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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Promising State Policies

May 25, 2016 by

iNACOLThere are those who say we shouldn’t be trying to define personalization because it will inhibit innovation or that state policymakers will only muck things up if they try to regulate or legislate our way toward next generation models before we have established a better understanding of effective models and quality indicators. Certainly there is some truth to both of those positions.

There is also another truth.

We are asking teachers to go to work every day and do things that do not make instructional sense for children. We are sending our children to school every day knowing that they are going to be asked to do things because it is covered on the state exams at the end of the year even though they may not have the pre-requisite skills or they already know all of the material. This has to stop.

We need to do our very best, even if we make some mistakes along the way, to create the conditions for our teachers to use and build their professional knowledge to help our children learn. iNACOL’s recently released paper Promising State Policies for Personalized Learning, outlining three phases of state policy that can be used as a tool to catalyze conversation. (more…)

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PASA Forges Ahead with Competency-Based Expanded Learning Opportunities

May 24, 2016 by

Photo from the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) Website

“It’s hard to design a competency-based afterschool program when none of us have had any experience in our own lives of learning through a competency-based approach.”

So started the conversation with Alex Molina, Brittany Sandbergen, and Ann Durham of the Providence After School Alliance (PASA).

“We have an idea of how afterschool and expanded learning programming can be better aligned with student interests and their schooling through competencies, but we aren’t there yet,” explained Deputy Director Molina. “Competency-based learning can help clarify how students move from point A to point B in an afterschool experience. It can help improve the learning experience to be very clear about what we want students to be able to learn and also become a way of providing feedback to them. The one thing that is clear is that it starts by changing the way adults think about learning.”

How Expanded Learning Opportunities are Constructed

PASA has created very dynamic afterschool programming with the AfterZone (middle school) and the Hub (high school). The Hub organizes Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) that provide high school credit (.5 of an elective credit) to students for learning they do outside of the school day. Some samples of ELOs include mechanical fabrication, Android app design and development, Model UN, and environmental science.

While the AfterZone is designed for younger students to explore and try out lots of different experiences, the Hub was created for more in-depth experiences for high school students. It is organized to provide a central system for young people to access learning opportunities not currently available within their schools or to learn about content within applied, real-world experiences. The Hub’s ELOs provide a wide range of experiences, including: Young Voices (leadership development); Chrysalis-App Design (computer science for young women); Improv (acting and storytelling); Rocketry (engineering flying machines and then teaching middle students to do it); iPhone App and Game Design; Model UN; Art+Design Lab in partnership with RI School of Design Museum; and Take CoMMAnd (martial arts). (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Refurbishing for Personalized Learning

May 20, 2016 by

BinderThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on May 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Stop! You, yes you. The one perusing Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers for the perfect already-made-resource you can print off and use with your students.

And you! The one flipping through your binders, hanging-files, or digital folders for lesson plans and resources to use again.

You too! Surfing PBS, The History Channel, and other providers of ready-made curricula and lessons.

Stop. And think…

Will using this resource or material support the goals of learner-centered proficiency based practice?

The answer may not be entirely clear at first. The reality is that most of the pre-made materials are not. There are, however, ways to use these resources and refurbish them for personalized learning.

I recently facilitated a session with some teachers around using non-Calkins resources within the context of writing workshop. To start the hour off, we played a “yes-no game” based on a concept attainment activity. The gist is that we sorted examples into positive and negative groups, then determined the categories and gave them titles. This chart shows the results of our game: (more…)

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A Conversation with the Two Mikes from Montpelier

May 17, 2016 by
Two Mikes

Mike McRaith and Mike Martin

The New England Secondary School Consortium’s March conference is becoming a must-go meeting for me – as a place to hear about how educators are talking about their competency-based/mastery-based/proficiency-based systems and to expand my network of educators leading the way. Last March I had the opportunity to talk with Mike Martin, Montpelier Public Schools’ Director of Curriculum & Technology, and Mike McRaith, Principal of Montpelier High School in Vermont. (You can learn about MHS at Edutopia.)

