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’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

March 31, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicNews

  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded a $2.5 Million grant to Lindsay Unified School District and Summit Public Schools, called the California Consortium for Development and Dissemination of Personalized Learning (C2D2). By June 2019, they will develop an open source tool to clearly define personalized learning competencies for various personnel in the learning community. The tool will also identify systemic barriers that stand in the way of mastering these competencies and provide resources that support continuous improvement and development for the adults in learner-centered education.
  • Harvard’s Project Zero is studying how to teach for understanding and have found that when students have structures for thinking, better learning emerges.

Micro-Credentials for Teacher PD

Equity

School Designs

  • Red Bank Elementary, profiled by Education Reimagined here, is a leader in education transformation, designed around personalized, relevant, and contextualized pathways for each learner.
  • This USA Today article highlights how one Brooklyn school, Brooklyn Lab, is changing how students and teachers are taught. Brooklyn Lab is one of 10 to receive $10 million from the XQ: The Super School Project.
  • Washington’s Federal Way school board approved the use of a competency-based model for two alternative schools.

Student Agency & Voice

State Policy Updates

(more…)

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A Journey of Discovery at Broadway Elementary

March 30, 2017 by

Bingham with shared vision artifacts

This article is the fifteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

“When I haven’t done it myself, I call on Bil P.” That’s Scot Bingham, principal of Broadway Elementary in District 51, describing how tightly he works with the professional learning facilitator assigned to his school. Broadway Elementary is a small school with 240 students and seventeen certified staff members. The strength of this size is that decisions can be made together. The weakness is that it is very difficult to free up collaborative staff time. So Bingham seeks opportunities to support learning whenever the opportunity comes up.

As a demonstration school, Bingham and second grade teacher Shannon Morlan were part of the third wave of visitors to Lindsay Unified. (See Building Consensus for Change.) Bingham reflected on how the visit to Lindsay has influenced him, “Broadway Elementary is considered a good school, but I knew we could do better. After Lindsay, I understood how we could do it. What resonated with the teachers during the visit was that students are highly engaged in a performance-based learning school. We didn’t see students sitting in class not understanding, or bored because they already understood.” One hundred percent of the staff at Broadway agreed to go forward and become a demonstration school.

In our conversation, Bingham generously reflected on what he has been learning in this intense year of strengthening culture and climate, introducing effective practices, and beginning to build transparency. Here are a few of the highlights. (more…)

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Getting Results in Personalized Learning

March 29, 2017 by

Denver Public Schools has released Personalized Learning: A Journey through Year One, one of the more interesting reports on personalized learning that I’ve seen. Although DPS’s efforts to introduce personalized learning into their schools has not required a competency-based structure, at least one of the three schools – Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (page 13) – has important elements of competency education in place.

The first thing to know is that DPS defined personalized learning as “a holistic approach to learning, teaching and school design” to support “the unique needs of diverse students and develop students’ personal agency so that every student succeeds.” DPS focuses on four personalized learning outcomes: student agency, social emotional engagement, 21st century skills, and academic outcomes. It is important to note that they have placed student agency deeply in the core of their approach. It is equally important to note that they did not start with technology as the driver for personalization. They started with approaching children holistically as the driver.

The research (turn to page 52 of the pdf report, where you an find the early evidence, findings, and implications) is organized around two sets of questions: one on impact and one establishing baseline data on conditions for implementation including school climate, teacher beliefs, and correlations with student academic success. I am so impressed with the richness of the analysis shared in this report, as it opens doors for an inquiry-based approach to improving our schools.

Here are a few examples: (more…)

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Starting Over with Personalized Learning

March 28, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on February 24, 2017. It is the first in a three-part series on “Readiness for All.”

In his book The End of Average, Todd Rose describes how a faulty belief in the idea of an average student has led to the design of one-size-fits-all systems Rose states that “there can never be equal opportunity on average. Only equal fit creates equal opportunity.”

This is the premise of personalized learning—designing systems flexible and responsive enough to both address students’ needs as well as build on their strengths and interests, thus recognizing what every parent and teacher has always known—that every child is different.

Our hope is that personalized learning may present the opportunity to flip the traditional model upside down. Or better yet, put it right side up. Rather than trying to retrofit a new design with accommodations and modifications, does a personalized learning model provide us the long desired opportunity to start with a Universal Design for Learning?

