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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Reaching the Tipping Point in New England

October 4, 2016 by

screenshot-2016-10-06-07-29-30There is so much activity in New England regarding competency education (or proficiency-based or mastery-based) that we thought it would be valuable to take a deeper look to see what we might learn. Today, we’ve released Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England

Two other reports were recently released looking at competency education in specific states:

Reaching the Tipping Point opens with an introductory essay, The Every Student Succeeds Act: A Catalyst for Competency Education At Scale?, by Susan Patrick and Maria Worthen that everyone should read. We’ve also taken more time to describe what competency education is, as there continues to be confusion. Then the paper dives into:

  • an exploration of why the region of New England, with some of the most high-achieving education systems, has embraced competency education;
  • insights into the strategies being used by some of the states; and
  • a reflection on progress towards quality, equity, scaling, and sustainability.

In the appendix, readers will find a synopsis of each state strategy, complemented by short case studies of a few districts and schools.

The bottom line: The major lesson learned from New England is that it takes leadership at the district and local levels to venture forth to transform their districts and state leadership willing to create an enabling policy environment with a suite of supports. One without the other will only get us a bit of the way there.

I want to wrap up this post with a great big shout out to Great Schools Partnership, and the New England Secondary Schools Consortium. There is no doubt in my mind that we wouldn’t have reached the tipping point without their leadership, networking, generosity in sharing knowledge, and willingness to jump into those really messy details. Thanks to David Ruff and the whole team at GSP/NESSC.

State # of Districts (State source or NCES) Number planning or implementing %
Connecticut 164 4 2%
Maine 254 229 90%
Massachusetts 409 1
New Hampshire 99 89 90%
Rhode Island 41 2 4%
Vermont: Half of the districts participated in a training this year. So we use 25% estimate to be conservative.  60 30 50%
1027 355 35%

 

See also:

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Creating the Shared Purpose

October 3, 2016 by

Core ValuesThis is the sixth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

Creating a shared purpose requires districts to develop their capacity for facilitated conversations (i.e., the ability to listen deeply to each other while driving for an agreed-upon vision, statement, or solution). Districts have used a simple set of questions that generate robust conversations. For example, Lindsay Unified School District in California invested in deep community engagement to launch their transformative process, beginning with the questions:

  • Why do we exist?
  • What are the values that will govern how we interact with each other?
  • What are the principles by which we will make decisions?
  • What is our vision for the future?
  • What is the description of our graduates?

The result is a mission of “Empowering and Motivating for Today and Tomorrow,” a set of core values and guiding principles that drive their instructional model.

In developing a shared purpose, Chugach School District had to engage communities from three different areas as well as a statewide homeschool community based all across Alaska. The resulting mission statement emphasizes student agency, mutual accountability, and cultural respect.

Bob Crumley recounts using the following process in meetings to initiate the Chugach shared purpose.

  1. Turn to a neighbor and tell each other your district’s shared purpose. Now, by a show of hands, how many were able to articulate our shared purpose? (In the beginning, there were few hands.)
  2. If, as leaders, teachers, and parents (depending on the group), we aren’t able to articulate our shared purpose, how are we going to work together to clearly articulate expectations and provide a roadmap for our students to achieve success?
  3. Ask students to think of a successful person (local, national, or international). Then begin a discussion on the following questions: What traits does that person have that helped them become successful? Which of those traits should we teach and assess to set all of our graduates up for success?
  4. Use the input to form the backbone for developing a draft shared purpose as well as informing student performance standards at a later stage.

Currently, Chugach School District operates according to the following shared purpose: (more…)

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September CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

October 1, 2016 by

calendar-page-septHere are the highlights from September 2016 on CompetencyWorks. Happy reading. And let us know if you have questions you want us to delve into!

SITE VISITS AND CASE STUDIES

Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC Tour

Implementing Competency-Based Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders

 

HIGHER EDUCATION

Making the Case for CBE Programs: Setting a Firm Foundation for Evaluation

(more…)

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Laying the Groundwork for Proficiency-Based Learning in Rhode Island

September 30, 2016 by

RI Strategic Plan

This post was previously released and has been updated as Rhode Island moves towards a revised set of state policies to guide their Diploma System. 

Thanks to Lori McEwen, Chief of Instruction, Leadership and Equity at Providence Public Schools and Dana Borrelli-Murray, Executive Director, Highlander Institute for talking with me about how personalized learning, blended learning, and proficiency-based learning are advancing in Rhode Island.

There is a lot happening in Rhode Island regarding education. The communities in Rhode Island seem to be bustling with discussions about how to improve their schools, with much of it focused on personalized learning and blended learning catalyzed by the Highlander Institute. Much less so on how to create proficiency-based systems.

