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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A Reflection on the Field of K-12 Competency-Based Education and Emerging Issues

September 22, 2016 by

webinarAre you new to competency education and want to understand the field? Or are you a long-term leader seeking an opportunity to reflect with other leaders in CBE on the challenging issues facing us?

Join iNACOL President Susan Patrick and myself, the co-founders of CompetencyWorks, for a webinar on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET. (You can register here.)

We’ll take a bit of time to discuss what competency education is and how our understanding is developing. We’ll look back at where we started and where we are now. And then we’ll dive into the big issues that are confronting us. As always, we hope that the discussion in the chat room will be lively and invite you to raise differing perspectives so we can develop a deeper understanding of how competency education is advancing in K12 across the U.S.

This webinar is free to attend. Participants are invited to register here for final details and login information.

Webinar Title: A Reflection on the Field of K-12 Competency-Based Education and Emerging Issues

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Who is Helping You Plan and Implement Competency Education?

September 21, 2016 by

One of the weaknesses we have had in the field is that we haven’t had enough technical assistance providers or Stepping Stonesenough models from which districts can choose. This situation, with its lack of documented results or research on quality indicators, has left us trying to learn from each other without knowing that we are actually learning from “best practices.”

I’m thrilled to say that things are getting a tiny bit better in terms of number of TA providers, and that some have also increased their capacity to better meet the growing demand. Only a few provide assistance on the transformation to a competency-based environment, but districts have mentioned the others because of targeted support that has been instrumental in their process. I’m sure this list (provided in alphabetical order) is not complete and does not include individuals…so please, please, please, add other TA providers you’ve worked with in the comments section and why you would recommend them. It’s also helpful to know about your experience with any of the folks listed below. Where are there strengths? What are the reasons you would recommend them?

Center for Secondary School Redesign: CSSR has been a leader in helping secondary schools personalize their schools. They guide schools in reshaping the relationships and power dynamics by engaging youth in leadership roles throughout the school. They are familiar with competency education, but as far as I know, they do not have a specific model that they draw upon. They are well-known for the I3 network on personalization (lots of resources on personalization without using technology) in New England. They have consulted to Pittsfield School District in NH and Springdale, Arkansas.

Competency-Based Education Solutions: This is a new team of technical assistance providers led by Dan Joseph. Joseph was previously principal at James. W. Russell Elementary in Grey-New Gloucester Maine. You can reach Dan at djoseph (at)CBESolution (dot)com.

EL Education: EL Education (used to be Expeditionary Learning) does not specialize in competency education. However, schools are finding that their training can be helpful in developing a high-quality instructional model and aligned system of assessments. Windsor Locks and Kappa International both found their training on personalizing the classroom to be very helpful in making the transition to a competency-based school. (FYI – Casco Bay High School is an EL school that has successfully integrated a proficiency-based structure.) (more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

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What's NewUpcoming Competency Education Webinar

iNACOL and CompetencyWorks are hosting a Special Edition Webinar to reflect on the field of K-12 competency education and explore emerging issues. This webinar is free to attend—register here to receive login instructions. Competency-based education experts Susan Patrick and Chris Sturgis will lead the discussion on important developments and trends across competency education. Join the webinar to help identify the field’s emerging issues and provide insights to inform the future direction of competency-based education.

CBE in the States

Designing Systems of Assessments

Thought Leadership

(more…)

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Investing in Shared Leadership

September 20, 2016 by

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

The shift to competency-based education requires a personal commitment from superintendents and principals to develop collaborative leadership and management styles. Changing personal leadership styles means these professionals must undertake extensive study, solicit feedback for reflecting on their leadership, engage in dialogue with peers and colleagues, and even seek out coaching. Each leader will have a different journey toward developing leadership/management strategies that are effective in creating and sustaining empowering, learning organizations. In the following discussion, three aspects of leadership are discussed: the call for a distributed leadership style, the role of a culture of learning, and empowering others.

Distributing Leadership

Superintendents and principals agree that top-down management doesn’t work well in competency-based environments—or, for that matter, in any large district reform. The traditional education system operates on a set of rules for the delivery of education services that has tried to standardize the inputs so all students have the same exposure to the curriculum. In top-down systems, higher levels of governance set the conditions for each lower level, leaving schools and teachers with little autonomy or opportunity to inform decision-making at higher levels. Traditional leadership styles are often characterized by people turning to the managers above them to resolve issues or set the direction. Changes are often communicated through memo, where dialogue is limited, if not nonexistent.

The problems with this kind of compliance-oriented leadership style are three-fold. First, top-down approaches undermine any efforts to create an empowered staff who will take responsibility for ensuring students are learning. Top-down decision-making essentially undermines accountability. Second, when employees look to the next level up to answer questions and resolve issues, it undermines the culture of learning and is a lost opportunity for building problem-solving capacity within the organization. Third, no superintendent or principal can have all the knowledge or answers about how to best respond to students or address organizational issues. During periods of dramatic change, this becomes a risk, as the superintendent or principal is unlikely to be able to understand all the ramifications of every change. It requires collaborative, iterative processes to create the new operational policies and procedures needed to support a personalized, competency-based environment. Fueling a competency-based system requires the engagement and ownership of students, educators, and community members alike—an idea that will be explored in depth as the series progresses. (more…)

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What Is Competency Education?

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What Is CEThis is the second article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. For those of you who are new to competency education, you might want to start with this article explaining what it is. For those of you already familiar, jump to the third part of this series.

During the last few years, the phrase competency education has come into vogue. You may have heard it being used to refer to self-paced online learning or to describe innovations in higher education. This series is focused on the transformation of the time-based K–12 system where the focus is on inputs (seat-time, hours in the day, minutes in each class) to a system where the focus is on learning.

Understanding Competency Education

The power of competency education is in its system-wide infrastructure that creates the necessary feedback loops to ensure students are learning. The five-part working definition of competency education describes the elements that need to be put into place to re-engineer the education system to reliably produce student learning:

  • Students advance upon demonstrated mastery;
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students;
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students;
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs; and
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

Competency education is often described with the phrase, “Learning is constant, and time is the variable.” We know that students learn differently, requiring more or less time for different reasons. They may be at different points along the learning continuum, each with a different set of skills. Students may have different approaches to learning, with some students preferring to take more time upfront to dive more deeply into learning to master new skills or content. Certainly the levels of academic support available outside of school differ. All of these dynamics lead to students learning at different paces. However, flexible pacing, or the concept that “students advance upon mastery,” is only one of the five elements of the definition. In competency education, timely, differentiated support is equally important, as that is what allows students to continue progressing without being left behind. Teachers work with students to ensure they are filling any gaps in foundational skills, and schools provide timely support so students can get immediate help when they are struggling. (more…)

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Introducing Implementing Competency Education in K–12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders

September 19, 2016 by

Implementing Comp EdCompetency education, an educator-led reform, is taking root in schools and districts across the country. In some states, state leadership has cleared the path with policies to advance competency education. However, districts in Alaska, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and South Carolina are transitioning to competency education with little or no supporting policy. Furthermore, innovative school models are popping up all over the United States, contributing to our knowledge of new ways to organize teaching and learning within a competency-based structure.

Nearly 90 percent of states have created some room for competency-based innovations. The leading states of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Colorado have started down the path to redesign personalized, competency-based policies and education by re-aligning their systems, creating proficiency-based diplomas, and converting credits to recognize skills learned rather than time in class. Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, and Rhode Island have all established enabling policies to create space for districts to innovate. Idaho recently launched an effort with nineteen districts piloting mastery-based approaches. Utah, Nevada, and others are actively studying what it means to have a personalized, competency-based system. Others have created “seat-time waivers” that allow districts and schools to offer competency-based credits.

Districts have been the driving force for the conversion to personalized, competency-based education. Groups of visionary teacher-leaders may introduce competency education into a school, and individual schools within a district may incorporate standards-referenced grading or a competency-based program for over-age and under-credited students. However, there are limits to being able to fully implement a school-wide competency-based system without a district authorizing school autonomy regarding assessments, grading, promotion, staffing, budgeting, and teacher evaluation. It is when the district leadership team, in partnership with school leadership, is humble and brave enough to admit that the traditional system isn’t working, that the foundation is laid for competency education. A systemic approach is the only way to ensure that students can fully advance upon mastery and for robust quality control measures to be established district-wide to calibrate rigor. (more…)

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WestEd’s Student Agency in Assessment & Learning Project

September 16, 2016 by

generic-schoolThis post is adapted from the Next Generation Learning Challenges‘ Friday Focus.

Last week I had the pleasure of joining about 30 educators for the summer leadership session of WestEd’s Student Agency in Assessment & Learning (SAAL) project. Like many professional learning experiences, we spent some time watching classroom videos. But this time, we were instructed not to focus on instruction. Instead, we watched the students, who were giving each other feedback about strategies to decompose three digit numbers. Not checking answers, not checking procedures — discussing the pros and cons of how each student approached the problem.

Though there are many definitions of student agency, there’s nothing like seeing it in action.

WestEd’s SAAL project is a part of the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP), an initiative led by the Center for Innovation in Education in partnership with NGLC. The projects in the ALP network range from individual schools to state-level initiatives, but from different vantage points and with different levers to pull, they’re all asking the same core questions:

  • How can we design and implement systems of ongoing formative assessment that support student learning, rather than simply evaluating students?
  • How can we go beyond academic achievement to measure a broader range of the skills and dispositions necessary for success in college, career, and community?
  • How can assessment empower students to develop greater agency in their own learning?

The SAAL project asks how formative assessment practices — at both the teacher and student level — can contribute to learner agency. WestEd is working with three districts – Chandler Unified and Sunnyside Unified in Arizona, and Blachly School District in Oregon – to explore how teachers can cultivate student agency in learning and assessment. All of the participant teachers in these districts completed the six-month online digital learning experience, Formative Assessment Insights developed by the SAAL team and funded by the Hewlett Foundation, which laid the foundation for the current project.

Like all ALP projects, SAAL is testing a hypothesis, and it’s too early to draw final conclusions. But I was struck by the way that the WestEd team is structuring their inquiry. Through action research in close partnership with teachers and instructional leaders, they’re examining two essential issues: What does is truly mean to be “student centered?” And, how we need to think differently about instructional design and assessment to cultivate student agency?

The Power of Focusing on Student Learning

As part of the SAAL project, teachers will record videos of their classrooms, and use these videos to reflect on the learning behaviors students are engaged in. Specifically, teachers will focus on the degree to which students are self-assessing, and engaging in peer feedback discussions. The WestEd team has developed a prototype “continuum” of observable student behaviors related to these two learning practices. The project lead at WestEd, Margaret Heritage, noted that when people “rate” the teacher in the video we watched using rubrics for instructional practice, the ratings are uniformly high. But when they use the continuum of student behaviors, the result is much more mixed. (more…)

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Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC Tour

September 15, 2016 by
mastery collaborative

The Mastery Collaborative

I returned to NYC to see what was happening and was deeply impressed by what I saw and the conversations I had with educators. NYC’s Mastery Collaborative is truly catalytic in engaging forty schools (nearly 10 percent of the NYC high schools) in making the transition to mastery-based learning.

You can follow the entire journey here:

The Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC Tour

Part 1 – NYC Big Takeaways

Part 2 – Catalyzing Mastery-Based Learning: NYC’s Mastery Collaborative

Part 3 – The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria

Part 4 – Flushing International’s Three Learning Outcomes: Habits, Language, and Academic Skills

Part 5 – KAPPA International: The Story of Angelica

Part 6 – North Queens Community High School: Blooming the Outcomes

Part 7 – High Expectations at EPIC North

Part 8 – Anchoring the Learning: A Discussion with Joel Rose at New Classrooms

Part 9 – Talking Equity with John Duval

And here are the schools I visited and lessons learned from my first trip to NYC:

(more…)

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On Our Way Toward Integrated Learning Systems

September 14, 2016 by

inacolWe have come a long way in terms of helping the vendors of information systems understand that we need “grading books” that will allow educators to monitor student progress on learning objectives that may be organized in a variety of ways. However, most still do not understand that what we want are student-centered information systems, not standards-based ones. We want to know what skills a student has, and we want to monitor their progress based upon both their own learning trajectory and grade-level standards. Yes, we want students to be on grade level, but if they are missing the important pre-requisite skills, then we want to work more intensively with them to build those skills. It’s a both/and situation.

Thus, it is over-the-top fantastic that the Nellie Mae Education Foundation has released an RFP for integrated learning systems. Here is the information below. Be sure to read the iNACOL’s Functional Requirements for Integrated Systems to Optimize Learning regardless if you apply or not. (more…)

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Why Aren’t We Talking about Culturally Responsive Education in Next Gen Learning?

September 13, 2016 by

StudyingThis post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on August 4, 2016.

Those of us in the next gen learning space are ignoring a great opportunity. Something that could propel next gen learning to be the force we say we want it to be: one that fundamentally changes the life trajectories of the students we serve.

Culturally Responsive Education

I’ve been thinking a lot about equity in relation to next gen learning lately. I’m asking tough questions of myself, questioning assumptions in our work instead of letting them go unstudied, thinking about ‘user-centered design’ in a whole new light, and sitting with new information as I try to process and understand it.

The news of recent weeks has been heartbreaking. From the highly publicized police shooting deaths of unarmed Black men, to the shooting spree and deaths of police officers, to the White backlash against Black Lives Matter and, in the education reform world, backlash against empowering people of color to address systemic racism in education, the crack in race relations in this country is opening wider and exposing the problems I knew existed but swept under the rug and out of my consciousness.

My response to this heartbreak: lift up the rug, expose the crack, raise my consciousness, and work to understand what it is underserved students really need. (And, by the way, understand what it is advantaged students need. I wonder if educational equity wouldn’t be better served if higher-income White education reformers—and by that I mean, me—focused more attention on serving advantaged students through social justice education and helping them develop the skills of an ally.)

And then I stumbled upon this:

If students survive their educations, they potentially become widgets—unimaginative, obedient, conforming replicas of each other. Students who do not survive their widget-making education risk higher levels of lifetime poverty and incarceration, as well as poorer physical and mental health outcomes than students exposed to more student-centered educational interventions. —Diversity Challenge 2016: Race, Culture, and Educating Our Youths – Developing Whole People Not Widgets.

This! Yes! This is why the current system isn’t good enough. And this is why I am so passionate about next gen learning. I believe it can and will help us move away from the ‘lose-lose’ proposition of a factory model, widget-producing school system. It can help us move toward schools that honor students’ individuality and self-authorship by providing meaningful learning experiences that lead to richer, deeper, broader outcomes than proficiency on a test. (What’s the opposite of a widget? A work of art? Or, maybe we need to drop the metaphors and simply say that a student is an individual whose humanity and dignity is celebrated.)

I kept reading: (more…)

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