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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Show You Know it: Scenes from a Performance-Based High School

June 13, 2016 by
Janaisa Walker

Janaisa Walker

This post originally appeared at SparkAction on May 11, 2016.

Many students switch to a new building for high school. In my case, I also had to switch to a totally new approach to learning.

My public high school, the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies (BCS), is a New York City Outward Bound expeditionary learning school. Outward Bound schools focus on teaching students how to think critically and creatively and to apply their learning to real world situations. That means that instead of multiple choice exams and standardized tests, BCS is a competency–based school that uses Performance-Based Assessment Tests (PBAT) to determine when a student has mastered a skill or subject. We call them “p-bats.” These PBATs approved by the Board of Education as an alternative to the Regents, the state test required for graduation.

PBATs are like thesis papers. Students do independent research and write a long, original paper that we then present and defend before a panel of teachers, students and others who are familiar with the subject area.

When I started as a freshmen at BCS, I was shocked to learn about this approach. It seemed like extra work to me—why couldn’t we just focus on the Regents? Was it even possible to write papers that long?

This was the mindset I had coming from middle school, and I was not a lazy student: I spent Saturdays in classes to prep for Regents.  Many of my peers had the same initial reactionsto PBATs.  Some, preferring a more traditional approach, decided to leave the school.  I decided to stay at BCS; I was up to the challenge, and the teachers seemed supportive. (more…)

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How Misconceptions About Competency Education Could Undermine Equity

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EducationFor several years, the fields of personalized learning, competency-based education, and blended learning were having definitional issues with the terms often being used either synonymously or to describe very discrete practices that neglected to capture the overall concepts in each. iNACOL and its project CompetencyWorks have taken leadership in helping the field understand these concepts as different and relational to build knowledge in communicating these topics.

This understanding of terms and what they mean might seem minor, but has significant implications on outcomes – it affects both the quality of personalized learning models and how to approach and address systemic reforms toward competency-based education systems. How we understand these terms and the intersection between them could make the difference between creating a system that produces equity and one that continues to have zip code and color of skin determine educational achievement.

By generating a universal lexicon and addressing misconceptions and misunderstandings that arise, we can help drive the field toward blended learning and competency education with greater ease.

Miscommunications such as the ones described below can derail important conversations and add to the complexity of where blended learning and competency education overlap. They can also lead to poor implementation, lower achievement, and inequitable practices. (more…)

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How Competency Education Drives Equity

June 10, 2016 by

Post 2Equity is at the heart of competency education. It developed in response to the time-based A-F graded system, which allows students to advance without prerequisite skills and results in harmful variation of proficiency across districts, schools, and teachers. When fully implemented, competency education provides a structure in which proficiency is calibrated to maintain consistency in expectations and students receive adequate instructional supports to progress. Competency education strengthens personalized learning with a transparent structure that enables greater systemic and personal accountability, as well as continuous improvement.

The most frequent concern related about equity to competency education is that some believe variation in pacing will mean a percentage of students get left behind. However, the reality is that in traditional environments, gaps for students who lack core knowledge and skills already exist, and the time-based structure means these gaps only grow over time. What competency education requires is that we focus on students every day, giving them supports to stay on pace and acting to ensure they demonstrate mastery. Students can’t fail an entire course when the unit of correction is each learning target.

In order to ensure that inequitable patterns are not re-created in competency-based schools, leaders will need to attend to several issues. They will need to monitor progress to keep students on pace. They need to hold all students to high levels of rigor. There needs to be a vigilant focus on fighting inequity through a culture of looking for and challenging bias. Schools need to be structured so that struggling students receive rapid, high quality instructional support using the standards to target support.

Most importantly, schools need to develop strategies to meet students where they are so that students reach proficiency in grade level standards by building proficiency in all the pre-requisite skills.  Schools must know where every student is in their learning trajectory upon entry and also develop meaningful approaches for students who start off significantly behind grade level. These approaches will recognize that students may have to address social-emotional issues, fill gaps, and, when appropriate, plan for an accelerated trajectory of learning. An additional concern is that students who require more time to learn or are on an accelerated path (i.e., covering a longer segment of the learning progression in the same amount of time) still have the opportunity to develop higher-level skills through deeper learning. (more…)

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Addressing Equity Issues in Personalized, Competency-Based Learning

June 9, 2016 by

Post 1Innovators and early adopters of competency education want to do right by kids. This means being empowered to make decisions that are based on the educational and developmental needs of students – not responding to policies created at the federal, state, or district level. The vision of personalized education is that every student will be able to engage in meaningful and highly engaging learning experiences – with the right mix of instructional supports when they need it – so that everyone is successful. Failure is not an option; it’s just part of the learning process.

However, my stomach turns when I hear these very same incredible education leaders dismiss equity because “every student is getting what they need.” We need to have the courage to confront equity issues head-on in new learning models, and we need to intentionally guard against implementation strategies that create or reinforce barriers for students.

To address this need, we are kicking off a blog series that tackles the equity issues that often arise in personalized, competency-based and blended learning. The series will include the following topics:

  • How competency education drives equity;
  • How misconceptions about competency education could undermine equity;
  • Tackling issues of equity in personalized learning;
  • Tackling issues of equity in blended learning;
  • Ways to eliminate attribution error on the path to equity in competency-based systems;
  • How blended districts can implement a competency-based structure; and
  • Using flexible time to design higher and deeper learning.

Are there other issues or perspectives that we need to consider in thinking about equity? We’d love to hear your thoughts to make sure that we are comprehensive. (more…)

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Developing a Competency-Based ELA Classroom

June 8, 2016 by
Stephanie Price

Language Arts Lead Teacher Stephanie Price (right) and Dean of Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Simms (left) collaborate on DSISD’s around competency-based approach.

This post originally appeared at Springpoint on June 1, 2016.

When I started my journey at Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD) in spring 2015, I was excited. After nine years of teaching in a traditional model of education, the new possibilities at my disposal sparked my creativity. Little did I know how much I would feel like a first year educator all over again once school started in the fall. I was embarking on uncharted territory, and no amount of summer planning could have prepared me for what was next. Now, a year in, I’m able to reflect on what I’ve learned, and offer a bit of advice to teachers and school leaders who might be interested in this model.

Discovering Pacing for my Students

As I learned what competency based education meant, it was my understanding that students could and should move through acquiring content and skills asynchronously, or at their own pace. Our learning management system, Summit Public School’s Personalized Learning Platform (PLP), allowed for students to access content, assessments, and projects on their own.

My initial approach prioritized the pace of the learning over the personal needs of each student. Students could move as quickly or slowly as they wished through their work, choosing supports and enrichments as they went along. This student-led approach didn’t account for the fact that students weren’t ready to identify their own needs without my guidance. Many of them lacked the self-directed learning skills and agency. It became messy, and it started to feel like each student was isolated. I missed the collaboration I was so used to in a traditional model. I also realized that about a third of my students were ready for the rigor of Advanced Placement coursework while about one tenth of them were struggling to keep up at an appropriate pace, even with the scaffolds provided for them to choose from. This was all useful learning for me, and at the end of the first trimester, I developed and implemented a differentiated grouping system that I called a “cohort model” in response to these challenges, and influenced heavily by student voice.

Implementing the Cohort Model

The cohort model simply allows students to choose their own adventure in the language arts classroom. Although all students work in small groups at their own levels, they are connected through common themes, tasks, and texts. My class has three cohorts: Introduction to Literature, AP Language Cohort, and AP Language Veterans. An example of a typical day would include the Intro to Lit students reading leveled versions of Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. in preparation for writing a short response on figurative language in the text while the AP Cohort analyzes the whole letter for a rhetorical analysis essay. Meanwhile, the AP Veterans read Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau alongside Letter to Birmingham Jail to write a full compare contrast analysis on the figurative language each author used to support his argument. (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

June 7, 2016 by

What's NewTeacher and Ed Leader Insights

Thought Leadership

Assessments for Learning

Movement in the States

(more…)

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Moving from Theory to Practice: Designing a New Competency-Based High School

June 6, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at Springpoint on May 31, 2016.Screenshot 2016-06-07 08.53.23

Every school leader wants to create their dream school. They want the kind of opportunity that would allow a passionate team and community of learners to cast a shared vision, to side step the bureaucratic elements of schooling, and to create an atmosphere and experiences that educators and students long for. However, when the opportunity of a blank canvas for school design arrives, there are a number of unspoken challenges in moving from theory to practice. In December of 2014 we embarked on this leadership journey with Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD). As we look back on our first year, there are many lessons that contributed to the success of our first year and our goals moving forward. Most importantly, our strong foundational systems and goals allowed our leadership to steer DSISD through the uncertain waters between theory and practice.

