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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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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ESSA: From Compliance to Opportunity

May 31, 2016 by

ESSA Compliance to OpportunityThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on May 25, 2016. 

As mentioned in our previous post, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) not only challenges states with the task of navigating a diminished federal role in education, but provides them with new opportunities to use federal funds to support state innovations.

States can capitalize on the provisions outlined in ESSA to develop and implement strategies that encourage personalization, rigor and excellence. Over the next 13 months, states should work to identify priorities and establish which provisions within the new federal law they can leverage to accomplish their goals.

So, what is in this law for YOUR state?

While there are numerous provisions within ESSA to meet a variety of state priorities, we chose to focus on two big levers: the Direct Student Services provision and the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants.

Direct Student Services

The Direct Student Services provision provides states with an opportunity to use choice and other student services to spur improvement in districts with the lowest performing schools. States may choose to reserve up to 3% of their Title I funds to award competitive grants to districts for the purpose of (you guessed it!) providing Direct Student Services.

To receive funds, districts must apply to the state. Ninety-nine percent of these funds must be distributed to districts, and awards must go to districts serving the highest number of schools identified for comprehensive and targeted support and improvement. But, the state can use the application process to create incentives to use Direct Student Services funds on certain priorities, and the state need not award funds to every applicant. (more…)

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5 Strategies for Fostering Independence in a PBL Classroom

May 27, 2016 by

Pic1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on April 28, 2016.

As a middle school teacher I understand that my students are at a developmental crossroads. They want to be seen as independent, responsible adults but at the same time still need guidance in order to be successful. This makes this age both challenging and rewarding to work with as it allows me as a teacher to help them as they become the independent students they see themselves to be.

It is not uncommon for teachers new to project-based learning to express skepticism or concern about “dropping the reins” and allowing students to take more control over the pace and scope of their learning. However, it is an essential aspect of good PBL. Ultimately, in order to be successful in the 21st century world, our students need to be able to manage themselves and work effectively with groups of peers. If it is true that the purpose of school is to prepare students for future success, then the building of these skills must start in the classroom. (more…)

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