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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January 2017 CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

February 1, 2017 by

Thinking about Design Elements and Quality Standards

January 31, 2017 by

designThis is the fourth article in our series on competency education in K12 and higher education institutes. Begin the series here.

It’s one thing to build consensus around a definition of competency-based education. The definition of competency education developed in higher education by C-BEN and the definition used by CompetencyWorks are comparable. Both have served as a helpful organizing tool around which to build the field and deepen our understanding of competency education. However, it’s an altogether different thing to agree to what high quality competency-based education looks like, not to mention the more difficult task of agreeing to what what low quality, the unacceptable kind, looks like.  

C-BEN has started down a path toward building agreement about quality. They started with ten design elements in the Shared Design Elements and Emerging Practices. They then narrowed this to eight in the Quality Standards for Competency-Based Educational Programs: transparency of student learning; intentionally designed and engaged student experiences; clear, measurable, meaningful and complete competencies; coherent, competency-driven program and curriculum design; credential-level assessment strategy with robust implementation; evidence-driven continuous improvement processes; collaborative engagement with external partners; and demonstrated institutional commitment to and capacity for CBE innovation.

They have created a structure of a design element, principle, and standards to dive deep into what quality means. Much of it applies directly to competency education in K12, although there are differences.

1) IHE tends to be programmatic and is likely to be thinking about meeting the needs of niche markets. Even in the colleges transforming their entire campuses, students are self-selecting the model. Districts, on the other hand, are responsible for all students in a geographic area (even when there is choice policy, there will always be a school open to everyone, including those who move into the community in 12th grade and those expelled from choice schools run by the district) and will need to think deeply about designing for the more vulnerable students, mobility, and a wide range of developmental, social-emotional, and academic needs. The K12-CBE model needs to work for everyone. (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

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What's NewLindsay Unified School District transitioned to a performance-based learning system and is seeing results—with a 92% graduation rate (compared to 73% prior to transitioning); 42% of graduates currently attend a four-year university (compared to 21% before); and over 70% of graduates of those students will have a degree within 6 years. With Lindsay High School being recognized for its accomplishments by the White House in Washington, D.C., ranking in the 99th percentile of schools in California that are drug-free, bully-free, alcohol-free, and learner-focused, one would have a hard time finding someone who didn’t view Lindsay Unified School District as not only one of the top school districts in Tulare County, or in the state, but, arguably, in the nation.

Lindsay Unified School District released a new book: Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts Toward Personalized Learning.

MCIEA Accountability Principles

The Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment (MCIEA) is creating a new school accountability model in Massachusetts that champions students, teachers and families. They adopted the following seven principles for creating a fair and effective accountability system:

MCIEA Accountability Principles

Open Requests for Proposals

(more…)

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How to Participate in the Policy Technical Advisory Group

January 30, 2017 by

policy TAGAs announced last week, CompetencyWorks will be holding a National Summit on Competency-Based Education in June to convene 100 leaders representing a range of perspective, geography, expertise, and racial/ethnic diversity. Yet, across the country there are thousands of leaders and educators who have expertise in competency education who could make valuable contributions to these conversations. Thus, we have designed Technical Advisory Groups that will create a participatory process leading up to the Summit to draw on your knowledge and ideas.

The second Technical Advisory Group (TAG) is coming up soon: We will be focusing on Developing Policy for the Long-Term from February 6 1-10, 2017. In the Policy TAG, we will be exploring the question:

What are the long-term policies and structures needed to support personalized, competency-based districts and schools?

The Policy TAG is an opportunity to think beyond the current policies and structures that shape education. We want to tap into your creativity and expertise to think about what needs to be in place to ensure consistency, reliability, and effectiveness so that we can be confident that personalized, competency-based systems will be of high quality and produce greater equity.

Please note: We are asking that only people involved with district or school-wide competency education for at least one year participate in TAGs. These are not designed to support people just learning about competency education. (We suggest that those of you who are new to the topic start by reading the case studies of districts and schools.) You will have opportunity to learn from these conversations as the papers on each TAG prepared for the Summit will be made available in early June as well as the final reports post-Summit.

