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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A Conversation with the Two Mikes from Montpelier

May 17, 2016 by
Two Mikes

Mike McRaith and Mike Martin

The New England Secondary School Consortium’s March conference is becoming a must-go meeting for me – as a place to hear about how educators are talking about their competency-based/mastery-based/proficiency-based systems and to expand my network of educators leading the way. Last March I had the opportunity to talk with Mike Martin, Montpelier Public Schools’ Director of Curriculum & Technology, and Mike McRaith, Principal of Montpelier High School in Vermont. (You can learn about MHS at Edutopia.)

On the Value of Proficiency-Based Learning

Martin explained, “In Vermont, we are focused on two big changes that are deeply connected. We want our students to have more personalized experiences and we want to make sure our students can meet proficiency-based graduation requirements so we’re confident that they’re ready for college and careers. It’s relatively easy to create the personalized learning plans called for in Act 77, but flexible pathways pose challenges relating to equity, and proficiency-based learning is a heavier lift. However, it is also a door to personalization. Proficiency-based learning is the way to make sure that personalized learning plans and experiential learning lead to higher achievement. In our approach, transferable skills provide a common language to define proficiency, both in class and through real-world learning.”

“We had personalized learning plans in Montpelier in the late 1990s, but we hadn’t connected them to student learning in this way. We had created a false divide between personal learning endeavors and academics. Now we are thinking about personalized learning plans and student aspirations in the context of how they can be used to create learning opportunities that engage and motivate students.”

He outlined some of these plans for me. “In the coming year, we are focusing on seven transferable skills – reading, writing, communication, problem-solving, habits of learning, citizenship, and creativity – as the enduring understanding that we want our students to have,” he said. “It is the ultimate UBD. We are building back from graduation to develop the capacity of schools to provide assessments and effective feedback on the transferrable skills.”

“The state created a set of policies that are all around the same work,” he added. “The common theme is building student agency. We want our students to know themselves as learners, to have the skills to be successful learners, and to have opportunities to build the transferable skills all along their path from kindergarten to graduation. At each grade level, students should be able to speak to the questions, Who am I as a reader? Who am I as a communicator? Who am I as a citizen? etc.” (more…)

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New Haven Academy: Pedagogy Comes First

May 16, 2016 by

new haven academyThis 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.

There is no mistaking New Haven Academy’s pedagogy and vision – it hangs from colorful banners above the school: Think Critically. Be Responsible. Get Involved. There is also loving attention to the social-emotional needs of students exemplified by the bulletin board in the main office:

Just remember it’s tough to enjoy life when you don’t like yourself. When you learn to succeed at being yourself, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying life more fully.

Don’t let the way another person treats you determine your worth.

Find something you like to do that you do well, and do it over and over.

Co-founders Greg Baldwin (principal) and Meredith Gavrin (program director) have an interesting story about how they came to the world of mastery-based learning. It’s a story shaped by how they operationalized the pedagogy at the center of the school and eventually came to the point where they had to make a full conversion to mastery-based learning, as grading and traditional practices of how students advance were just too out of sync with the rest of the school to ignore.

The good news – among the juniors who were the first class to use mastery-based grading, there is an increasing number of them achieving mastery in their courses. (more…)

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Moving from Seat-Time to Competency-Based Credits in State Policy: Ensuring All Students Develop Mastery

May 14, 2016 by

Personalized-Learning-300x300This post originally appeared at iNACOL on April 12, 2016.

School leaders find once they begin to optimize their instructional models using anytime, anywhere learning, state policies that reinforce seat time become a barrier to innovative approaches delivering highly-personalized learning experiences for all students.

Personalized learning is important because it holds the promise to create student agency, preparing all students for college, career and life. In these learning environments, students tailor their education based on their own interests and passions. Students co-design their learning plans, engage in meaningful learning experiences to accomplishing college- and career-ready goals, and take ownership of their education.

Educators offer tailored instruction targeted to each student’s needs and empower students to learn standards, skills, and competencies by exploring topics relevant to them. For example, a student interested in biotechnology could develop an interdisciplinary approach that covers both biology and chemistry standards and work in a biotechnology internship part-time.

It is important to challenge seat-time as the only way to earn credit toward graduation.  Education systems should focus on learning (what a student knows and can do) and enable students to earn credits based on demonstrated mastery.

When students only earn credits based on the number of minutes in a course for a specific subject, it limits the ability for learning after school, in the community, through internships, and through online learning.

State policymakers can enable personalized, competency-based education that provides “open-walled” learning opportunities–inside and outside of school buildings–by allowing students to accumulate credits toward graduation by demonstrating competencies across disciplines.

