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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Hire for Mindset

September 28, 2016 by

stairsHuman capital. It’s not one of my favorite terms, as thinking of people as capital seems to be a dehumanizing place to start talking about creating an empowering culture of learning where individuals feel safe and respected. So I’m just going to go back to the old stand-by of human resources.

No matter what you call it, human resources is a major issue for districts and schools that are converting to competency education. First, there is the effort to help the current set of educators make the transition and start on a personalized pathway toward skill building – organizing personalized classrooms with empowered students, increasing assessment literacy, instructing based on learning progressions, enhancing cultural responsiveness and de-cluttering the mind of bias, coaching habits of work, preparing units that provide student more choice and voice, etc. The list goes on.

Districts then find they need to upgrade their teacher evaluation to reflect the new set of values, assumptions, practices, and skills. (See article on Windsor Locks Public School District.) Some are also building personalized, competency-based professional development that builds upon the evaluations so that teachers are becoming learners as part of their job. (See article on Charleston County School District.)

Hiring practices need to be upgraded as well. Virgel Hammonds, Jaime Robles, Deanna Sinito, and Brian Stack have all spoken about the importance of hiring. They seek candidates with the same set of beliefs, value those who want to work collaboratively, and have created more intensive hiring practices. However, it’s tricky, since just because someone says they have a growth mindset or that that they value collaboration doesn’t mean they really do…or at least in the way we think about. So how do you assess within the hiring process that a candidate has the beliefs and dispositions you need in your school? (more…)

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Engaging the Community

September 27, 2016 by

HousesThis is the fifth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

Why Engage the Community?

District leaders offer many reasons for engaging the community early on in the process of converting to competency education.

  • Nurturing Consensus and Leadership: Communities need to be given time to understand the new structure and why it is important. The greater the number of people in the community who are knowledgeable about the process, the more they can help others to understand.
  • Contributing Valuable Perspectives: Members of the community will bring ideas to the table that educators might not necessarily include. They will bring their values and perspectives to create a richer conversation.
  • Re-Aligning Roles: Engaging community members will shake up the bureaucratic dynamics that have come to shape how educators often interact with families and community members.
  • Re-Building Respect and Trust: Community engagement can help to overcome mistrust and build the mutual respect that is needed to create a culture of learning. In most districts, there are segments of the community that have either had bad experiences in school or have historically been underserved and disrespected by school systems. Districts must create a space for people to talk about what they want for their children, have honest conversations about the current academic achievement levels and graduation rates, and share their fears.
  • Sustaining Change: Community engagement is an essential ingredient for staying the course when unanticipated consequences of implementation arise and when district leadership changes.
  • Unlearning Old Routines and Practices: Districts and schools will receive feedback on what has not been working in their previous community engagement strategies and can begin to co-design new strategies with the community.

There is an additional reason that community engagement is needed in the process of converting to competency education: to build respectful relationships with students. In order to foster strong relationships, school personnel need to have a sense of the culture and experiences that shape their students’ lives. In competency education, valuing the insight and perspectives of the community has to come first. In fact, the most successful district conversions to date begin the process with strong community involvement. (more…)

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Constructing a Shared Journey of Inquiry, Shared Vision, and Shared Ownership

September 26, 2016 by

StudyThis is the fourth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

Transforming districts and schools starts by engaging in a period of study. The superintendent may engage the school board in a series of readings, discussions, retreats, and site visits. A leadership team involving key district personnel and principals will look more deeply at the issues to examine how other districts have proceeded and to reflect on options for designing a process for moving forward. Superintendents also begin to have initial conversations with stakeholders in the community to lay the groundwork for understanding why we need a more personalized system, the problems with the traditional system, and the benefits of redesigning to ensure students are learning. Principals will later engage educators in inquiry teams in a similar process and also begin to review research about how students learn, brain science, motivation theory, and grading practices.

District and school leadership will drive the study groups and conversation with a set of questions such as the ones below:

  • Why do we exist as a school? What is our purpose?
  • What do successful people have that we want our graduates to know and be able to do?
  • How will our children support the future growth of our communities, state, and country?
  • What are the values that will govern how we interact with each other?
  • What are the principles by which we will make decisions?

