March 20, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
The Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance (NCCRA) at the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands at EDC has kicked off a research group on competency education to help researchers and practitioners collaborate. It’s clear from our conversations that research is needed in three areas – to help inform practice, to support policy development, and to catalyze more interest in research.
We desperately need research, and it is a challenging time to do this research. The term competency education is being used for different things. From what I can tell there are two primary variables: 1) The scope and 2) the definition of mastery.
See below for list of published and upcoming research.
SCOPE varies to the extent of the learning experience: 1) the inclusion of adaptive software such as ALEKS or Khan Academy in classrooms; 2) online credit recovery programs where adaptive software is the primary way instruction is delivered and learning is assessed; 3) proficiency-based classrooms in schools that have not engaged in systemic reform; 4) systemic reforms of districts and schools; and 5) statewide conversion to competency education, which has a different set of issues from those districts and schools converting voluntarily. So a competency-based classroom in a competency-based school where there are going to be daily supports to help students who are not yet proficient is very different from a competency-based classroom in a school that still passes students along with Cs and Ds. (more…)
March 19, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
This is the third of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
“We weren’t getting traction in any of our academic improvement initiatives. Competency-based education helped us to get traction. Parents saw the value of the model. Students value the transparency – they no longer have to guess at what teachers want. It’s allowed us to focus in on the most important things to do to support our students.”
Sanborn Regional High School Principal Brian Stack explained that the most important change has been in the nature of the relationships. PLCs have more meaning as they focus on student progress. Students are taking more responsibility, even holding teachers more accountable by asking, “Am I passing all my competencies? What do I need to do to make sure I meet the expectations for proficiency?”
SRHS is a work in progress, as are all competency-based schools. However, it stands out as one of the few places that I have visited that has taken the time to draw on best practices of highly effective high schools, taking into consideration what students need to keep them in school as well as prepare them for college and careers. Below are just a few of the highlights of structures for learning Sanborn has put into place, as well as insights gathered during the visit. (more…)
March 18, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
On Thursday, April 24, 2014, 2:00-3:00 PM ET CompetencyWorks is sponsoring a webinar Understanding Grading in Competency-based Schools. You can register for the webinar here.
The webinar will start with an overview of competency education and the elements of grading in competency-based environments.
Abbie Forbus and Brett Grimm from Lindsay Unified School District in California will share Lindsay’s grading practices. Lindsay Unified, a Race to the Top winner, has a strong personalized, performance-based system and well-developed grading system that emphasizes providing feedback to learners. Forbus and Grimm will provide an overview of the values and educational philosophy that guides Lindsay’s grading policy. Then going into more depth, they will present the structure, practices, and reporting mechanisms. During this webinar you will learn how their information management system enables teachers, students and families to monitor student learning and progress along their learning progression.
The final segment of the webinar will offer a discussion on implementation challenges and emerging issues.
In preparation for the webinar we hope that you will review Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education, a CompetencyWorks briefing paper.
Abbie Forbus, Counselor, Lindsay Unified High School (CA)
Brett Grimm, Assistant Principal of Curriculum & Instruction, Lindsay Unified High School (CA)
Chris Sturgis, MetisNet and co-founder of CompetencyWorks
by Chris Sturgis
The Wall at Memorial Elementary School
This is the second of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 3 here.
Sanborn Regional School District had already embraced standards in their elementary, middle and high schools before the state policies calling for competency-based high school credits were introduced. Now that Sanborn Regional High School is well on its way to converting to competency education, other schools in SRSD are exploring what it means to take the step from standards-referenced to competency-based.
Creating a competency-based culture has already brought about changes, Memorial Elementary School Principal Jon Vander Els said, including ensuring that teachers have adequate time together for planning, a greater emphasis on differentiation in all grades, and the introduction of the concept of re-teaching when students don’t master the material in the first learning cycle.
Charting Student Progress on ‘The Wall’
If schools are going to ensure that all students become proficient in the standards, teachers have to share an understanding of what proficiency looks like. This is often referred to as calibration or tuning. Memorial has created two techniques to support this in writing. First is the Writing Continuum, which breaks down by developmental level the expectations for the types of texts, content and traits, process, mechanics and conventions, and attitudes. (more…)
March 17, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Sanborn Superintendent Brian Blake
This is the first in a series on Sanborn Regional School District. Read Part 2 and Part 3.
“We know more about our students than ever before.” At Sanborn Regional School District (SRSD), competency education is about relationships. It’s also about common sense, finding practical solutions to make education work for kids. This post and the two following it will provide a look into Sanborn Regional School District.
Background on Sanborn Regional School District
Our site visit began with a conversation with Ellen Hume-Howard, Curriculum Director for SRSD, Brian Stack, Principal of Sanborn Regional High School (SRHS), Michael Turmelle, Assistant Principal/Curriculum Director at SRHS, and Jonathan Vander Els, Principal of Memorial Elementary School.
Hume-Howard began with the story of the district’s journey towards competency education. “Before the arrival of Dr. Brian Blake as superintendent in 2009, the district was paralyzed and unable to work as a system. Dr. Blake brought focus to the district and provided a clear and ambitious goal for us to reach.” One of the first things the district decided to tackle was the misalignment of curriculum. Hume-Howard explained, “We became experts in standards,” by embracing the New Hampshire state standards and Understanding by Design, developed by Tighe and Wiggins. They learned what was required to operate a standards-based school, including the calibration that happens as teachers use weekly meetings and professional development to talk about how they know when students are proficient. (more…)
March 14, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Thanks to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Maine Department of Education was able to conduct a number of case studies on district implementation. The studies are great reading and raise a number of issues about principal leadership, community engagement, continuous improvement, and implementation planning. However, it’s hard to find the hour or so it takes to nestle in with each of the case studies and do the necessary reflection needed to learn from them.
So that’s why its so great that the Maine DOE Center for Best Practices did the work for us with the Threads of Implementation: A Thematic Review of Six Case Studies of Maine School Districts Implementing Proficiency-Based Systems.
It will only take you 15 minutes or so to read this summary, which includes sections on vision and framework, policy, leadership, teacher engagement, finance and professional development, technology, pacing, communications, and cultural change. The review is even more valuable as a discussion tool for district teams thinking about converting to competency education. Use each of the segments to help you devise your strategies and implementation plan, learning from the successes and stumbles of these districts.
Thanks to the state leadership in Maine – they are walking the walk when it comes to creating a learning culture.
March 13, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
A Denver Public Schools staffer asked me the other day, “Why aren’t schools innovating more, even when they have waivers that come with innovation status?”
A number of elements of our system seem intransigent – annual calendars, bell schedules, sequencing of courses, to name a few. We are probably going to have to find examples of innovating around each one to free up our minds for what is possible.
For example, we’ve highlighted PASE Prep, which is experimenting with eliminating the bell schedule. Anyone know of another example of schools that are freeing themselves from bells and the idea of students moving from one course to another at the same time for the next dose of instruction?
(An aside on the use of language: According to Ed Week, kids moving from one class to another is called platooning, which is a bit disconcerting. There are so many collective nouns we could have built upon to describe children moving onto the next learning task. How about fleeting, herding, quivering, swarming or flocking? Language that captures that incredible energy of children learning might inspire us – think of a chattering of starlings, or a murmuration of starlings, filling up the skies with their dance?)
In a new report, Cost-Effective Strategies for Extending Learning Time and Expanding Opportunity in K-12 Education, Generation Schools describes how they reconstructed the daily and annual schedule to provide 30% more learning time while keeping annual working time for teachers the same as the traditional model. And they are getting results. (more…)
March 12, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Last week I had the opportunity to meet with part of the Adams 50 leadership team: Oliver Grenham, Chief Education Officer; Jeni Gotto, Director of Assessment and Instructional Technology, and Steve Saunders, Communications Director. Our conversation, summarized below, touched on the results they are seeing, the big implementation issues they have faced, and the new ones popping up. Check out their incredibly great wiki to understand their design and implementation, as well as the new video describing their competency-based system.
1. On An Uphill Trajectory, or Getting Out of the Red
Grenham was adamant: “Is our competency-based system making a difference in achievement? Absolutely.”
The graduation rate within Adams 50 continues to increase (the high school is now 74% for the traditional four-year rate, while the most recent districtwide five year rate is 75.4%, which is expected to be higher next August). This in a district with 81% FRL, 45% ELL, and about 39% student turnover per year (18% by Colorado’s newly implemented school-year based calculations). It’s great news.
In terms of school performance, out of Colorado’s four-category accountability system, Adams 50 moved all their schools out of turnaround status (they are marked red on the state reports), with only four schools (two middle and two elementary) in priority improvement. Of the remaining schools, half are in improvement and the other half in performance. (more…)
March 11, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
In case you missed it, the Wall Street Journal had a story yesterday on competency education. In Shaking Up the Classroom – Some Schools Scrap Age-Based Grade Levels, Focusing on Mastery of Material, Stephanie Banchero reports on her visit to Lindsay Unified School District. I talked with Stephanie at one point because she couldn’t find any critics of competency education — you can see in the article the best she could find is that there is a strong emphasis on those deeper learning skills and fears that traditionally underserved students may not benefit. I do think we need to know our critics and listen to them so that they can help us spot implementation issues quickly.
The article is below — and if you want to know more about Lindsay, check out the blog posting on my site visit.
Shaking Up the Classroom
Some Schools Scrap Age-Based Grade Levels, Focusing on Mastery of Material
By STEPHANIE BANCHERO
March 10, 2014
LINDSAY, Calif.—There are no seventh-graders in the Lindsay Unified School District.
Instead, in the “Content Level 7″ room at Washington Elementary, 10 students, ages 11 to 14, gather around teacher Nelly Lopez for help in writing essays. Eight sit at computers, plowing through a lesson on sentence structure, while a dozen advanced students work on assignments in pairs. (more…)
by Alison Hramiec
At Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA), a student-centered, competency-based high school, we host as many as 20 educators every month who want to see for themselves how competency-based education (CBE) works in the classroom. After a few years of working with schools transitioning from traditional (Carnegie units and grade levels based on age) to competency-based education, what strikes me is the assumption by educators in both systems that CBE is radically different from traditional teaching. It’s not.
At the beginning of this school year, I sat in the back of a new BDEA teacher’s humanities class. As he reviewed with students the previous night’s homework, he explained, “If you complete the first two questions correctly you will be competent in this assignment; if you complete three questions you will be highly competent.” I looked through the series of papers he collected and discovered that very few students had even tried the third question, some had not done the assignment at all, and others had answered with very short responses.
A question that invariably is asked of us when we present our CB system to educators is “How do you get students to complete homework and classwork in a competency-based system, if those elements are no longer part of your grading equation?” BDEA’s “grading” system asks students to show competence in specific benchmarks, which are created in alignment to the Common Core to measure skill. Using rubrics, teachers set clear expectations about what it means to demonstrate competence according to our school’s definition: demonstrating a skill multiple times, independently and using the correct vocabulary. (more…)