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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North Queens Community High School: Blooming the Outcomes

August 2, 2016 by
Queens1

Principal Winston McCarthy, Chris Sturgis of Competency Works, Lew Gitelman of reDesign, and teacher Martin Howfield at North Queens Community High School

This is the sixth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, Flushing International, and KAPPA International.

Imagine my surprise as Lew Gitelman greeted me when we arrived at North Queens Community High School. Pure delight. Twenty years ago, Lew Gitelman, co-founder of Diploma Plus, which has been replicated in many schools across the country, was the first person to patiently walk me through what competency-based education looked like in a school and classroom. After lots of hugs and ear-to-ear grins, we got down to talking about mastery-based education at North Queens, a transfer school serving students who are over-aged and under-credited.

Spanish teacher Martin Howfield opened the conversation with, “We don’t frame learning in terms of passing and failing. We do growth. So mastery-based grading makes sense for our school and our students.” After piloting in two classrooms in the Spring of 2011, they decided to take the whole school to mastery-based learning the next fall. Gitelman, Co-Director of reDesign, has been working with the team to create a system that is aligned to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Principal Winston McCarthy explained, “We use a trajectory of learning based on Bloom’s to move kids to HOTS – higher order thinking skills.”

Blooming the Standards

“You can Bloom the standards. You can Bloom the learning outcomes,” enthused McCarthy. Gitelman expanded on this. “If we want students to be thinking about big ideas and using HOTS, how do we operationalize it?” he asked. “Bloom’s Taxonomy captures the thinking skills students would need and a path to move from lower level to higher level skills. This isn’t just about meeting or exceeding a standard. We want our students to be able to understand the level of thinking they are applying to a problem.”

By aligning around Bloom’s Taxonomy, North Queens is prioritizing students’ development of skills and strategies to solve problems, rather than prioritizing content. The content in each discipline is integrated into skill-building. However, operating in the archaic Regents system that requires students to know about the Byzantine Empire in order to graduate means there are times this doesn’t lead to the voice and choice that is so helpful in motivating and engaging students. (Shame, shame on the New York Regents. It’s time they upgrade their high-stakes assessments to be aligned with learning sciences and adolescent development.) (more…)

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Organizational Position Matters

August 1, 2016 by

DeskIs competency-based education just for high schools or is it what you want for your entire K-12 system?

States and districts need to think about this question early on – what is the end goal? It is easy for state policymakers and districts to interpret that the policy for proficiency-based diplomas only applies to high schools. New Hampshire’s first step was to change time-based credits in secondary schools to competency-based followed by regulatory changes for the entire education system, from kindergarten through graduation.

Districts might respond by placing the leadership for the conversion to competency-based education with someone overseeing high schools, such as an office of post-secondary readiness. If states have the leadership placed in a department that oversees high schools, it sends a clear message that it competency education is a high school reform.

The problem with doing this is two-fold: (more…)

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July CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

July 31, 2016 by

Rethinking the Achievement Gap (Part 2)

July 29, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on March 28, 2016 and the Workshop School on March 21, 2016. See Part 1 here

I didn’t really know it at the time, but this graph would change the way I thought about the achievement gap.

Graph

Before opening the Workshop School, for two years we ran a small pilot project called the Sustainability Workshop. It was basically an alternative senior year program. We enrolled about 30 seniors a year from three neighborhood high schools, and ran them through an intensive one-year, project-based experience. To assess students’ learning at the end of the year, we administered the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA).

CWRA is the only standardized test I’ve ever seen that I really like. Basically, students are given a real-world problem scenario and a library of documents, data sets, etc. Their challenge is to come up with and articulate solutions to the scenario. Their “performance task score” is a measure of their ability to think critically and solve problems. Since the tasks involve making sense of numbers and writing out answers, CWRA controls for what it calls “entering academic ability” – basically the type of literacy and math skills that the SAT requires. (more…)

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KAPPA International: The Story of Angelica

July 28, 2016 by
KAPPA2

Principal Panorea Panagiosoulis and students at KAPPA International High School

This is the fifth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, and Flushing International.

Story of Angelica

Angelica was a model student at KAPPA International. She had a good attitude, did her homework, always went for the extra credit, participated in class, and had a 90 in all of her classes. But then she failed the Earth Science Regents Exam. Assistant Principal Andy Clayman said, “We had been lying to Angelica. Her good grades were giving her misinformation about how she was doing. She is the kind of student who would do anything we asked. She needed to be working on her gaps in knowledge. But we weren’t giving her the information or the opportunity she needed. It was a lightbulb moment for us.” (It’s worth watching this video to directly hear from Angelica and the team at KAPPA.)

