June 30, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
I’m sharing this article on Laconia High School that was originally published in the Center for Secondary School Reform Winter 2014 newsletter. Competency-based schools can learn a lot from schools that have used performance-based assessment as their entry point. This article caught my attention because of the strong integration of youth development — young people developing a strong sense of themselves within a context of their communities as well as an understanding of their own motivation. I realized that this type of performance-based assessment can be a valuable tool in developing lifelong learning competencies (i.e. habits, college readiness skills or 21st century skills).
This article didn’t specifically raise the issue of racial or gender identity and how the interplay of motivation, behavior and choice might vary when students encounter institutional racism or sexism. I imagine if these performance-based assessments were implemented in Manchester instead of Laconia, the issue of how opportunity might vary based on race, gender and income would arise quickly in the discussion. Perhaps it did in Laconia as well?
Laconia High School’s Performance Based Assessments
Laconia High top 10 scholars.
Laconia High School is implementing Performance Based Assessments (PBAs) that tie content learning directly to students’ college and career aspirations. This is done using a vertical design that consistently integrates students’ voices and choices into the curriculum delivery each year throughout each student’s four-year educational career. In this way, we are working to ensure students graduate from our educational community with the skills needed to move toward their chosen goals.
Laconia High School has been part of the CCSR i3 Network for four years. Our original direction involved the development and implementation of Extended Learning Opportunities. The philosophy behind ELOs seemed to work well for those students who had the discipline to stick with the work they designed and the structured due dates that came with it. In the last two years, we have worked to integrate that philosophy into our overall four-year program so that students developed the desire to “own” their education. This has resulted in greater engagement for our students. Students have an increased awareness of the relevance of what they are learning, they are more aware of how their education can be connected to the future they want to have, and they are regularly asked to assess how their current performance is moving them toward or away from the goals they have set.
June 27, 2014 by Alex Hernandez
This post originally appeared June 17, 2014 on EdSurge.
“We’ve basically run our public schools off of [Microsoft] Excel for the last 20 years. But all that is changing…” – IT Manager–
The strategic use of software by public schools is shifting from a “nice-to-have” to a core driver of student achievement and organizational performance. Schools are deploying software to communicate with families, recruit and onboard teachers, create digital learning environments and much more.
In the new report Schools and Software: What’s Now and What’s Next, Julia Freeland from the Clayton Christensen Institute and I analyze how thirty small- to medium-sized public school systems on the cutting edge of technology integration are using software–and, more importantly, what they want from the edtech industry.
Here are five lessons we learned from these early adopters.
1. School systems “Frankenstein” multiple software products together for students, teachers and administrators
Most K–12 software programs offer limited value to school systems on a stand-alone basis and must be integrated with other software (typically from different vendors) to realize their full potential. (more…)
June 25, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
I took a few hours out from gardening yesterday to dive into Learners Rule by Bill Zima, principal at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham, Maine. Described as a work of tactical fiction, it’s a book about the power of personalized, proficiency-based systems (Bill is from Maine, so we’ll use the term proficiency-based in this blog). What’s fascinating is that the term proficiency-based learning is not mentioned once in this book. It’s about learning and nurturing learners.
For educators who want to know what proficiency-based learning looks like and how to do it, I don’t think there is any better resource available than Learners Rule. It is also probably the best resource we have right now available to help teachers identify the shift in thinking and practice that happens when we move from batch to personalized learning. There are even pictures of the different tools at the end.
I finished the book hungry for more, as it doesn’t touch on the school-wide changes that have to happen, nor on the way teachers begin to collaborate around students and their learning. We’ll just have to be patient – hopefully, Bill will write a sequel.
Below are three connections and insights that popped out for me (and there were many more) while reading Learners Rule. (more…)
June 24, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
I always save an hour or two on Friday afternoons to read about things I don’t know much about. It’s a practice I started years ago as program director at Greater Boston Rehabilitation Services as I needed to be comfortable talking about issues through a broad spectrum of perspectives. There was always more to be learned. In fact, it was where I was first came upon the work of Peter Senghe and the concept of personal mastery.