Moving from “time-based” policies toward “competency-based” structures of earning credits based on demonstrated mastery is a major shift and is fundamental to personalizing learning at scale. (more…)

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How are We Doing Implementing Student-Centered Learning?

May 13, 2016 by

NMEFNellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF) and the Donahue Institute at University of Massachusetts released a new report A Qualitative Study of Student-Centered Learning Practices in New England High Schools last month. Student-centered learning as defined by NMEF has four tenets: (1) learning is personalized; (2) learning is competency-based; (3) learning takes place anytime, anywhere; and (4) students take ownership. There are a number of findings that we should pay attention to:

How Can We Make Adoption of CBE Easier?

Finding: Schools tended to report that the adoption of competency-based learning (CBE) models is more challenging than implementation of other tenets. Educators and leaders face considerable barriers to successful implementation, such as expectations that students will advance at the end of each school year and community concerns regarding colleges’ views of competency-based transcripts.

Discussion: Based on my experience visiting schools, everything goes easier once schools embrace a new set of values and assumptions led by the number one tenet – Do What’s Best for Kids. (See Courtney Belolan’s article on culture.) Some people argue that we need discrete models with options for specific practices. What do you think would make adoption easier?

Do We Have Enough Results Yet to Begin to Determine What Works?

Finding: Every site visit school implemented a unique competency-based learning system. The lack of a proven competency-based model challenges schools to invent their own approach.

Discussion: I will still argue that we are early in the process of innovation and that we are still finding our way to figuring the “best models.” However, we are also now at the stage of districts and schools having several years of implementation. So we should begin to benchmark different models and practices that are yielding results?

What Will It Take to Increase Expanded Learning Opportunities?

Finding: Anytime/anywhere learning practices lag behind the other SCL tenets. Teachers and administrators face an array of challenges to implementing approaches within this tenet, such as establishing community partnerships, transportation, and budget. Some schools appear not to realize the full educational potential of such practices. (more…)

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Superintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut

May 12, 2016 by

NextEdThis 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.

Why is Connecticut turning to personalized, mastery-based learning? Because superintendents had the courage to be honest that there wasn’t any way to reach the policy goal of every student ready for college and careers within the traditional, one-size-fits-all, time-based system. As Larry Schaefer and Janet Garagliano of the Connecticut Association of Public Schools Superintendents (CAPSS) explained it to me, “Superintendents came to the conclusion that they couldn’t guarantee that all kids are going to be college and career ready without some major changes. The best way to reach our goals is through a personalized, mastery-based system.”

Sometimes superintendents are seen as holders of the status quo. However, when the superintendents released their first report NextEd: Transforming Connecticut’s Education System in 2011, they demonstrated forward-thinking leadership. They demonstrated that they were innovators, not the barriers to change. With over 150 recommendations, the report explained step-by-step how once you put students at the center of the system, just about every aspect of the system had to be re-adjusted. Personalization wasn’t a new program, it was re-engineering the system.

CAPSS also engaged other educators in creating a vision. In the next report, A Look to the Future: Personalized Learning in Connecticut, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), with principals as their members, co-created the vision for a personalized, mastery-based system. At the end of March, CAPSS released a more detailed plan called NextEd: Next Steps, which is filled with action steps. (more…)

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Update on Maine’s Proficiency-Based Diploma Policy

May 11, 2016 by
Maine State House

Maine State House, Wikipedia

To refresh your memory, Maine had originally set a policy that students would be expected to demonstrate proficiency in all eight domains to get a diploma. Under pressure of trying to get all students to reach proficiency in all eight domains, districts asked for more flexibility. The first ideas considered were much lower expectations of proficiency in math and ELA being used as a graduation requirement. The final policy sets a series of phases and also includes students being able to choose one or more of the domains they need to demonstrate proficiency.

B-1. Phase in the following diploma requirements from the 2020-2021 school year to the 2024-2025 school year:

(1) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2020-2021, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology and social studies;

(2) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2021-2022, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and at least one additional content area of the student’s choice;

(3) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2022-2023, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and at least 2 additional content areas of the student’s choice;

(4) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2023-2024, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and at least 3 additional content areas of the student’s choice; and

(5) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2024-2025 and for each subsequent graduating class, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in all content areas.

(more…)

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Naugatuck Public Schools: Making Meaning for Teachers with Mastery-Based Learning

May 10, 2016 by

NPS

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.

Scroll to the bottom to see an example of Naugatuck’s curriculum framework for math.

