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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ACHIEVE’s Communication Tool Kit – Must Use!

January 16, 2015 by

achieveI had a chance to see ACHIEVE’s Communication Tool Kit during a webinar on communication strategies for state policy leaders. The materials are truly terrific…absolutely every person should read them and start using the language and talking points. They are so good and so important to read that I’m publishing the Core Messages right here.

The one word I would caution is that the ideas haven’t been message tested – for you funders out there, it would be a great investment to do some focus groups with different constituencies and stakeholders, especially communities that have historically received less-than-adequate educational services.

FYI, there are lots of resources – including planning tools and an infographic – that will be coming soon.

Competency-Based Pathways: Definition, Key Messages, and Talking Points (more…)

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In Search of the Goldilocks Scale

January 15, 2015 by
Porridge

Too hot? Too cold? Just right!

We have learned a lot over the past five years as our district has implemented a competency-based model of grading and assessing. Competency-based grading and assessment requires a significant shift in the way we think about assessment—its purpose and its meaning. Our school, Memorial School in Newton, NH and our district, the Sanborn Regional School District, moved to this model five years ago. We continue to learn more about what assessment of students truly means as our overall understanding of assessment practices (our assessment literacy) increases.

When we moved to this model of grading and assessment, our elementary teachers made a wholesale change to grading with a four-point rubric. There would be no number scale (100 point scale) and there would be consistency across grade levels horizontally and vertically. The grade scale rubrics we used would identify the expectations around each level. Our learning curve was steep as we created the rubrics, but we found that our learning was not going to stop there. It continues to this day.

Our first year, we identified our rubric indicators as E (Exceeding), M (Meeting), IP (Inconsistent Progress), and LP (Limited Progress). The chart below reflects this first attempt at our rubric scale. The first roadblock came after the first progress report was distributed. As an educational staff, we looked at IP as what the descriptor outlined—inconsistent progress. A student was able to demonstrate competency, but it was on an inconsistent basis. Many parents provided feedback that it just “felt negative” (the word inconsistent). We decided that “In Progress” was also an accurate indicator, and parents agreed. We made the change immediately within the “Level” while keeping the performance descriptor the same. (more…)

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Calibrating the Competency Conversation

January 14, 2015 by

Policy Practice PhilosophyThis blog originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on December 19, 2014. It was adapted from a brief presentation I gave at the North Carolina New Schools and The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation daylong workshop, Preparing Educators for the Competency Learning Revolution.

If I tried to define competency-based education in the fewest words possible, I would say: in a competency-based system, students advance upon mastery.

But if you haven’t already, you’ll find that the concepts of “advance,” “mastery,” and even “upon” are subject to debate. Indeed, competency-based education is a topic that actually becomes more complex the more you learn about. I’ve often felt in conversations on this topic that the category or theme of competency-based education is so immensely broad that people are actually using it in a wide variety of ways and as a result, are talking past each other. We need to be clear about what it is and why it is important. We also need to be clear about the level at which we are discussing and debating this subject: Are we discussing a philosophy of competency? Debating a policy? Or prescribing a practice inside the classroom? These three categories beget different questions, concerns, and insights into how to build a coherent competency-based system. Champions of competency-based reform can hopefully begin to clarify the similarities and differences in these spheres of philosophical, political, and practical considerations in order to move the system forward on all three dimensions. (more…)

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Chugach Teachers Talk about Teaching

January 13, 2015 by
3flying to tatitlek

Flying to Tatitlek

This is the third post in the Chugach School District series. Read the first and second posts here.

Chugach School District is a teacher’s district. Bob Crumley, Superintendent, started as a teacher in Whittier Community School (WCS). (There is a story about his coming face to face with a bear that had wandered into the school in search of sausage.) Debbie Treece, Director of Special Education, signed up to teach at Whittier before realizing that the only way to get there at the time was to travel through a tunnel sitting in absolute darkness…and this after driving one’s car onto the back of a railway flat. Doug Penn, District Principal, has worked in the communities of Chenega Bay and Whittier.

It’s also a learner’s district, because everyone at CSD is willing to learn in order to do better by their students and their families.

Not every person is cut out to teach at CSD. You’ve got to want a bit of adventure. You’ve got to have a love for the incredible mountain-meets-sea landscape. You’ve got to be willing to live in small communities that have limited access. And you’ve got to love kids.

There were incredibly rich conversations with teachers throughout my three days at CSD. Here are a few of the highlights:

On Being a Generalist or Not-Yet-Specialists (more…)

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Supporting Competency Education in ESEA Reauthorization

January 10, 2015 by
Maria Worthen

Maria Worthen

A new Congress brings new hopes for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA reauthorization provides an important window of opportunity to realign federal policy to support and enable the transition to competency education.

Background

The new Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander, has indicated his intention to consider an ESEA reauthorization bill in that committee by February. House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman, Representative John Kline, has said it will be a top priority. Both have announced plans to hold hearings in the next month.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the state education chiefs last fall that the new Congress gives new potential to work on a bipartisan basis and that he will be pushing very hard to reauthorize ESEA.

