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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Harvard and Wellesley and Tufts, Oh My! (And Did I Mention MIT and Babson?)

July 11, 2016 by

College LogosI didn’t think I’d ever see the elites take a stance regarding proficiency-based learning. Thanks to the leadership of New England Secondary School Consortium, sixty-seven colleges and universities in New England have “provided statements and letters articulating their support for proficiency-based learning and stating – unequivocally – that students with proficiency-based grades and transcripts will not be disadvantaged in any way.”

Check out the NESCC website – you can find the list of institutions of higher education within each state and link to their signed letter with their pledge that students with proficiency-based transcripts will not be disadvantaged in any way.

NESSC highlighted some of the themes that came out in the conversations with the colleges and universities:

  1. Admissions offices receive a huge variety of transcripts, including transcripts from international schools, home-schooled students, and a wide variety of alternative educational institutions and programs that do not have traditional academic programs, grading practices, or transcripts.
  2. Students with non-traditional transcripts – including “proficiency-based” or “competency-based” transcripts – will not be disadvantaged in any way during the admissions process. Colleges and universities simply do not discriminate against students based on the academic program and policies of the sending school, as long as those program and policies are accurately presented and clearly described.
  3. As long as the school profile is comprehensive and understandable, and it clearly explains the rigor of the academic program, the technicalities of the school’s assessment and grading system, and the characteristics of the graduating class, the admissions office will be able to understand the transcript and properly evaluate the strength of a student’s academic record and accomplishments. In short, schools use so many different systems for grading, ranking, and tracking students that a school’s system can only be properly understood when a transcript is accompanied by a comprehensive school profile. A class rank or GPA, for example, doesn’t mean much unless the admissions office also has the “key” (i.e., the school profile) that it needs to understand the applicant’s academic accomplishments and abilities in context.
  4. All the colleges and universities we spoke with strongly support public schools that are working to improve student preparation for postsecondary learning and success, including instructional strategies that equip students with the essential knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits they need to thrive and persist in a collegiate academic program and earn a degree.

(more…)

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Will Eliminating the “F” Eliminate Bad School Design?

July 9, 2016 by

F GradeThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on July 6, 2016.

The dreaded “F” is going out of vogue in schools. This week’s Washington Post article, “Is it becoming too hard to fail?”, chronicled a host of K–12 school systems that are moving away from the age-old tradition of failing students whose work doesn’t cut it, in hopes of keeping students motivated and on the road toward graduation.

The article, however, does not answer the most important question that these new policies must consider: by eliminating the “F,” are students in turn less likely to fail?

There is an obvious tautology to this question. The answer depends on how we measure failure, if not by letter grades. The reality is that in our current system some students may not master a semester’s worth of Algebra or social studies in the time allotted before a final exam determines their grades. Simply eliminating bad grades does not minimize that fact. Commentators like Mike Petrilli are right to point out the risk, then, that making it impossible to fail reeks of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

But skeptics of eliminating failing grades must likewise acknowledge that our current grading system perpetuates school designs that are already failing to ensure students’ long-term success. Indeed, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, just 37 percent of high school seniors are prepared for college-level math and reading. These low levels of performance are disappointing but not surprising if we pause to think about the fundamental structure of our K–12 education system. By design, we move students forward grade by grade based largely on the amount of instructional hours they have spent in class—dubbed “seat time”—rather than their mastery of academic skills and content. This structure permeates even week-by-week instructional methods: as schools rush to cover the bevy of standards on state tests each spring, and as teachers instruct students spanning a wide range of mastery levels, classes tend to move forward to new course material regardless of whether students have proven that they understand the concepts covered in the days and weeks prior. (more…)

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When Tears Don’t Stop Flowing

July 8, 2016 by

I can’t stop crying this morning.IMG_0073

For the Dallas police officers who were killed and their families. For Philandro Castile and his family. For Alton Sterling and his family. And for all the police who live in more fear today and for African-Americans who live in fear every day that they or someone they love could land in jail or worse be killed by someone who has made an oath to protect them.

I don’t know what to do to stop this slippery slope into violence, fear, and anger that is tearing at our country. And I don’t know what to do to scrape out the racism that is in every nook and cranny of our society. But I can talk about what we at CompetencyWorks are trying to do in our small piece of the puzzle.

Get the Values Right: The more Susan Patrick, co-founder of CompetencyWorks and President/CEO of iNACOL, and I talk about competency education, the more we understand that the traditional system is based on sorting students and that the fixed mindset can also be a racist mindset. We have heard comments along the way that make us realize it isn’t just that some students can’t learn as well as others. There are those who believe that some students shouldn’t learn as much as others as it reshapes the educational and economic playing field.

