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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Springdale, Arkansas: A Tradition of Innovation and Future of Opportunity

April 19, 2017 by

James Rickabaugh

CompetencyWorks is delighted to share with you a special four-part series based on James Rickabaugh’s Student Focused Learning tour in Springdale, Arkansas. Rickabaugh is the senior advisor at Wisconsin’s Institute for Personalized Learning and the author of Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning: A Roadmap for School Leaders.

I love visiting schools, talking with students and educators and seeing the power of learning. That’s why a recent visit to the Springdale School District in Springdale, Arkansas, was a special treat. I met wonderful educators and enthusiastic and motivated learners and encountered some innovative, promising ideas and practices worth sharing.

Arkansas has recently taken some important and promising steps forward with the creation of a state Office of Innovation. In 2013, the Office of Innovation for Education was opened to support local education innovation through designation as Districts of Innovation. The Office of Innovation is located at the University of Arkansas, led by Denise Tobin Airola and her team. Springdale was one of the original school districts to apply for and be selected as Districts of Innovation by then Commissioner of Education Tom Kimbrell. In addition, Springdale was awarded a Federal Race to the Top District Grant in 2014 to accelerate its efforts to rethink and redesign learning that is “student focused.” The focus of the grant included beginning to move beyond seat time and traditional credits as measures of learning to focus on competency and supporting students to become more actively engaged in and take greater ownership for their learning, including the launch of student-led conferences.

Springdale has long enjoyed a reputation for excellence and innovation within Arkansas. However, as I learned more about Springdale’s recent history, this culture of innovation became even more obvious and seemed like a model from which others could learn. Just a few decades ago, Springdale was largely a Caucasian community enrolling around 5,000 students. Today, Springdale serves 21,500 students in PK-12. Meanwhile, the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic composition of the learner population has become much more diverse. The school district has a majority-minority student enrollment, including 31 percent Caucasian students, 47 percent English Language Learners, 46 languages spoken, and 63 percent free and reduced lunch eligibility. Included among the diverse learners is a comparatively large Marshallese population. (Native to the Marshall Islands, the Marshallese historically were a fishing-based culture until a portion of their country became the site of U.S. nuclear testing in the 1950s. A subsequent agreement with the U.S. government allows the Marshallese to travel freely between their country and the United States.) (more…)

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Getting Results at Lindblom

April 18, 2017 by

This is the fifth post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

Robert Lindblom Math and Science Academy (Lindblom) is relatively new to proficiency-based learning. They are in the third year of implementation; year one was spent introducing new practices, which were then introduced school-wide in the second year. The structures they have put into place include vertically aligning a transparent set of academic standards, introducing habits of learning, developing strong flex schedules, and implementing four-year looped advisories, universal revision policies, and standards-based grading. They are a school that is constantly trying to figure out what works best for students and is sustainable for teachers.

Getting Results

Lindblom is seeing results with the introduction of proficiency-based learning structures and practices. These results include higher on-track indicators, increased GPA, more scholarships being awarded, and an increase of selective college admissions. Scholarships have increased from $15 million to $55.5 million. The rate of students going to highly selective colleges increased from 15 to 30 percent, including two students going to West Point and one to Stanford. As Principal Wayne Bevis explained, “These are life-changing colleges for minority and low-income students.”

Lindblom Before & After PBL Implementation
Data Point Before PBL Today with PBL
Freshmen On-Track 83% 99.3%
Unweighted GPAs 2.4 3.0
Highly Selective Colleges Acceptance     17% 31%
Scholarships $15,000,000     $55,500,000


It’s important to understand the context of these results. A recent report from the 
University of Chicago looked at the question of whether selective schools benefit low-income kids. Their finding was that neighborhood schools were a better choice for highly skilled kids because they were able to generate higher GPAs that led to more selective colleges. Lindblom challenged that finding by putting into place proficiency-based learning structures that led to students building their skills and earning higher GPAs. (more…)

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The Illinois CBE Initiative: Overview and Reflections

April 17, 2017 by

The Illinois State Board of Education has announced the districts that will be participating in the 2017 Competency-Based Learning Pilot for high schools: Chicago, East St. Louis School District, Huntley Community School District, Kankakee School District, Peoria Public Schools, Proviso Township, Rantoul Township High School, Ridgewood High School District, Round Lake Area School, and Williamsfield Schools. A quick overview of the pilots are below.

This is an exciting initiative although I do have a few concerns:

  • Some (but not all) of the pilots seem too small. At CompetencyWorks we recommend school-wide strategies. There will always be roll-out strategies, of course, but the goal is to have school-wide as quickly as possible. Some of these pilots look more like exploration than transition strategies.
  • I hope that the IL districts will take the time to learn from others around the country. There is a lot known already about how to design high quality competency-based alternative schools and how to help students build the skills for becoming independent learners (such as starting with a growth mindset). Based on the descriptions, there is a lot of emphasis on clarifying the standards (not sure if the focus is still on delivering grade level standards or meeting students where they are), creating flexible learning environments, and expanding formal pathways rather than on building strong cultures of learning, helping students build skills for owning and managing their learning, and supporting teachers in building their skills to personalize instruction.
  • It’s not clear that these districts or their school boards have actually made a commitment to competency-based education or have engaged their communities in defining what they want for their students. We’ve learned that any district taking CBE seriously is going to want to roll back to feeder schools pretty quickly. Once districts shed a light on the number of students coming into high school with gaps both big and small in their foundational skills and take the responsibility to actually help them build those skills and not pass students on, they are going to go downriver to created competency-based middle and elementary schools.

Reviewing these schools got me to thinking: Given that competency education is expanding, and possibly expanding in more programmatic ways, it may be time for us to create a way to categorize CBE in terms of scope; robustness implementation (clear pedagogy, CBE structure, personalized approach, strong culture of learning, etc); and fidelity of implementation. I don’t think we can expect that a CBE initiative aimed at helping students be better prepared for specific career pathways is going to produce the same types of outcomes as a district-wide commitment to a proficiency-based diploma and personalized learning approaches.

Illinois CBE Pilot Participating Districts

(more…)

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Assessing for Equity

April 14, 2017 by

Assessment for Learning Project (ALP) is one of the most interesting, well-designed, and, based on the convening I just attended this week, best-managed initiatives I’ve seen. Kudos to NGLC, 2 Revolutions, and Center for Innovation in Education!

ALP was designed to fund a wide-ranging set of initiatives about assessment as we begin to unlock it from accountability, where it has been held hostage for several decades, and return it to its rightful place in the learning process. The initiative is driven by a learning agenda that allows a series of very different projects to inform and inspire us – all exploring different aspects of assessment.

ALP Learning Agenda

The ALP Learning agenda is based on the following five questions:

  • How can assessment support a broader definition of student success?
  • What assessment practices most effectively empower students to own and advance their learning?
  • How can we most effectively build educator capacity to gather, interpret, and use evidence of student learning to enhance instruction?
  • How does assessment for learning inform broader contexts of accountability, policy, and system design?
  • How can we pursue equity through assessment for learning?

Each of these questions alone could be a full-blow learning agenda; together, they force us to take us a step back and really think about our assumptions underlying assessment. In listening to the conversations at ALP, a few ideas that have been percolating in the back of my mind jumped forward.

  • Assessment really does have a foot in both the cycle of learning and any efforts related to understanding the effectiveness of the education system itself (i.e., external accountability). The trick is to maintain its integrity within the cycle of learning while informing external accountability.
  • We talk about assessment as a noun when I’m becoming convinced it should be used as a verb. We should really be focusing on assessing as a process that students and teachers do to reflect on how students are learning and what needs to happen next. When we think of assessment as a noun it keeps us thinking about the tools of the trade, such as tests, when our primary need right now is to build our skills and clarify the processes used in gaining insight regarding what students understand, what they can do, and where there might be gaps, weak understanding, and misconceptions that need to be addressed.

Assessment for Equity

(more…)

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Personalizing Learning at West Belden

April 13, 2017 by

This is the fourth post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

After the visit to Lovett Elementary School, our tour (sponsored by LEAP) headed over to CICS West Belden (K-8), a Distinctive Schools campus, for a quick visit. Ninety-five percent of students are low-income and more than 90 percent are Hispanic.