Rhode Island is an interesting case study as it has a thick policy foundation for a proficiency-based diploma and secondary school practices to support personalization, yet I couldn’t find any districts that were committed to creating a K12 proficiency-based system. There are certainly sparks of proficiency-based innovation in Rhode Island. For example, the Met, one of the early models of highly personalized competency-based learning, started in Providence. Blackstone Academy and Blackstone Valley Prep are both proficiency-based, from what I understand. Cumberland High School has made incredible progress by starting with the goal of creating a standards-based grading reporting system and then using it to put all the important pieces in place to ensure consistency and transparency. There are also efforts of after-school programs to use competency-based models to create credit-bearing opportunities outside of school as well as Big Picture Learning’s College Unbound. (It’s possible I just didn’t tap into the right networks. Please, if you are a school in RI converting to a proficiency-based system, let us know.) From what I can tell, this suggests that those districts and schools that want to become proficiency-based can within the state policy context.

Certainly, over the past twenty years, the state has been a leader in establishing a set of policies that support a proficiency-based system. These policies have now been re-organized into a set of regulations called the Diploma System, which emphasizes proficiency and personalization. However, few districts are taking advantage of this…yet. My guess is that we are on the verge of seeing districts in RI begin to realize that they can’t get all their students to graduation-levels of proficiency without increasing the personalization of their schools (focusing on what students need to succeed, not just digitalized content) and converting to a proficiency-based system that helps them monitor proficiency, progress, and pace of their students. (See the story of Connecticut, in which superintendents are the leaders in the effort to introduce personalized, competency-based systems of education.) (more…)

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Building Capacity to Serve Off-Track Students with the Barr Foundation

September 29, 2016 by

barr-foundationThis post has been updated with corrections.

Our country has been talking about ways to improve secondary education for at least thirty years: school-to-work, small schools, senior year transition, early college, project-based learning, service learning, online then blended learning, deeper learning, authentic learning, ninth grade transition, inquiry-based learning, community-based learning, portfolios, and exhibitions. In the last year, there has been a whole new push, starting with a White House convening on high schools and XQ. Now add the Barr Foundation’s courageous and insightful effort to build secondary school opportunities to better serve students who are missing the skills or credits they need to graduate, (i.e. they are “off track”).

One has to ask why hasn’t there been more progress or why these models and practices haven’t had more scaling power, more staying power. Of course our analysis at CompetencyWorks is that the traditional structure of education is going to be a significant challenge, if not a barrier, to any new educational strategies for the following reasons:

  1. Students are passed on even when they haven’t learned what they need to learn.
  2. Traditional scaffolding strategies usually fail to help students to actually learn and master the pre-requisite skills they need to engage in high school curriculum. We insist on grade level curriculum even when students need something else in order to succeed.
  3. Even with the highest engagement strategies, the traditional point systems and GPA only motivate the highest achievers.
  4. Students simply do not have enough information to know what they need to do to do better (and in many cases the teachers don’t know either) and don’t have the support they need.
  5. There is too much variability in how teachers determine proficiency.

(more…)

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Hire for Mindset

September 28, 2016 by

stairsHuman capital. It’s not one of my favorite terms, as thinking of people as capital seems to be a dehumanizing place to start talking about creating an empowering culture of learning where individuals feel safe and respected. So I’m just going to go back to the old stand-by of human resources.

No matter what you call it, human resources is a major issue for districts and schools that are converting to competency education. First, there is the effort to help the current set of educators make the transition and start on a personalized pathway toward skill building – organizing personalized classrooms with empowered students, increasing assessment literacy, instructing based on learning progressions, enhancing cultural responsiveness and de-cluttering the mind of bias, coaching habits of work, preparing units that provide student more choice and voice, etc. The list goes on.

Districts then find they need to upgrade their teacher evaluation to reflect the new set of values, assumptions, practices, and skills. (See article on Windsor Locks Public School District.) Some are also building personalized, competency-based professional development that builds upon the evaluations so that teachers are becoming learners as part of their job. (See article on Charleston County School District.)

Hiring practices need to be upgraded as well. Virgel Hammonds, Jaime Robles, Deanna Sinito, and Brian Stack have all spoken about the importance of hiring. They seek candidates with the same set of beliefs, value those who want to work collaboratively, and have created more intensive hiring practices. However, it’s tricky, since just because someone says they have a growth mindset or that that they value collaboration doesn’t mean they really do…or at least in the way we think about. So how do you assess within the hiring process that a candidate has the beliefs and dispositions you need in your school? (more…)

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Engaging the Community

September 27, 2016 by

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

Why Engage the Community?