With positive signals coming from House, Senate, and the Education Department leaders about reauthorization, could 2015 be ESEA’s year? Maybe, maybe not—but if you care about the outcome, it’s still essential to weigh in. (more…)

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North Carolina: Optimizing Best Practices through a Convening of Thought Leaders

January 9, 2015 by

North Carolina“In education, what is not focused on pedagogy is politics.” This is how Tony Habit, President of North Carolina New Schools, opened a convening in Raleigh, NC on December 18th. He emphasized that our focus in competency education must begin and end with the work of teachers in order to transform education; all conversations must be grounded in a deep understanding of the work they do everyday, and we must focus our efforts on how best to support their work.

This summit, titled Preparing Educators for the Competency Learning Revolution, was a convening of innovators, researchers, practitioners, and thought leaders in the competency education field, designed to share ideas, resources, and best practices to remain on the cutting edge of innovation. Presenters discussed the national policy landscape for competency-based learning, identified potential barriers and enablers to implementation, conferred over the role of technology in competency-based systems, and began developing a concept paper exploring statewide competency-based implementation.

The group of thought leaders operated as a “think tank” to identify enablers, barriers, and readiness factors regarding a state’s transition to competency education. Glenn Kleiman, Executive Director at the Friday Institute, and Tony Habit, President of NC New Schools, opened the summit, welcomed the attendees, and opened the floor for invigorating, honest, and wide-ranging conversations around all aspects of competency education. (more…)

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Navigators of Learning

January 8, 2015 by

CompassImprovement comes from knowing where you are going, where you are starting, and the strategic steps to get you there. This is true whether you are retooling a business or choosing towels for a newly redecorated bathroom. When my district began to move to a learner-centered, proficiency-based educational system, we met with the community of parents, learners, educators, and business leaders to set the vision for the school. We now use this vision to create the action plans we will follow to get us to the vision.

But when working with students, we stray from this plan. Teachers’ goals are simple: improve students in their thinking and skills. The execution is the tough part. Giving students a letter grade is not a strategy for improvement. It is as helpful as a coach telling a team they lost without reflecting on why the loss occurred. Athletes know the goal of the game is to win, and reminding them of this is not a strategy.

Tony Dungy, the former head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts (as described in Henry Cloud’s book Boundaries for Leaders), knew that if he was going to win the Super Bowl, he would need to not just measure how many wins or losses the team had. Instead he would need to measure penalty yards and turnovers. He then gave the athletes strategies on how to improve those areas. If they executed the strategies, he theorized they would win. He was right. Teachers need to do the same. We cannot simply give students a final grade when they are not even sure what strategies they can use to improve – or worse, aren’t even clear on what they are trying to improve. A well-crafted progression of competencies can give the teacher and the student the guidebook needed to create successful strategies for continuous improvement. (more…)

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Chugach School District’s Performance-Based Infrastructure

January 7, 2015 by
2 hydroponics class

Students in Chugach School District

This is the second post in the Chugach School District series. Read the first post here.

I’ve noticed that in the first year of transitioning to a competency-based system, schools often dive headfirst into creating the competencies and rubrics without thinking about the pedagogical platform upon which the entire infrastructure is going to rest. What could be a powerful discussion among educators about what we want students to learn and be able to do can quickly become a bureaucratic process eating up reams of paper.

Not so at Chugach. The spirit of empowerment, student ownership of their learning, and a shared understanding that the schools are preparing students for life, not just graduation, permeated every conversation. Absolutely every conversation.

This post, although long, will cover four elements of the Chugach performance-based system: student empowerment, a system of assessments, the domains of learning (content areas), and preparing students for life.  (more…)

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Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District

January 6, 2015 by
Debbie Treece

Debbie Treece

This is the first post in the Chugach School District series. Continue reading the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh posts. 

I’ve never been to Alaska before. All I can say is that it was beyond any and all expectations – as was my visit to Chugach School District (CSD).

I’m sure you’ve heard about Chugach. It’s the first district to transform itself into a competency-based model (or what they refer to as performance-based). It’s the basis of the must-read Delivering the Promise. CSD has stayed the course for twenty years, developing a sophisticated system that provides flexibility to their schools while keeping a firm eye on student achievement and progress. And they aren’t done – they are continually exploring ways to increase access to knowledge, expand hands-on and college/career readiness opportunities, and more.

It’s not easy to see the CSD performance-based system in practice. Seventy-seven percent of their students are homeschoolers, the schools in the Alutiiq communities of Tatitlek and Chenega Bay require boarding a charter flight, and the road to Whittier…well, it goes through a one-lane tunnel where you have to decide whether you want the wheels of your car to fit on top of the railroad track or to the sides, and where you have to be prepared to share the road with moose if the snow gets too deep! (There is also the Voyage to Excellence, a statewide variable-term residential program to expand learning opportunities, which I’ll talk about in future posts.)

I spent three days with the CSD team in order to fully understand their approach – and I am forever grateful for their willingness to share their knowledge and their love of Alaska. I learned so much about performance-based education: how it looks in tiny, rural schools; how it can be structured for Native education; how it supports special education students; and how the infrastructure can be intentionally designed to capture all aspects of learning and student development.

A special thanks to Debbie Treece, Director of Special Education, who organized the tour, answered a thousand questions, and drove me through a wintery-white landscape to Whittier. (more…)

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