West Belden was an early adopter of personalized learning in Chicago, and the school is quickly becoming a national exemplar in the space with about seventy-five tours per year. Using a personalized approach supported by blended learning, they’re seeing substantial growth results.

To jumpstart their journey to personalized learning, West Belden competed and was selected for LEAP Innovations’ Breakthrough Schools program, which provides design support, access to national experts and innovative school models, and grant funding to school teams as they implement personalized learning school-wide. West Belden turned to personalization for three reasons: stagnation of student growth, desire for increased student engagement, and teacher readiness. West Belden is organizing their school around co-teaching, multi-age learning environments. They have two teams for first through third graders and two teams for fourth and fifth graders. Kindergarten and middle school all operate with single grade levels (with multi-age electives for middle school). Their definition of personalized learning includes: (more…)

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When Young People Had a Vote in Decisions about Their Own Programs

April 12, 2017 by

Although this reflection by AYPF’s Board Chair, Tony Sarmiento (first posted at AYPF on March 13, 2017), isn’t related to competency-based education, I think it is an extraordinary piece that allows us to learn from our elders to better respect our children and youth. As we open up what is possible in competency-based education with transparent continuums of learning, we also open up new doors to how we construct education. In re-posting this article, I’m not suggesting that we should run directly to created markets. I’m saying that we should look backwards and forwards to organize the very best of what we know works best for young people to engage, motivate, and support students. Listening to them and creating formal ways to guide them is always a strong first step.

Happy reading! – Chris

Tony Sarmiento, AYPF Board Chair

As I near retirement after working with older adults for nearly two decades, I was recently honored in a surprise reunion with former co-workers from almost fifty years ago, when we worked together at a neighborhood youth center in upper Northwest Washington, DC. While we shared hazy memories of dances, basketball games, and other typical summer youth center activities, all of us recalled fond and detailed memories of the youth center director, Pat McDonough, who in his late-20s hired, supervised, and inspired us. None of us had been in regular contact with Pat before his death a few years ago, but all of us acknowledged his lasting impact on our careers and lives.

The reunion reminded me of my employment during the War on Poverty as a youth worker in several of my home city’s neighborhoods. At that time, an official goal of the federal government’s Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) was to insure youth involvement in planning, operating, and evaluating youth programs. This was consistent with the larger goal of “maximum feasible participation” by the community in all OEO programs. As stated in an official OEO Instruction, “Youth Development Program Policies,” (February 1970):

Every Community Action Agency and Delegate Agency must insure active youth involvement in all phases of its Youth Development Program. Applications which do not reflect this commitment will not be funded. (as underlined in the original)]In the District of Columbia, this mandate for youth involvement was achieved by partitioning the city into twenty Neighborhood Planning Councils (NPCs), which were administered by then-Mayor Walter Washington’s Office of Youth Opportunity Services (OYOS). Each NPC was governed by ten adults and ten youth (between 14-21 years old) elected in community elections. Every year, each of the twenty councils was responsible for developing, debating, and voting on their community’s year-round youth programs and program budgets, based on funding made available by OYOS. OYOS also provided technical assistance to the councils and monitored their compliance with OEO regulations.

(more…)

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Loving Learning at Lovett Elementary

April 11, 2017 by

Dr. Haney from Chicago Public Education Fund

This is the third post in a series covering my recent trip to Chicago. Begin with CBE in Chicago.

During my visit to Chicago, I joined a tour hosted by LEAP to Lovett Elementary School. It was a group tour, so I didn’t have the opportunity to dig in as deeply as I do with other school visits. Lovett is starting with personalized learning as their entry point. They have some of the things one would expect to see in a competency-based school but not all.

These are just a few highlights:

Lovett Elementary School vibrates with energy. Dr. LeViis Haney, principal of Lovett, explained, “A few years back, we came up with the tagline, ‘Love it at Lovett.’ The problem was the kids didn’t really love it at Lovett. So we asked ourselves, ‘How can we transform the environment so that kids really would love learning?’”

At the time, the school was very traditional, with thirty students “jammed” into classrooms with one teacher. Many of our students come “from down the hill,” referring to the income levels of the community. Nearly all students are on Free or Reduced Lunch. Many of our parents didn’t do well in school themselves and their opinions of schools and teachers were informed by their own less-than-positive experiences.

