November 13, 2014 by Julia Freeland
Originally posted November 11, 2014 by the Christensen Institute.
Over the past several weeks I’ve attended a number of conferences where competency-based (or mastery-based) education was a hot topic. On the whole, there seems to be growing enthusiasm for adopting competency-based approaches that allow students to advance upon mastery and that deploy authentic assessments to test what students can do across disciplines. My conversations at these conferences, however, have convinced me that there are some philosophical and practical areas that administrators are still grappling with. This is a short list of questions that keep coming up in discussions and debates:
We are still operating on a fixed semester, academic calendar-based schedule. Can we implement competency-based education? In many cases, regulatory or cultural barriers make the concept of each student advancing upon individual mastery an overwhelming or impractical framework to impose on traditional academic schedules. For many systems, in the near future, courses or semester-based schedules are here to stay.
One interim shift that these systems might take is to adopt standards- or competency-based grading, whereby a student’s grade is a transparent reflection of what he has or has not mastered. Unlike a “B+”—which tells you that a student did not fully master material, but communicates little else—a competency-based grade can overtly lay out the persistent gaps in a student’s understanding. In such systems, two things may occur: first, there may be opportunities for targeted unit or “competency” recovery to fill in gaps at the end of courses or semesters. Secondly, students may be promoted to new coursework (as tends to happen in the traditional system) but their grades will at the very least show their next teacher a clear map of the areas where they still stand to struggle. The overarching premise here? If for some reason time in your system has to remain fixed, then at the very least you can make grading or certification at the end of a course an honest portrait of mastery and remaining gaps. (more…)
November 11, 2014 by Matt Townsley
Here in Iowa, competency-based education is gaining traction at the state and grassroots level. In fact, the Iowa Department of Education has launched a multi-year CBE collaborative. Needless to say, it’s an exciting time to be an educator in the Hawkeye State!
Meanwhile, a core group of Iowa schools have started to implement a standards-based grading philosophy in middle and high schools. Because of these two movements in our state, standards-based grading and competency-based education are often times incorrectly presented as synonymous practices. As a member of Iowa’s CBE task force and through my work as a district administrator in a system that has embraced standards-based grading K-12, I’ve been in a position to think about and discuss these two topics extensively. When area schools hear about our grading and reporting practices, we are often asked how our system relates to those working towards competency-based educational models. While many of the ideas overlap, I felt compelled to tease out these two education terms in order to honor their similarities and differences.
What is standards-based grading?
Standards-based grading ”involves measuring students’ proficiency on well-defined course objectives.” (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006). (Note: Standards-based reporting involves reporting these course objectives rather than letter grades at the end of each grading/reporting period.)
The visual below compares traditional grading with standards-based grading practices. (more…)
November 10, 2014 by Bill Zima
In 2012, Maine established policy for schools to award proficiency-based diplomas starting in 2018. As the years passed, it became clear that some districts, including mine, needed more time to get all the pieces in place. In April of 2014, The Maine Department of Education agreed to allow extensions for districts as long as they met specific criteria demonstrating the district was moving forward. There were six options ranging from no extension to taking a full three years.
My district chose option five, which required us to partner with a coach to help with the transition to a learner-centered, proficiency-based system. We decided to partner with the ReInventing Schools Coalition. This decision was made based on their affiliation with Marzano Research Labs and their proven record of supporting schools through the transition. Also, the middle school, of which I am the principal, already had a working relationship with them. We have found them to be tireless in their commitment to support us through the process of meeting our vision.
With our limited funds, the decision was made to begin the district work with leadership teams from each of the schools in the district. The groups met for a single day over the summer to talk about the ReInventing Schools framework. While it was nice to only spend a single day on this topic, I would not recommend it as the norm for the introduction. Since the ReInventing Schools Coalition is well-known in Maine, having worked with many school districts in the past six years, their framework is familiar to many educators. Add to this the catalyst of the proficiency-based diploma law, and it gave our coach the ability to move quickly, leaving only a few of the school leaders needing support in the days that followed. (more…)
November 7, 2014 by Rose Colby
“Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound……”
….Superman? No, not really. Looking back over the past several years in competency education, perhaps SuperPioneer is a more apt superhero symbol. In the early days of competency education, the road ahead of us was somewhat unchartered, with unknown hazards and delays along the way. The early pioneers were a bit lonely without the familiar guideposts and waypoints that normally give direction. GPS? No such thing. But one thing could be counted on—with each rising of the sun, we were that much closer to journey’s end.
What is the story that you will tell of your journey down the road to competency education? What legacy will you leave to those who follow in your district after you step off the path? These may seem like silly questions, but I do believe they are important ones. You see, we are at a unique time in the history of education. In leaving behind what some people are already calling the “dark era in education,” we find ourselves at that fork in the road where we can either forge new experiences unleashed from the past, or we can choose the path that guarantees the journey ahead will repeat the last hundred miles. (more…)
November 5, 2014 by Caroline Messenger
No matter how you approach it, you cannot mitigate the massive change agent that is competency-based education. It does not leave much room for “old school” notions of teaching and learning. It does not tolerate anything less than a committed belief that all students can achieve at high levels.
It certainly demands a philosophical and ideological shift in thinking about “best practice” in education.
When I had first embarked on this journey, I had prepared myself for these shifts as they pertained to my practice. How can I become more student-centered? What does that look like? How will I know if my students are ready?
The question I never asked: How will I assess it and grade it? (more…)
November 4, 2014 by Oliver Grenham
Because of the growing number of mass-administered, required tests under state and/or federal law, there is an increasing and unsustainable demand being placed on student time in school. In recent years, these mandated test increases have affected students in Colorado at all grade levels, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
While student assessment is vital to learning, excessive testing is not, particularly in the way it is handled today. The quantity and quality of instructional time is what matters most for productive learning to occur.
Our experience in Adams County School District 50 has shown that a mass administration of the same test to students of the same age at the same time does not promote learning. In fact, it penalizes students, their teachers, and their schools. An overemphasis on testing significantly reduces the quantity and quality of time that could be better utilized in closing the achievement gap: something our data shows we are successfully doing.
The Teaching Learning Cycle in a Competency-Based System
We all know that teaching and learning take place in the classroom. As educators, we refer to this cyclic process as the Teaching Learning Cycle.