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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Nellie Mae Education Foundation Statement on ESSA

December 19, 2015 by

Nellie MaeThis statement was released by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation on December 11, 2015.

President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act(ESSA) into law yesterday. This response to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – the 2002 rendition of the historic Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which first passed in the civil rights-rich 60’s, was long overdue. Our experience with NCLB made it clear that a rewrite was needed based on what we have learned about the limits of an approach to school improvement driven by high standards, measured by narrow assessments and provoked by mostly uninteresting, remedial consequences.

From our perspective at The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the new law holds great promise for advancing public education, as one of its explicit aims is to grow, spread and improve innovative, evidence-based, student-centered approaches to learning – where learning is personalized, competency-based, dependent on strong student ownership, and not limited to traditional classrooms or classrooms at all. This is good news.

We also believe that there are aspects of this new direction that demand vigilant attention. As we open up opportunities for creativity in terms of educational design, we must make sure that we organize for universal attainment of deeper learning outcomes and do not unintentionally leave more learners behind in the process.

If our nation is going to advance, we must be sure that creative learning designs are effective ones, including in our poorest communities. We must ensure that we are elevating the learning and readiness of graduates of all colors in all zip codes to combat the growing economic inequalities that are so pervasive across our country. While the move to state-owned responsibility and district-based accountability may be the way forward, as advocates of equity it leaves us uneasy, even as it replaces the untenable approaches to securing equity in NCLB.

ESSA mandates a big shift toward balancing shared responsibility, as the law moves significant decision-making about responses to low performance to the district level guided by state authority. However, the distribution of authority to the local level will demand capacity-building so that local communities can meet those responsibilities. Today most districts do not have the capacity to do so, as so much energy has been directed to a compliance-based framework. This is an issue any advocates of dramatic, equitable change and improvement will care about. It is one thing to open up opportunity. It is another to be able to fully, expertly and responsibly take advantage of the opportunity. Wealthy districts may be able to meet the challenge even if they do not need to, while those who must cannot without support.

On the positive side for student-centered learning advocates, the law includes opportunities for more states to follow the lead of what many in New England have been pursuing for years – personalized, competency-based approaches. It also allows for research supported approaches. This is no accident. One can see echoes of good, innovative work from Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and particularly New Hampshire in many passages of ESSA. New England should be proud. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Learners in the Center

December 18, 2015 by

DartboardThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 10, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

The goal of learner-centered education is to create the conditions so that students can be self-motivated to engage in learning. When we rely too heavily on any of the other terms and ideas associated with the idea of putting students at the center of education, the intention behind an incredibly powerful philosophy of education gets watered down. Schools and classrooms can end up in a place where too much responsibility for directing and managing learning is left to the students, and people start wondering if learner-centered education is worth it.

Learner-centered education is challenging for all learning community members, in different ways. Some have to figure out how to take on different responsibilities. Some have to figure out how to let go of some control. Some have to figure out how to fail. Some have to figure out how to rely on others. The key is to focus on setting up a learning environment in which students can’t help but get engaged in learning, and in which they learn the skills and habits needed to take meaningful ownership of their learning.

Put learners at the center by making learning engaging. Connect groups of learning targets together with bigger topics, or broad essential questions. Challenge them to wrestle with problems and dilemmas that have no clear answer. Combine disciplines together in realistic ways. Incorporate group projects and challenges.

Put learners at the center by making learning visible. Provide ways for students to track their own progress. Teach them ways to do this on their own. Be honest with students about where they are in their learning, and let them know what they have to do to move forward. Make clear connections between learning experiences and learning targets. (more…)

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Over-Tested and Under-Prepared

December 17, 2015 by

Over-Tested and Under-PreparedIn December, Over-Tested and Under-Prepared: Using Competency Based Learning to Transform Our Schools by Bob Sornson will be released by Routledge. Bob has shared an excerpt of the book from the chapter on Personalized Learning and Competency.

A competency based learning system begins with the premise that we truly want each student to succeed. Rather than letting the pacing guide dictate the delivery of instruction, students move ahead toward crucial learning outcomes upon demonstrating the key learning milestones along the path to competency. Students will have as many learning opportunities as they need to develop these crucial skills, and each student is guaranteed to have the support needed to continue learning at their own pace as they progress toward crucial outcomes. (more…)

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Time to Tackle the Elephant

December 16, 2015 by

elephantWhy do we continue to teach students grade-level standards based on their age when their skills are actually two, three, or more academic levels lower?

