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 Perseverance in the Classroom

January 22, 2015 by
Eric Toshalis

Eric Toshalis

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center: Teaching and Learning in the Era of the Common Core

Have you ever sat through a difficult or dry lesson and were told by your teacher when you began to struggle that if you simply tried harder, you would succeed? If so, didn’t it sound like your teacher was saying, “If you just banged your head harder against this brick wall, you could break through!” You likely realized then what researchers have known for decades: that simply isn’t true. While effort is important when attempting work of any kind, perseverance in school is frequently depicted as a quality either a kid has or doesn’t have, as if the circumstances surrounding that student’s struggles were irrelevant. And far too often, teachers and others use concepts like perseverance to blame students from disadvantaged backgrounds for “lacking motivation,” when it is the learning environment itself that is largely to blame.

I’ve been thinking about this concept of perseverance because I recently had the opportunity to review the report, Equity in Competency Education: Realizing the Potential, Overcoming the Obstacles, by RAND authors and commissioned by Jobs for the Future’s Students at the Center initiative. I applaud the authors for tackling a tricky subject often glossed over and under-researched in the rush to advocate for competency education. Their treatment presents a broad and well-organized array of scholarship that highlights the enormous potential of competency-based reforms to elevate achievement and enhance equity. However, the paper raises a lingering concern: discussions of the concept of perseverance can easily devolve into a blame-the-victim ideology rather than an improve-the-context search for solutions.

Perseverance can be a seductive explanation of student failure due to the way it shifts attention away from pedagogical factors that may hinder students’ achievement and instead draws attention toward perceived deficits in students’ motivation. This effectively absolves adults of responsibility for students’ struggles. Given the culture of blame that surrounds the profession of teaching these days, it’s not surprising that some would seek shelter in explanations that deny culpability in student failures. I would argue, however, that to overcome academic struggles, it is the educator’s responsibility to teach the skills necessary for success and to present material using techniques that motivate students to engage. In this way, perseverance is less a prerequisite of learning and more a product of good teaching. (more…)

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Helping HELP: Paul Leather’s Testimony on Assessments and Accountability

January 21, 2015 by
Paul Leather

Paul Leather

Earlier today, Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner at NH’s Department of Education, testified at the Senate HELP Committee Full Committee Hearing on “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability” about improving assessments and accountability systems. His testimony is provided below or you can watch here. Additional resources on ESEA include:

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Chairman Alexander, Senator Murray, and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify about testing and accountability in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

I am Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner of Education of the NH Department of Education.

In NH, we are working to explore what the next generation of assessments might look like, beyond an end-of-the-year test.

We have coordinated with the Council of Chief State School Officers on its Priorities for ESEA Reauthorization. These Priorities contain three important ingredients that are in line with the work we are doing:

  • First, it would continue to support annual assessments of student performance to ensure every parent receives the information they need on how their child is performing, at least once a year.
  • Second, it would allow states to base students’ annual determinations on a single standardized test, or the combined results from a coherent system of assessments.
  • Third, it gives states the space to continue to innovate on assessment and accountability systems, so important when the periods of authorization can last 10 years or longer. (more…)
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Ownership, Not Buy-In: An Interview with Bob Crumley, Superintendent Chugach School District

January 20, 2015 by
Bob Crumley

Bob Crumley

This is the fourth post in the Chugach School District series. Read the firstsecond, and third posts here.

In October, I had the chance to meet with Bob Crumley, Superintendent of the Chugach School District. He’s worked his way up, starting as a teacher in the village of Whittier, becoming the assistant superintendent in 1999 and superintendent in 2005. Crumley has a powerful story to share, as he’s been part of the team that transformed Chugach into a performance-based system and sustained it for twenty years.

Crumley has tremendous insights into every aspect of creating and managing a personalized, performance-based system. The emphasis on empowerment, situational leadership-management styles, and courage reminded me of my conversation with Virgel Hammonds, Superintendent of RSU2 in Maine. Below, Crumley addresses several key elements of managing a performance-based system:

Personalized is Community-Based: On the Importance of Community Engagement

Creating a personalized, performance-based system starts with engaging the community in an authentic way. Our entire transformation started with the communities and school board challenging us – they wanted to know why their children were not reading at grade level. Our communities were not sure they trusted the schools and teachers. This was partially based on the history of Alaska and how Native Alaskan communities were treated. However, it was also based on the fact that we were not currently effective in helping our children to learn the basics or preparing them for success in their lives. We had to find a way to overcome that.

The superintendent at the time, Roger Sampson, was committed to responding to the community and implemented a top-down reading program. Reading skills did improve, but it also raised questions for all of us about what we needed to do to respond to students to help them learn. With the leadership of Sampson and Richard DeLorenzo, Assistant Superintendent, we took a step back in order to redesign our system. (more…)

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ACHIEVE’s Communication Tool Kit – Must Use!

January 16, 2015 by

achieveI had a chance to see ACHIEVE’s Communication Tool Kit during a webinar on communication strategies for state policy leaders. The materials are truly terrific…absolutely every person should read them and start using the language and talking points. They are so good and so important to read that I’m publishing the Core Messages right here.

The one word I would caution is that the ideas haven’t been message tested – for you funders out there, it would be a great investment to do some focus groups with different constituencies and stakeholders, especially communities that have historically received less-than-adequate educational services.

FYI, there are lots of resources – including planning tools and an infographic – that will be coming soon.

Competency-Based Pathways: Definition, Key Messages, and Talking Points (more…)

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In Search of the Goldilocks Scale

January 15, 2015 by
Porridge

Too hot? Too cold? Just right!