REGISTER for the Policy Technical Advisory Group here. (You can actually sign up for any of the TAGs. We ask for contact information and a sense of your expertise, and, at the bottom, you can sign up for the TAGs.) (more…)

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Streamlining the Transition between K12 and Higher Education

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library-techThis article, the third in a series on competency education in K12 and higher education, seeks to outline, but certainly not resolve, a number of issues related to how students make the transition from K12 to college in a CBE world and how the educational institutions (districts, high schools, colleges, and universities) will need to relate to each other.

College Application Process

There is one question that will always arise in conversations with parents, guardians, and students, especially those with upper incomes and upper GPAs: How will competency-based education affect my ability to go to and compete for college? There are several parts to this answer, and we are making some progress on addressing them all.

1. Will Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) Accept Students: Thanks to the extraordinary leadership of the New England Secondary School Consortium (NESSC), we now have 68 colleges and universities, including several elite schools, that have signed the Collegiate Pledge to accept proficiency-based transcripts and to commit to students not being disadvantaged by them. The website lists all the institutions of higher education (IHE) that have signed on, and the pledge is available for other organizations to use if they want to catalyze their region. Certainly, all IHE with CBE programs should just sign the pledge and send it on over to NESSC.

2. Will Students in CBE Schools Be as Competitive?: This is such a complicated question that it deserves an entire article (or two) on its own. At this point, I believe that students will be as competitive or more so had their school continued to be based on a traditional, time-based model. Of course, if the entire state or country is competency-based, then any advantage to students is lost, but much is gained for communities, as the bar is raised from getting an “A” to demonstrating you can apply the skills. Below is a bit of my thinking on this issue.

a. There is no data so far (and I watch for it carefully) that students at CBE schools are doing worse based on current assessments and measures than when the school was traditional. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that they will be less competitive.

b. When I visit high schools, there is always a trickle and sometimes a stream of commentary from high-achieving students saying that the competency-based model is harder because they actually have to master everything and be able to apply it. Most will say that memorizing for tests is much easier. (There is a great line in a trailer for Most Likely to Succeed where a teacher asks a student, “Would you rather learn or take the test?” And she, with more than a bit of attitude, replies “Take the test.”) That suggests to me that students in competency-based school will be more competitive than they might have been otherwise. This should show up in the college tests, their personal essays, and a richer résumé of extended learning,  internships, projects, or capstones.

However, as the focus moves from being smart to being a good learner, we also need to be prepared for emotional pushback if students become afraid that they might not be one of the “smartest.” Intervening to help previously high-achieving students understand the growth mindset is going to be an important step as part of their identity as the “smart kid” might unravel. However, based on my discussions with high GPA students, as long as the rules of the game are fair, transparent, and consistent, this group of kids, highly extrinsically motivated, will adjust to any set of rules.

c. Most districts and schools have not yet opened up the ceiling. Students should be able to advance beyond grade level in a CBE model, yet we want to guard against “faster is better,” so it is important to have opportunities along the way for students to go deeper or faster. There are a few examples of districts allowing students to advance to the next grade level even if it is in another school (e.g., from eighth to ninth grade), but it has not become routine yet. From what I can tell, it works best if the units of courses have been placed online so that students can simply keep working. Teachers will have to be familiar with the discipline and curriculum in the higher levels and/or students have to have access to teachers who do. Within a school, it is possible to simply have students participate in the more advanced class. The topic of advancing into college level is discussed below.  

d. If we follow the logic of CBE, more students will be more ready for college. If we are teaching habits of work, emphasizing higher order skills, and making sure students have developed the prerequisite skills needed to do the grade level skills, they simply have to build a stronger foundation for lifelong learning. These are three big “ifs,” and not all CBE schools are doing all three. (For example, I’m not convinced at all that scaffolding is the same as building prerequisite skills. It seems to serve an entirely different purpose.) So far, we are only seeing evidence that students are doing better in those models that are very intentional about their strategy to “meet students where they are.”

The point is, competition may actually increase if we are able to make progress toward greater equity. We should never, ever be afraid of that. With pressure for more types of post-secondary options, we should see more innovations in higher education, more products, more programs. Our communities and countries can only benefit in better education even if it is just going to make it harder for fake news to tear away at our democracy.