So began KAPPA International’s journey to mastery-based learning.

It was a journey to a focus on learning, not requirements. Principal Panorea Panagiosoulis, who goes by Penny, explained, “Our students are very good at identifying what the state wants as far as minimum requirements. But we wanted to bring the focus back on learning. Instead of focusing on forty-four credits, we wanted students to be thinking about the skills and knowledge to be successful when they leave here.” Clayman expanded with, “It was a huge pedagogical shift to only focus on mastery in a student’s grade and to begin to work intentionally on building their work habits. We are seeking better and faster ways to help students develop their work habits because the connection between the habits and learning is so strong.”

Bridging the Gaps, Tightening the Curriculum

KAPPA has an interesting story. They launched in 2007 as an International Baccalaureate (IB) program because of the strong pedagogy and the dynamic role of assessment. Clayman explained, “AP exams focus on what the students don’t know as much as what they do know. But how much can you tell from an essay and multiple choice in a three-hour exam? The IB program gave students opportunities to show what they know and build the skills they would need to do well in college.” The curriculum of six academic areas, foreign language, and the arts – regardless of whether students passed and received the IB curriculum or the NYC diploma – would position students to compete for college admissions. (more…)

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Get the Culture Right: The Most Important New School Factor

July 27, 2016 by

GS1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on June 28, 2016.

“Attend to your culture,” said Jim May who supports about 25 new schools each year for New Tech Network. “From certificates of occupancy to emergency plans to hiring, the list of operational realities that must be addressed when starting a new school is immense. Thus, it can be easy to overlook the importance of your staff and student culture during those early days. However, it is imperative that even amidst the swirl of starting the school that you are intentional about establishing a strong set of cultural norms and rituals that can animate your work in the coming year.”

What’s most important when opening a new school? I asked 20 experts who have collectively opened more than a thousand schools. They shared 70 hard-won lessons and it’s clear that getting the culture right is the single most important factor in the long-term success of a school.

Opening a great school is an enormously complicated project. It involves real estate, construction, financing, logistics and marketing, which most educators don’t initially know anything about.

“Most of us who want to start schools because we like instruction, but the one thing no one tells us is that when you start a school, 90% of what who do early on has nothing to do with instruction,” said Dr. Nicole Assisi, Thrive Public Schools, who has opened five southern California schools. (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

by

What's NewNews

Thought Leadership

  • By moving to a competency-based learning system, we can naturally embed the development of grit in students, as explained by Michael Horn in this article.
  • Thomas Arnett describes how technology alone does not yield sustainable improvements in student learning outcomes. It is about redesigning models and shifting instructional practices first, then applying new technologies to enable personalized learning at scale.
  • How can better community and stakeholder engagement support innovation and deeper learning? CCSSO’s Joey Hunziker shares how states should define clear state/local roles in decision-making under ESSA.
  • In this Mind/Shift KQED article, Katrina Schwartz makes the case for aligning school discipline practices with a school’s learning philosophy.

Grading & Assessment

  • Here are 3 ways performance-based assessments address 3 important critiques of standardized assessments.
  • The Washington Post recently published an article criticizing schools shifting toward no-zero grading policies. Julia Freeland Fisher penned a response to this article, describing how students can be held to high standards with the right amount of supports through carefully designed and thoughtfully implemented competency education.

Innovative Practices

  • Maine’s Lewiston Schools are offering summer camps, as an alternative to summer school, with hands-on learning and weekly field trips allowing students to experience what they’ve studied in the classroom.
  • At the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar, high school students described how student-directed learning inspire curiosity and spur motivation.
  • Bronx Arena is trying to reach high-needs students by replacing the traditional classroom with personalized, competency-based learning.
  • Maine’s Casco Bay High School lets students develop their skills and passions simultaneously through their proficiency-based education system.
  • After moving to a proficiency-based program, more than 180 of Frisco ISD’s students received national accolades for the 2016 National Spanish Examinations.
  • In Massachusetts, a consortium of 9 districts are teaming up to develop a new assessment model that includes multiple measures of student progress and school quality.
  • Badging is one way to provide evidence of mastery across a wide variety of disciplines and scenarios that can allow learning to take place anywhere and at any time. This article looks at the current state of badging in K-12 education and explores potential obstacles and promising practices.