It is through this process of studying together, of no one having all the answers, of listening and respecting each perspective, that district and school leadership can begin to introduce a different leadership approach as well as the roots of a student-centered, problem-solving culture. (more…)

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Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Upcoming Events on Competency Education

September 23, 2016 by

lemurThere are a number of upcoming events that you may want to consider in building your knowledge about competency education.

#1 As you may or may not know, Susan Patrick, CEO and President and iNACOL, and I co-founded CompetencyWorks five years ago. We each brought a very different focus to the work, and it has proven to be a wonderfully productive partnership. We branded CompetencyWorks as separate from iNACOL because we believed that competency education is a structure for districts and schools to use to focus more closely on helping students learn and progress. Before the launch of CompetencyWorks, we started with a scan of the field where we found that there were pockets of innovation. Next with CCSSO, we organized a Competency-Based Pathway Summit with 100 innovators where the working definition was developed. Every year since then, with the CompetencyWorks advisory board, we do a reflection on how competency education is advancing and how the field is doing to support it. (Here is last year’s blog post on the topic.)

On Thursday, September 29 2-3 p.m. ET, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) is hosting a webinar during which Susan and I will examine the current state of competency education and identify emerging issues across the field. We hope this to be a time to reflect with our colleagues and hear from different perspectives. Register here.

#2 If you live near Massachusetts, you might want to attend Perspectives on the Current Landscape of Competency-Based Learning Research sponsored by Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance on October 6th. Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner of Education, NH Department of Education will be a presenter with panelists including Erika Stump, PhD, Research Associate, Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation (CEPARE), University of Southern ME; R. Marc Brodersen, PhD, Senior Researcher, REL Central at Marzano Research; Savatore Menzo, PhD, Superintendent of Schools, Wallingford Public Schools, Wallingford, Conn.; and Aubrey Scheopner Torres, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Education, Saint Anselm College, Research Consultant, REL Northeast & Islands. Register here. (more…)

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A Reflection on the Field of K-12 Competency-Based Education and Emerging Issues

September 22, 2016 by

webinarAre you new to competency education and want to understand the field? Or are you a long-term leader seeking an opportunity to reflect with other leaders in CBE on the challenging issues facing us?

Join iNACOL President Susan Patrick and myself, the co-founders of CompetencyWorks, for a webinar on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET. (You can register here.)

We’ll take a bit of time to discuss what competency education is and how our understanding is developing. We’ll look back at where we started and where we are now. And then we’ll dive into the big issues that are confronting us. As always, we hope that the discussion in the chat room will be lively and invite you to raise differing perspectives so we can develop a deeper understanding of how competency education is advancing in K12 across the U.S.

This webinar is free to attend. Participants are invited to register here for final details and login information.

Webinar Title: A Reflection on the Field of K-12 Competency-Based Education and Emerging Issues

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Who is Helping You Plan and Implement Competency Education?

September 21, 2016 by

One of the weaknesses we have had in the field is that we haven’t had enough technical assistance providers or Stepping Stonesenough models from which districts can choose. This situation, with its lack of documented results or research on quality indicators, has left us trying to learn from each other without knowing that we are actually learning from “best practices.”

I’m thrilled to say that things are getting a tiny bit better in terms of number of TA providers, and that some have also increased their capacity to better meet the growing demand. Only a few provide assistance on the transformation to a competency-based environment, but districts have mentioned the others because of targeted support that has been instrumental in their process. I’m sure this list (provided in alphabetical order) is not complete and does not include individuals…so please, please, please, add other TA providers you’ve worked with in the comments section and why you would recommend them. It’s also helpful to know about your experience with any of the folks listed below. Where are there strengths? What are the reasons you would recommend them?

Center for Secondary School Redesign: CSSR has been a leader in helping secondary schools personalize their schools. They guide schools in reshaping the relationships and power dynamics by engaging youth in leadership roles throughout the school. They are familiar with competency education, but as far as I know, they do not have a specific model that they draw upon. They are well-known for the I3 network on personalization (lots of resources on personalization without using technology) in New England. They have consulted to Pittsfield School District in NH and Springdale, Arkansas.

Competency-Based Education Solutions: This is a new team of technical assistance providers led by Dan Joseph. Joseph was previously principal at James. W. Russell Elementary in Grey-New Gloucester Maine. You can reach Dan at djoseph (at)CBESolution (dot)com.

