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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Looking Under the Hood

June 29, 2016 by

Looking Under HoodYesterday, AIR released Looking Under the Hood of Competency-Based Education: The Relationship Between Competency-Based Education Practices and Students’ Learning Skills, Behaviors and Dispositions. This is one of the first valuable studies we have had looking at the impact of competency-based education.

Before I jump into the findings, I just want to thank AIR for this research and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation for funding it. This is exactly the type of research we need to help us figure out how to do competency-based education well, and AIR has made an enormous contribution to the field in several ways, including devising the survey tool and developing a framework of learning skills, behaviors, and dispositions.

The Framework of Learning Skills, Behaviors, and Disposition

AIR created three domains to organize the different sets of learning skills, behaviors, and dispositions. (You can find them in depth in Box 2 on page 22.) I think these domains really add to our thinking and conversations about how schools are helping students develop.

Domain 1: Student Academic Mindsets and Dispositions

Students’ academic mindsets and dispositions include attitudes and beliefs about oneself as a learner, as well as feelings of connection with and engagement in school. They include intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy in mathematics and ELA, and sense of belonging in school.

Domain 2: Self-Regulated Learning Skills

Self-regulated learning strategies are the self-directed, meta-cognitive, and self-control strategies students use to engage in learning, including making an explicit effort to connect new learning to what they already know and directing attention toward key learning tasks.

Domain 3: Academic Behavior

Academic behaviors are the observable, outward signs that a student is engaged and putting forth effort to learn and participate in school. Examples include preparation for class and active interest in learning.

I have been testing these ideas to see if there is anything I would add – and the only thing I might wonder about is how to capture the issue about the ways in which stereotypes can influence how children think of themselves as learners (basically, are students developing a positive gender and racial identity) and the issue of how students understand their horizons, including perceiving themselves as college-going and, for those who are surrounded by violence, whether they will live past twenty-five. (more…)

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The Tip of the Iceberg

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icebergAs our school has made the transition to a competency-based system, many educators I have spoken to over the past two years have asked me, “What is different about your school now?” This million-dollar question is one that I had not thought a lot about, as I was living the change, but I began to realize the answer through sharing our work with others.

Over the past year, our school has had a number of national visitors, ranging from the Chief Council of State School Officers to the United States Education Department’s Ann Whelan and Emma Vadehra. As I planned for, facilitated, and observed these visits, I began to realize exactly was different in Memorial School now as opposed to three to four years ago.

During any visit our school has, we make sure we don’t do any anything “special,” that we aren’t pretending to be someone we aren’t. We have typically had students (usually fifth graders) share their experiences about their understanding and knowledge of how skills and dispositions play a major role in their overall understanding of themselves as learners. In a competency-based system, reporting of progress in both academics and behaviors is done in a pure fashion (meaning they are separated, so as not to muddy what the reported grade represents), so students and teachers know exactly which competencies, academic and non-academic, students have mastered.

Additionally, we bring our visitors into a grade level to watch what we call LEAP (Learning for Each And every Person) to see our multi-tiered system of support in action. Providing and structuring these individualized opportunities for support or extension within the daily schedule is imperative in a competency-based model. Some have a very hard time visualizing what this might look like with five and six year-old students, so we tend to share Kindergarten LEAP, if it is occurring during the visit, so that we may demonstrate what it looks like to have an effective, differentiated structure of support and extension, even for our youngest learners.

These first few portions of the visit are what I would refer to as the “tip of the iceberg.” They are interesting, providing examples of many of the important characteristics of great instruction and assessment practices within the classroom, and are examples of a highly functioning PLC. What comes next is hidden “under the surface,” but is truly significant. It’s what visitors to our school end up remarking about after… (more…)

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What Does it REALLY Mean to Do Standards-Based Grading? (Part 2)

June 28, 2016 by
SBG

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Read Part 1 of what it means to do standards-based grading here

There is so much written about grading that I’m hesitant to offer my thoughts on what is needed to do it well. And this article is certainly not a “how to” step-by-step plan on implementing standards-based grading. I’m compelled to write about it because I keep hearing about districts trying to use grading changes as the entry point to competency education. If folks are going to do that, then this blog might be helpful. Just be mindful–most in the field will recommend that you do not lead with grading. (Please take the time to check out Part 1, where I do my best to differentiate standards-referenced, standards-based, and competency-based grading.)

What does it really require to implement standards-based grading?

From what I can tell based on my conversations with competency-based schools across the country, the following are the major activities, structures, and practices that need to be in place before you introduce new grading policies and practices.

#1 Provide Additional Time and Instruction to Support Students Who are Not Yet Proficient

If you are going to commit to getting students to proficiency on all the standards for a grade level or a performance level within a course or a school year, you are going to have to be prepared for those students who are going to be “not yet proficient.” One piece of that is to have ways to provide “timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.” (That’s the fourth element of the working definition for competency-based education.)