The rapidly growing interest in personalized learning leads us to believe that we may be finally reaching a tipping point. The Foundation for Excellence in Education is working with state leaders to create the policy environments that will allow innovative models to thrive and the National Center for Learning Disabilities is deeply engaged in the critical work of ensuring that students with special needs are also able to benefit from these new models. (more…)

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Webinar on Introduction to Competency-Based Education April 27th

March 27, 2017 by

What is competency-based education? To understand, we need to start with this question: If we are going to replace the traditional time-based system designed to sort students into one that reliably makes sure students are learning, what are we going to replace it with? That’s what competency-based education is all about – creating a new structure for the education system.

Although 100 innovators created the working definition six years ago at the first national summit on competency-based education to provide early guidance (we called it a working definition because we knew we would learn and need to refine it), that hasn’t stopped the term being used as a description of a type of instruction (an earlier version called mastery-based learning was in fact a classroom model) or synonymous with online learning. The result is that there is a lot of confusion even among those that have included competency-based progressions within their initiatives.

To try to help calm some of this confusion, CompetencyWorks and iNACOL are hosting an introductory webinar on competency-based education on Thursday, April 27, 2017 from 3:00-4:00 pm ET. Susan Patrick and I will provide an overview of K-12 competency-based education for leaders and teachers, explore the definition of competency education, explain why schools and districts are making this transition, and describe how this system more effectively prepares students for post-secondary success. Register here.

If you have been involved in competency-based education, we would love to have you join us. As you know, there are always two conversations happening in our webinars – one audio/visual and one in the chat room. We are on a rapid learning trajectory and it would be great to hear from those at the cutting edge in trying to answer the question, What is Competency-Based Education?

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The Teacher Association Perspective on Performance-Based Learning

by

Heather O’Brien

This article is the fourteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Heather O’Brien started at D51 as a student and has now entered her second year as President of Mesa Valley Education Association. She is aware of the demands of supporting MVEA in making the shift from a traditional union to professional association within a district going through a tremendous transformation. She is also humbled by these demands.

O’Brien explained that the educators at D51 value their professionalism and want to further expand upon it. “We use the language of association, not union,” she said. “We want to shift into a professional association. We don’t serve customers the same way other labor unions do. We have relationships with students and their families. Our focus and the focus of district leadership is on student success, not a bottom line of profit.” She explained that when educators think of themselves as teacher leaders, an association will provide more opportunity. She noted that the Colorado Education Association is also making this shift to a professional association.

On top of that, all 1,325 teachers in the district are beginning to learn about a new educational paradigm. “The most exciting part is that both P-BL and the changes at MVEA are about empowering teachers,” O’Brien said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our educators.”

She herself is very enthusiastic about this shift to performance-based learning. “This is a pedagogy and a philosophy I’ve been trying to create in my own classroom for the last ten years,” she said. “Performance-based learning is right for kids and it’s right for teachers. But you can’t do it alone. You have to have the full system, the gradebooks, and a collaborative effort among teachers. P-BL is what I’ve been searching for as a teacher.” At the same time, she’s also cautious about how others are approaching the change. “I’m a phoenix. I need change. I like to go in totally new directions. But other people don’t. So I need to pay attention to how other people are experiencing the process of introducing P-BL. I need to always be open to authentic concerns.” (more…)

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The Power of Grades

March 24, 2017 by

GradesThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on December 19, 2016. 

There are few fields where talk of equity is as ubiquitous as it is in education. For all of that, our system of education remains remarkable for its ability to continually reproduce inequitable outcomes along race, class, and gender lines. Up to now, efforts to foster equity in education can be grouped into two broad categories: reforms focused on the input of resources, or those focused on the output of achievement. While debates drag on around the input of funding and output of standardized test scores, what is focused on far less often is what happens inside the system.

Traditional grading deserves its own debate. Every day students interact with a structure of feedback that places their learning on an alphanumeric scale. At best, this feedback system is non-descriptive; at worst, it is one of the most fundamental pieces of a system that was designed to produce stratification. By its very nature, traditional alphanumeric grading aims to separate “strong” and “weak” students. Final grades are made up of an average of any number of learning tasks, attendance requirements, homework completion, and demonstration of learning on assessments. While each of these tasks may well have discrete and useful feedback, all of that information is aggregated into a non-descript label: A, B, C, D, F or 1-100. A grade of B can mean many things even within a single classroom, and so can an F. This lack of clarity grows exponentially between classrooms and more still between schools. While in some classes students are given A’s as a reward for sitting quietly, other classes demand that learning take place, and most demand a unique blend of both, none of this information is explicit in the end-of-course grade. Traditional grading fails to communicate to students what they know and don’t know, while conveying a false sense of objectivity provided by the use of numbers or letters to calibrate student performance.