We’ve been talking to educators across the country to try to deeply understand the culture and values that are needed to make competency education effective and to ensure that personalized learning will result in greater equity. In mostly white communities we hear discussions about the growth mindset, transparency, empowerment, and responsiveness to students. In communities with rich racial diversity, there are others values. At Merit Prep, we heard about safety and making sure students feel valued. In New York City, there is discussion about cultural responsiveness and making sure students feel respected. These values are important because the lives of African-Americans, Hispanics & Latinos, Asian-Americans, and new immigrants are tremendously different based on the color of their skin, their language, or their clothes.

Now, we really do need to think about this – the color of skin is no different than the color of your eyes, the shape of your nose, or the length of your toes in terms of who each of us are as a human being. But in our America, we have made the color of skin the thing that shapes our lives and our identities. Whites who haven’t schooled themselves in white privilege might not understand how much being white shapes their identities and their lives. But deep inside they worry – maybe I haven’t deserved everything I’ve gotten. And therein lies some of the fear.

A few days ago, in a conversation with Susan about how to strengthen the list of values we raise as conditions for competency-based education, I raised the question of whether it was better to describe the value as “cultural responsiveness” or “students feel safe, respected, and valued.” Her reply? Both. We need both. I agree. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of ridding our schools of patterns of institutional racism and ourselves of bias.

Thus, here is our updated list of values needed in a competency-based system: (more…)

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Student Ownership of Non-Curricular Cognitive Competencies

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WSP BlogThis is the fourth and final article in a series specific to the developing understanding of skills and dispositions of educators working with students in a competency-based educational system. There has been increased recognition nationally of the importance of skills and dispositions and how these are intertwined within the overall growth and College and Career Readiness of learners. The skills and dispositions are referred to in a number of ways (Non-cognitive skills, Habits of Learners, Work Habits, General Learning Outcomes, “soft skills,” etc.). Our school has been delving into skills and dispositions for the past few years, but we have found that there are limited resources to support our work, and at times, this has caused frustration. We were very excited about the opportunity to work with the recently released Essential Skills and Dispositions Frameworks (Lench, S., Fukuda, E., & Anderson, R. (2015)) this upcoming school year to support our continued learning in this area. For the purposes of this series of articles, we will be using the term the State of New Hampshire recognizes, Work Study Practices for skills and dispositions. Locally, we have aligned the Responsive Classroom’s CARES to our State of New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices, which are referenced in this series of articles.

The previous articles in this series may be accessed below:

Article 1: Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions.

Article 2: Collecting a Body of Evidence.

Article 3: Classroom Instruction of Skills and Dispositions

Memorial School is a Pre-K to Grade 5 elementary school in southeastern New Hampshire, part of the Sanborn Regional School District. As we have made our transition to a competency-based educational model, our recognition of the importance of skills and dispositions has evolved significantly. This evolution in understanding has progressed from our very early days in our journey when we realized that academics and academic behaviors MUST be separated. Today, our teachers recognize the importance of providing time for students to reflect on their own strengths as well as areas for growth within these skills and dispositions. And our growth will continue to evolve, as teachers have begun developing lessons and opportunities for learning for students within their classrooms within these important competencies.

Walking through the classrooms of our teachers this year, there was a palpable difference, but I could not put my finger on precisely what it was until delving deeper into the metacognitive aspect of the Essential Skills and Dispositions frameworks. I realized that it was the students’ self-awareness, their understanding of themselves as learners, that was making a difference in how they approached learning. It truly was reflective of a more learner-centered and personalized approach, and was a powerful catalyst for many of our students.

The insight of two of our teachers below outlines their work with their students specific to developing greater awareness, understanding, and ownership of these invaluable competencies within not only their classrooms but outside of their classrooms and in the greater world itself. Their reflections provide a glimpse into the world of both a first grade classroom and a fifth grade classroom, and describe how students’ increased self-awareness and understanding of how CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-regulation) translate not only within their classroom, but throughout their day as students, friends, and members of their family and greater community. (more…)

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Insights from the RTT-D Personalized Learning Summit

July 7, 2016 by

district reform support networkI had the chance to participate in the Race to the Top District Personalized Learning Summit sponsored by the US Department of Education last week. I learned so much and am quite honestly still processing all the conversations. However, given that we are wrapping up the equity series, I think it is important to share these insights about creating a more equitable system right now.

#1 Suburbanization of Poverty

If you have had a chance to visit NYC, San Francisco, Portland, OR, Denver, Boulder, or any other city with a strong economic base recently, the changes are absolutely visceral – more affluent people are moving into the city center, rents are skyrocketing, and the folks who work the restaurants, clean the apartments, and drive the cabs are all living an hour or more away from their work. Although this does not bode well for our country (one can’t wonder if we are going to look like South Africa with cities and townships one day if we don’t do something about this trend), there is a significant opportunity for competency-based education. The suburbanization of poverty means that there are going to be more and more medium- and small-sized districts looking for help to respond to a changing demographic, just as Adams 50 did seven years ago. However, we need to understand what needs to be in place to ensure that a competency-based district is going to generate more equity. We need to do that now.