North Star: DSISD Vision

Our theory from the start was that a competency-based approach would make our school truly student-centered from startup to launch. Moving from theory to practice inherently means that an organization will need to navigate uncertainty and change. Many of the daily structures that ensure confidence and coherence in an established school or organization do not exist in a startup situation. What does exist in a startup situation is enthusiasm and excitement about new possibilities. However, enthusiasm is a finite resource that can be whittled away as challenges, which are sure to come, arise. To navigate uncertainty at DSISD, we built a compelling vision to anchor decisions in and test designs against.

The DSISD vision is “To empower ALL students to OWN their learning, SHAPE their dreams, and CREATE a better world.” This simple statement paints the picture of what we hope to instill in all of our students. It is also the first test for all of our decisions and school design elements. From identifying staff dispositions, to curricula choices, to student experiences—if the choice doesn’t align to the vision, then we don’t do it. This simple stake in the ground creates unity and confidence among the staff and provides consistency in the midst of uncertainty and change.

Map and Compass: Year One Goals

But vision alone is not enough—leaders also need to provide concrete criteria to know whether the group is heading in the right direction. Having clear benchmarks and goals helps generate momentum and secure early wins. This positive momentum is critical for counteracting the challenges of change and uncertainty. To secure these wins, the DSISD leadership team set three core goals for a strong first year: (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Constant Feedback

June 3, 2016 by

WalkingThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on May 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When we think about the essential aspects of proficiency-based learning, or how people learn in general, one thing that comes to mind is feedback. We know that regular, meaningful feedback is important to learning. At it’s simplest, feedback is being able to see where you are in relation to a goal of some kind and seeing what comes next in order to get closer to that goal. We can’t get better at something if we don’t know how we are Meaningful feedback can take many forms, and it all has the same characteristics:

  1. It is goal referenced
  2. It is actionable
  3. It is timely
  4. It is ongoing

The last two characteristics, being timely and ongoing, can present challenges in the classroom. They don’t have to, if we shift some of our thinking about how the feedback happens. Before we look at a how to make it work in a classroom, let’s look at a feedback loop many of us have experience with: the Fitbit™. (more…)

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May CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

June 2, 2016 by

Calendar Page MayHere are the highlights from May 2016 on CompetencyWorks. Happy reading. And let us know if you have questions you want us to delve into!

SITE VISITS AND CASE STUDIES

Mastery-Based Learning in Connecticut

Montpelier Public Schools

Providence After School Alliance (PASA)

(more…)

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Can Melrose Go Deeper with Competency-Based Education?

June 1, 2016 by

Melrose Public SchoolsMassachusetts is often recognized as a leader in education – although that is not so in the case of competency-based education. Even though it is home to two of the early competency-based innovators – Diploma Plus and Boston Day and Evening Academy – Massachusetts to date has been slow to engage in making the transition to competency-based education.

That may be changing.

While I was in New England, I had the chance to talk with Melrose Public School Superintendent Cyndy Taymore and twenty or so others – teachers, principals, parents, union leaders, school board members, and special education specialists – involved in their exploration of what a competency-based system might look like. It was a wonderful experience for me, as I rarely get a chance to talk to districts in the early exploration stage.

It was also eye-opening, as they helped me understand that higher income and higher achieving districts might be interested in competency-based education as a means to introduce greater rigor and greater personalization into their system.

Why is Melrose Interested in Competency-Based Education?

Many districts come to competency-based education because of demographic changes that are bringing more low-income families into their communities and their realization that they need a better way to respond to greater diversity. Melrose is experiencing the opposite trend – it has been increasingly becoming more affluent, and parents are becoming more demanding that the schools provide high levels of rigor and more opportunities for their children. Melrose is considering competency-based education as a strategy that can benefit the traditionally high achieving student while opening the door for traditionally lower achieving students to thrive. (more…)

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