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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On Our Way Toward Integrated Learning Systems

September 14, 2016 by

inacolWe have come a long way in terms of helping the vendors of information systems understand that we need “grading books” that will allow educators to monitor student progress on learning objectives that may be organized in a variety of ways. However, most still do not understand that what we want are student-centered information systems, not standards-based ones. We want to know what skills a student has, and we want to monitor their progress based upon both their own learning trajectory and grade-level standards. Yes, we want students to be on grade level, but if they are missing the important pre-requisite skills, then we want to work more intensively with them to build those skills. It’s a both/and situation.

Thus, it is over-the-top fantastic that the Nellie Mae Education Foundation has released an RFP for integrated learning systems. Here is the information below. Be sure to read the iNACOL’s Functional Requirements for Integrated Systems to Optimize Learning regardless if you apply or not. (more…)

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Why Aren’t We Talking about Culturally Responsive Education in Next Gen Learning?

September 13, 2016 by

StudyingThis post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on August 4, 2016.

Those of us in the next gen learning space are ignoring a great opportunity. Something that could propel next gen learning to be the force we say we want it to be: one that fundamentally changes the life trajectories of the students we serve.

Culturally Responsive Education

I’ve been thinking a lot about equity in relation to next gen learning lately. I’m asking tough questions of myself, questioning assumptions in our work instead of letting them go unstudied, thinking about ‘user-centered design’ in a whole new light, and sitting with new information as I try to process and understand it.

The news of recent weeks has been heartbreaking. From the highly publicized police shooting deaths of unarmed Black men, to the shooting spree and deaths of police officers, to the White backlash against Black Lives Matter and, in the education reform world, backlash against empowering people of color to address systemic racism in education, the crack in race relations in this country is opening wider and exposing the problems I knew existed but swept under the rug and out of my consciousness.

My response to this heartbreak: lift up the rug, expose the crack, raise my consciousness, and work to understand what it is underserved students really need. (And, by the way, understand what it is advantaged students need. I wonder if educational equity wouldn’t be better served if higher-income White education reformers—and by that I mean, me—focused more attention on serving advantaged students through social justice education and helping them develop the skills of an ally.)

And then I stumbled upon this:

If students survive their educations, they potentially become widgets—unimaginative, obedient, conforming replicas of each other. Students who do not survive their widget-making education risk higher levels of lifetime poverty and incarceration, as well as poorer physical and mental health outcomes than students exposed to more student-centered educational interventions. —Diversity Challenge 2016: Race, Culture, and Educating Our Youths – Developing Whole People Not Widgets.

This! Yes! This is why the current system isn’t good enough. And this is why I am so passionate about next gen learning. I believe it can and will help us move away from the ‘lose-lose’ proposition of a factory model, widget-producing school system. It can help us move toward schools that honor students’ individuality and self-authorship by providing meaningful learning experiences that lead to richer, deeper, broader outcomes than proficiency on a test. (What’s the opposite of a widget? A work of art? Or, maybe we need to drop the metaphors and simply say that a student is an individual whose humanity and dignity is celebrated.)

I kept reading: (more…)

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Separating the Facts from the Myths in the Competency-Based High School Transcript

September 12, 2016 by

Sample Report CardDistricts are creating a variety of grading practices and transcripts that are being described as standards-based and competency-based grading practices. Some are hybrids retaining elements of traditional grading. Many convert to traditional points in order to produce a GPA and rank students. Most importantly, some districts attempt to create new grading practices without putting adequate supports and policies to personalize education into place. At CompetencyWorks, when we think about grading, we think about the question, “How will you ensure that students are progressing?” Grading is one of the practices that is needed, in addition to many others. (See Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education.) Increasingly, colleges and universities are supporting proficiency-based transcripts. (See information on the Collegiate Endorsement of Proficiency-Based Transcripts.) In the following article, Brian Stack, principal at Sanborn Regional High School, addresses misconceptions based on their experience with redesigning grading. 

– Chris Sturgis

After many years of experience as a high school principal in a competency-based high school, it is the transcript that generates the highest degree of inquiry from outsiders seeking to understand our system, and for good reason. In both traditional and competency-based models, the high school transcript represents a student’s ultimate cumulative record of learning, a record that must be communicated in a clear and concise manner to both admissions officers at post-secondary institutions as well as potential employers. Over the years I have encountered several misconceptions and myths about what a transcript for a competency-based program should look like. It’s time to dispel these myths and set the record straight.

Myth: Reporting measures such as grade point average (GPA) and class rank cannot be computed in a competency-based school.