Increasingly, I find myself reading anything and everything about education through the lens of competency education. What would be the implications if systems were competency-based? How might we think about these issues if we consistently placed student agency, student learning, pace and progress front and center to all decisions?
Last week I dived into A Framework for Selecting Quality Course Providers at Competitive Prices from Digital Learning Now. State contracting for online courses is a topic I know nothing about but care about deeply, as it is imperative that students in rural communities, alternative schools or any small school have access to a much wider set of courses, especially where there is a dearth of teachers (Advanced Placement physics, for example). It is also going to be an essential capacity if schools are going to lift the ceiling and let kids fly beyond their grade level.
As the paper was so accessible, the competency education lens flipped on immediately as I read about how states can structure a mix of base pay and incentive pay based upon completion. Completion? How exactly are states defining completion? In a competency-based state or district, completion with a C or D, i.e. with gaps in knowledge, isn’t acceptable. In competency education, completion equals proficiency. Will this mean that states will create statewide understanding of what completion means in terms of proficiency at a specific depth of knowledge in order to clarify contracts with online providers? (See the discussion in Idaho about whether states or districts should be determining what mastery is.) This could be an important state level function that is done in partnership with districts so that a shared understanding of proficiency/completion is created. (more…)
June 23, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Here is a quick review of some of the great things happening or reported about in competency education last week!
Great Articles on Leading Schools and Districts
Districts Beginning the Journey
- Freeport School District, Illinois: We haven’t heard much about competency education from Illinois even though one of the earliest models was developed there by the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School. (Note: Although YWLCS was highlighted in A New Model of Assessments for the 21st Century it is no longer a competency-based school). In 2014-15 school year, Freeport is going to being to convert grades K-4 to mastery-based learning. The superintendent leading this effort is Roberta Selleck previously from Adams 50.
New Resources and Reports
June 20, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
After writing the previous blog looking at the similarities and differences of competency education in K12 and higher education (HE), I just couldn’t stop thinking about the learning outcomes as they cross over these two sectors.
When discussing competency education, I’ve heard the phrase “K-16 competency-based pipeline” several times over the past two months. The pipeline metaphor gets us into trouble, however, as it assumes once kids get into it they stay in it until they are pumped out at the other side into the labor market. It’s an institutional top-down framework rather than a student-centered one.
The K-16 pipeline metaphor also tends to emphasize college-readiness over career development and the dynamics of how youth and young adults get a foothold in the labor market. Students make choices, and sometimes things happen that may cause them to move from school to work during secondary school or fall out of the pipeline altogether, unless there are on-ramps back into school. Second, some students blend school and work throughout their years in high school and higher education in ways that make the most sense to them and of the situation. The idea that school and career are sequential steps just doesn’t hold true. We don’t have language to talk about the broad varieties of pathways, hampering our ability to design for it, as well.
The following is a deeper dive into the topic of the intersections of K12 and higher education. There are certainly more questions than answers. Please share your insights, excitement about what is possible, and concerns in comments. (more…)
June 19, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Over the past two months, I’ve had several invitations to discuss the intersection of higher education (HE) and K12 in competency education. It makes sense to see these two sectors of education as one huge movement. Both receive complaints from their customers of poor and inconsistent quality (i.e., students are ill prepared for advanced studies and entry into the workforce). Both sectors are turning to greater personalization, online and blended learning and competency education to help them improve their systems. It’s easy to leap to the conclusion, especially if you are a systems thinker who jumps for joy when alignment is in the air, that the pieces are all going to snap into place.
No matter what we all imagine, no matter how beautiful our maps of an aligned system are, there are two important things to remember. First, in a personalized world where students have agency, we have to let go of our mental model of a linear, conveyor belt model. We need to think about adaptive systems. If you need a picture to hold in your mind, think highways with lots of on and off ramps.
