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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Update on Maine’s Proficiency-Based Diploma Policy

May 11, 2016 by
Maine State House

Maine State House, Wikipedia

To refresh your memory, Maine had originally set a policy that students would be expected to demonstrate proficiency in all eight domains to get a diploma. Under pressure of trying to get all students to reach proficiency in all eight domains, districts asked for more flexibility. The first ideas considered were much lower expectations of proficiency in math and ELA being used as a graduation requirement. The final policy sets a series of phases and also includes students being able to choose one or more of the domains they need to demonstrate proficiency.

B-1. Phase in the following diploma requirements from the 2020-2021 school year to the 2024-2025 school year:

(1) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2020-2021, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology and social studies;

(2) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2021-2022, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and at least one additional content area of the student’s choice;

(3) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2022-2023, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and at least 2 additional content areas of the student’s choice;

(4) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2023-2024, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and at least 3 additional content areas of the student’s choice; and

(5) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2024-2025 and for each subsequent graduating class, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in all content areas.

(more…)

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Naugatuck Public Schools: Making Meaning for Teachers with Mastery-Based Learning

May 10, 2016 by

NPS

This is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

Scroll to the bottom to see an example of Naugatuck’s curriculum framework for math.

“As a teacher, I couldn’t get traction. If mastery-based learning isn’t the district’s vision, how much can a teacher accomplish?”

I like to stay in touch with competency education leaders as they move from one position to another, from one organization to another. One might think of a bumble bee pollinating ideas – each idea become a richer hue as it interacts with other ideas, other people, and new applications.

Thus, during my trip to Connecticut, I visited Caroline Messenger, Curriculum Director, Naugatuck Public Schools, who had previously been a teacher at the high school. (Messenger has also been a writer at CompetencyWorks. See Learning My Lesson and How Do You Measure Competency? Curriculum Can Help Guide the Way.) I was interested to find out how her perspective had changed from being a teacher to being part of the leadership team. The conversation was quickly focused on instructional strategies, proving to me once again that mastery-based learning can create the conditions for lifting up the teaching profession from the narrow role of delivering curriculum as structured in the factory model to the astoundingly challenging and meaningful role of teaching children to learn.

“Mastery-based learning operates on a different set of assumptions,” Messenger reflected. “Even if you have two or three colleagues working together, it is difficult to bring mastery-based learning to life in the classroom without a district vision. As a teacher, you can focus on standards and develop your units around them, but there is no way to create a greater understanding of how the standards fit together to create a sense of purpose for learning if you are working in isolation. Teachers can organize their classrooms around standards, but we want so much more for kids. It takes a much broader vision. The vision of the district and the philosophy of the school shape how people relate to each other, determine what is important and where attention is directed, and sets the values.” (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

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What's NewJOB OPENING: Henry County Schools is currently accepting applications for an open Assistant Superintendent position. Learn more about the job opening and read our recent case study on Henry County Schools.

Thought Leadership

School and Program Updates

(more…)

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How I Learned What Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning Really Means

May 9, 2016 by
Tony B and Wife

Tony Beaumier and Wife

It was bedtime on a winter evening in 2015. I was saying goodnight to my son Jay, a sixth-grader, when he asked me a startling question.

“Mom,” Jay said, “you give lots of presentations for your job, right?”

“Yes,” I answered.

Jay had a follow-up. “When you give presentations at work, what kind of feedback do you usually get?” It was not the kind of question I expected from an eleven-year-old. Although it reflected Jay’s thoughtfulness, it also reflected the journey that his middle school had been on for several years.

In the autumn of that year, after months of preparatory work, York Middle School had adopted a proficiency-based system. The teachers had worked together to identify a set of power standards and learning targets for each class, and a new reporting system had been adopted that would show each student’s progress towards these targets. The letter grades that had been used to describe student achievement were abandoned in favor of a new language – “Progressing,” “Meets,” and “Exceeds.” The school also instituted a new schedule which included a Targeted Learning Time every day, a block that students could use to seek extra help or make up work in areas where they were “Progressing” or where they had produced “Insufficient Evidence.”