False! These two measures can be included on a competency-based transcript. There is often a fear from outsiders and newcomers that because most competency-based schools report assignment grades using a four or five point letter rubric scale, there isn’t an opportunity to compute a GPA. This is simply not true. In my school, a student can only earn one of five letter grades on individual assignments based on their performance level as indicated on a rubric, but in the background, those letters correlate to the numerical values of 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4. As the student completes multiple assignments, we are able to compute an overall course grade and thus a GPA that is a numerical value between 0 and 4. From the GPA, it is then easy to compute a class rank statistic. This, however, leads to another popular myth.


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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Starting the Year Off Strong

September 9, 2016 by

Back to SchoolThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 2, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Welcome back! Students are back, and the buildings feel alive again. It is the end of the third day, and we are already settling into the year. As you and the learners get ready to start new learning adventures this year, keep these ideas in mind:

1. School and Classroom Culture Is Dynamic
Many teachers spend time at the start of the year working with the students to build culture. This is a hugely important step to creating the environment needed for learner centered and proficiency based systems to be successful. Even more important is setting up a plan for maintaining culture, and keeping it alive throughout the year. Visions, codes of conduct, SOPs, Flowcharts, all of these culture tools need to grown and change in response to feedback from the day to day, week to week, and month to month life of the classroom. Here are some ways to plan for culture maintenance from pK-graduation:

– regular team/class meetings (as much as every day, as little as once a month)
– a Parking Lot
– regular, simple self reflection on the vision and code of conduct
– recognition based on the vision and code of conduct (more…)

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Recommended Action: Replicate NESCC’s Collegiate Endorsement in Other States

September 8, 2016 by

CollegeWe are in the midst of our annual reflection on the field of competency education – What is changing? What is working? What are the big issues that are emerging? In what is the field getting stronger or not?

Our field, that set of organizations and people that support or influence states, districts, schools, and educators in advancing competency education, continues to get stronger. There are more organizations every year that are doing work in the arena of competency education, although sometimes clumsily (I just read a short piece by McKinsey on personalization that seemed to confuse competency-based with online learning). We definitely want more organizations, especially organizations working within states and regions, to be joining the party.

However there are three downsides we need to watch out for:

#1 Limited Understanding: Organizations that haven’t taken the time to really understand competency education and offer a contorted or shallow view. (We love it when organizations bring new insights and depth and push our thinking on competency education.) To avoid this, we have to stretch ourselves to lend a helping hand to those organizations early on.

#2 Competition for Funding: It’s bound to happen when there are a lot of organizations working in the same field. So it’s very important that we address #1 i so that funders don’t invest in organizations that might lead us astray or cause unnecessary turmoil or confusion in the field. In addition, we need to make sure we are using funding as effectively as possible to clear the way for educators and tackle the big issues.

#3 Looking for a Way to Contribute: New organizations build capacity and then need something to do to make a contribution. No one organization can do everything, and we need to work together to make sure that we are tackling as many of the important things as we can. This requires some level of coordination and speaking with other organizations when creating a new project or initiative.

This brings me to my recommendation for a very important initiative that no one is doing right now, as far as I know. We really, really, really need state and regional organizations to replicate what the New England Secondary School Consortium has done in engaging institutions of higher education in making the proficiency pledge: 67 colleges and universities endorsed proficiency-based learning and pledged not to disadvantage students who went to proficiency-based high schools. They have cleared away a perceived obstacle: the possibility that students in proficiency-based schools might be less competitive in some way in the college admissions process. (This handout is a pdf file that explains the Collegiate Endorsement initiative.)

NESSC did this by convening representatives of higher education to talk about a proficiency-based transcript and diploma and then asking them to make a public pledge (below). They then had each of the college’s endorsements linked to their website for any school counselor to use when talking with students and parents. Brilliant! (more…)

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Nicole Assisi’s Seven Tips for Diversifying Your Organization

September 7, 2016 by
Thrive Public School for Voice of San Diego

Nicole Assisi

On Friday, August 19th I had the opportunity to talk with Nicole Assisi of Thrive Public Schools (recognized for project-based, blended learning, social-emotional learning) regarding how they have been able to diversify their staffing to represent the students and families they serve. Their site leadership is now 71 percent people of color, staff is 28 percent Latino, 8 percent African-American, and 8 percent Asian-Pacific Islanders, and the CMO staff is 50 percent people of color.

On that very same day, Education Secretary John King called out for greater educator diversity: While students of color make up the majority in our public schools, just 18 percent of teachers identify as people of color. …We must do more to support teachers of color at all points across the teacher pipeline so students today can benefit from and become the teachers and mentors of tomorrow.