District leaders offer many reasons for engaging the community early on in the process of converting to competency education.

  • Nurturing Consensus and Leadership: Communities need to be given time to understand the new structure and why it is important. The greater the number of people in the community who are knowledgeable about the process, the more they can help others to understand.
  • Contributing Valuable Perspectives: Members of the community will bring ideas to the table that educators might not necessarily include. They will bring their values and perspectives to create a richer conversation.
  • Re-Aligning Roles: Engaging community members will shake up the bureaucratic dynamics that have come to shape how educators often interact with families and community members.
  • Re-Building Respect and Trust: Community engagement can help to overcome mistrust and build the mutual respect that is needed to create a culture of learning. In most districts, there are segments of the community that have either had bad experiences in school or have historically been underserved and disrespected by school systems. Districts must create a space for people to talk about what they want for their children, have honest conversations about the current academic achievement levels and graduation rates, and share their fears.
  • Sustaining Change: Community engagement is an essential ingredient for staying the course when unanticipated consequences of implementation arise and when district leadership changes.
  • Unlearning Old Routines and Practices: Districts and schools will receive feedback on what has not been working in their previous community engagement strategies and can begin to co-design new strategies with the community.

There is an additional reason that community engagement is needed in the process of converting to competency education: to build respectful relationships with students. In order to foster strong relationships, school personnel need to have a sense of the culture and experiences that shape their students’ lives. In competency education, valuing the insight and perspectives of the community has to come first. In fact, the most successful district conversions to date begin the process with strong community involvement. (more…)

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Constructing a Shared Journey of Inquiry, Shared Vision, and Shared Ownership

September 26, 2016 by

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

Transforming districts and schools starts by engaging in a period of study. The superintendent may engage the school board in a series of readings, discussions, retreats, and site visits. A leadership team involving key district personnel and principals will look more deeply at the issues to examine how other districts have proceeded and to reflect on options for designing a process for moving forward. Superintendents also begin to have initial conversations with stakeholders in the community to lay the groundwork for understanding why we need a more personalized system, the problems with the traditional system, and the benefits of redesigning to ensure students are learning. Principals will later engage educators in inquiry teams in a similar process and also begin to review research about how students learn, brain science, motivation theory, and grading practices.

District and school leadership will drive the study groups and conversation with a set of questions such as the ones below:

  • Why do we exist as a school? What is our purpose?
  • What do successful people have that we want our graduates to know and be able to do?
  • How will our children support the future growth of our communities, state, and country?
  • What are the values that will govern how we interact with each other?
  • What are the principles by which we will make decisions?

It is through this process of studying together, of no one having all the answers, of listening and respecting each perspective, that district and school leadership can begin to introduce a different leadership approach as well as the roots of a student-centered, problem-solving culture. (more…)

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Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Upcoming Events on Competency Education

September 23, 2016 by

lemurThere are a number of upcoming events that you may want to consider in building your knowledge about competency education.

#1 As you may or may not know, Susan Patrick, CEO and President and iNACOL, and I co-founded CompetencyWorks five years ago. We each brought a very different focus to the work, and it has proven to be a wonderfully productive partnership. We branded CompetencyWorks as separate from iNACOL because we believed that competency education is a structure for districts and schools to use to focus more closely on helping students learn and progress. Before the launch of CompetencyWorks, we started with a scan of the field where we found that there were pockets of innovation. Next with CCSSO, we organized a Competency-Based Pathway Summit with 100 innovators where the working definition was developed. Every year since then, with the CompetencyWorks advisory board, we do a reflection on how competency education is advancing and how the field is doing to support it. (Here is last year’s blog post on the topic.)

On Thursday, September 29 2-3 p.m. ET, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) is hosting a webinar during which Susan and I will examine the current state of competency education and identify emerging issues across the field. We hope this to be a time to reflect with our colleagues and hear from different perspectives. Register here.

#2 If you live near Massachusetts, you might want to attend Perspectives on the Current Landscape of Competency-Based Learning Research sponsored by Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance on October 6th. Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner of Education, NH Department of Education will be a presenter with panelists including Erika Stump, PhD, Research Associate, Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation (CEPARE), University of Southern ME; R. Marc Brodersen, PhD, Senior Researcher, REL Central at Marzano Research; Savatore Menzo, PhD, Superintendent of Schools, Wallingford Public Schools, Wallingford, Conn.; and Aubrey Scheopner Torres, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Education, Saint Anselm College, Research Consultant, REL Northeast & Islands. Register here. (more…)

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