Rather than providing accurate and complete feedback, grades label students as “good” or “bad” students. While every teacher knows the benefit of momentum — that knowledge builds on knowledge, and success builds on success — traditional grades halt this momentum, declaring learning on a certain task over, signaling the end of what is actually an iterative process. Imagine a student who has studied lots, worked hard, and is waiting eagerly for feedback on her most recent assessment. And then imagine she was wrong; she was unprepared (or the task was unclear, or the grading biased), and she receives a D. Her face falls; she is discouraged, maybe she folds into herself, maybe she withdraws from trying so hard again. This single label has changed her. When a child receives a low or failing grade, she internalizes the message that she is a failure, that she cannot learn. Students who experience repetitive failure are less likely to re-engage with material and eventually come to think of themselves as bad students who don’t deserve to do well. In this way, traditional grading and assessments can be traumatizing for struggling students, creating a learning identity that becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. (more…)

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R5 High School: Abuzz with Learning

March 23, 2017 by

This article is the thirteenth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

One of the reasons I believe D51 is going to be successful in implementing performance-based learning is that they already have a 100 percent strategy in place, with four alternative schools designed to make sure that every student, even those who left school and want to re-enroll, have options. It means they are putting resources toward serving 100 percent of the students. Even more so, they have demonstrated that all learners are valuable by co-locating two of the alternative schools, Summit and R5, in a brand new building (many district-run alternative schools I’ve visited have been in portable classrooms, old buildings, and very dingy basements).

D51 has thought strategically about the mix of high school programming that is needed. In addition to the four comprehensive high schools, there is Summit (a transitional program for students who do best with more support and structure); Valley High School (a small school model); the Career Center; and R5, an early stage performance-based high school designed for students who need flexibility and opportunity to advance more quickly than traditional course-based schedules will allow. R5 High School, which is based on Respect, Responsibility, Relevancy, Readiness, and Relationships, is the only high school of the seven demonstration schools in District 51.

Observation and Inquiry: Is having strong, comprehensive multiple pathways to graduation that ensure students can take a “leave of absence” and return to school at a later date to complete their diploma an indicator that districts are committed to helping all students reach proficiency? Will those districts that have expanded alternative schools to be better able to reach out and, when needed, re-engage 100 percent of their students (as opposed to maintaining a one-way door out of school) be better positioned to implement strong, continuous improvement efforts? Should we create formal leave of absence policies so that there are triggers about what this will mean regarding when students might graduate?

(more…)

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New Zealand Leads the Way on Competency-Based Learning — Part 2

March 22, 2017 by

New Zealand 2This post originally appeared at iNACOL on January 11, 2017. Read Part 1 here

In 2016, I was invited as an Eisenhower Fellow to the 2016 Colloquium on Competency-Based Learning and Assessment (CBLA) in New Zealand. This Colloquium explored competency-based learning and assessment systems and their impact on equity. Attendees built consensus and exchanged ideas on global education systems transformation and educational innovation for equity.

In part one of this series, I highlighted New Zealand’s educational research underpinnings, their move toward equity, how their cultural roots play a role and how a standards-based system is probably best suited to assessment for learning in real time.

Here are other takeaways from various leading New Zealand experts and thought leaders in CBLA and teacher judgment.

(K)new Approaches to Teaching and Learning

  • Mastery is levels of competency demonstrated over time.
  •  Teaching and learning focus:
    • Whanaungatanga (attaining and maintaining relationships) as a concept is a customary Māori practice enabling kin to strengthen relationships and ties between one another and entrench responsibilities as whānau (family). This is about building relationships for teaching and learning.
    • Ako – learner agency in teaching and learning practices;
    • Aro – reflective practices (including assessment, reflection and review).
  • Recognizing cultural differences in approaches to philosophy and backgrounds is important.
  • Activities for reflection include formative assessment and capturing evidence in an authentic way.
  • When we think about setting standards, we think about this is in a Māori.
  • Progressions and proficiency have evidence and judgment statements with the standards-setting bodies related to qualifications.

(more…)

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