Many schools in their first year of conversion expect after school or lunch time to suffice for teachers to be able to work with students. However, they quickly figure out that isn’t going to work and begin scheduling for Flex Hours each day. Noble High School has taken this the farthest with fine-tuned operations and multiple opportunities to make sure students are getting exactly the help they need every week. From what I can tell, it is impossible to do standards-based grading if you don’t have really strong mechanisms for providing additional instruction for students who are not yet proficient. (See The Learning Edge: Supporting Student Success in a Competency-Based Learning Environment.) (more…)

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What Does it REALLY Mean to Do Standards-Based Grading? (Part 1)

June 27, 2016 by

2016-04-13 11.11.40I read a lot of clips about how districts are advancing competency education around the country, and it always seems to me that when there are any negative reactions they are in response to new grading practices, usually referred to as standards-based grading. It strikes me that negative reactions pop up when districts either use grading as an entry point (which puts all the focus on the grading and not on why competency education is valuable) or they’ve put some of the pieces of standards-based grading in place but not the entire framework necessary to make it more trustworthy than traditional grading.

How does a district implement high quality standards-based grading, and when is the right time? I’ll do the best I can to synthesize what I’ve been learning from districts, but please do not hesitate to disagree or add more nuance to these thoughts.

Before I dive deep, allow me to once more review the three types of grading systems using standards (at least that I know about): standards-referenced, standards-based, and an emerging concept of competency-based.

What is the difference between standards-referenced and standards-based grading?

In his book, Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading, Robert J. Marzano explains the difference. “In a standards-based system, a student does not move to the next level until he or she can demonstrate competence at the current level. In a standards-referenced system, a student’s status is reported (or referenced) relative to the performance standard for each area of knowledge and skill on the report card; however, even if the student does not meet the performance standard for each topic, he or she moves to the next level. Thus, the vast majority of schools and districts that claim to have standards-based systems in fact have standards-referenced systems.”

(more…)

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How Can You Truly Meet Students Where They Are?

June 24, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on May 16, 2016. 

Competency-based educationGetting Smart Meet Students Where They Are is a system of instruction where students advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills. In this setting, learning doesn’t rely on time, place or pace. Students are challenged and ultimately graduate ready to choose college or career. This new system is comprehensive and can include fundamental changes in schedules, calendars, assessment and grading.

I know what you are thinking…an education system truly centered on students? An education system where time becomes the variable and learning the constant? An education system where students move on when ready? What does that actually look like? (more…)

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Turning Practice into Policy

June 23, 2016 by

SchoolEvery time I get my head wrapped around ESSA, I learn a little bit more. Partially this is because US Department of Education is also getting its head wrapped around it so they can issue the regulations to guide states in implementing it. There are a lot of people talking about ESSA, and I’ve been hearing some feedback that there is different and sometimes incorrect advice being given.

The team of folks I turn to for my guidance include Maria Worthen at iNACOL and Lillian Pace at KnowledgeWorks, as well as the folks at Center for Innovation Education and Center for Assessment. Truly, they are the ones who are turning all that we are learning about implementation and practice that is shared here on CompetencyWorks into policy. And I always feel better when there are great minds working together.

It’s important to remember that ESSA is an opportunity – a HUGE opportunity. ESSA’s Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority and improvements to Section 1111 enables “states to design assessment systems that incorporate individual student growth, use multiple measures of student learning from multiple points in time to determine summative scores, and use adaptive assessments to measure where students are in their learning.” Read that again slowly and let yourself imagine what’s possible. Adaptive assessments? Could we let students demonstrate their learning based on their performance levels and just be upfront that they haven’t met grade level standards…yet?

iNACOL shared the most recent letter to the US Department of Education, and I think it is worth reprinting. For example, they encourage clarifying “competency-based assessments” to communicate that it is an assessment that supports competency based determinations, rather than a type of assessment. “Competency-based” refers to the grain-size of the content being assessed and the expected level of performance (demonstration) of that content—or more often, a particular system of learning—rather than the type of assessment. That is an important point for all of us building systems, creating new policies and implementing competency-based schools to remember. (more…)

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Culture and Climate

June 22, 2016 by
Hanna Attafi

Hanna Attafi

/kəlCHər/
:
the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization

When we identify with our culture, of course we think of norms such as clothing, language, food, and education. In addition, we hold certain beliefs and assumptions close as a part of our culture. Even though going to school seems like a natural part of childhood, there is a whole subculture within the education system that plays a huge role in a child’s life.

Students spend most of their lives in our classrooms. It is up to us, as educators, to foster a classroom culture that meets their basic needs, supports their academic learning and growth, and teaches social skills such as empathy, grit, and gratitude.

So how do we do this? We must first understand that students come to us with a concept of their own culture, which we have to acknowledge and respect. Our job is to teach them the basics for them to be successful in the culture of schools for them to be successful in all the ways we hope for them.