Haney described their previous top-down, compliance based-culture: “Everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing. Teachers were teaching the curriculum and kids were listening and receiving knowledge. Students went from one worksheet or workbook to the next. The problem was that all the instruction was just one-way without consideration of students’ needs.” The results were manifold: a high percentage of disciplinary office referrals and high suspension rates; teachers were isolated and only felt responsibility for their classrooms; technology integration was almost nonexistent and didn’t come with teacher training; and there were low rates of parent satisfaction and high rates of student apathy. (more…)

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Why Teachers Should Free Up Their Time

April 10, 2017 by

Kelly helps a student with an online lesson.

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on February 8, 2017.

I am concerned when I see a classroom that is locked in teacher-led instruction. Of course, some good can come from an interesting lecture, demonstration, or lesson. If it is part of a Station Rotation blended-learning model, then teacher-led instruction can be a good opportunity for teachers to enhance the content their students learn online. So, the problem is not that teacher-led instruction is necessarily bad. The problem is that delivering instruction limits teachers from having time to do something even better.

Kelly Kosuga felt this limitation firsthand. Kelly teaches 9th-grade Algebra I at Cindy Avitia High School, part of the Alpha Public Schools network in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the start of the 2015–16 school year, Kelly implemented a Station Rotation that consisted of three stations: Solo Station (independent work), Peer-to-Peer (pair work), and Guided Group (teacher-led instruction). Each student spent 25 minutes in each station before rotating—a classic Station Rotation model.

Kelly gave most of her attention to whichever students were in Guided Group at the time. As the semester progressed, however, she became increasingly frustrated that she could not clone herself so that there could be someone to monitor and help students at the other two stations. Plus, she didn’t like that the structure made it hard for her to differentiate instruction to a smaller size than three groups. She wanted to be able to meet with one or two students at a time. She felt stuck. (more…)

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How to Create Higher Performing, Happier Classrooms in 7 Moves: A Playbook for Teachers

April 8, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on January 24, 2017.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This playbook shares the findings of three researchers who set off to discover what K–12 schools can learn from the best-run organizations in America. Why are companies such as Zappos, Geico, and Google continually ranked among the best places to work if you want to be happy and successful? Could classroom teachers use similar strategies to improve their students’ happiness and performance, not to mention their graduates’ readiness to work in America’s top organizations someday?

The researchers—all of whom are former K–12 teachers—began by searching for strategies that successful managers in today’s well-regarded organizations have in common. They found that the best managers in leading organizations do at least three things extraordinarily well: they empower their teams and do not micromanage, they are great coaches, and they emphasize accountability.

Of course, classrooms are inherently different from companies, and students are not teachers’ employees. But in both settings, the person in charge is seeking to create a happy climate that encourages and maximizes positive results. If empowering teams, serving as good coaches, and emphasizing accountability are top principles for successful managers in “best places to work” environments, then similar principles could work for teachers tasked with motivating and guiding students. Furthermore, many students will one day look for jobs in workplaces that embrace these management principles. Classrooms would do well to prepare students by resembling future workplaces more intentionally.

That said, sometimes the hardest part is turning high-level principles into concrete action steps. Through a series of classroom pilots, the researchers found that teachers can replicate the successes of top managers in cutting-edge workplaces by making seven specific, practical moves to introduce a similar culture into their classroom routine.

(more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Exceeding is More Work

April 7, 2017 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on February 15, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When working in a learner-centered proficiency based system, it is really important that members of the learning community have some common understandings. I can’t think of any place where this is more important than with proficiency expectations. We’ve spent a good deal of time working on learning targets and assessments, and much of that work has focused on score 3 and foundational elements. It is equally important that we spend some time building common understandings about what it means to work a score 4, or exceeding levels of targets. ​

One of the most common mental wrestlings around the score 4 I hear from people sounds something like this:

 “A score 4 is not supposed to be more work, so then what does exceeding look like?”

This points to some confusion around what a score 4 actually is. And as we all know, if one person has the question chances are many others do to. So let’s take a look at some important features of score 4 work. We will use the following example to work through three important features:

(more…)

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