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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Teaching Through the Culture: Native Education in a Performance-Based System

February 4, 2015 by
5 student at t

A Student at Tatitlek

This is the sixth post in the Chugach School District series. Read the first, second, thirdfourth, and fifth posts here.

Living in New Mexico, I think and learn about Native education more than I ever have before. In Alaska, over 16 percent of the student population is Alaska Native, which means it is even more important that schools there are designed to fully serve the interests of the eleven language groups and twenty-plus dialects: Athabascan, Alutiiq (you might be more familiar with this spelled as Aleutic), Yup’ik, Cup’ik, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Inupiaq, and St. Lawrence Island Yupik.

Above all else, Chugach School District values it students, families, and communities; therefore, they value the culture of the Alutiiq people who live in Chenega Bay and Tatitlek. The CSD performance-based system has been co-designed with Alutiiq communities. Given that CSD is the first district to design a competency-based district, it raises the question, “Is competency education rooted in Alaskan Native values?”

There are several aspects of how Chugach School District embraces Native Education within a universal structure and process:

1. It Starts with Respect; Respect is Shown Through Listening and Partnership

It all started when school board and community members from Whittier and the Alutiiq villages of Chenega Bay and Tatitlek questioned district leadership about low achievement scores and the fact that their children were not reading and writing at grade level. The first response was the same as in most districts; a scripted reading program was selected and implemented throughout the district. However, the district leadership listened and realized there was a fundamental issue that needed to be addressed: the CSD education system wasn’t designed to meet the needs of their students. The next step was redesigning to be able to personalize education and adapt to the changing needs of students, families, and communities. The school board made a five-year commitment to ensure there would be time for effective implementation and mid-course adjustments. (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

February 3, 2015 by

From the States

  • North Carolina: North Carolina New Schools is making the case for competency-based learning in North Carolina, as Angela Quick, Senior VP, explains in her blog. A convening of thought leaders was held in December to operate as a “think tank” to identify enablers, barriers, and readiness factors regarding North Carolina’s transition toward competency education. Mooresville Graded School District is now offering credit by demonstrated mastery (CDM) to middle and high school students. In 2013, the NC State Board of Education changed policy to enable mastery-based credits. (The Journal)
  • Michigan: Mary Esselman, former deputy chancellor at the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan, announced her resignation in January. She championed Michigan’s turnaround district by reshaping teaching and curriculum around student-centered, technology-focused models.

ESEA Reauthorization

New Reports and Resources (more…)

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Two Sides of the Same Coin: Competency-Based Education and Student Learning Objectives

February 2, 2015 by

This paper is also available in PDF form here

Introduction

Coins

We are in the midst of two major reform initiatives occupying the attention of school district leaders throughout the country. Teacher evaluation has been the most prominent educational policy issue of the past five years, and evaluating teachers in the so-called “non-tested subjects and grades” has been one of the thorniest challenges in the design of these new educator evaluation approaches. Student learning objectives have emerged as the most common approach for documenting teacher contributions to student learning (Hall, Gagnon, Thompson, Schneider, & Marion, 2014). Competency-based education has taken hold to help ensure that students have mastered critical knowledge and skills before becoming eligible for graduation or moving on to the next learning target rather than simply occupying a seat for a certain amount of time. Unfortunately, many school leaders do not see the strong relationship between these two initiatives and feel like they have to do “double-duty” to meet both sets of policy goals. I describe each of these initiatives below and then illustrate how the close connection between the two can create coherence and efficiencies.

Competency-Based Education

While there are potentially many definitions of competencies and competency-based education, I rely on the following from Patrick and Sturgis (2013):

Competency education is an approach to teaching and learning in which: (more…)

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What Would Andrew Do?

January 29, 2015 by
Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie

(See the second post on this topic Beyond the Carnegie Unit)

Earlier today, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (CFAT) released their report The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape. [Disclaimer: I was a member of the Advisory Committee.] It’s a beautifully written report with sweeping historical context and fun little details. (Why is liberal arts college four years? Because CFAT, in designing the requirements for institutions of higher education to have access to Andrew Carnegie’s pension plan, said so.) It’s a must-read for the summary of how competency education is evolving in the K12 and higher education sectors.

However, if you are expecting something as big and bold as Andrew Carnegie himself would dream up, you’ll be disappointed. In fact, I imagine that deep under the snow in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York, Andrew Carnegie is wishing he could find a way to join the conversation.

It’s easy to agree with the findings—that Carnegie Unit (CU) rarely acts as an actual barrier, as in actually prohibiting innovation, with a few important exceptions such as federal financial aid. However, there is an enormous difference between an idea acting as a barrier and  catalyzing improvements in the education system. In focusing the scope of the report on whether or not the CU is a barrier to improvements, CFAT trapped themselves in either-or-ness, rather than engaging in an open inquiry into how we might be able to move beyond the confines of the CU to a more equitable, flexible, and transparent system. Even an analytical report that takes us up close to how the CU operates in administering the education system, specifically higher education, would have allowed us to think more deeply about how to re-engineer the system. (more…)

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Chugach School District: Performance-Based Education in a One-Room School House

January 27, 2015 by
6tatitlek

Tatitlek

This is the fifth post in the Chugach School District series. Read the firstsecondthird, and fourth posts here.

