Voices from the Field: Owning the LEARNING!

February 17, 2014 by
Heather Bross

Heather Bross

This article was originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition January newsletter. The RISC newsletter is designed to give you practices and opportunities to move students from compliance into engagement, an essential element for building a personal mastery system.

As with each New Year, new hope for success and happiness formulates in all of us. Which makes this an ideal time to begin goal setting and the practice of self-monitoring with students.

As a coach and an avid Detroit Lions fan, I had many mixed feelings over the weekend. My beloved Detroit Lions were out of the playoffs, so my family watched as the Packers lost to a team led by someone who, I must admit, struck a chord deep in my educator heart. You may have already heard the tale of 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s letter to himself at age 9 predicting that he would someday play pro football. Funny thing, he was very detailed in writing that he would play for either the 49er’s or the Pack-ers…. The irony of that brings a smile to any sports fan’s face.

In the letter, Colin prophesizes the future: “I’m 5 ft. 2 inches 91 pounds. Good athlete. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 ft — to 6 ft 4 inches 140 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football Then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years. My friend are Jason, Kyler, Leo, Spencer, Mark and Jacob.

Sincerely, Colin (more…)

Five Quick Thoughts About Accountability

February 13, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 2.23.47 PMThere is a flurry of conversations about federal accountability policy and assessment going on around the country. You may have heard about it described as accountability 3.0. I had the opportunity to participate in one of the conversations last week and just finished listening to the conversation led by Maria Worthen, iNACOL and Lillian Pace, KnowledgeWorks held today based on their report  A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change. And I’m feeling inspired to jot down a couple of my thoughts:

1. Federal policy must NOT mandate competency education.  We want it to enable competency education and eliminate any elements that inhibit it.  Federal policy can even catalyze it.  But at this point in time, federal policy should not expect everyone to do it. There are several reasons for this. First, any top down, bureaucratic approaches are just inconsistent with the student-centered, do what it takes, spirit of continuous improvement that is essential to personalized, competency-based schools. Second, we don’t have enough research and evaluation to tell us about quality implementation or what we need to ensure that special populations and struggling students benefit.  We just aren’t ready yet.

2. Assessment comes before accountability.  It’s almost impossible to untangle accountability from assessment in today’s policy context.  That’s because the accountability system has required states to have a specific type of assessment system.  This is a huge problem because assessment should be focused on helping students to learn.  Instead we see it as part of the accountability system. I know this is too simple… and all the accountability and assessment experts out there might dismiss this. But I just don’t think we can go where we want to go if we start with the requirements of today’s accountability system driving learning. So I think we need to define what is really important for systems of assessments and then draw from that what might be valuable for any type of accountability system.  Let’s keep our priorities straight by focusing on assessment and accountability not accountability and assessment. (more…)

New Year’s Resolution: Student Directed Individualized Learning for All

February 12, 2014 by

This article was originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition January newsletter. The RISC newsletter is designed to give you practices and opportunities to move students from compliance into engagement, an essential element for building a personal mastery system.

New Year'sAs stated in the book Delivering on the Promise, “a RISC system is where students themselves are encouraged, taught, and empowered to be accountable for their learning. This is not a back-and-white, step-by step, to-do list through which students become leaders of the learning process overnight. It is an evolutionary process in which students move from being dependent to independent learners…. Once students own the system and they understand the direction they are headed in their education, they become advocates who begin to insist that teachers help them accomplish their goals.”

This type of change requires a shift in the roles of the teacher and the learner. Teachers and students will unpack the standard, determine the rigor of the learning (cognitive and content knowledge), and build a transparent learning progression with clear and timely feedback. The student, when given an unpacked standard and learning progression, will be required not just to understand their own capacity, but to make decisions about the ways in which they will learn and prove mastery. When setting goals and direction, students become engaged leaders of their own learning.

Goal setting and monitoring are essential components of learning. “On average, the practice of having students track their own progress was associated with a 32 percentile gain in their achievement” (Marzano, 2009). (more…)

Strengthening the Field

February 11, 2014 by

Robert Marzano

I received two emails today that indicate that the “field” of competency education is strengthening.  First, Marzano Research Laboratory (MRL) announced that it is acquiring the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC). MRL and RISC have a long-standing relationship. The acquisition will strengthen RISC (Rick Schreiber will continue as executive director) and expand MRL’s capacity to provide technical assistance related to competency education.  It also indicates that there is enough momentum in competency education for MRL to see this as a new market niche.

The press release quoted Dr. Marzano, ” “I am thrilled at the opportunity to take this relationship to the next level. The RISC model puts together all the critical components that we’ve known for years are important to school reform. What’s nice about it is, it has them all and it has them in a framework where they all interact and they are all very concrete. And the best part about it is that there are actually districts that have implemented the model that are demonstrating results in terms of student learning and student achievement.  This is a pretty powerful model. It’s got some strong evidence that it works.”

The second email was an announcement of a webinar with Dr. Robert J. Marzano and Richard A. DeLorenzo, Cofounder of the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition (RISC), Former Superintendent of Chugach School District on February 18, 2014 1:00-3:00 pm MST. (Register Here)The goals of this webinar include: answering the question “What is competency-based education?”; addressing misconceptions about the role of standards in a competency-based school system; sharing current and existing research about competency-based education; and sharing experiences and challenges in implementing competency-based school systems.

The expansion of competency and high quality implementation has been constrained by limited technical assistance providers. This is an incredible step forward for all of us.


Are You a Policy Wonk?


A_K-12_Federal_Policy_Framework_for_Competency_EducationIf you are, then you don’t want to miss the Wednesday, February 12th webinar about the report A  K-12 Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change. The webinar will be held from 2:00p – 3:00p ET. Please register here.

As lawmakers in Washington, DC craft a next generation Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), this report encourages them to take bold steps forward to allow students to advance upon demonstrated mastery and receive the personalized support they need, when they need it. Maria Worthen, Vice President for Federal and State Policy, iNACOL and Lillian Pace, Senior Director of National Policy, KnowledgeWorks will lead this webinar discussing the importance of this federal policy issue as well as how the U.S. education system can evolve to ensure all students succeed and graduate from high school college and career ready. The report’s co-authors will provide a comprehensive vision for supporting state and local efforts to implement student-centered learning. Their presentation will describe the barriers and opportunities within federal education policy frameworks and identify how the federal government is in a unique position to catalyze and scale student-centered learning approaches.

We hope that once again the chat room on the webinar will be a place that you all can meet each other, sharing your ideas and resources.

This webinar is free to attend.

Why My Competency-Based School Failed – And How It Can Help Yours To Succeed

February 10, 2014 by
Shearwater Graduates

Shearwater Graduates

In 2008 I was asked by the City of St. Louis Mayor’s Office to consider starting a school for youth who had dropped out. I agreed. These youth deserved a quality education. The school would be hard to build and harder to sustain, but worth a try. Given that our students were all over-age and under-credited, we knew that seat-time meant that many would age-out of the system before they could graduate. Hence, we decided to be competency-based. (Click here for the 21 by 21 model overview, FAQ’s, Youth Readiness Taxonomy and the Design Process)

Hundreds of local volunteers and over a dozen community-based organizations poured sweat equity into planning and start-up, pledging their ongoing support. A private technical college agreed to house us. The state declared us a needed demonstration project. We had mayoral endorsement and a sponsor.

Thus Shearwater High School was born. All signs suggested we would work. And at first we did. We had passionate staff, community support, private money, and resources. Youth applied, showed up, learned. Applicants bloated our waiting list. We worked tirelessly. Most of the time we enjoyed what we were doing.

If you had told me that just a few years later we would close, I wouldn’t have believed you.

So, what happened? Here are the four primary reasons that my school failed: (more…)

Recommendations for 2014 iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium?

February 7, 2014 by

symposiumThere are only a few meetings each year to gather to learn from each other about competency education. Two are coming up next month — the Northwest Proficiency Conference for Oregonians on March 6th and the High School Redesign in Action sponsored by the New England Secondary Schools Coalition on March 20. To create an annual place for innovators to meet each other iNACOL created a competency education strand at its Blended and Online Learning Symposium. The next one is November 4-7, 2014 in Palm Springs, CA.