Second, there may be risks in talking about HE’s and K12’s transition to competency education as one and the same. Certainly both emphasize progress upon mastery. However, much of the drive for change in HE is to reduce tuition costs, whereas in K12 it is to personalize education so that all students get what they need to succeed. Thus, the K12 focus is on cost-effectiveness, not cost reduction. This may have large implications about what is emphasized and how models develop. Furthermore, our efforts will come to a grinding halt if we lead policymakers to assume that they can reduce budgets in K12 competency education systems. We can explore competency education in both sectors without advancing the idea that they are the same thing.
I’m now going to break a rule of blogging with a very long exploration of the intersection of competency education across K12 and HE. I start by exploring the similarities, differences and intersection of the two systems and close by looking at the implications of the different contexts in which competency education is developing in each sector.
June 18, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
By far, this news piece on Maine’s proficiency-based diploma is the best I’ve seen at explaining what we mean when we say proficiency-based learning or competency education. The big point is that we know ask for 4 math courses to graduate rather than being proficient in them.
We still need to get our explanations down to an “elevator speech”. We’d love to hear how you explain what proficiency-learning is? (or whatever term you use in your school and state).
June 17, 2014 by Jonathan Vander Els
Jonathan Vander Els
During the past year, Memorial Elementary School staff has focused our learning on how to develop high quality performance assessments. Along with colleagues from other schools in our districts, we have participated in the Center for Collaborative Education’s Quality Performance Assessments training, as well as focused our professional development throughout the year. As we built our capacity over the year, it became clear that performance assessments have tied together the significant amount of work we have been engaged in over the past five years in implementing competency education.
Our district, Sanborn Regional School District in southern New Hampshire, has admittedly taken the plunge with a number of best practices designed to increase our understanding of curriculum and our ability to most effectively instruct students. This work included teachers developing “crosswalks” between the New Hampshire Grade Level Expectations and the Common Core about three years ago. This was done through professional release days and was led by our Director of Curriculum, Ellen Hume-Howard. We made the switch to assessing students’ performance only through the Common Core over the past two years. Teachers’ transition to these standards was seamless because of the support provided during the transition and the teachers’ understanding that the work we were engaged in together was helping them help our students. In fact, teachers requested that all other standards be dropped from their grade book because they understood the Core standards and the others weren’t needed for guidance any longer. (more…)
June 16, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
There seems to be more reports, articles and advancements in competency education than ever before. Periodically we’ll put it all together for you in a blog to make it easier for you to just stop by to do a quick catch up.
- Lindsay Unified School District has released a video Transforming Education about their personalized, performance-based system. I really appreciated the extended cut. (FYI next opportunity to visit LUSD is October 3rd).
- Marzano Research Laboratory is releasing a book on High Reliability Schools. Competency education is the fifth and highest level. It’s on my summer reading list.
- Education Achievement Authority’s Burns Middle School is highlighted in Ed Surge Low-Performing Detroit Middle School Eliminates Grade Levels, Goes Blended. In partnership with Matchbook Learning, EAA implemented a blended, competency-based model. The article points out that Buzz allows “unstructured blended learning” in which students and teachers can make choices that make the most sense to them. It also explains how the concept of self-paced isn’t quite accurate: Though work is self-paced, Ms. Parker also reports that students work together to get each other farther. “Kids want to be higher. They band together to work harder,” she says. Finally, you can hear a new language emerging — leveling up.
- You can get up to speed on how to think about technology in Roadmap for Competency-based Systems: Leveraging Next Generation Technologies developed by Council of Chief State School Officers and 2 Revolutions.
- The Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools is starting to look at competency education. See their report. The League is made up of districts that have made substantial progress in implementing blended learning. They are now becoming interested in taking the next step to competency education. As they move forward we’ll learn a lot more about how to best implement blended learning in competency education and where there might be misalignment.
- The Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching has updated their 50 state scan of course credit policies.
- Nellie Mae Education Foundation created a video What is Competency Education?
And in higher education: