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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Charleston: A Conversation with Teachers at Goodwin Elementary School

April 25, 2016 by

GoodwinThis is the fifth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall High, Goodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary.

Goodwin Elementary School is located in North Charleston, SC. 93 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 70 percent are African-American and 25 percent are Hispanic. Goodwin serves students in child development (CD) through 5th grade. A big thank you to teachers Michelle Mazell, Kelly Vossler, and Shannon Feit for letting me visit their classrooms, and Jessica Lucas, Personalized Learning Coach, for sharing insights into Personalized Learning.

First Steps toward Personalized, Competency Education

Goodwin Elementary was the birthplace of Personalized Learning in Charleston County School District (CCSD). They began their journey during the 2012-2013 school year when a cohort of 12 teachers began exploring best practices for integrating 1:1 iPads as a tool for teaching and learning. “We read everything we could find about personalization and competency-based education,” said Lucas who was then a teacher at Goodwin. “We thought we were researching blended learning but quickly realized Personalized Learning was so much more.” Three months later, the District was awarded one of 16 Race to the Top District grants. The vision for Personalizing Learning across CCSD began to take shape shortly after.

A Conversation with Elementary School Teachers

I began my conversation with Ms. Mazell, Ms. Vossler, and Ms. Feit by asking them what lessons they had learned in their journeys to implement Personalized Learning. Ms. Mazell immediately jumped in, “I was a control freak. I had to learn to let go, and it was really hard for me. I couldn’t imagine that an elementary classroom could run so smoothly without the teacher controlling every minute of the day. However, once I observed a Personalized Learning classroom, I was totally convinced this was what was best for kids. The students are much more interested when they have ownership. I don’t have to worry anymore about the student who is totally disengaged. All students own their learning and they hold themselves and each other accountable for their behavior and mastery of standards.” (more…)

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The EdLeader Reading List for the Shift to Competency Education

April 23, 2016 by

BooksThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on April 4, 2016. 

Competency education is taking root in districts and schools across the United States and around the world. Teachers and leaders are cultivating and sustaining this grassroots effort to redesign education around student success. These innovators are doing incredible work to advance powerful, personalized learning experiences for their students, arming them with the skills they need to succeed in today’s global marketplace. The transformation toward competency education is educator-led and requires strong, committed leaders who are dedicated to doing what’s best for students, as well as a deep understanding of how competency education fundamentally redesigns the education system to empower teachers and place student learning at the center.

Do you want to learn more about leading the shift toward  competency education? The resources below will inform and inspire. There are resources to get you started, to guide conversations with your colleagues and communities and to support your implementation of personalized, competency education.

Recommended Reading for Understanding Competency Education

The concept behind competency education is simple: learning is best measured by mastery of content, not by the amount of time spent in a classroom. For a more comprehensive reading list on competency education, see the list from CompetencyWorks. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Going Back to the Targets

April 22, 2016 by

TargetThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 28, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the first things people share with me since coming to RSU2 in September is a frustration with learning targets. This is something I hear in every school, in every grade level, and in every content area. It isn’t that people don’t understand the point of them, quite the contrary. It is that people understand the point of them so well that they now see the need to improve them. Here are the most common points I hear:

  1. The progressions of targets don’t always make sense.
  2. The target itself is really hard to understand.
  3. Foundational pieces are missing.
  4. There is a lack of consistency around how the target is interpreted.
  5. It isn’t always clear how to “exceed” on a target.

Most of the Measurement Topics and Targets we are using were drafted and adopted about six years ago when the district first switched to a proficiency-based system. It was a classic Voltaire moment, not letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Or, if you prefer sports, a Nike “Just Do it” moment.

Now, six years and a whole lot of growth later, we are realizing just how “not perfect” those Measurement Topics and Targets are. In order to make them what we want them to be, we have to take a step back in our understanding of Targets and Measurement Topics. And it is extremely important that we do. Learning Targets and Measurement Topics make personalized learning possible.

Here in RSU 2, we use the following definitions and explanations: (more…)

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Proficiency-Based High School Diploma Systems in Maine

April 21, 2016 by

DiplomaI toured the state of Maine last fall to try to understand what was happening in districts, as the policy for a proficiency-based diploma challenged all districts to create more meaning than time-based credits for graduation and figure out how to get all students to be able to cross the finish line. (Maine’s policy essentially made high school a four year clock that started ticking when students enter ninth grade.) You can find the overview of the Maine Road Trip here.