Why Diversity Matters

His statement was in regards to the release of a Brookings Institute report High hopes and harsh realities: The real challenges to building a diverse workforce. The authors do report some good news: The number of minority teachers in the nation has doubled over the past few decades from about 325,000 in the late 1980s to 660,000 in 2012. But the bad news: The improvements aren’t keeping pace with the proportion of “minority” students in our classrooms (which now add up to be a majority). I think the summary of the research on why diversity matters is important to review. The authors highlight three sets of research:

1) Same-race matches between students and teachers are associated with greater student achievement. Studies of elementary students in Florida (Egalite, Kisida, & Winters, 2015), North Carolina (Goldhaber & Hansen, 2010), and Tennessee (Dee, 2004) find improvements in math and reading achievement from being taught by a same-race teacher. Effects are estimated to be stronger among low-performing black students (Egalite, Kisida, & Winters, 2015).

2) Same-race teachers are more likely to view students’ behaviors and prospects in a positive light. Black teachers have higher expectations for black students’ academic futures (e.g., perceived likelihood of graduating high school) than do white teachers (Fox, 2016); (Gershenson, Holt, & Papageorge, 2016). Dee (2005) and McGrady & Reynolds (2012) find that students who have a teacher from a different race/ethnicity have higher odds of being rated inattentive than students with same-race teachers, and white teachers rate black students as having lower scholastic aptitude. A nationally representative study found that black children are more likely to be rated worse in assessments of their externalized behaviors when they have a white teacher than when they have a black teacher (Bates & Glick, 2013). Relatedly, black students in classrooms with black teachers are three times more likely to be assigned to gifted services than those in classrooms with non-black teachers (Grissom & Redding, 2016).

3) Student behaviors and attitudes are also associated with teacher race. Students assigned to a same-race teacher have significantly fewer absences and suspensions, and are less likely to be chronically absent than their counterparts who had an other-race teacher (Holt & Gershenson, 2015). Students who share racial/ethnic characteristics with their teachers tend to have a more favorable perception of their teachers (Egalite & Kisida, 2016).

The paper goes on to describe the “leaks” in the pipeline – and as overwhelming as it can feel to see it all outlined in one place, each of us has a role in expanding and tightening the pipeline. In the world of competency education, our job is to both diversify the state education agencies, national organizations and intermediaries as well as the districts and schools serving students. (more…)

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Creating a Seamless P-20 System in Illinois

September 6, 2016 by

IllinoisWe do our best to stay on top of which districts are converting and what is going on in the states regarding competency education. But we were totally surprised when we heard about the Illinois legislature unanimously passing HB5729 Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act, which includes a K12 pilot for competency-based education.

Luckily, I got to meet a few members of the incredible team in Illinois, all of whom worked closely together around HB5729, at an Achieve Competency-Based Pathways meeting. Thanks to Ben Boer from Advance Illinois for his presentation.

Here are some of the highlights of what I learned about Illinois’ effort. The emphasis on creating a calibrated, transparent and accountable transition in mathematics is opening a door to much needed conversations between higher education and K12.

Overarching Goal: HB 5729 was created to address the goal of the state’s P20 Council to have 60 percent of Illinoisans have a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025. An earlier piece of legislation, HR477, established four advisory committees that built consensus around the ideas introduced in HB5729. Through this process, a framework for college and career readiness was developed that introduced ideas of personalization and alternative methods of credit acquisition (i.e., competency education). The framework explicitly identifies the concrete steps of career development, college awareness, and financial literacy. The goal is to create a more aligned system that includes K12, institutions of higher education (IHE), and employers. (more…)

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August CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

September 2, 2016 by

Celebrate the Flops (Then They Don’t Hurt So Much): 7 SEL Mindset Tips

September 1, 2016 by

Belly-FlopThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on July 13, 2016.

Our 15-year-old son loves to flip.

The challenge is, when you flip, there is a good chance you’ll flop. It’s part of the deal.

I bet most of us have experienced–or at least have seen–a pretty nasty belly flop (or “smack” as real divers call it). When I asked college diving coach Gabe Kortuem how he teaches his divers to handle them, his response was quick and convicted.

“We celebrate them. Then they don’t hurt so much.”

The underlying message is pretty obvious. Mistakes are part of the learning process. When we treat them as such, they give us reason to celebrate.

Schools across the country are placing a great deal of emphasis on social emotional learning (SEL), success skills, mindsets, social skills, habits of success and more (call them what you will). Framing learning opportunities with a phrase like “celebrating the flops” can be a great springboard (pun intended) to reinforce SEL habits.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), one of the goals of social emotional learning (SEL) programs is improving student attitudes about self, others and school. Cognitive science research shows it can be done.

What if it became second nature for our responses to have such a positive forward-looking tone. Instead of “fail,” how about “not yet?” Instead of “You’d better not do that again,” what if we said “What did you learn from that one?”

Here are 7 practical SEL tips for teachers and parents to reinforce such mindsets in young people: (more…)

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