On the Value of Proficiency-Based Learning

Martin explained, “In Vermont, we are focused on two big changes that are deeply connected. We want our students to have more personalized experiences and we want to make sure our students can meet proficiency-based graduation requirements so we’re confident that they’re ready for college and careers. It’s relatively easy to create the personalized learning plans called for in Act 77, but flexible pathways pose challenges relating to equity, and proficiency-based learning is a heavier lift. However, it is also a door to personalization. Proficiency-based learning is the way to make sure that personalized learning plans and experiential learning lead to higher achievement. In our approach, transferable skills provide a common language to define proficiency, both in class and through real-world learning.”

“We had personalized learning plans in Montpelier in the late 1990s, but we hadn’t connected them to student learning in this way. We had created a false divide between personal learning endeavors and academics. Now we are thinking about personalized learning plans and student aspirations in the context of how they can be used to create learning opportunities that engage and motivate students.”

He outlined some of these plans for me. “In the coming year, we are focusing on seven transferable skills – reading, writing, communication, problem-solving, habits of learning, citizenship, and creativity – as the enduring understanding that we want our students to have,” he said. “It is the ultimate UBD. We are building back from graduation to develop the capacity of schools to provide assessments and effective feedback on the transferrable skills.”

“The state created a set of policies that are all around the same work,” he added. “The common theme is building student agency. We want our students to know themselves as learners, to have the skills to be successful learners, and to have opportunities to build the transferable skills all along their path from kindergarten to graduation. At each grade level, students should be able to speak to the questions, Who am I as a reader? Who am I as a communicator? Who am I as a citizen? etc.” (more…)

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New Haven Academy: Pedagogy Comes First

May 16, 2016 by

new haven academyThis is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

There is no mistaking New Haven Academy’s pedagogy and vision – it hangs from colorful banners above the school: Think Critically. Be Responsible. Get Involved. There is also loving attention to the social-emotional needs of students exemplified by the bulletin board in the main office:

Just remember it’s tough to enjoy life when you don’t like yourself. When you learn to succeed at being yourself, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying life more fully.

Don’t let the way another person treats you determine your worth.

Find something you like to do that you do well, and do it over and over.

Co-founders Greg Baldwin (principal) and Meredith Gavrin (program director) have an interesting story about how they came to the world of mastery-based learning. It’s a story shaped by how they operationalized the pedagogy at the center of the school and eventually came to the point where they had to make a full conversion to mastery-based learning, as grading and traditional practices of how students advance were just too out of sync with the rest of the school to ignore.

The good news – among the juniors who were the first class to use mastery-based grading, there is an increasing number of them achieving mastery in their courses. (more…)

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Moving from Seat-Time to Competency-Based Credits in State Policy: Ensuring All Students Develop Mastery

May 14, 2016 by

Personalized-Learning-300x300This post originally appeared at iNACOL on April 12, 2016.

School leaders find once they begin to optimize their instructional models using anytime, anywhere learning, state policies that reinforce seat time become a barrier to innovative approaches delivering highly-personalized learning experiences for all students.

Personalized learning is important because it holds the promise to create student agency, preparing all students for college, career and life. In these learning environments, students tailor their education based on their own interests and passions. Students co-design their learning plans, engage in meaningful learning experiences to accomplishing college- and career-ready goals, and take ownership of their education.

Educators offer tailored instruction targeted to each student’s needs and empower students to learn standards, skills, and competencies by exploring topics relevant to them. For example, a student interested in biotechnology could develop an interdisciplinary approach that covers both biology and chemistry standards and work in a biotechnology internship part-time.

It is important to challenge seat-time as the only way to earn credit toward graduation.  Education systems should focus on learning (what a student knows and can do) and enable students to earn credits based on demonstrated mastery.

When students only earn credits based on the number of minutes in a course for a specific subject, it limits the ability for learning after school, in the community, through internships, and through online learning.

State policymakers can enable personalized, competency-based education that provides “open-walled” learning opportunities–inside and outside of school buildings–by allowing students to accumulate credits toward graduation by demonstrating competencies across disciplines.

Moving from “time-based” policies toward “competency-based” structures of earning credits based on demonstrated mastery is a major shift and is fundamental to personalizing learning at scale. (more…)

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How are We Doing Implementing Student-Centered Learning?

May 13, 2016 by

NMEFNellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF) and the Donahue Institute at University of Massachusetts released a new report A Qualitative Study of Student-Centered Learning Practices in New England High Schools last month. Student-centered learning as defined by NMEF has four tenets: (1) learning is personalized; (2) learning is competency-based; (3) learning takes place anytime, anywhere; and (4) students take ownership. There are a number of findings that we should pay attention to:

How Can We Make Adoption of CBE Easier?

Finding: Schools tended to report that the adoption of competency-based learning (CBE) models is more challenging than implementation of other tenets. Educators and leaders face considerable barriers to successful implementation, such as expectations that students will advance at the end of each school year and community concerns regarding colleges’ views of competency-based transcripts.

Discussion: Based on my experience visiting schools, everything goes easier once schools embrace a new set of values and assumptions led by the number one tenet – Do What’s Best for Kids. (See Courtney Belolan’s article on culture.) Some people argue that we need discrete models with options for specific practices. What do you think would make adoption easier?

Do We Have Enough Results Yet to Begin to Determine What Works?

Finding: Every site visit school implemented a unique competency-based learning system. The lack of a proven competency-based model challenges schools to invent their own approach.

Discussion: I will still argue that we are early in the process of innovation and that we are still finding our way to figuring the “best models.” However, we are also now at the stage of districts and schools having several years of implementation. So we should begin to benchmark different models and practices that are yielding results?

What Will It Take to Increase Expanded Learning Opportunities?

Finding: Anytime/anywhere learning practices lag behind the other SCL tenets. Teachers and administrators face an array of challenges to implementing approaches within this tenet, such as establishing community partnerships, transportation, and budget. Some schools appear not to realize the full educational potential of such practices. (more…)

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Superintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut

May 12, 2016 by

NextEdThis is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

Why is Connecticut turning to personalized, mastery-based learning? Because superintendents had the courage to be honest that there wasn’t any way to reach the policy goal of every student ready for college and careers within the traditional, one-size-fits-all, time-based system. As Larry Schaefer and Janet Garagliano of the Connecticut Association of Public Schools Superintendents (CAPSS) explained it to me, “Superintendents came to the conclusion that they couldn’t guarantee that all kids are going to be college and career ready without some major changes. The best way to reach our goals is through a personalized, mastery-based system.”

Sometimes superintendents are seen as holders of the status quo. However, when the superintendents released their first report NextEd: Transforming Connecticut’s Education System in 2011, they demonstrated forward-thinking leadership. They demonstrated that they were innovators, not the barriers to change. With over 150 recommendations, the report explained step-by-step how once you put students at the center of the system, just about every aspect of the system had to be re-adjusted. Personalization wasn’t a new program, it was re-engineering the system.

CAPSS also engaged other educators in creating a vision. In the next report, A Look to the Future: Personalized Learning in Connecticut, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) and the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), with principals as their members, co-created the vision for a personalized, mastery-based system. At the end of March, CAPSS released a more detailed plan called NextEd: Next Steps, which is filled with action steps. (more…)

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Update on Maine’s Proficiency-Based Diploma Policy

May 11, 2016 by
Maine State House

Maine State House, Wikipedia

To refresh your memory, Maine had originally set a policy that students would be expected to demonstrate proficiency in all eight domains to get a diploma. Under pressure of trying to get all students to reach proficiency in all eight domains, districts asked for more flexibility. The first ideas considered were much lower expectations of proficiency in math and ELA being used as a graduation requirement. The final policy sets a series of phases and also includes students being able to choose one or more of the domains they need to demonstrate proficiency.

B-1. Phase in the following diploma requirements from the 2020-2021 school year to the 2024-2025 school year:

(1) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2020-2021, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology and social studies;

(2) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2021-2022, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and at least one additional content area of the student’s choice;

(3) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2022-2023, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and at least 2 additional content areas of the student’s choice;

(4) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2023-2024, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in the content areas of English language arts, mathematics, science and technology, social studies and at least 3 additional content areas of the student’s choice; and

(5) For a student graduating in the graduating class of 2024-2025 and for each subsequent graduating class, certify that the student has demonstrated proficiency in meeting the state standards in all content areas.


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