(more…)

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Flushing International’s Three Learning Outcomes: Habits, Language, and Academic Skills

July 26, 2016 by
Flushing 2

Collaborative work on projects at Flushing International High School.

This is the fourth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery Collaborative and The Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria

Magic. I think magic happens at the International Network of Public Schools (INPS). How else can they take a group of ninth graders who have newly arrived to the United States – with a range of English skills and academic skills – and within four years have them speaking and writing English, passing the New York Regents with their archaic focus on content (they require students to learn and regurgitate content knowledge about the Byzantine empire in order to graduate), and completing all the high school credits?

So why would an International School that is already performing magic with students want to become mastery-based? Flushing International’s principal Lara Evangelista was perfectly clear on that point. “We started along the path toward mastery-based learning when we began to ask ourselves why we assess,” she said. “Why do we grade? We realized that every teacher did it differently. The transparency and intentionality of mastery-based learning makes a huge difference for our teachers and our students. Our teachers are much more intentional about what they want to achieve in their classrooms. It has also opened up the door to rich conversations about what is important for students to learn, pedagogy, and the instructional strategies we are using. For students, the transparency is empowering and motivating. They are more engaged in taking responsibility for their own education than ever before.”

How Mastery-Based Learning is Making a Difference

The value to teachers was very clear. Math teacher Rosmery Milczewski explained that she was unsure at first, as she wasn’t familiar with mastery-based learning. “The thing that convinced me is that in the traditional grading systems, when a student would come and ask how they could do better in a class, all I could really say was study more,” she explained. “The grades didn’t guide me as a teacher. There was no way to help students improve. With mastery-based grading, we talk about specific learning outcomes. I know exactly how to help students and they know exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are.” (more…)

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Frequently Asked Questions

July 25, 2016 by

FAQPittsfield School District asked me to be interviewed on video. And I was nervous, as I’ve never done that before. And I know I make faces when I think about something. I was way, way, way out of my comfort zone. So I did a lot of preparation and wrote thorough notes for myself. As these questions are some of the same ones we hear over and over again, I though I’d publish them here in case they are helpful to you. And as always, we would love your thoughts about how to answer the questions more effectively.

#1 Could you explain what competency-based education is to someone who has never heard of it?

In the United States, one of the things that unites us is our common experience of the education system. We know it so well it’s hard for us to take a step back and think about its design. Once you do, it is clear that it was designed with the goal of providing a minimal education to everyone and then to rank and sort students. However it is absolutely impossible for schools to prepare all students for college and career readiness if the system is designed to rank and sort. When students are just passed on with Cs and Ds, they are going to struggle the next year and they are going to struggle even more the next year and the year after that.

Competency education asks the questions, “If we wanted every student to reach college and career readiness, what would it look like? How would we make sure every student builds the foundational skills and the higher order skills they need to be successful in college and in the workplace?” Competency-based education is designed to make sure students are proficient each step of the way.

In the conventional system, the focus was on equality – everyone getting the same curriculum and the same amount of time. In competency-based education, our focus is on equity. The learning experiences and the amount of instructional support may vary, but with explicit learning targets, we can make sure every student reaches proficiency. With a competency-based system, we can better personalize learning for students while still making sure students are all reaching proficiency at each step. (more…)

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Rethinking the Achievement Gap (Part 1)

July 22, 2016 by

GapThis post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on March 22, 2016 and the Workshop School on March 19, 2016.

There are a lot of ways to think about equity, and a lot of ways to think about achievement. In the ed reform world, the most common is what we call the achievement gap: the quantifiable difference in test performance between poor and middle class kids. This concept has done a lot of good in highlighting inequities in our school systems, and creating a sense of urgency for change. But from a learning standpoint, this narrow understanding of equity has been terrible.

There are two reasons for this. First, schools (and school systems) focused narrowly on the achievement gap end up devoting most of their time, energy and resources to things that bring up test scores. It’s not that literacy and numeracy don’t matter (though on the math side much of what we force kids to learn isn’t really numeracy). It’s that other things matter just as much, if not more. A narrow focus on the achievement gap pushes all of those things to the margins.

Second, if you’re mostly focused on getting a specific body of knowledge into kids’ heads, you organize a school that seeks to minimize or eliminate anything that gets in the way of that work. You create systems that reward compliant behavior, because it keeps everyone on task. It’s efficient. But kids don’t own their behavior in these systems. When young people leave school, they have to make their own decisions. Learning to be independent and responsible is just as important as learning to base claims on evidence. But somehow we’ve decided that we need to sacrifice the former in service of the latter. (more…)

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