential of one that actually has the structure in place to make sure students are making progress, not languishing in the back of the class.

Here are three resources that will be very helpful in preparing (and also a third piece that just inspired my language and vision after reading it):

And for inspiration, check out the Common Ground Ecosystem to see how folks in Brussels are putting these ideas together. Everybody Learns!

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10 Principles to Move Your School Toward Distributive Leadership

April 16, 2015 by
Nicole Assisi

Nicole Assisi

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on March 5, 2015.

The most intimidating part of leading and teaching in a blended learning school is not the technology. It is not the data crunching, either.

In fact, the scariest part of blending and personalizing learning is giving up control.

Giving up control is the key to finding success as a leader, teacher and even parent in a blended school. First and foremost, you must trust the people around you. For teachers, that means giving the right tools to students, and then trusting students to drive their learning. Parents must trust in this new paradigm for learning and trust in the school leaders.

But administrators may have the trickiest part to play—they must share the leadership role, and trust “their people”—their students, teachers, parents. This distributed leadership approach is a collaborative effort undertaken between people who trust and respect each other’s contributions. By using principles of distributed leadership, school administrators can empower people to make great decisions, learn from mistakes and reach new heights.

Here are my 10 guiding principles for blended learning schools moving to a distributive leadership structure. (They’re inspired by the awesome leaders and colleagues with whom I share this work!)

1. Remember: Everyone is a Novice & an Expert (more…)

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Using Technology-Enhanced Items Effectively to Close Student Achievement Gaps

April 15, 2015 by
Aditya Agarkar

Aditya Agarkar

This post was originally published at Getting Smart on January 17, 2015.

Don’t you think it’s time we retired those Scantron machines? Since the 70s, they’ve been trusted in hundreds of school districts across the country to tally the scores of students who filled pink ovals with #2 pencils. The Scantron machine heralded the pervasive use of multiple-choice questions in the decades that followed. Today, with all that we know about how to assess a student’s mastery of a topic, MCQs are an anachronism — like cassette tapes and typewriters. As readers of this blog are well aware, the education sector is undergoing the same technological innovation that has swept through businesses and households — and the rate of change is accelerating.

With all this technological progress underway, why are MCQs are still in use? One reason is that they are the default question format for many of the technology-assisted tools that, when introduced, made the assignment and grading process much more efficient and scalable. However, MCQs are simply not the best way test a student’s knowledge because they shed little light on the student’s ability to apply, integrate, and synthesize knowledge. Information gleaned from a MCQ test can often be misleading because students can guess the right answer or game the system to eliminate all the wrong choices – even if they don’t understand the question or know any of the correct answers. (more…)

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23 Groups Call for Innovative Assessment Flexibility in ESEA Reauthorization

April 14, 2015 by

By Maria Worthen and Lillian Pace

This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee will begin consideration of a bill to rewrite No Child Left Behind. The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 is a bipartisan bill authored by the HELP Committee’s Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray.

In this bill there are a number of things of interest to the field of competency education; among them, an Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority that would allow states to develop and pilot new systems of assessments that better enable personalized, competency-based learning. States would be able to test their system in a subset of school districts before expanding them statewide. They would be able to use their new system of assessments as the basis for the state-designed accountability system.

Yesterday, a coalition of 23 groups, including our organizations—iNACOL and KnowledgeWorks—sent the following letter to Senators Alexander and Murray, and the members of the HELP Committee. The letter supports the inclusion of the pilot and states key common principles that signatories agree should be included in the final bill. (more…)

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Pushing the Envelope with Student Centered Learning at VLACS

by
Steve Kossakoski

Steve Kossakoski

There are a handful of schools pushing past the concept of organizing learning based on credits to take advantage of the incredible flexibility that a framework of competencies of standards allows. Virtual Learning Academy Charter School  (VLACS) is one of these innovators, showing us a possible direction for a personalized education system. (Chugach School District and Bronx Arena are other credit-busters.)

I recently spoke with Steve Kossakoski, CEO of VLACS, to learn about how they are working to redefine what it means to learn and go to school in the twenty-first century.

Reflecting on Innovation and the Power of Student-Centered Learning

Kossakoski started off the conversation explaining that by embracing the tenets of student-centered learning (personalized; competency-based; anytime, anywhere; and learners exerting ownership over their learning), they have started to push the envelope of their own thinking.

He remarked, “In my opinion, competency-based learning alone will not significantly change the model or the outcomes of today’s school. There are a lot of schools converting to competency-based frameworks, but without significant structural change, it will be difficult for these schools to take advantage of the opportunities that a student-centered learning model offers. For example, some schools have created broad overarching competencies while curriculum and instruction still looks the same. Other schools are integrating competency-based approaches within the traditional curriculum while continuing to expect that all learners will master the same set of competencies within a 180-day academic year. I’m a bit concerned that schools will only tinker around the edges of possibility and end up reinventing the traditional model but with a new coat of paint.”

