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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What Is Competency Education?

October 19, 2016 by
knowledgeworks

From KnowledgeWorks

There are lots of ways that the intermediary organizations working on competency education have been catalytic in supporting districts and schools. Communication has not been one of our strengths. Education leaders have been engaging their communities around the country on the need for a new way of organizing schools. And they’ve been doing it without adequate tools.

Part of the reason we don’t have effective tools is that many organizations try to simplify competency education into flexible pacing. They use phrases such as “students advance based on mastery of a given content, rather than based on credits or seat time.” This emphasis on pace misses the point entirely – competency education is a structure designed to ensure that students are learning and making progress. Accountability is embedded within the system through transparent, calibrated ways to determine proficiency and ensure that students are building and able to apply a wide range of skills (competency, not just standards). This emphasis on pace has created a new problem for us — people who are concerned about ineffective use of online learning have now targeted competency education as well.

Well, thanks to KnowledgeWorks, we’ve had a major breakthrough. They’ve created a video that describes a competency-based school with personalized support. They’ve done it with warmth, light-heartedness, attention to challenging racial stereotypes, and the inclusion of real teachers and real students. It’s the best I’ve seen and I think will be helpful to education leaders.

We at CompetencyWorks also tried to fill the gap of a lack of a primer on competency education. In the most recent paper Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England, we included a more extensive introduction to competency education with a section on why the traditional system is a barrier to greater equity and higher achievement. We produced the excerpt What Is Competency Education? separately for educators to use in discussions. (more…)

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Constructing a Common Language of Learning

October 18, 2016 by

Art SuppliesThis is the tenth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. In this article, we continue to explore questions that districts consider when creating their instruction and assessment model.

What are the explicit and measureable learning objectives to describe what students need to learn on their way toward meeting the graduation goals?

Districts and schools start with a different mixture of concepts and create a variety of structures to define the learning continuum. It is important to take your overall pedagogical approach into consideration when shaping the overarching competencies. As Kim Carter, founder of Making Connections Charter School, explains, “Designing competency frameworks is a creative process. We gather together the tools we will need the same way a painter might choose brushes and paints.” For ELA and mathematics, most turn to the well-developed Common Core continuum of learning or their state standards. Others will start or embed the essentials of a discipline, asking, “What does it mean to be a mathematician, a historian, a writer, a scientist?” Still others may be designed around themes or career pathways that rely on a structure that starts with the needs of industry. In some cases, states may have even already set a broad framework within which districts and schools can further structure their learning.

There are five components that guide this work:

  1. Knowledge Taxonomy
  2. Structure and Characteristics
  3. Developing the Continuum of Learning
  4. Rubrics and Calibration
  5. Habits of Learning

(more…)

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Configuring the Instruction and Assessment Model

October 17, 2016 by

Clay HandsThis is the ninth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

There are several design decisions that need to be made to create a common language of learning, especially in the context of the district’s overall pedagogical approach and belief about motivation and learning. In addition to districts engaging the community in the process of developing a shared purpose and guiding principles, there are four core questions educators will need to drive the design and operations of any competency-based system:

  • What do you want students to know and be able to do?
  • Why is this objective important?
  • How are you going to know if students have learned it?
  • What are you going to do if they don’t (or they do)?

This article and the next four articles in the series will walk through the design decisions that will need to be made to answer the questions above. At this point in the development of competency education, there is no best model. Districts and schools are making decisions based on a number of considerations, including the availability of technology to support student learning.

Establishing Overarching Competencies and Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements

What are the overall sets of skills, content, and traits you expect students to have upon graduation?

The initial work to determine the desired skills, content, and traits is done in partnership with community conversations. Later, districts facilitate conversations with their educators to further develop the goals for their students. Those districts that have fully engaged their communities often have shared purposes that are broader than the current policy of “college and career ready.” The focus tends to be more on lifelong learners and preparing students for life. Thus, the set of learning continuums—the expectations for what students will be able to know and do—is much more comprehensive than just academic disciplines.

Determining what a proficiency-based diploma means as opposed to one founded on time-based credits that have little meaning (and that require so many students to take remediation once they start college) is not an easy process. Is it a floor that everyone reaches and can go beyond? Is it a ceiling at which you have completed high school? Is there a point that it becomes personalized based on student goals? (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: The Perennial Homework Question

October 14, 2016 by

mathThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 29, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Just the other day a colleague sent me a note saying “please post about homework!” I can’t say I’m surprised, the homework question is one of the perennial questions in education; I even wrote about it last year. And like a stubborn weed, it spawns and shoots many other questions:

  • How much homework should students have?
  • Is homework for practice or learning?
  • Is it fair to assign homework that relies on internet access?
  • What is the purpose of homework?
  • How does homework count, if at all?
  • Does everyone have to do the same homework?

The truth is that despite all of the research compiling on the effectiveness of homework, the answer is a big thorny “depends.” Under the right conditions, homework can be a fantastic support for learners moving ahead and growing with their skills and knowledge. Under the wrong conditions, homework can actually be detrimental to learning. In a learner-centered proficiency-based culture, the homework weed can be even more noxious and thorny. We need to be considering the right conditions for every learner, every day.

If we step back and think about homework through the lens of personalized learning, we can come to some clarity around homework in our schools. Here are some questions to ask yourself about homework, and some resources to help you tame this weed. (more…)

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ESSA’s Opportunities to Rethink Accountability for Student-Centered Learning

October 12, 2016 by

ESSAThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on September 29, 2016. 

For the first time in decades, states have the opportunity to engage communities in redefining student success and reimagining the future of education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens up flexibility for states to design next generation accountability systems that support student learning. States now have a historic opportunity to rethink the purpose, role and design of their accountability systems, reframing them for continuous improvement of student learning toward new, more meaningful definitions of success through data-rich learning environments.

A New Definition of Student Success

State leaders should start by engaging and listening to diverse stakeholders from across the state, including teachers, students, parents, families, school leaders, community leaders, civil rights groups, philanthropic groups and business groups to chart a new vision for K-12 education. They should answer the question: “What do students need to be able to know and do to be successful beyond high school?”

In crafting a new state plan for ESSA, states can start by rethinking what success means for the whole child, for the future of their communities, for meaningful participation in the economy and in a global context.

Redefining student success—determining what we want students to know and be able to do upon graduating—should be the starting point for creating a coherent education system. Only after states build this broad consensus of what constitutes student success, should they determine what to measure for accountability.

Driving a new definition of success is crucial to developing coherent system improvements that are built around learning—including instructional shifts, systems of assessments, expanded pathways and better learning environments connected to communities and to the real world. Collaboration and community engagement needs to be sustained and ongoing rather than a one-time activity. (more…)

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Clarifying the Overall Pedagogical Approach

October 11, 2016 by

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

Some districts and schools may already have a strong pedagogical approach in place, while others may find they need to think more in-depth about motivation, engagement, instruction, assessment, and the role of grading. If there isn’t an explicit pedagogical approach in place, it should begin with a review of research and lead to the development of guiding principles about learning and teaching (as discussed in the section on shared purpose).

What are the research, beliefs, and assumptions that guide your pedagogical approach? Having a strong pedagogical approach isn’t the same as saying you want all teachers to teach in the same way. Instead, it is a set of general principles that help answer questions such as:

  • What do we know about the different ways to motivate and engage students?
  • Where does student agency fit in learning?
  • What role do habits of learning play, and how can they be developed in students?
  • What does the research tell us about effective instructional practices?
  • What are the types of assessment, and what role do they play in achievement?
  • What types of learning experiences are needed to help students reach graduation goals?
  • Given your current student population, their academic needs, and their life and learning experiences, how might this inform your school design or pedagogical approach?
  • What challenges and educational needs can online and blended learning help you address?
  • How do parents and the community at large think about these questions?

Lindsay Unified School District organizes beliefs and guiding principles to emphasize the growth of all learners, learning facilitators, and the overall culture of learning. (See their Guiding Beliefs.)

What is the role of the district in ensuring schools can offer a mix of instructional approaches and modalities? As you begin to think about the role and balance of direct instruction, practical application, group projects, project-and problem-based learning, independent learning, and real-life applications, you will find that school design and capacity issues begin to emerge, including those related to existing schedules, calendars, and partners for extended learning. This is the point where it may be worth spending the time to determine how blended and online learning can best support your students and teachers. Have you had difficulty serving some of your students? Are there some ways that blended and online education can help you strengthen the learning experience for them? (more…)

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Investing in Student Agency

October 10, 2016 by

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

After the ramping up efforts have been put into place, the next phase of implementation is to re-engineer the learning infrastructure. The traditional system is based on three elements: a) time (days per year, hours per day, the time-based credit, semesters, agrarian schedule, promotion based on age); b) focus on curriculum and instruction; and c) A–F grading based on assignments, assessments, homework, and behaviors. If this system has been producing low achievement and inequity, what type of infrastructure and operations can be put into place to produce learning consistently with all students?

The following steps in developing what will be referred to in this series as the Instruction and Assessment model (I&A model) are not necessarily done in a linear fashion. They actually require an iterative approach so alignment can be developed within the learning infrastructure. Whether you start from scratch or draw from other districts, you will find that the discussion takes you deep into the core of learning. You may also find that once you remove the infrastructure of the traditional system, the experience is like trying to “organize spaghetti,” as described by Ty Cesene from Bronx Arena. The options will feel infinite as you begin to question the pillars, customs, and operational procedures that hold the traditional system in place.

Most districts focus on the core changes needed to create a transparent, coherent system that empowers students and teachers. They want to focus the attention on what is needed to ensure learning and progress, knowing that parents and communities are comfortable with the traditional understanding of how schools operate, and that some of the traditional structures still have meaning in today’s world. For example, in many communities, the agrarian schedule is now a tourist schedule in which employers rely on teenagers to join the labor market in the summer. Although this sounds like an adult issue, work experience is also a valuable component of helping students become college and career ready. Because each operational or policy change requires substantial leadership attention from district and school leaders as well as teachers, most of the districts that have converted to competency education continue to operate within a relatively traditional schedule for the first several years. It is later that they begin to move beyond the trappings of the traditional system.

Before beginning to design the infrastructure that will support your instructional model, take the time to consider the supports, the implications for student agency, your district’s overall pedagogical approach, and how you plan to support teachers through the transition. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Moving to a Culture of Cooperation

October 7, 2016 by

paintThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on September 16, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

The other week I sat in on a new teacher meeting at one of the elementary schools here in RSU2. The group, which included teachers new and new-ish to teaching or the school as well as teachers further into their careers, discussed ideas from the Responsive Classroom book The First Six Weeks of School. One comment in particular stood out, and has been bouncing around in my head ever since. I’ve even mentioned it to other teachers and teams who are working through culture building.

“.. it struck me this year that even with all the work I do in my room around building culture, the students still tend to see it as an adult-pleasing thing. When I am there everything runs well, but I often get notes from subs that sound like a completely different class.”

I think this is super important for all of us to think about. How are we working to make sure the culture we are building in our classroom and teams is also part of a larger school-wide culture? I have some ideas: (more…)

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The Hidden Goal that XQ Winners Share: Relationships

October 5, 2016 by
screenshot-2016-10-05-09-03-52

Graphic from original post

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on September 28, 2016.

This month, U.S. high schools got a healthy dose of innovation investment—the XQ Super School project announced 10 winners, each of which will receive $10 million to support their efforts to reinvent high school. Although the winners are pursuing a pretty dazzling array of approaches, all 10 are exploring ways to personalize high school in an effort to crack open the monolithic model of cohort and age-based instruction that undergirds traditional school.

But across their diverse models, there’s another common, if not subtler, effort afoot: to invest in students’ relationships and networks. As Eric Tucker, head of the winning Brooklyn Lab, said, “What we’re committed to doing is making sure that the school is the connector.” And as a school leader at another winner, Washington Leadership Academy (WLA), noted, relationships rank among the school’s top four values: “Building strong relationships between, staff, students, families, and our local and global community is core to our work at WLA.”

There’s a powerful message underlying this commitment: If high schools are going to step up to the 21st century and level the playing field of opportunity, then they can’t focus on students’ human capital alone; they have to invest in students’ social capital as well. Human capital refers to what people can do—their skills and dispositions—that they can, in turn, convert into labor market returns down the line. Social capital, on the other hand, refers to the reservoir of relationships that people can bank on for supports or opportunities. Social capital is not singular in its benefits. As MIT Professor and Ford Foundation Vice President Xavier de Souza Briggs aptly put it, “Individuals of all backgrounds need a two-sided treasure chest of social capital: access to social support that helps us cope with life’s stresses and challenges (‘get by’) and access to social leverage, the key to mobility or ‘getting ahead.’” In other words, people—especially young people—need relationships that provide critical care, supports and encouragement. They also need relationships that can connect them to new opportunities—like jobs, ideas and learning experiences—that are otherwise beyond their reach. (more…)

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