Calibrating Proficiency-Based Diploma with College Entrance

There are an entirely different set of questions related to the intersection of competency education between K12 and IHE that we have barely started to explore – alignment and calibration. The issues raised in the section are above all based on CBE high schools within the current policies, practices, and dynamics of institutions of higher education that serve graduating high school graduates. But what happens if we start to expect that all IHE be clear about performance levels, at least in the freshmen year or Level 13, even if they aren’t competency-based? (more…)

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We Have a Proficiency-Based Diploma. Now What?

January 27, 2017 by

This is the ninth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

rihs-diplomaThe trust in the conventional education system has been undermined by the tradition of awarding diplomas to students who do not possess the skills needed for college and careers. It has been possible in many districts to receive a diploma even though students are still reading at the elementary school level. In order to eliminate this practice of passing students on without the necessary skills, states are introducing policies that set the expectation that students will demonstrate proficiency at an agreed upon performance level in order to receive a diploma (i.e., a proficiency-based diploma).

The proficiency-based graduation policies developed in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont appear to be high-leverage in terms of engaging districts; however, the diploma policy cannot stand alone. It is one thing to say that a diploma must be proficiency-based and an entirely different thing to create a system that will ensure students are making progress toward a diploma throughout each year of school. Even with proficiency-based diploma policies, states will find that they need to take additional steps to fully engage and support districts in ensuring that students can actually reach graduation-level proficiency.

First, there must be a strategy to engage all the districts beyond the coalition of the willing. For example, until Maine engaged districts through a self-assessment of their progress in implementation and offered flexibility in setting their own deadlines within state guidelines, there were many that had not yet demonstrated a commitment to change. Second, states may want to expedite the process by helping districts understand the elements of personalized, competency-based systems and/or the implementation process. Maine provided training opportunities early on and Vermont has complemented their policy with training for supervisory unions. Rhode Island used a more prescriptive approach in requiring secondary schools to implement a set of practices. (more…)

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Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51

January 26, 2017 by

national monumentThis is the first in a series on District 51’s transition to competency education. D51 uses the language of performance-based learning and uses PBL as an acronym. However, knowing that our readers are likely to read that as project-based learning, we are using P-BL to indicate performance-based learning.

D51, tucked away on the Western Slope in Colorado, is fashioning a new implementation roll-out strategy for performance-based learning. I spent a week in the fall visiting District 51 with school visits, meetings, interviews, and in-depth conversations with district leaders. The insights are plentiful but it should be understood that they were collected in the midst of the change process. Thus, there is less discussion in this series about the structure of their performance-based system and much more about the conditions that are needed to support it.

Highlights of D51’s Conversion to Performance-Based Learning

There is so much to be learned from the educators at D51. They are all at that stage of expert-novice – they can tell you about what they are learning, as it hasn’t become fully embedded as routine thinking or practices yet, and they can tell you about their areas of inquiry because they are becoming clear about what they don’t know…yet. Harvesting their bountiful insights was a delight. You can get a taste for their commitment and creativity by listening to Getting Smart’s interview with Superintendent Steve Shultz and Rebecca Midles, Director of Performance-Based Learning. Below are just a few of the highlights from this series:

  • D51’s story of deciding to move to P-BL and building the consensus for change is a fascinating one, as it emphasizes the critical role of school boards and how individual leaders can help move a district forward by engaging in dialogue and joint site visits.
  • D51’s roll-out strategies offer a new way of thinking about implementation. We have documented the implementation strategies used by many of the early innovators in Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders and strategies used by larger school districts such as Henry County, Lake County, and Charleston that have created scaling strategies. However, the early innovators were all very small and their approaches limited for medium-sized districts. And the larger school districts we have highlighted have often had funding through federal or large foundations to support their efforts. D51, with few additional funds, has developed a simultaneous and iterative approach based on carefully managing strands of work, including engaging the community in shaping a shared vision and graduate profile; designing a teaching and learning framework that defines the performance-based learning system; providing intensive capacity building for the first wave of demonstration schools; and re-designing professional development to support any teacher wanting to build their professional skills. They talk about phases of implementation but it doesn’t mean everyone will be in the same phase at the same time.