“As an online school, we have a great deal of freedom to innovate, so, as we designed our services based on the tenets of student-centered learning, we worked from the perspective of what’s possible when the limitations of a time and place-based system are removed. We realized that until you provide students with the opportunity to design their own learning pathways, they won’t really own their learning. Offering learners a choice of courses and projects provides kids with some ownership. But how much ownership is it, really?”

He explained that they began to examine the continuum from individualization to personalization. He explained the difference, “Schools tend to individualize by providing learners with a limited set of options. However, personalization requires engaging the learners in a conversation and asking, ‘What do you want to do? Where and how do you want to learn?’ Learners may want to learn in a traditional class, online, in the community, through self-study, or by participating in a project. We are trying to dig deeper into what it means to personalize learning and to extend the capability of our school to fully personalize education. We don’t want learning to be bound by the courses we offer.” (more…)

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Breaking Ranks Showcase Schools: Nashua High School North and South

April 13, 2015 by

NSDThis spotlight originally appeared in the CCSR Newsletter.

While they may be rivals on the athletic fields, the learning communities at both Nashua (NH) High School North and Nashua (NH) High School South are very purposeful about staying together as partners in education. It’s been over a decade since the district replaced the single high school with two campuses, but they have recognized from the beginning the power of synergy and collaboration. Both campuses are committed to moving forward together through collaboration and a focus on student outcomes. As Director of Curriculum Peggy Reynolds puts it, “they’re all Nashua kids, and we really feel that.”

The Nashua School District (NSD) has fostered this strong collaborative spirit through focusing on what unites them – the curriculum. Regardless of whether you work at North or South “the curriculum is the curriculum is the curriculum” says Reynolds. Teachers meet regularly both within their school, and across the two campuses to discuss the curriculum. Teachers are committed to developing the curriculum, and corresponding performance tasks, that they themselves wrote. They meet regularly to examine student work and calibrate those performance tasks to ensure they engage students in opportunities to explore greater depths of knowledge within the content. (more…)

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Is Personalized Learning the Gateway for ALL K-12 Students to Attain Agency & Achievement?

April 9, 2015 by
Jilene Dachtler

Jilene Dachtler

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on February 17, 2015.

My recent tour of several NGLC Breakthrough Models schools was an eye opener, a paradigm- shifter and ultimately, shook up a few limiting beliefs I had gained during my experience teaching in traditional educational settings.

As a newly-hired teacher at The Incubator School, an innovative school in its second year, I was excited to participate in a recent NGLC tour. The experience has deepened my understanding of our own blended learning, design model. I now know that large-scale, radical innovation is not only possible, but also probable as word spreads about the phenomenal work being done by educational innovators! True social justice can be achieved through education, where learning is personalized and students develop the agency to unleash their inherent potential to create, innovate and become productive, dynamic citizens of the world.

My optimism for public education has been reinvigorated by observing firsthand the engagement, autonomy and agency of students from a range of grade levels and socioeconomic backgrounds at schools in various stages of development. My personal perspective is informed by a corporate business career followed by 11 years of teaching, as well as my own experience as a parent struggling with traditional school systems that were often unwilling or unable to identify, nurture and support my own child’s gifts.

Since childhood, I have been passionate about working with “at-risk populations” and often volunteered with nonprofits. My experience spans every grade level K-12, every socioeconomic level, in a variety of settings including hospital schools, comprehensive elementary and high schools, a 6-12 leadership magnet, first-year pilot high schools, and a restructured high school where significant gains were made in standardardized test scores and in introducing a “college-going culture”. (more…)

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It’s Definitely Warming Up in New England

April 8, 2015 by

NESCCThere is still snow on the ground, but people were on fire at the New England Secondary Schools Coalition High Schools in Action annual gathering. The sessions were relatively quiet, but the hallways were buzzing:

  • It is really hard to put down the red pen and stay focused on the few standards that are the goal of the learning.
  • We were told we were preparing, preparing, preparing…and then suddenly we were there. We were performance-based.
  • We learned that trying to mix grading styles was making students crazy. They were always trying to figure out the algorithms used in the computerized grading system. I could barely get them to talk about the quality of their work and accept that applied learning isn’t something you can always do quickly.
  • One of the hardest things for some of my students to accept is that they are expected to actually work hard in a proficiency-based system. For some, the traditional system was really easy – especially if they excel in short-term memorization. It is a shocker that they are expected to actually show they can use all the information they have memorized. They realize they have gaps, and that is scary.
  • Some teachers are still having difficulty with organizing their classrooms in a proficiency-based structure. It’s not based on age or length of time teaching – there is something about the mindset, the ability to move beyond what you experienced growing up and what you were taught to do as a teacher, that allows teachers to make the adjustment more quickly or need more time. (more…)
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