For many parents, these changes were a disconcerting entry into unfamiliar territory; I, however, considered myself to have a strong understanding of proficiency-based practices. I had spent the previous few years as a teacher in a public high school that was implementing the same strategies, and I was currently employed as a school coach helping schools with various reform efforts, including the transition to proficiency-based and student-centered practices. So I figured I had mastered the change in worldview that proficiency-based education demands. It took my son to help me see how much I still had to learn. (more…)

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Not Your Grandpa’s Voc Ed: Rigorous Career and Technical Education in Henry County, Georgia

May 7, 2016 by

RoboticsThis post originally appeared on the New England Secondary School Consortium on behalf of Great Schools Partnership. It also appeared on Students at the Center

When many of us think of “career and technical education,” we likely recall dusty wood shops, half-finished projects, and cantankerous teachers with untamed hair and maybe a missing finger or three. Or we might envision a class of students and teachers corralled in a section of rooms, walled off from the rest of the school like the two Berlins of old. Or perhaps we think about students who choose career and technical courses because the perception is that they’re “easy electives.”

But in Henry County, Georgia, career and technical education isn’t easy at all: it’s all about challenging students academically.

At the New England Secondary School Consortium’s 2016 High School Redesign in Action conference, Sharon Bonner and John Steiner of the Henry County’s Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) program guided participants through their district’s experiences in a session entitled, “Creating Competencies for Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education.”

The Henry County Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education program will provide a rigorous, relevant, and technologically advanced curriculum that will be available to all Henry County students, teaching them how to be lifelong learners while preparing them for the transition to secondary, postsecondary, and employment endeavors. Remarkably, Henry County’s CTAE program currently serves 82% of the students in the school district, and just over 11,000 high school students are taking at least one CTAE pathway course this academic year.

(more…)

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How Might We Ensure Quality and Value Across a Larger Landscape of Learning?

May 6, 2016 by

Design Thinking

For those of you interested in out-of-the-box innovations using elements of competency education, you’ll be interested in this update on Donnell-Kay’s ReSchool Colorado initiative. See Thinking Way, Way, Way Outside the Box at the Donnell-Kay Foundation and Insights from ReSchool Colorado: Ensuring Quality and Equity

We know that Colorado kids and young adults are already learning in many places and in many ways beyond the formal school environment. We also know that often these experiences are not coordinated or valued in the same way as school-based programs. This summer we want to get smarter about how we can determine quality and value to the learner across a larger landscape of learning and how we might be able to capture a cohesive learning journey that ensures every learner is prepared to engage in a dynamic future.

This first stage of working with a larger landscape of learning opportunity for 15-21-year olds is currently in the research phase. Our work has typically followed a design process that begins with investigating assets and gaps that exist currently with partners that find the opportunity to learn together as mutually beneficial.

The main goals of this phase include:

  • Goal One: Gain greater insight towards the needs and interest of learners from ages 15-21 and how those needs are currently being met
  • Goal Two: Begin to understand how learning providers define and ensure success
  • Goal Three: To identify the attributes of a quality learning provider based on alignment towards a set of outcomes that include learning goals, satisfaction of the learner and the culture of the learning environment
  • Goal Four: Advance our understanding of the role the ReSchool Framework for the Future of Learning plays in supporting a shared commitment to student learning and preparation for success

(more…)

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Meeting Students Where They Are: Academic Domains (Part 2)

May 5, 2016 by

Part 1 on this topicArrows focuses on accountability policies. This post looks at instructional strategies to meet students where they are.

Do Academic Domains Make a Difference in Strategies to Meet Students Where They Are?

Teachers have to make hundreds of instructional decisions each day. Based on conversations with practitioners, we have found that it is worth starting the discussion with how to best meet the needs of students who have gaps in skills within each discipline. We’ve been focusing the initial inquiry on math, ELA, and social sciences, but it would be just as important to consider this issue within the sciences, arts, health/physical education, and CTE as well.

Below are some of the insights from educators about how to meet students where they are without falling back into tracking or marching through the standards in a linear manner. Each of the strategies raised by educators to respond to students whose skills are at performance levels below their grade level take more time and more instruction. In a world where learning is monitored over a semester, some might call this students taking longer or learning at a slower pace. That is not the situation at all; if they need to loop back or do close reading, they are actually doing more learning. In fact, the rate of their learning measured by performance levels will likely be at a faster rate than those students with grade level skills. (more…)

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Meeting Students Where They Are: Accountability Paradox (Part 1)

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ArrowsPart 2 on this topic focuses on instructional strategies to meet students where they are. This post looks at accountability policies.