#2 Moving Resources to Students Who Need the Most Help

One of the speakers said, “Once you start to individualize, every kids looks underserved.” Initially, I thought it was just a profound insight into personalization and all the ways we can personalize education so students are always operating in their zone and reaching their potential. As I thought about it more, however, I realized that a student’s potential isn’t a finite thing, as there are so many things to learn, so many things to know, and so many things to explore. So if every student is going to have unmet needs, how are we going to ensure that the disadvantaged students – those from low-income families, who have significant learning challenges (disabilities or language), or who have experienced bumpy lives that move them from school to school – are going to really get the help they need?

We know that the likely pattern will be to serve the students considered “at the top” first. Given that resources are more finite as compared to the potential of students, choices will have to be made. We need to figure out metrics, processes, and analytical tools to make sure that resources get to the students who have gaps in pre-requisite skills. For example, every educator I’ve spoken with about this topic says that given current practices, a growth rate of 1.25 is reasonable to expect for most students. That means for every four years (unless you start to use the summer time, as well), students can expect to gain a grade level. Thus, we should be providing adequate resources to make sure this is happening for students who enter below grade level as a minimum expectation. Our challenge is to see if we can do better than that as a common practice. (more…)

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Department of Education Proposes New Rules for ESSA’s Innovative Assessment Pilot

July 6, 2016 by

essaThis post also appeared at iNACOL

This morning, the US Department of Education (ED) released proposed draft rules for state assessments as part of the continuing implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The December 2015 law allows states the flexibility to redesign their systems of assessments around student-centered learning.

In announcing the draft regulations, Secretary of Education John King said, “Our proposed regulations build on President [Barack] Obama’s plan to strike a balance around testing, providing additional support for states and districts to develop and use better, less burdensome assessments that give a more well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing, while providing parents, teachers, and communities with critical information about students’ learning.”

When the law goes into effect, all states will be able to measure individual student growth, combine interim assessments to produce summative scores, and use adaptive assessments. ESSA also includes an Innovative Assessment Pilot that will allow up to seven states (initially) to pilot innovative systems of assessments with a subset of districts, or to provide local flexibility around the items and tasks they can use from the state system. The draft rules address both the general provisions on assessment and the pilot. (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

July 5, 2016 by

What's NewJobs for the Future recently announced 9 new Students at the Center Distinguished Fellows. These are leaders in policy, practice and research from the New England area, each carefully selected for their vision, contributions and impact in student-centered learning:

  • Arthur Eduardo Baraf, Principal, Liberty Building, Metropolitan Regional Career & Technical Center (THE MET)
  • Dana L. Mitra, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Pennsylvania State University Department of Education Policy Studies
  • Frank Labanca, teacher, educational researcher and change agent, Westside Middle School Magnet Academy, Danbury Public Schools
  • Jennifer Fredricks, Professor, Connecticut College, Department of Human Development
  • Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)
  • Kim Carter, Founder and Executive Director, Q.E.D. Foundation
  • Lori Batista McEwen, Outgoing Chief of Instruction, Leadership, and Equity, Providence Public School Department
  • Mary Bellavance, Instructional Coach, Biddeford Middle School
  • Michelle L. Puhlick, Executive Director of Planning & Partnerships, Hartford Public Schools

The Students at the Center Distinguished Fellows become core members of the newly formed Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative, a bold new effort to investigate and evaluate what we know about student-centered learning and affect meaningful change at scale.

Upcoming CompetencyWorks Webinar: CompetencyWorks and iNACOL are co-hosting an upcoming webinar: A Reflection on the Field of Competency Education and Emerging Issues. This webinar is free to attend—please register here for login details.

Advancements in New England

(more…)

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June CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

July 1, 2016 by

From Compliance to Continuous Improvement: Accountability, Assessments and Next Generation Workforce with ESSA

June 30, 2016 by

KidsThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on June 7, 2016.

There is an incredible window of opportunity for state policymakers with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). States now have the flexibility to engage in conversations with local communities to reimagine the future of education and redefine what student success looks like.  What do we want our students to know and be able to do in the 21st century? How can we rethink preparation programs to ensure our educators have the skills and competencies for next generation learning models?

How do we create policy alignment and support for student-centered learning? Student-centered, personalized learning requires assessments for learning that are meaningful to students and educators alike in providing real-time feedback on a student’s progress toward mastery of learning goals.  Educators assess evidence of student work for demonstrating knowledge, skills and competency is key to competency-based pathways.  Summative assessments now can be broken into smaller units and offered as interim assessments to validate student learning and provide a quality control.  Combinations of performance assessments, computer adaptive testing, formative assessment and these interim assessments will help frame new systems of assessments to support building capacity in sync with educators’ and students’ needs.

With ESSA passage, states and localities are rethinking how accountability can ensure quality, equity and excellence — and examining how systems of assessments will support continuous improvement.  This includes a new role of states for building capacity and creating space for innovation through more student-centered aligned accountability with multiple measures and exploring new designs for certification and licensure through different models of teacher prep (such as with stacked micro-credentials) to equip the next generation of educators. (more…)

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