March 18, 2014 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…)
March 10, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Working conceptual model of a proficiency-based diploma system, from Implementation of a Proficiency‐Based Diploma System
Although no research or evaluation can ever capture all the dynamics of change, I found the report Implementation of a Proficiency‐Based Diploma System in Maine: Phase II – District Level Analysis a fascinating read and incredibly affirming that we are going in the right direction. How often do you read, “a common theme clear in every district in this study was that the educators and educational leaders involved in this work were thinking deeply about ways to embrace this reform in a manner that benefitted every student. There was a great deal of hard work being done in schools and school districts to understand the needs of students, develop a plan to implement this legislative policy with fidelity, and work collaboratively with all stakeholders to improve the educational experiences of Maine’s children.” A reform in which educators are trying to understand the needs of students – that’s the heart of personalization!
The research team identified the following benefits of the personalized, proficiency-based approach being implemented in Maine:
• Improved student engagement
• Continued development of robust intervention systems for struggling students
• Collaborative professional work to develop common standards, align curriculum, and create assessments
• Collective and transparent monitoring of student progress and needs by educators, administrators and families. (more…)
March 6, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
The New England Secondary School Consortium has produced a GREAT resource, What is Proficiency-based Grading? The briefing outlines three elements of proficiency-based grades: 1) Connected to clearly defined learning objectives. 2) Separate academic achievement from behaviors, and, 3) Focused on learning progress.
The I Want to Know More supplement uses Casco Bay High School as an example to explore proficiency-based grading. They break down the grading policy into eight sets of principles and practices. I highlight this because I think it would make it so much easier for us to learn from each other if we start to talk about the principles that guide our practices.
Take a peek at the principles and practices below. It’s Principle 3 where we start to see schools begin to innovate around staffing, scheduling, and embedding supports into the school day. Too many schools say that they are doing standards-based grading, but just pass kids on with Cs and Ds to the next course and curriculum. That’s unacceptable according to Principle 3. Competency education is about designing for the students who are not yet proficient to keep them on pace. It’s about creating the flexibility to provide more instructional time, more enriching experiences to help students understand the value of what they are learning. It’s about giving more attention to students who are not yet proficient – when they need it, not at the end of the semester.
Principle 1: Grades should clearly communicate what students know and are able to do in each class.
Practice 1: We report on student mastery of specific skills and concepts within a course (called “course standards”); traits like participation and effort are reported separately. (more…)
March 4, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
We are on a journey, and sometimes it’s a bumpy one. That’s a constant refrain when talking to districts converting from traditional curriculum/time-based systems to student-centered systems. Below are a handful of insights shared by the Pittsfield School District leadership team about their redesign process and the challenges they are encountering. (See the rest of the series on Pittsfield: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3)
1. Community as Authentic Partner: Superintendent John Freeman explained that, “We took direction from the community about the kind of graduates they wanted and the type of school they wanted. As we began the high school redesign process, we have never backed off from engaging our community. Our community is in the driver’s seat.” Everyone we spoke with throughout the site visit reinforced the value that the broader community and students are partners. As PSD began implementation, they alerted their Community Advisory Council (now the Good to Great Team) as they hit implementation issues and engaged them in problem-solving around mid-course corrections.
2. Project Management: PSD says they couldn’t have done it without assigning staff to be the project managers. It’s just too much for district staff and principals to manage daily operations and the redesign process. Building project management capacity is more than dedicating staff – it’s also about building the capacity of the district to use project management tools such as process analysis. Even students are learning to create process analysis maps. Tobi Chassie, Co-Project Manger of the Systems Change Initiative, was grateful for the insistence of Nellie Mae Education Foundation, PSD invested in building out the districts project management capacity. (more…)