“As a teacher, I couldn’t get traction. If mastery-based learning isn’t the district’s vision, how much can a teacher accomplish?”

I like to stay in touch with competency education leaders as they move from one position to another, from one organization to another. One might think of a bumble bee pollinating ideas – each idea become a richer hue as it interacts with other ideas, other people, and new applications.

Thus, during my trip to Connecticut, I visited Caroline Messenger, Curriculum Director, Naugatuck Public Schools, who had previously been a teacher at the high school. (Messenger has also been a writer at CompetencyWorks. See Learning My Lesson and How Do You Measure Competency? Curriculum Can Help Guide the Way.) I was interested to find out how her perspective had changed from being a teacher to being part of the leadership team. The conversation was quickly focused on instructional strategies, proving to me once again that mastery-based learning can create the conditions for lifting up the teaching profession from the narrow role of delivering curriculum as structured in the factory model to the astoundingly challenging and meaningful role of teaching children to learn.

“Mastery-based learning operates on a different set of assumptions,” Messenger reflected. “Even if you have two or three colleagues working together, it is difficult to bring mastery-based learning to life in the classroom without a district vision. As a teacher, you can focus on standards and develop your units around them, but there is no way to create a greater understanding of how the standards fit together to create a sense of purpose for learning if you are working in isolation. Teachers can organize their classrooms around standards, but we want so much more for kids. It takes a much broader vision. The vision of the district and the philosophy of the school shape how people relate to each other, determine what is important and where attention is directed, and sets the values.” (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

by

What's NewJOB OPENING: Henry County Schools is currently accepting applications for an open Assistant Superintendent position. Learn more about the job opening and read our recent case study on Henry County Schools.

Thought Leadership

School and Program Updates

(more…)

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How I Learned What Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning Really Means

May 9, 2016 by
Tony B and Wife

Tony Beaumier and Wife

It was bedtime on a winter evening in 2015. I was saying goodnight to my son Jay, a sixth-grader, when he asked me a startling question.

“Mom,” Jay said, “you give lots of presentations for your job, right?”

“Yes,” I answered.

Jay had a follow-up. “When you give presentations at work, what kind of feedback do you usually get?” It was not the kind of question I expected from an eleven-year-old. Although it reflected Jay’s thoughtfulness, it also reflected the journey that his middle school had been on for several years.

In the autumn of that year, after months of preparatory work, York Middle School had adopted a proficiency-based system. The teachers had worked together to identify a set of power standards and learning targets for each class, and a new reporting system had been adopted that would show each student’s progress towards these targets. The letter grades that had been used to describe student achievement were abandoned in favor of a new language – “Progressing,” “Meets,” and “Exceeds.” The school also instituted a new schedule which included a Targeted Learning Time every day, a block that students could use to seek extra help or make up work in areas where they were “Progressing” or where they had produced “Insufficient Evidence.”

For many parents, these changes were a disconcerting entry into unfamiliar territory; I, however, considered myself to have a strong understanding of proficiency-based practices. I had spent the previous few years as a teacher in a public high school that was implementing the same strategies, and I was currently employed as a school coach helping schools with various reform efforts, including the transition to proficiency-based and student-centered practices. So I figured I had mastered the change in worldview that proficiency-based education demands. It took my son to help me see how much I still had to learn. (more…)

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Not Your Grandpa’s Voc Ed: Rigorous Career and Technical Education in Henry County, Georgia

May 7, 2016 by

RoboticsThis post originally appeared on the New England Secondary School Consortium on behalf of Great Schools Partnership. It also appeared on Students at the Center

When many of us think of “career and technical education,” we likely recall dusty wood shops, half-finished projects, and cantankerous teachers with untamed hair and maybe a missing finger or three. Or we might envision a class of students and teachers corralled in a section of rooms, walled off from the rest of the school like the two Berlins of old. Or perhaps we think about students who choose career and technical courses because the perception is that they’re “easy electives.”

But in Henry County, Georgia, career and technical education isn’t easy at all: it’s all about challenging students academically.

At the New England Secondary School Consortium’s 2016 High School Redesign in Action conference, Sharon Bonner and John Steiner of the Henry County’s Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) program guided participants through their district’s experiences in a session entitled, “Creating Competencies for Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education.”

The Henry County Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education program will provide a rigorous, relevant, and technologically advanced curriculum that will be available to all Henry County students, teaching them how to be lifelong learners while preparing them for the transition to secondary, postsecondary, and employment endeavors. Remarkably, Henry County’s CTAE program currently serves 82% of the students in the school district, and just over 11,000 high school students are taking at least one CTAE pathway course this academic year.

(more…)

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