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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Meeting Students Where They Are: Accountability Paradox (Part 1)

May 5, 2016 by

ArrowsPart 2 on this topic focuses on instructional strategies to meet students where they are. This post looks at accountability policies.

Across the country, educators are courageously recognizing that the only way they can help all students meet college and career readiness is to move beyond the traditional time-based system to create personalized, competency-based systems. Personalizing education starts with recognizing that every student has a unique educational pathway, entering school at different academic performance levels, at a different steps in their development, and with ever-changing interests and understandings of the world around them.

Yet many competency-based schools are continuing to teach students at their grade level with one-size fits all curricula because they feel it is only fair to “cover the standards” before students take exams for accountability purposes. Many educators have said that they would like to be able deliver instruction where students are but feel that they must “cover the standards.” Standards of course are a good thing. They bring an intentionality to instruction and clarity to assessment that our education system was lacking. Yet, covering them without also ensuring students are mastering them leaves us with the same problem of the traditional system — some students learn while others are left behind.

CompetencyWorks is delving into the issue of what it would take to meet students where they are so we can better meet the needs of students including those whose performance level is below grade level. In this two part-series, I’ll share some of the take-aways from conversations with educators and thought leaders. As always, I’m trying to understand so retain the right to learn more and change my mind.

Empowering Teachers

Every day teachers face the challenge of trying to teach students the grade level curriculum even though they know their students do not have the pre-requisite skills. The practice of always providing grade level curriculum means that some students with gaps in foundational knowledge go to school every day feeling stupid, some are bored because they aren’t allowed to move on to more challenging work, and teachers must carry the burden of knowing they aren’t meeting students’ needs.

Curriculum coordinator Patrice Glancey describes her district’s first steps of the transition to competency-based education. She empowered teachers to develop the instructional strategies and curriculum resources based on their professional judgment would be the most effective for students. The first grade teachers rejected the idea of an assigned reading program to try a more personalized approach. (more…)

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Windsor Locks: Starting with Pedagogy

by
Susan Bell

Susan Bell

This is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

“The real shift is in what is happening with our kids. ” – Susan Bell

Windsor Locks, located a bit outside of Hartford, Connecticut, didn’t have to make the move to mastery-based learning. As Superintendent of Windsor Locks Public Schools Susan Bell put it, “We did it because it makes sense to us. A D-minus and twenty-four credits is just not good enough. We drew the line in the sand. We are done working in ways that don’t make sense for our students.” (See Windsor Locks’ description of their mastery-based learning system.)

Why Mastery-Based Learning?

Connecticut has created innovation space for high schools to move to mastery-based learning. Windsor Locks decided it was an idea that is good for all students. In 2013, they set a deadline to have the fifth graders in that year graduate with a mastery-based diploma in 2020.

Bell explained, “We are focused on improving the quality of instruction by building a common belief system of what is good instruction and creating the instructional culture to support collaborative dialogue. The structure of mastery-based learning allows us to focus more closely on how students are progressing, allowing us to use instructional models that will work for students and provide more opportunity for them to be active learners.”

We all know there isn’t one perfect system of mastery-based learning…yet. Bell pointed out, “It seems we’re all waiting for the first successful model to be developed. But waiting meant we were delaying what we knew was good for students. So we took the bull by the horns and began the transition ourselves.”

The Path to Mastery-Based Learning

In 2011, the Windsor Locks School Board hired Wayne Sweeney as Superintendent, who Bell described as “a visionary leader who got us focused on the right things.” With Bell as Assistant Superintendent, the district began the journey with an extensive process engaging 400 stakeholders to create a vision of the system. They developed a long-range plan built upon the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools. (more…)

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Culture Comes First

May 4, 2016 by

The biggest piece of advice I can give to any teacher, school, or district working toward a vision of personalized learning is this:

learning community culture is the foundation of personalized learning

CB

For many reasons, this vital piece is often overlooked and rarely focused on in professional development. Districts focus on the more easily measured elements of teacher evaluation models, which speak more to specific instructional strategies and behaviors. Teachers feel pressure to “get to the content” quickly at the start of the year. Performance and production are valued over process.
The truth is that even the most carefully tuned proficiency-based system will crumble without a cultivated culture of learning. Teachers and learners will hit a wall of frustration as they try to implement personalized learning of any kind. In order for learner-centered proficiency-based systems to work, the learning community culture needs to nurture and sustain the following elements: (more…)

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Seizing the Moment

May 3, 2016 by

seizeToday, a new report, Seizing the Moment: Realizing the Promise of Student-Centered Learning, is being released at a Washington D.C. forum. It is a beautifully written report by Don Spangler; Steve Brown, College for America; Tony Simmons, High School for Recording Arts; Bea McGarvey, MCL Alliance; Dena Cushenberry, Ed.D., Metropolitan School District of Warren Township, Indiana; Jim Griffin, Momentum Strategy & Research; Nicholas B. Donohue, Nellie Mae Education Foundation; Bob Rath, Our Piece of the Pie®; Rodney Powell, Our Piece of the Pie®; and Linda C. Dawson, Ed.D., SIA Tech.