How does competency education work in small, rural K-12 schools?

When I first started reading about Chugach School District five years ago, I just didn’t get it. After spending much of my adult life in New England, rural meant a small town an hour away from another small town. When I moved to New Mexico, Landon Mascareñaz (now at Denver Public Schools) insisted I join him on a road trip into the northwestern corner to understand the dynamics of serving Native Americans in rural areas. The expanses of land and sky between each town were staggering. So was the realization that rural and remote schools had to balance being deeply community-based (valuing the cultures, communities, and assets surrounding them) with the need to expand students’ horizons.

My personal horizons expanded tremendously about what remote means on my trip to  Chugach School District. I first realized that I was on the edge of my comfort zone as I accompanied Debbie Treece, Special Education Director, on a trip to the Whittier Community School (WCS). (more…)

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Negotiating Release

January 26, 2015 by
Ollie and Tobey

Ollie and Tobey

My husband and I have two dogs. Ollie is a springer spaniel; Tobey is a rather unfortunate cross between a Yorkshire terrier and a miniature husky. We live near water and enjoy spending time in the lake when the temperatures rise.

Ollie took to the water immediately. In no time she figured out swimming, and she could be counted on to paddle leisurely until we were ready to leave. Not the case for Tobey. He surprised us with his reluctance to put a paw in the water.

Tobey did eventually learn to swim and now enjoys a quick lap or two, but it involved a process. We had to introduce him gradually, making sure he had the skills and confidence to move from the beach area to deeper water.

I mention my dogs because they serve as an example of how we make assumptions. I assumed that all dogs instinctively knew how to swim. After all, they enjoyed going down to the beach with us. As teachers, we are tempted to make the same assumption: because our students like to use technology, surely they know how to use it effectively.

A tenant of proficiency-based teaching and learning is that students will determine how and when they will “show what they know.” This implies that the student will be asked to direct their own learning. We avail ourselves as facilitators, flip our classrooms, determine pacing guides, and do less direct instruction. Time, not mastery, is now the variable. (more…)

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A Victory for Competency-Based Education

January 23, 2015 by
LamarAlexander

Senator Alexander

To all of the competency education visionaries working in state governments, districts, and classrooms around the country, last week was an important week for you. After years of running up against federal time-based policy barriers, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander (R–TN), released a discussion draft for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that put your work front and center.

Competency education finally has a place at the negotiating table of Congress.

Senator Alexander’s discussion draft proposes two policy changes that would advance the K-12 competency education movement.

The draft proposes two assessment options:

  1. Maintain the current law by requiring statewide testing annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.
  2. Establish a state-defined option where states could develop an assessment system that may include any combination of annual statewide summative assessments, grade span assessments, and competency-based performance assessments. (more…)
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On Perseverance in the Classroom

January 22, 2015 by
Eric Toshalis

Eric Toshalis

This post originally appeared at Students at the Center: Teaching and Learning in the Era of the Common Core

Have you ever sat through a difficult or dry lesson and were told by your teacher when you began to struggle that if you simply tried harder, you would succeed? If so, didn’t it sound like your teacher was saying, “If you just banged your head harder against this brick wall, you could break through!” You likely realized then what researchers have known for decades: that simply isn’t true. While effort is important when attempting work of any kind, perseverance in school is frequently depicted as a quality either a kid has or doesn’t have, as if the circumstances surrounding that student’s struggles were irrelevant. And far too often, teachers and others use concepts like perseverance to blame students from disadvantaged backgrounds for “lacking motivation,” when it is the learning environment itself that is largely to blame.

I’ve been thinking about this concept of perseverance because I recently had the opportunity to review the report, Equity in Competency Education: Realizing the Potential, Overcoming the Obstacles, by RAND authors and commissioned by Jobs for the Future’s Students at the Center initiative. I applaud the authors for tackling a tricky subject often glossed over and under-researched in the rush to advocate for competency education. Their treatment presents a broad and well-organized array of scholarship that highlights the enormous potential of competency-based reforms to elevate achievement and enhance equity. However, the paper raises a lingering concern: discussions of the concept of perseverance can easily devolve into a blame-the-victim ideology rather than an improve-the-context search for solutions.

Perseverance can be a seductive explanation of student failure due to the way it shifts attention away from pedagogical factors that may hinder students’ achievement and instead draws attention toward perceived deficits in students’ motivation. This effectively absolves adults of responsibility for students’ struggles. Given the culture of blame that surrounds the profession of teaching these days, it’s not surprising that some would seek shelter in explanations that deny culpability in student failures. I would argue, however, that to overcome academic struggles, it is the educator’s responsibility to teach the skills necessary for success and to present material using techniques that motivate students to engage. In this way, perseverance is less a prerequisite of learning and more a product of good teaching. (more…)

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