EL Education: EL Education (used to be Expeditionary Learning) does not specialize in competency education. However, schools are finding that their training can be helpful in developing a high-quality instructional model and aligned system of assessments. Windsor Locks and Kappa International both found their training on personalizing the classroom to be very helpful in making the transition to a competency-based school. (FYI – Casco Bay High School is an EL school that has successfully integrated a proficiency-based structure.) (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?


What's NewUpcoming Competency Education Webinar

iNACOL and CompetencyWorks are hosting a Special Edition Webinar to reflect on the field of K-12 competency education and explore emerging issues. This webinar is free to attend—register here to receive login instructions. Competency-based education experts Susan Patrick and Chris Sturgis will lead the discussion on important developments and trends across competency education. Join the webinar to help identify the field’s emerging issues and provide insights to inform the future direction of competency-based education.

CBE in the States

Designing Systems of Assessments

Thought Leadership


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Investing in Shared Leadership

September 20, 2016 by

LeaderThis is the third article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

The shift to competency-based education requires a personal commitment from superintendents and principals to develop collaborative leadership and management styles. Changing personal leadership styles means these professionals must undertake extensive study, solicit feedback for reflecting on their leadership, engage in dialogue with peers and colleagues, and even seek out coaching. Each leader will have a different journey toward developing leadership/management strategies that are effective in creating and sustaining empowering, learning organizations. In the following discussion, three aspects of leadership are discussed: the call for a distributed leadership style, the role of a culture of learning, and empowering others.

Distributing Leadership

Superintendents and principals agree that top-down management doesn’t work well in competency-based environments—or, for that matter, in any large district reform. The traditional education system operates on a set of rules for the delivery of education services that has tried to standardize the inputs so all students have the same exposure to the curriculum. In top-down systems, higher levels of governance set the conditions for each lower level, leaving schools and teachers with little autonomy or opportunity to inform decision-making at higher levels. Traditional leadership styles are often characterized by people turning to the managers above them to resolve issues or set the direction. Changes are often communicated through memo, where dialogue is limited, if not nonexistent.

The problems with this kind of compliance-oriented leadership style are three-fold. First, top-down approaches undermine any efforts to create an empowered staff who will take responsibility for ensuring students are learning. Top-down decision-making essentially undermines accountability. Second, when employees look to the next level up to answer questions and resolve issues, it undermines the culture of learning and is a lost opportunity for building problem-solving capacity within the organization. Third, no superintendent or principal can have all the knowledge or answers about how to best respond to students or address organizational issues. During periods of dramatic change, this becomes a risk, as the superintendent or principal is unlikely to be able to understand all the ramifications of every change. It requires collaborative, iterative processes to create the new operational policies and procedures needed to support a personalized, competency-based environment. Fueling a competency-based system requires the engagement and ownership of students, educators, and community members alike—an idea that will be explored in depth as the series progresses. (more…)

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What Is Competency Education?


What Is CEThis is the second article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. For those of you who are new to competency education, you might want to start with this article explaining what it is. For those of you already familiar, jump to the third part of this series.

During the last few years, the phrase competency education has come into vogue. You may have heard it being used to refer to self-paced online learning or to describe innovations in higher education. This series is focused on the transformation of the time-based K–12 system where the focus is on inputs (seat-time, hours in the day, minutes in each class) to a system where the focus is on learning.

Understanding Competency Education

The power of competency education is in its system-wide infrastructure that creates the necessary feedback loops to ensure students are learning. The five-part working definition of competency education describes the elements that need to be put into place to re-engineer the education system to reliably produce student learning:

  • Students advance upon demonstrated mastery;
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students;
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students;
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs; and
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

Competency education is often described with the phrase, “Learning is constant, and time is the variable.” We know that students learn differently, requiring more or less time for different reasons. They may be at different points along the learning continuum, each with a different set of skills. Students may have different approaches to learning, with some students preferring to take more time upfront to dive more deeply into learning to master new skills or content. Certainly the levels of academic support available outside of school differ. All of these dynamics lead to students learning at different paces. However, flexible pacing, or the concept that “students advance upon mastery,” is only one of the five elements of the definition. In competency education, timely, differentiated support is equally important, as that is what allows students to continue progressing without being left behind. Teachers work with students to ensure they are filling any gaps in foundational skills, and schools provide timely support so students can get immediate help when they are struggling. (more…)

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