Last month, the Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) at the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research & Evaluation (CEPARE) at the University of Southern Maine released their fourth policy report Proficiency-based High School Diploma Systems in Maine based on six case studies. This stage of the research asked three questions:

  1. How do Maine public school and school district educators and administrators perceive the challenges and facilitators of implementing the state’s mandated proficiency-based diploma system as described in An Act To Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy?
  2. How do Maine public school and school district educators and administrators perceive the impacts of implementing the state’s mandated proficiency-based diploma system as described in An Act To Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy on management systems and structures, fiscal allocations, school climate, instruction, as well as curriculum and assessment?
  3. How are Maine public school districts defining proficiency and developing local PK-12 proficiency-based diploma policies?

For any state thinking about going in this direction as a high leverage policy strategy, it is well worth reading all the reports.

Here are a few highlights from the report by Erika Stump, Bernadette Doykos and Catherine Fallona. (more…)

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Charleston: A Conversation with Teachers at Stall High School

April 20, 2016 by

Shared VisionThis is the fourth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall High, Goodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary. 

Our first stop at Stall High School was to visit with Hannah Studemeyer, a Personalized Learning Coach. On the wall was the Progression of Implementation, the district roadmap for implementing competency-based, personalized learning. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning, explained the Progression is important because it provides alignment and transparency with the transition to a competency based personalized learning system. For each step in the Progression, Charleston has developed a training module and a proficiency scale that provides the practical direction needed for implementation. Each school then creates a plan specific to the needs of their student population, existing programs and digital resources, readiness of teachers, etc. No two schools implementing personalized learning look exactly the same.

ProgressofImplementationDr. Brittingham and Ms. Studemeyer noted an important first step in the journey is to develop a learner-centered climate and culture where students learn the skills they need to become self-directed learners, a necessary component for ensuring success with personalized learning. Stall’s schoolwide shared vision, “R. B. Stall will be an innovative learning community that inspires all to build a better future,” embraces this philosophy. Principal Kim Wilson and his leadership team are committed to seeing their vision become a reality by using it to guide all of their decision making. “Our school shared vision is the lens through which we make all our decisions, if something doesn’t fit into our vision to Inspire, Innovate & Learn, we don’t do it,” explained Wilson.

Each classroom has developed a social contract or shared vision, which is their class goal; a code of cooperation, which delineates actions needed to reach their goal; and standard operating procedures, which identify processes that allow students to become independent learners. These actions have fundamentally changed the learning environment at Stall High School, and have been an important first step in implementing personalized learning. (more…)

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Blast Off with the Assessment for Learning Grantees

April 19, 2016 by

AfLWith ESSA upon us, we are all hurrying to get our heads wrapped around what is possible in terms of how we think about ensuring that our districts and schools are meeting needs of children and what state policy might look like to create the conditions, systems of supports, and appropriate expectations to drive dynamic, active learning experiences for students while improving services to historically underserved populations of students. It’s a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.

One resource that hopefully will help us along the way is the Assessment for Learning project developed by Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) at the University of Kentucky in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) at EDUCAUSE. The AfL project has been designed to explore:

  • How can assessment support a broader definition of student success?
  • What assessment practices most effectively empower students to own and advance their learning?
  • How can we most effectively build educator capacity to gather, interpret, and use evidence of student learning to enhance instruction?
  • How does assessment for learning inform broader contexts of accountability, policy, and system design?
  • How can we pursue equity through assessment for learning?

AfL has announced their twelve grantees, and I thought I’d bring to your attention a couple of the projects that are positioned well to help us understand what a personalized, competency-based system of assessments might look like. They are tackling issues such as grades (letter and age), habits of success, performance-based assessment, micro-credentialing, competency-based approaches to helping teachers learn about performance-based assessments, and student agency. We are about to lift off on a huge new wave of learning! (more…)

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Five Things for Big Districts to Think About

April 18, 2016 by

Purple FiveIt always happens. You finish a big report and then do a bit more research or have a few more conversations…and realize you didn’t get it quite right.

That’s what happened to me. I finished the report on Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders in June, and come November when I visited Lake County, Henry County, and Charleston County School Districts, I realized I would have organized that report somewhat differently if I’d had the opportunity to learn from bigger (these still aren’t the mega-districts) districts before I started writing.

Here’s the scoop – much of the first wave of districts making the transition to competency-based education have been small districts. They’ve been able to engage their communities at the district level. They often asked teachers to vote before they moved forward. It’s relatively easily to bring in the leadership from different schools to help co-design implementation. It’s been a powerful strategy for districts in communities without big employers, foundations, or intermediaries. But what about bigger districts? How do they think about getting going and scaling strategies?

Below are a few thoughts developed from talking with the incredible group of leaders from Lake, Henry, and Charleston Counties. I’m still learning, so my thinking is likely to continue to develop about how big districts can move forward toward personalized, competency-based education.