These authors represent a wide range of educational institutions, including those that specialize in helping students to re-engage and complete their diplomas. They are deeply committed to equity, stating, “our primary objective is to elevate the learning and readiness of students regardless of color or zip code, and to combat the growing economic inequalities that are so pervasive across our country.” They argue that “student-centered learning represents an opportunity to address both of these needs simultaneously. It is truly a “both/and” proposition, which can help to close achievement gaps while also raising the bar for all students.”

This report spurred my thinking in two different directions. First, I was taken by the concept of Design to the Edges. Second is how we navigate the environment of different but highly related terminology.

Design to the Edges

There are many helpful ideas in the report. I want to bring your attention to the design principle of “Design to the Edges,” as I think it can be a helpful concept for all of us to think about as we try to move away from the idea of delivering grade level curriculum or standards to all students regardless of their performance levels. This is proving to be one of the hardest practices for us to let go of.

The report recounts a TEDTalk by Todd Rose: (more…)

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Creating Meaningful Instruction through Mastery-Based Learning in New Haven, CT

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New HavenThis is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

Despite snow days and flus and deadlines, I had the chance to visit with the leadership teams at New Haven Public Schools and New Haven Academy in March.

At New Haven Public Schools, I met with Superintendent Garth Harries; Imma Canelli, Deputy Superintendent; and Suzanne Lyons, Project Manager. Click here to read about New Haven Academy.

New Haven Public Schools is interested in mastery-based learning as it is a natural progression from the standards movement. Once standards are established, the question becomes, “How do we help students reach them, and how do we know if they reach them?” New Haven sees mastery-based learning as the framework to help create purposeful, meaningful instruction.

Lyons expanded this by adding, “Mastery-based learning is all about helping students become successful. Competencies are a starting point, but if your approach to mastery-based learning is just about competencies and grading, you are missing out on the purpose. It’s about instruction and additional instructional support when students need.”

About five years ago, New Haven joined the League of Innovation Schools and began to get exposed to the concept of competency-based learning. The next step was that five of the ten high schools began to participate as a PLC with Great Schools Partnership, including monthly meetings of the principals. The participating schools are High School in the Community, New Haven Academy, Metropolitan Business Academy, Cooperative Arts and Humanities, and Sound School. (more…)

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South Carolina Overview

May 2, 2016 by

SC State FlagIt’s hard to stay on top of all fifty states now that district-wide and whole school competency-based education is expanding so rapidly. (Please note: Even though vendors like to describe their products as competency-based, we do not believe that an adaptive software program can be competency-based. Online programs are simply able to produce flexible pacing based on the algorithms that are used to determine proficiency within the program. This is very different from designing a system based upon a growth mindset and organized to help every student be successful.) Here is a quick summary of what we know about what is going on in South Carolina. If you have any updates, please send them our way.

Two Leading Districts (Are There Others?)

Charleston

Red Bank Elementary, Lexington

If you know of other districts and schools becoming competency-based in South Carolina please let us know. (more…)

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April CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

May 1, 2016 by

Calendar Page AprilHere are the highlights from April 2016 on CompetencyWorks. Happy reading. And let us know if you have questions you want us to delve into!

SITE VISITS AND CASE STUDIES

Charleston County School District

 

PRINCIPAL, SUPERINTENDENT, AND TEACHER PERSPECTIVES

Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions by Jonathan Vander Els, Jill Lizier, and Terry Bolduc

Building a Movement from Within by Patrice Glancey (more…)

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Ready by Design

April 30, 2016 by

ready by design coverAs middle and high schools across the country make the transition to competency-based structures to replace the sorting structures of the traditional system, they have to answer three big questions along the way:

  1. What do you want students to know and be able to do in order to be successful in the transition after they leave your school?
  2. What is your theory of how students develop? What is your philosophy of how to engage, motivate, and empower students to become lifelong learners who can be successful in college and careers?
  3. What is your pedagogical philosophy? What is your strategy of teaching and learning, and how is that put into practice in your school?

Some schools are very clear on these questions while others haven’t yet taken into account what research tells us about development, engagement, motivation, and learning. To help you think about the second question regarding adolescent development, take a peek at the new paper Ready by Design: The Science (and Art) of Youth Readiness by Stephanie Krauss, Karen Pittman and Caitlin Johnson published by the Forum for Youth Investment. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Measurement Topics, Not Targets

April 29, 2016 by

This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on April 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine. This tip of the week is designed for those schools that are using the measurement topic/learning target model to organize continuum of learning. There are other models being used by schools for which this will not directly apply, although the insights in how we might begin to think about personalizing instruction will be valuable to everyone.

Being a teacher in a learner-centered proficiency based system can mean some big changes. One of the biggest changes in thinking to work through involves taking a step back from working with targets at a particular level, to working with a range of targets within the measurement topic. Remember, a Measurement Topic is a series of related targets arranged in a progression from simple to complex. Measurement Topics do not necessarily have one target, or level, per grade. Nor do Measurement Topics necessarily always make sense to begin when students enter the school system in preK or Kindergarten.

Think about this visual:

CB1

The boxes represent three targets, from three different Measurement Topics. In many places, right now this is how teachers approach their work with learning targets. Only the targets typically associated with a traditional grade level are on the proverbial teaching table. If students happen to be on a different target, they are in a different group or maybe even a different class. Planning of lessons and units revolve around this small set of targets. It is possible that the three Measurement Topics are combined in some way. (more…)

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