We have learned a lot over the past five years as our district has implemented a competency-based model of grading and assessing. Competency-based grading and assessment requires a significant shift in the way we think about assessment—its purpose and its meaning. Our school, Memorial School in Newton, NH and our district, the Sanborn Regional School District, moved to this model five years ago. We continue to learn more about what assessment of students truly means as our overall understanding of assessment practices (our assessment literacy) increases.

When we moved to this model of grading and assessment, our elementary teachers made a wholesale change to grading with a four-point rubric. There would be no number scale (100 point scale) and there would be consistency across grade levels horizontally and vertically. The grade scale rubrics we used would identify the expectations around each level. Our learning curve was steep as we created the rubrics, but we found that our learning was not going to stop there. It continues to this day.

Our first year, we identified our rubric indicators as E (Exceeding), M (Meeting), IP (Inconsistent Progress), and LP (Limited Progress). The chart below reflects this first attempt at our rubric scale. The first roadblock came after the first progress report was distributed. As an educational staff, we looked at IP as what the descriptor outlined—inconsistent progress. A student was able to demonstrate competency, but it was on an inconsistent basis. Many parents provided feedback that it just “felt negative” (the word inconsistent). We decided that “In Progress” was also an accurate indicator, and parents agreed. We made the change immediately within the “Level” while keeping the performance descriptor the same. (more…)

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Calibrating the Competency Conversation

January 14, 2015 by

Policy Practice PhilosophyThis blog originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on December 19, 2014. It was adapted from a brief presentation I gave at the North Carolina New Schools and The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation daylong workshop, Preparing Educators for the Competency Learning Revolution.

If I tried to define competency-based education in the fewest words possible, I would say: in a competency-based system, students advance upon mastery.

But if you haven’t already, you’ll find that the concepts of “advance,” “mastery,” and even “upon” are subject to debate. Indeed, competency-based education is a topic that actually becomes more complex the more you learn about. I’ve often felt in conversations on this topic that the category or theme of competency-based education is so immensely broad that people are actually using it in a wide variety of ways and as a result, are talking past each other. We need to be clear about what it is and why it is important. We also need to be clear about the level at which we are discussing and debating this subject: Are we discussing a philosophy of competency? Debating a policy? Or prescribing a practice inside the classroom? These three categories beget different questions, concerns, and insights into how to build a coherent competency-based system. Champions of competency-based reform can hopefully begin to clarify the similarities and differences in these spheres of philosophical, political, and practical considerations in order to move the system forward on all three dimensions. (more…)

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Chugach Teachers Talk about Teaching

January 13, 2015 by
3flying to tatitlek

Flying to Tatitlek

This is the third post in the Chugach School District series. Read the first and second posts here.

Chugach School District is a teacher’s district. Bob Crumley, Superintendent, started as a teacher in Whittier Community School (WCS). (There is a story about his coming face to face with a bear that had wandered into the school in search of sausage.) Debbie Treece, Director of Special Education, signed up to teach at Whittier before realizing that the only way to get there at the time was to travel through a tunnel sitting in absolute darkness…and this after driving one’s car onto the back of a railway flat. Doug Penn, District Principal, has worked in the communities of Chenega Bay and Whittier.

It’s also a learner’s district, because everyone at CSD is willing to learn in order to do better by their students and their families.

Not every person is cut out to teach at CSD. You’ve got to want a bit of adventure. You’ve got to have a love for the incredible mountain-meets-sea landscape. You’ve got to be willing to live in small communities that have limited access. And you’ve got to love kids.

There were incredibly rich conversations with teachers throughout my three days at CSD. Here are a few of the highlights:

On Being a Generalist or Not-Yet-Specialists (more…)

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Supporting Competency Education in ESEA Reauthorization

January 10, 2015 by
Maria Worthen

Maria Worthen

A new Congress brings new hopes for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA reauthorization provides an important window of opportunity to realign federal policy to support and enable the transition to competency education.

Background

The new Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander, has indicated his intention to consider an ESEA reauthorization bill in that committee by February. House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman, Representative John Kline, has said it will be a top priority. Both have announced plans to hold hearings in the next month.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the state education chiefs last fall that the new Congress gives new potential to work on a bipartisan basis and that he will be pushing very hard to reauthorize ESEA.

With positive signals coming from House, Senate, and the Education Department leaders about reauthorization, could 2015 be ESEA’s year? Maybe, maybe not—but if you care about the outcome, it’s still essential to weigh in. (more…)

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North Carolina: Optimizing Best Practices through a Convening of Thought Leaders

January 9, 2015 by

North Carolina“In education, what is not focused on pedagogy is politics.” This is how Tony Habit, President of North Carolina New Schools, opened a convening in Raleigh, NC on December 18th. He emphasized that our focus in competency education must begin and end with the work of teachers in order to transform education; all conversations must be grounded in a deep understanding of the work they do everyday, and we must focus our efforts on how best to support their work.

This summit, titled Preparing Educators for the Competency Learning Revolution, was a convening of innovators, researchers, practitioners, and thought leaders in the competency education field, designed to share ideas, resources, and best practices to remain on the cutting edge of innovation. Presenters discussed the national policy landscape for competency-based learning, identified potential barriers and enablers to implementation, conferred over the role of technology in competency-based systems, and began developing a concept paper exploring statewide competency-based implementation.

The group of thought leaders operated as a “think tank” to identify enablers, barriers, and readiness factors regarding a state’s transition to competency education. Glenn Kleiman, Executive Director at the Friday Institute, and Tony Habit, President of NC New Schools, opened the summit, welcomed the attendees, and opened the floor for invigorating, honest, and wide-ranging conversations around all aspects of competency education. (more…)

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