Across the country, educators are courageously recognizing that the only way they can help all students meet college and career readiness is to move beyond the traditional time-based system to create personalized, competency-based systems. Personalizing education starts with recognizing that every student has a unique educational pathway, entering school at different academic performance levels, at a different steps in their development, and with ever-changing interests and understandings of the world around them.

Yet many competency-based schools are continuing to teach students at their grade level with one-size fits all curricula because they feel it is only fair to “cover the standards” before students take exams for accountability purposes. Many educators have said that they would like to be able deliver instruction where students are but feel that they must “cover the standards.” Standards of course are a good thing. They bring an intentionality to instruction and clarity to assessment that our education system was lacking. Yet, covering them without also ensuring students are mastering them leaves us with the same problem of the traditional system — some students learn while others are left behind.

CompetencyWorks is delving into the issue of what it would take to meet students where they are so we can better meet the needs of students including those whose performance level is below grade level. In this two part-series, I’ll share some of the take-aways from conversations with educators and thought leaders. As always, I’m trying to understand so retain the right to learn more and change my mind.

Empowering Teachers

Every day teachers face the challenge of trying to teach students the grade level curriculum even though they know their students do not have the pre-requisite skills. The practice of always providing grade level curriculum means that some students with gaps in foundational knowledge go to school every day feeling stupid, some are bored because they aren’t allowed to move on to more challenging work, and teachers must carry the burden of knowing they aren’t meeting students’ needs.

Curriculum coordinator Patrice Glancey describes her district’s first steps of the transition to competency-based education. She empowered teachers to develop the instructional strategies and curriculum resources based on their professional judgment would be the most effective for students. The first grade teachers rejected the idea of an assigned reading program to try a more personalized approach. (more…)

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Windsor Locks: Starting with Pedagogy

by
Susan Bell

Susan Bell

This is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

“The real shift is in what is happening with our kids. ” – Susan Bell

Windsor Locks, located a bit outside of Hartford, Connecticut, didn’t have to make the move to mastery-based learning. As Superintendent of Windsor Locks Public Schools Susan Bell put it, “We did it because it makes sense to us. A D-minus and twenty-four credits is just not good enough. We drew the line in the sand. We are done working in ways that don’t make sense for our students.” (See Windsor Locks’ description of their mastery-based learning system.)

Why Mastery-Based Learning?

Connecticut has created innovation space for high schools to move to mastery-based learning. Windsor Locks decided it was an idea that is good for all students. In 2013, they set a deadline to have the fifth graders in that year graduate with a mastery-based diploma in 2020.

Bell explained, “We are focused on improving the quality of instruction by building a common belief system of what is good instruction and creating the instructional culture to support collaborative dialogue. The structure of mastery-based learning allows us to focus more closely on how students are progressing, allowing us to use instructional models that will work for students and provide more opportunity for them to be active learners.”

We all know there isn’t one perfect system of mastery-based learning…yet. Bell pointed out, “It seems we’re all waiting for the first successful model to be developed. But waiting meant we were delaying what we knew was good for students. So we took the bull by the horns and began the transition ourselves.”

The Path to Mastery-Based Learning

In 2011, the Windsor Locks School Board hired Wayne Sweeney as Superintendent, who Bell described as “a visionary leader who got us focused on the right things.” With Bell as Assistant Superintendent, the district began the journey with an extensive process engaging 400 stakeholders to create a vision of the system. They developed a long-range plan built upon the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools. (more…)

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Culture Comes First

May 4, 2016 by

The biggest piece of advice I can give to any teacher, school, or district working toward a vision of personalized learning is this:

learning community culture is the foundation of personalized learning

CB

For many reasons, this vital piece is often overlooked and rarely focused on in professional development. Districts focus on the more easily measured elements of teacher evaluation models, which speak more to specific instructional strategies and behaviors. Teachers feel pressure to “get to the content” quickly at the start of the year. Performance and production are valued over process.
The truth is that even the most carefully tuned proficiency-based system will crumble without a cultivated culture of learning. Teachers and learners will hit a wall of frustration as they try to implement personalized learning of any kind. In order for learner-centered proficiency-based systems to work, the learning community culture needs to nurture and sustain the following elements: (more…)

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