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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Policies for Personalization: Student Agency

November 1, 2016 by

booksThis is the fourteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

If a district puts into place all the pieces described earlier, they will be well on their way to creating a strong standards-referenced system—but not a student-centered one. The new value proposition is based on an integration of personalized learning that takes into consideration students’ needs, interests, and aspirations along with a competency-based infrastructure focused on proficiency, pace, and progress.

The following discussion, organized into two articles, is on the policies and procedures that need to be in place to ensure that the system you are implementing has students and their academic success—not the standards themselves—at the center.

Student Agency

Personalization and student agency go hand in hand—it is nearly impossible for teachers to manage a personalized classroom if students are constantly turning to them for direction. Thus, as schools move toward personalized, competency-based education, they will also want to create the conditions for students to take ownership over their education (i.e., student agency). There are a number of essential ingredients required to create an environment and learning experiences that help students build the skills they need to have agency: a school culture that is grounded in a growth mindset, strategies to help build habits of learning, opportunities for choice and co-design, transparency of learning objectives with well-developed assessments, and high levels of teacher autonomy. (more…)

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Creating a Common Language of Learning: Habits of Learning

October 31, 2016 by

studyThis is the thirteenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

What are the skills students need to manage their own learning, and how are they developed?

Creating empowered students isn’t about moving them through a curriculum. It requires schools to organize their learning experiences to help students build all the skills (referred to by many terms, including habits of learning) to become independent learners ready to pursue college and careers.

In order to separate out academics from behavior in the grading system that indicates how students are progressing in reaching proficiency (i.e., a progress monitoring system), competency-based districts and schools must establish a set of skills or behaviors that are important for learning or are needed for college and career readiness. For example, at the Sanborn Regional School District, teachers have learned that assessing behaviors in elementary school students is an important step in helping students make academic progress. The Responsive Classroom CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Regulation) project focuses on developing work-study habits early on. (You can read more about this effort here.)

The most advanced competency-based districts have discovered that these skills and behaviors are in fact an essential element of creating student agency and improving academic achievement. They are beginning to think about what the habits should be developmentally and how they interact with efforts to address social-emotional learning and the school culture. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Making Targets Visible…Really

October 28, 2016 by

aimThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on October 18, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

We all know that making learning transparent is a key element of learner-centered proficiency based education. We’ve all gotten the memo: have targets posted. Many people have even taken posting targets a step further and posted all the learning targets for an entire project, course, or year. All of these methods can be a solid part of making learning targets and progressions visible to learners. The important thing to remember is that making learning really visible is about much more than simply slapping a learning target up on the wall; It is about developing learner agency. When learners know what it is they are supposed to be learning, and where that fits in the bigger picture of what they have to learn, motivation and engagement go way up.

If the goal is supporting learner agency, and not simply the posting of the target, we have to think differently about how we use targets. As a start, here are some target-posting pitfalls to be aware of, and some ideas about how to sidestep them and make the learning truly visible.

Pitfall #1: They Are Posted, And Rarely or Never Referred To

The point of having learning targets, or anything really, on the walls of a classroom is to have a visual reminder for learners. But anything that gets put up on the walls and ignored might as well be old wallpaper. Relying on the off chance that learners will notice or refer to them, even after being shown where they are, is not a successful strategy.

Sidesteps:

  • Have a consistent place in the room where current targets are posted
  • Point to the posted learning targets whenever you mention them
  • Mention the current learning targets at the start of every lesson

Pitfall #2: They Are Posted, And Are Too Small To Read From The Class Seats

(more…)

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#iNACOL16 Day Two Learnings on the Run

October 27, 2016 by

Well, I think it is safe to say the highlight of the Day Two was Virgel Hammond’s (KnowledgeWorks) keynote dedicated to helping all of us reduce our cool factor. His point is that for all of us to learn, we need to be vulnerable. We all need to be willing to take risks and get out of our comfort zones. He demonstrated this point by having Susan Patrick (iNACOL), Bill Zima (RSU2), Nick Namba (Lindsay), Dave Roberts (Fraser), and Steve Schultz (District 51) and yours truly dance our hearts out to silly songs such as The Twist, Greased Lightening, Thriller, Mr. Roboto, and Shout!

Lesson Learned: I’m too old (or perhaps I should admit just plain out of shape) to dance to Shout! anymore…instead of just twisting down to the floor, I found it more comfortable to just fall on my belly.

On a much more serious note, Todd Rose, author of The Myth of Averages, kicked off day two at #iNACOL16. If you haven’t heard him, it’s worth listening to one of his TED talks. His message is powerful – when you design for the average, we meet the needs of none. He draws on research and science to explain why we must root the design of the education system in the individual. We must figure out how to have more personalized systems of education. (more…)

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A Better Way Forward for Competency-Based Learning

October 26, 2016 by

pencilsThis post originally appeared at New Profit on September 29, 2016. 

Over two decades ago, I served as an educational advocate for the State of Rhode Island. It was my charge to act as the parent for a caseload of about 80 youth who were wards of the State that either identified or were suspected of having special educational needs. My caseload was very diverse. Students had serious learning disabilities and/or behavioral issues. As wards of the State most were living in poverty and the majority came from what are often called minority groups. Despite the wide array of challenges, I ensured that the adolescents in my caseload all earned, and were granted, their high school diploma. This, despite the fact that these students often had not learned the things our society expects of a high school graduate. How was this possible?

The reliance on seat time for awarding course credit allows for any student who passes a class that meets for the required 120 hours of instruction to earn credit toward graduation. The 120-hour requirement was established by the Carnegie Foundation for Teaching over a century ago and still governs what a high school diploma entails in nearly every state in the union. Typically, students are required to pass 20-28 courses in order to earn their high school diploma. As an advocate for youth in State care, I made sure that schools were paying attention to each student’s transcript and awarding him/her the credits earned through sitting in class.

Did I do these students more harm than good? Over the past 20 years, I have pondered that question often. I was complicit in sending adolescents out into society with a diploma that didn’t necessarily reflect whether they had mastered the requisite education to become functioning adults in a democratic society. Despite my well-meaning advocacy, was I setting them up for failure? (more…)

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#iNACOL16 Day One Learnings on the Run

October 25, 2016 by
renee-hill

Renee Hill

As you wander the huge halls of the San Antonio Convention Center, you can’t help but bump into old friends, people you wanted to meet, or people you didn’t even realize you need to meet. And each conversation has at least one “AH-HA” that moves understanding forward, deeper, or into altogether new directions.

How Districts Can Use Competency-Based Education Infrastructure Enables More Autonomy and Creativity in School Design: I was thrilled to bump into Renee Hill, Assistant Superintendent at Riverside Public Schools in California. They’ve been moving toward personalization with the assumption that schools need autonomy and room for creativity (as compared to a district model that is implemented in all schools). They are now putting into place the infrastructure of a shared vision of a portrait of a graduate from Riverside and beginning to build the set of competencies/standards that will be shared graduation expectations. Eventually, they will have an infrastructure that will enable school autonomy balanced with a system of accountability to ensure students are making progress and reaching proficiency.

andrea-mulkey

Andrea Mulkey

Moving from Negotiated Alignment to Systemic Alignment: I also had the opportunity to meet Andrea Mulkey, National Director of Early College at KnowledgeWorks. We had an interesting conversation about how early college programs have always had to figure out how to align secondary and post-secondary expectations. However, instead of a defined set of competencies and standards, they’ve done it through well-developed relationships and negotiations.

This got me thinking – we need to get to the point where districts aren’t creating graduation expectations in isolation but actually developing them with colleges. This is going to be one of the key pieces of system-building. With our strong commitment to local control, I’ve been worried that variability in district graduation expectations will continue to be a problem. But it’s not a problem if we set the expectation that institutions of higher education have to sign off on how districts define what it means to be college ready. Think about it – colleges are going to want to set the same set of expectations across multiple districts. (more…)

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Creating a Common Language of Learning: Rubrics and Calibration

by

booksThis is the twelfth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

How will you know students are learning and what they need to reach proficiency?

As districts are designing the structure of learning, they are also thinking about assessment. Doug Penn, district principal at Chugach School District, points out, “We need to always know the purpose of assessment. It is to help students and the teacher understand what students know and what they don’t know, and to provide insights into the steps that are needed to learn it. Too often, assessment is used as a hammer and a gateway. For us, we see it as a process of helping students get from don’t know to knowing.”

Thus, as teachers develop the learning objectives, they also consider how they will structure rubrics to provide meaningful feedback as well as determine that students have met appropriate levels of knowledge. The process of creating norms about what proficiency means at each unit of learning and determining when students should advance to the next academic level depends on four things: clear criteria or rubrics, calibration, assessment literacy, and quality control mechanisms. In the initial years, the primary focus tends to be on rubrics and calibration. Districts and schools invest in strengthening assessment literacy, specifically building capacity for formative and performance-based assessment, and design quality control mechanisms at a later date.

Rubrics

In the early days of the transition to competency-based education, many schools continue to rely on students taking tests and getting a number of the answers right. Over time, however, they increasingly turn to rubrics that provide more in-depth insight into how students are advancing toward proficiency. There are many ways these are structured—some indicate progress (emerging, proficient, beyond proficiency), while others are highly aligned with the knowledge taxonomy (recall, comprehension, analysis, knowledge utilization). Teachers may also take the language and create their own variations with student-friendly language or engage their students in creatively naming the levels of the rubric. (more…)

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Creating a Common Language of Learning: A Continuum of Learning

October 24, 2016 by

blocksThis is the eleventh article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

How will learning targets and curriculum be organized within the structure?

Once a district has established what the structure will be, the next step is to organize the content areas or domains into the structure or a continuum of learning. The task at hand is to create a learning continuum for each domain that has been determined as important to graduation expectations, stretching from K through 12, with a clear indication of what it means to advance upon mastery. In thinking about the definitional elements of competency education, this is where districts create a transparent set of explicit and measurable learning objectives and a system of assessments that are designed to advance student learning.

The process of developing the learning continuum, defined as an aligned set of standards and rubrics, can be designed as embedded professional development. Working in groups, teachers unpack standards, share student work, and write the standards in user-friendly language. While a vital step, this can also become an overly iterative process when the focus turns to getting every word right rather than building a shared understanding, holding deep conversations about learning progressions that describe how students move from one concept to the next, and building assessment literacy. Schools may develop and review rubrics simultaneously or as a subsequent step. (The topic of rubrics and calibrating the determination of proficiency is discussed separately in the next article.)

Something to Think About: Districts should set the goal as creating continuums of learning across elementary and secondary schools, not just as segments for each grade level. It is important to think about vertical alignment. Once teachers have organized the learning continuums, be prepared for frustration that curriculum isn’t designed well for the competency-based classroom. Publishers create curricular resources on specific grade levels, with different products for elementary, middle, and high school. Thus, a teacher in seventh grade trying to teach students with gaps at the fourth- or fifth-grade level may not have any resources within the middle school curriculum or be familiar with the elementary school curriculum. As a partial solution, Adams 50 turned to an open source curriculum, Progressive Math Initiative from the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning.

 

(more…)

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CompetencyWorks Meet Up Tuesday October 25th at 6 pm

October 21, 2016 by

meet-upAre you going to iNACOL16 in San Antonio? Then come over to the CompetencyWorks Meet-Up from 6-7 during the President’s Reception. We are to the right of  the main entrance into the reception area (and once I see where it is, I’ll tweet out more information). This is the best chance to meet your colleagues from across the country.

The best thing to do is just walk right up and introduce yourself. Or if you want a little help, I’m 5 feet tall, fifty-six years old, and have messy gray hair. Find me and I’ll help you meet your new colleagues.

I’m reprinting highlights of the competency education strand in case it’s helpful to you to organize your schedule. (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

October 20, 2016 by

What's NewVirgel Hammonds of KnowledgeWorks explains the difference between traditional and competency education. You can watch the video to learn more.

News

  • Clark County School District in Las Vegas will open the nation’s first Marzano Academy, adopting strategies from Dr. Robert Marzano (co-founder of Colorado-based Marzano Research).
  • Lindsay Unified Public Schools, a rural, public school in California’s Central Valley, is hoping to share its competency-based approach and change management practices.

State Updates

  • The U.S. Education Department approved the extension of New Hampshire’s competency-based assessment pilot.
  • The Maine Cohort for Customized Learning and Thomas College’s Center for Innovation in Education held a one-day summit to provide teachers with a statewide opportunity to share and collaborate, problem solve and create new action steps to address the largest implementation issues.
  • Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have a historic opportunity to redesign systems of assessments and rethink accountability to support personalized learning. This article explores how Virginia is moving toward next generation accountability and and performance assessments.
  • Illinois is developing a new state plan under ESSA, the new federal K-12 education law.
  • Westminster Public Schools in Colorado began implementing competency education in 2009. This article explores how competency education is at odds with Colorado’s statewide accountability system.

School Updates

  • Deer-Isle Stonington Elementary School is adopting a proficiency-based grading system, which the high school is already working with (read more about Deer-Isle Stonington’s High School here).
  • In this article, Michael Horn explores the inputs and outcomes in credit recovery at LA Unified.
  • America Heritage (Idaho Falls) is embracing mastery-based education as one of 20 statewide “incubators” or pilots aimed at providing mastery-based education to students in 2016-17.
  • California’s Del Lago Academy created a competency-based approach which allows students to collect badges to prove their skills to colleges and employers, reinforcing the pipeline to college and career.
  • Superintendent of RSU5 in Maine, Dr. Becky Foley, explains the shift toward student-centered learning in their district as they continue to implement competency education from PreK-12. 

(more…)

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