Of course we, as teachers, have heard that the first six weeks of school is when to really set the tone for the year and begin to “lay down the law.” In my experience, these first few weeks are very important, but it’s about establishing respect, trust, and relationships. And it starts by showing up…every single day. (more…)

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5 Reasons Why Competency Education Can Lead Us to Improved Quality and More Equity

June 21, 2016 by

Post 8Ensuring quality and equity is as the heart of the movement to transform education toward personalized, competency-based learning. By placing the student at the center of the learning process and re-engineering around learning, pace and progress (rather than time, curriculum delivery and sorting), we can create education systems that reach every student.

Competency education is a design strategy that best serves our lowest achieving students, including low-income students, minority students, English language learners, and those with special educational needs. Here are five reasons why:

  1. Competency education is designed to identify and address gaps in knowledge and skills. We will always have students with gaps in knowledge, whether because of poverty-induced mobility, recent immigration, military transfers, or health issues. When we identify and address gaps, students have a better chance at progressing. As Paul Leather, NH’s Deputy Commissioner of Education, has pointed out, “We learn by connecting concepts and building expertise over time. If we do not learn a concept, new learning cannot be built on it” (from Necessary for Success).
  2. Transparency and modularization are empowering and motivating. They are the ingredients for student ownership. Success begets success, as students see short-term gains and clearly marked next steps. Transparency also challenges bias and stereotypes that may contribute to lower achievement.
  3. The focus on progress and pace requires schools and teachers to respond to students when they need help, rather than letting them endure an entire semester or year of failure. Many competency-based schools organize flex hours during the day to make sure there is no excuse for students going home without receiving the help they need.
  4. Competency education is a comprehensive approach that benefits vulnerable students as well as those in gifted and talented programs. Schools don’t need specialized programs that label students. In fact, students may advance in some disciplines and not in others, as flexibility is built into the core school operations.
  5. Competency education creates powerful learners. We can’t underestimate what student ownership means in the hands of students who have been denied a high quality education in the past. Furthermore, it prepares students to explore their talents, interests, and the future that lies before them. Instead of differentiating students with a single number, their GPA, we see children differentiated by how they demonstrate and apply their knowledge.

(more…)

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Time Matters: How We Use Flexible Time to Design Higher and Deeper Learning

June 20, 2016 by

Post 7When learning is done on a deeper level, it takes longer to accomplish. Thus, learning experiences that allow students to delve into topics and apply their skills are often more complex to design. Schools must think about how they are structuring learning within the school day, semester, and year so they have more options for deeper learning with greater integration of standards and skills: formative assessment, complex tasks, project- or problem-based learning that is open-ended knowledge utilization (e.g., Webb’s Level 4), extended learning into the community, and capstone projects co-designed by students. Pittsfield Middle and High School has learning studios, Danville School District uses intersessions, Boston Day and Evening Academy offers month-long projects in December, and Casco Bay High School features intensives.

Although schools need to have a pool of performance tasks and performance-based assessments, deeper learning is most meaningful to students when it is authentically rooted in their own lives. Perhaps it is related to career interests, an illness of a family member, violence in their community, or a relevant international issue. Students at Chugach School District can co-design Independent Learning Plans to pursue building skills within the context of high-interest topics. ACE Leadership in New Mexico partners with employers to create projects based on authentic industry problems, allowing students to make the connections between their education and their future. Higher level learning is usually a combination of application of academic skills, application of communication skills, and demonstration of habits. Technical skills will also be included in projects that have a strong career and technical context.

Schools also need to consider the cognitive load (the level of intellectual challenge) of their curriculum. For schools that rely heavily on digital content, educators need to know the depth of learning and be prepared to supplement if it doesn’t meet the level of proficiency required by the standards. Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that all projects are not necessarily project-based learning. Deeper learning requires teachers to have expertise in assessing the application of skills and student habits. Given that the ability of teachers to design and assess more complex learning is dependent on their expertise, principals will need to provide ongoing professional development to build capacity and shared understanding, and ensure that their team of teachers includes those who can guide the more complex, longer projects as well as mentor other teachers. (more…)

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Contributing Factors and Measurable Outcomes of Student-Centered Learning

June 17, 2016 by

SatCHA very important new research opportunity is available – Students at the Center, a project of Jobs for the Future, has released an RFP for a fourth study to be funded up to $300,000 as part of their Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative. Proposals are due August 5th.

According to the press release, they are seeking proposals regarding the contributing factors and measurable outcomes of student-centered learning practices that are rigorously examined. This funding will support two-year research projects that investigate the effectiveness of student-centered learning practices, the conditions that foster (and undermine) these practices, who most (and least) benefits from them and why, and the extent to which specific approaches impact the achievement and college and career readiness of students from historically underserved groups and communities. If you or a colleague plans to conduct research in this area, we hope you/they will consider submitting a proposal.

As I’m sure you remember, competency-based progression is one element of student-centered learning. (more…)

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