In states and districts across the country, educators are frustrated and wondering why their students aren’t able to learn algebra as demonstrated on state accountability exams. There are conversations about redesigning the courses, more remediation, and even questions about whether the exams are too hard or the expectations too high. All of it assumes that algebra should be taught in a specific grade and that we will just keep teaching it to kids over and over again until they get it. What’s that saying about insanity – Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

Competency education suggests another solution: Ensure that students have all the pre-requisite knowledge and are able to engage in skills based on where they are, not where they should be. When we teach them in their “zone” of proximal development, it is personalized learning (or student-centered if you prefer that language). When we teach students based on their grade, we are using the batch method of the antiquated factory model. It may help some students just to have more time and instruction to learn algebra. But for some who may have been passed on to the next grade without becoming proficient or who may have missed concepts along the way due to lack of class attendance because of housing instability, being in the child welfare system, or suffering from poor health, they may need to work in their zone to build up the pre-requisite skills. (more…)

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The Power of Choice: Increasing Novel Reading From 21 Percent to 87 Percent

by
Crystal Francis

Crystal Bonin

For those of us who have always taught with an end-goal in mind, competency-based education isn’t that big of a shift. We’ve always thought about assessment and the way we’d bring our students to success. In my opinion, the biggest difference between competency-based education and traditional education is that our focus is less on content and recall, and more on differentiation and application.

As an eleventh-grade English teacher at Sanborn Regional High School in New Hampshire, I have three major competencies: reading, writing, and communications. My students don’t earn one grade for the course; they have to pass all of their competencies in order to pass the course.

Traditionally, students in English classes have always practiced these skills. English teachers have always used literature as a vehicle of instruction, have instructed writing, and have encouraged discussion.

Traditionally, students in English classes have also habitually fake-read novels, plagiarized writing, and sat silently during class discussions. (I know that I did.)

In my competency-based classroom, that kind of fake-reading just doesn’t happen anymore. How do we get there? It’s all about student choice. (more…)

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Student Agency is What Counts

December 15, 2015 by
Keara Duggan

Keara Duggan

This post originally appeared in the Next Generation Learning Challenges Friday Focus Newsletter.

Over the past few months, NGLC has been pushing the field of next gen learning on questions of how we measure success. As Andy Calkins asked a few weeks ago in this column: How do we gauge students’ progress in developing those competencies required for the 21st century? This question resonated with me. I believe that without students understanding how they’re learning, what they’re learning, and how they’re progressing, it’s impossible to empower students to truly own their learning.

As a Senior Consultant at Education Elements, I have the opportunity to work with hundreds of schools and districts around the country to design and implement blended and personalized learning models. Three years ago when I started in this role, the national focus was on blended learning and the integration of digital content and tools. I’ve seen a dramatic shift over the past eighteen months as teachers and leaders think more deeply about how to develop student agency and student reflection as a core part of redesigning their classroom and school models. Student ownership, agency, and choice are all critical to the personalization process. (more…)

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Deer Isle-Stonington High School: Takeaways and Burning Questions

December 14, 2015 by
DISHS3

Image from the DISHS Website

This post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. This is the last of a three-part look at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. Start with the first post on Turning Around the Culture and the second post on Breathing Life into the Standards.

The conversation with Todd West, principal of Deer Isle-Stonington High School left me with a number of questions and new insights, some of which I’m still noodling on.

  • It’s-About-Every-Student Leadership: We all know that leadership is an important aspect of any endeavor, and we can often get lost in the leadership style, the charisma, the vision. However, in proficiency-based learning, it always starts with values and commitment. You can tell what Todd West’s leadership is when he asks, “Why can’t we consistently have a high graduation rate? We have fifty teachers in our district, can’t we figure out how to get those two, three, four, or five kids who are having a tough time to the finish line?” This is the mindset of continuous improvement. This is the mindset that needs to replace the compliance mindset of a 100-year old education system.

(more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Simple Moves to Increase Engagement

December 11, 2015 by

HandsThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 2, 2015. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Student engagement involves more than connecting learning to student interests or authentic purposes. Engaging students means creating the environment for all students to be successful with learning and tackling new skills and ideas. So having a “highly engaged” learning environment is as much about the number of students involved in learning as it is the ways in which they are engaged. One area of instruction to pay close attention to when creating an environment in which as many students as possible engage in learning is the class discussion. (more…)

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