1. School Autonomy

In the same way we encourage schools to have developed PLCs before they get started, districts should evaluate how well they are doing in terms of enabling school autonomy. Is it okay for schools to try different strategies? How about if some move faster forward than others – are you going to hold them back? Can schools hire their own teachers? Create their own staffing patterns? Manage their own budgets and use resources as they see fit to meet student needs? Can schools design their own community engagement strategies?

Certainly, you do not want to make all the schools implement at the exact same pace – that’s the old way of doing business. And you certainly do not want to hold back schools that are ready and able to make the transition. Also the rationale and entry points may be different. Kathleen Halbig from Lake County explained to me that it is important to have community engagement at the individual school level because communities have different histories, different narratives, different concerns, and different appreciation about competency education.

2. Tight and Loose

Districts big and small will need to know what they want to hold tight and what is loose for schools to determine on their own. But do we know exactly what should be tightly held in a CBE district? Here are some starting thoughts. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Connecting Learning Targets

April 15, 2016 by

MosaicThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 10, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

When we stop thinking about measurement topics and learning targets as isolated boxes, learning becomes much more exciting. Think of targets as mosaic tiles. Think of measurement topics as mosaic tiles of the same color. In a mosaic, there are a variety of tiles and colors working together to make a work of art. We need to do that with our learning targets.

Start by laying out all the targets you typically teach in a year. Take inventory of the mosaic tiles you have to work with. Which ones seem to go together well? Are there any that make an unexpected collection? Just as certain tile colors and shapes compliment one another, different targets can work together in different ways. And just as mosaics incorporate multiple tiles of the same color, engaging learning experiences hold room for multiple targets from the a measurement topic progression. This allows more multiple entry points to the learning experience. Another way to think of this is that it allows students to work at their readiness level while still engaging in the social processing of learning with their peers.

So let’s step out of our mosaic analogy for a moment and see what this could look like. Below are some targets that one might see in the 5th grade:

  • Is skilled at writing narratives that tell the story of an important moment by developing the characters, plot, and setting
  • Is skilled at writing informational pieces that teach about a topic using a variety of information
  • Understands the factors that are used to predict weather
  • Understands purposes and uses of thematic maps
  • Understands the physical features that are common and unique to various parts of the world
  • Is skilled at exploring and inventing art-making techniques and approaches
  • Understands the influence of various nutrients on personal health

(more…)

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Charleston: Personalized Learning at Pepperhill Elementary

April 14, 2016 by
Kayela Clark

Kayela Clark, PL Coach

This is the third post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework and the second on implementation strategies.

I have had a strong PBIS program, we have implemented rigor and relevance…but nothing has changed my school like Personalized Learning; it is like night and day. There is intrinsic motivation for learning now. It is not just ‘because the teacher told me to.’ Now everything has to do with learning.

– Principal Tanya Underwood

Seven hundred students attend Pepperhill Elementary: 90 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, 30 percent are categorized as ESL, and nearly all are African American or Hispanic. With the introduction of personalized learning, disciplinary problems are going down and MAP scores are going up in all grade levels. Thanks to Principal Tanya Underwood, Personalized Learning coach Kayela Clark, and teachers Ashley Austin, Debbie Weathers, and Hannah Ataffi for introducing me to personalized learning at Pepperhill.

A Conversation with Pepperhill Teachers

The Personalized Learning Department at CCSD has created proficiency scales to guide teachers’ professional development. There are proficiency scales for data driven instruction, creating and using proficiency scales, and self-directed learning. Ms. Clark explained that as teachers become exposed to the new practice, they rate themselves and set their next goal. “We have teachers create their own data binders. It helps them understand how students own their data and to engage students more strategically during conversations about their learning.”

Ms. Clark explained that an important strategy she uses when she coaches a teacher is modeling Personalized Learning strategies. She described that when she is coaching teachers, she wants to make sure they feel safe and comfortable. She also emphasized that there needs to be time for individual coaching as well as collaborative learning with others. I could also tell, by the goofy pictures on the wall that are used by teachers to indicate their growth, that fun was part of the equation as well.

The district has also created iTunesU courses for each of the PL practices, which teachers can use to learn online at their own pace. Courses available to teachers include Introduction to Personalized Learning, Shared Vision, Code of Cooperation, Standard Operating Procedures, Goal Setting, Student Conferencing and Ownership, Unpacking Standards, Marzano’s Nine Instructional Strategies, Aligning Assessments with Rigor, Proficiency Scales, Differentiating Instruction, Project-Based Learning, Challenge-Based Learning, and Technology Integration. (more…)

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