(more…)

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Leveling the Playing Field

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Asynchronous Learning in High-Poverty, Competency-Based Urban High Schools

redesign1

At the U School we are big believers in the notion that skillful, independent learning is central to leading a meaningful and productive life…But what happens if students enter high school with minimal experience of this level of ownership? Over the past two and a half years, our faculty and leadership has used our design process– with Users at the center (inset, 2015)–to explore answers to this question. What we’ve come up with is still a work in progress, but we are excited by significant early indicators that students are truly becoming self-directed learners as they immerse themselves in the school community.

How do we know? We organized all coursework and student groupings around our 4-stage developmental framework.

The 4 Stages of the U School Learner

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At the U School, students learn about these 4 stages, undertake a self-assessment that helps them identify their specific stage in each content area, and then work with the adults in the building to put together a program that encourages growth towards increasing independence, using their identified level of autonomy as the starting point. Every 10 weeks students and adults come back together to reassess where students are on the continuum to ensure that programs reflect ongoing student growth and development: sometimes students realize they need more support, other times they are ready to move into more autonomous learning experiences. (more…)

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Putting the Pieces Together to Build a Competency-Based Statewide System

January 25, 2017 by

This is the eighth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

New England states have a variety of reasons for turning to competency-based education: higher expectations than ever before, the demand for skills that prepare students for an ever-changing world, and an understanding that the traditional system has become a stumbling block to the future of their children and the strength of their communities.

Below are a few highlights of the statewide system-building efforts that are taking place in New England.

  1. Proficiency-Based Diplomas

cross-curricular-skillsThe proficiency-based diploma policies developed in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont appear to be high-leverage in terms of engaging 100 percent of districts; however, the diploma policies cannot stand alone.

One of the variations across states is the number and types of domains that are included in the diploma policy. Maine has specified that students must demonstrate proficiency within eight domains, while Vermont and Rhode Island only require six. All states have included set state-level cross-curricular skills and offered resources to districts to help them develop a structure and build capacity. (For more on proficiency-based diplomas, stay tuned for the next blog in this series.)

  1. Calibration

How can parents be confident that their children are making progress and becoming proficient in all the skills they will need to graduate ready for college and careers?

What needs to be in place within the system itself so that students, parents, college admissions, and employers can have full confidence in the diploma?

These are the types of questions that must be addressed in redesigning the education system. As discussed previously, one of the most important elements needed to create a competency-based system is to create mechanisms that can calibrate (also referred to as moderation or tuning) what it means to be proficient for specific standards and competencies and at specific performance levels. If teachers, schools, districts, and states do not have a shared understanding of what it means to be proficient, then variability and inconsistency will continue to corrode the reliability of schools and undermine efforts to eliminate the achievement gap. (more…)

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The Field of CBE in Higher Education and K12

January 24, 2017 by

In this second article about exploring the world of CBE in higher education and K12, I focus in how the fields are developing. 

Beginnings: In K12, the beginning of CBE usually starts with the innovations developed in the 1990s in Chugach, Alaska and in Boston with the launching of Diploma Plus and Boston Day and Evening Academy. (See the timeline of CBE in New England on page 12 of this report). In higher education, the roots of today’s CBE start earlier in the 1970s (although I’ve seen the 1950s identified as a starting point).

Expansion: CBE in both sectors is expanding rapidly. There are currently 600 IHE providing or seeking to establish CBE programs. In 2015, approximately 200,500 students enrolled in CBE programs.  

In K12-CBE, the landscape is changing. At the state level, every year finds more states establishing some type of initiative, and most of the states with seat-time policies that acted as barriers have found some way of allowing CBE. Our conservative estimates are that of the 135,000 districts in the United States, it is likely that 6 percent of them are implementing CBE at least in one school. However, no formal studies have been done to determine the numbers of schools and districts or their stage of implementation.

cbe-growth

Red states are advanced, green states are developing, and yellow states are emerging.

(more…)

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