The opportunity to submit Request for Proposals for the 2014 Symposium is open until Wednesday, March 26, 2014. We hope that many of you will join us there and perhaps you will submit a proposal for a session.

It would be tremendously helpful, if you would let us know what topics you think are most important to cover at the Symposium as it relates to converting to competency education. That allows us to encourage people who are the most skilled in these areas to submit proposals. It is really important to us that the sessions meet the needs of the more advanced innovators as well as those just starting the journey to competency education. Please use comments below or email me at chris (at) metisnet (dot) net.

Do Learning Progressions Have to Be Linear?

February 5, 2014 by

learning progressionsSometimes in teaching we deal in “revelations:” big ideas that students are supposed to get at the end of a unit or learning progression. They are supposed attain these foundational concepts and understandings after progressing through a sequence that is designed to end at a particular point – a point we as educators decide upon when we create a unit of study or a curriculum.

According to Wiggins and McTeague, we are supposed to plan for the big ideas before we even start teaching. We are supposed to plan for where we end up before we even begin. And there’s a lot of good reasoning why. If we know where we’re going, then we can ultimately plan for how to best get there. But there’s a troublesome piece to that. Sometimes our “best” way to get there doesn’t suit some of the students in the room. And sometimes our endpoint is too fixed. Sometimes we create a round hole while students craft a square peg.

Are we right? Are they wrong?

A straightforward definition of a learning progression is to examine it as a “sequenced set of building blocks that students must master en route to mastering a more distant curricular aim.” (Popham, 2007)

Currently, the Common Core has replaced the teacher and the school as the determinant of when students should master concepts and skills. It is our learning progression and it has already determined our “distant curricular aims.” I know students should be reading at particular levels at particular times. I know students should have mastered persuasive writing by the time they come to ninth grade, so that my objective is to continue the work associated with argumentative writing. And educators involved with mathematics have their own timing issues as the Common Core has redirected particular math skills to brand-new points in time.

To say the path to knowledge and skills has changed would be a tremendous understatement. (more…)

A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education

February 3, 2014 by

CompetencyWorks - A K-12 Policy Framework for Competency Education - February 2014Although there are few barriers to competency education caused from federal policy, there is certainly a lot it can do to enable and catalyze it. In A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change Maria Worthen, iNACOL‘s Vice President for Federal and State Policy and Lillian Pace, ‎KnowledgeWorks’ Senior Director of National Policy, explore the ways that federal policymakers can become partners in the effort to redesign our education system around making sure students reach proficiency every step of the way towards college and career readiness.

Maria and Lillian emphasize that federal policymakers need to think about themselves as partners in this work as they consider ways to remove barriers to competency education, provide funding incentives, and support the development of learning infrastructure. As a starting point, federal policymakers can support state and local innovators by establishing a student-centered federal policy framework that supports competency education, with four guiding principles in mind:

Greater rigor and relevance — Measurement of student learning should be based on ensuring that students are on track and held to high, rigorous standards and aligned competencies — from cradle to career — to be successful in college and the workforce. (more…)

Three Quick Thoughts About Personalized Learning Plans

January 29, 2014 by



Vermont Department of Education

Over the past few days I’ve received links to several resources on personalized learning plans including:

And it got me thinking about personalized learning plans…

  1. Different Ways to Personalize: The personalization of learning is a necessary ingredient if we are going to get all students to proficiency each step of the way in their learning progressions. However, there are many different ways to personalize learning, and each has a cost. Not every school is going to personalize in every way … at least in the short-run. Schools may focus more on providing students with the ability to choose how they learn and how they demonstrate learning, or they may focus on investing in expanded learning opportunities such as internships, real-world projects, and opportunities to develop students’ talents in music or sport. Perhaps it will be through a wide range of courses or opportunities to create projects. Blended learning is an important ingredient as it enables personalization in terms of pacing as well as structuring choice. And sometimes personalization isn’t about choice – it’s about having knowledgeable educators providing the right type of instruction, feedback, and interventions to help struggling students succeed (more…)
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