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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Thinking Way, Way, Way Outside the Box at the Donnell-Kay Foundation

June 15, 2015 by
dk foundation

From the DK Foundation Website

Imagination. It’s overflowing at the Donnell-Kay Foundation (DKF) as they think about how to ReSchool Colorado.

Imagine what school would be if it could take place anywhere, anytime, and in the context that is most meaningful for students. Imagine if we tossed out the ideas of courses, annual calendars, daily schedules, textbooks, and even the concept of school as we know it. Imagine what a statewide system might look like if there were multiple providers designed for learners from birth through young adulthood to allow them to bundle together their educational opportunities (think playlists, but with a wide range of learning experiences).

The goal of the ReSchool team at DKF, led by Amy Anderson and Colleen Broderick, is to develop a broader eco-system of opportunities starting with non-consumers. According to the Christensen Institute, focusing on non-consumers means providing a “whole new population of consumers at the bottom of a market access to a product or service that was historically only accessible to consumers with a lot of money or a lot of skill.” The DKF is starting by targeting families not using early childhood education services and older teens/young adults.

The reason they can think way, way, way outside the box is that the heart of the system is a competency-based infrastructure organized around four large goals: academically prepared, disciplined, socially aware, and a solution seeker. The idea is that a statewide system could be designed to have tremendous flexibility as long as there is a unifying structure to deeply personalized paths. Rather than schools, there will be advocates (organizations providing advocacy services) to help learners set goals and organize the right set of learning experiences for them. (more…)

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When Diplomas and Credits Send False Signals

June 12, 2015 by

PercentageThis post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education on June 11, 2015.

Last month Achieve launched its #HonestyGap campaign. The effort highlights the gap between the percent of students deemed proficient on state exams versus the percent of students deemed proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Not surprisingly, the gaps are wide and pervasive.

The NAEP is considered to be the gold standard of assessments, and this Achieve report clearly demonstrates how parents, students and, quite frankly, educators are being misled by inconsistent expectations of proficiency. In many states when a student passes a state exam, it may not mean he has mastered the content. Often the tests are too easy or the passing scores too generous.

This proficiency gap is decried by the education reform community, but the NAEP isn’t a test most parents are even aware of because it has no impact on individual students or state accountability systems.

Parents typically rely on the most familiar aspect of American education to understand how their student is performing in school—the report card.

The real miscommunication happens when students earn passing grades in required courses yet struggle with end of year assessments. Students may accumulate all the required credits, but what is their diploma worth if they haven’t mastered the content? (more…)

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Making Sense (or Trying to) of Competencies, Standards and the Structures of Learning

June 9, 2015 by
math comps

From Building 21 (Click to Enlarge)

States, districts, and schools are developing a range of different ways to structure their Instruction and Assessment system (the set of learning goals of what schools want students to know and be able to do; the way they can identify if students have learned them; and, if not, how they can provide feedback to help them learn it). I’m having difficulty being able to describe the differences as well as the implications. The issue of the importance of the design of how we describe what students should and/or have learned has come up in meetings about assessment, about learning progressions (instructional strategies that are based on how students learn and are designed to help them move from one concept to the next), and with the NCAA over the past month.

So I’m doing the only thing I know how to do—which is to try to identify the different issues or characteristics that are raised to see if I can make some sense of it. For example, here are a number of questions that help me understand the qualities of any set of standards and competencies:

Is it designed to reach deeper levels of learning?

Some structures clearly integrate deeper learning and higher order skills, whereas others seem to depend solely on the level of knowledge based on how the standard is written. We could just use standards and forgo an overarching set of competencies. However, the competencies ask us to ensure that students can transfer their learning to new situations. It drives us toward deeper learning.

Is it meaningful for teachers for teaching and for students for learning?

As I understand it, much of the Common Core State Standards was developed by backward planning, or backing out of what we wanted kids to know and be able to do upon graduation and then figuring out what it would look like at younger ages. Much less attention was spent on structuring the standards based on how students learn and meaningful ways to get them there. The learning progression experts are emphatic that it is important to organize the units of learning in a way that is rooted in the discipline and helps teachers to recognize where students’ understanding is and how they can help them tackle the next concept. That means the structures are going to be different in different disciplines. Thus, we need to understand how helpful the structures of the standards, competencies, and assessments are to actually help students learn. (more…)

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Competency-Based Approaches in K-12 Schools, Part Two


USC Hybrid High School

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on June 1, 2015. The first part of the series can be read here


In this second post on schools’ approaches to competency-based education, I’m highlighting one NGLC grantee that has committed its model to a larger goal: positive multigenerational change. Read on to learn more about how LA’s USC Hybrid High School is preparing its high school students for success in higher education and beyond.

Model: USC Hybrid High School – A charter school serving 9-12 grade students in Los Angeles, CA. The goal of USC Hybrid High is to develop self-motivated and disciplined learners who are prepared to thrive at and graduate from top four-year universities, who will go on to use their college degrees to effect positive multigenerational change. Therefore, the school emphasizes a deep sense of purpose, mastery-based personalization, and developing the mindsets to thrive in college.

At USC Hybrid High, students are engaged in a personalized learning model that embeds technology across the curriculum. Additionally, students participate in a mastery-based personalized college prep program that includes core instruction delivered through online modules developed by teachers in Canvas, the school’s online LMS. Students control their pace as they advance through lessons and teachers guide students to work independently or in strategic groupings. The blended coursework and ongoing flow of data enables teachers to facilitate just-in-time learning by employing a variety of instructional strategies: on the spot interventions, one-on-one instruction, small-group pullouts, reteaching/remediation using another modality, or peer-to-peer support.

At USC Hybrid High, a variety of assessment practices are utilized to enable students to demonstrate mastery including: (more…)

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Idaho Agrees: Flexible Pace > Seat Time

June 4, 2015 by

Desk ChairThis post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education on March 27, 2015.

The goal of a high school biology student should be to learn biology, or at least learn all the course has to offer.

That sounds simple enough. But in reality, it is not how the public education system works. Instead, the goal is to have the student sit in a biology class for a specific amount of time (often about 180 days), regardless of how long it actually takes the student to master the material.

An advanced student has to slow down; a struggling student has to keep up.

Inserting an artificial time restriction into learning forces students to adapt to someone else’s learning schedule. A better approach is to allow students to progress at a flexible pace so they can move on when they have mastered the material. Idaho is taking a bold step in this direction. The state recognizes the need for education to be more personalized in order to reach their goals.

Earlier this month, the Idaho legislature unanimously passed HB 110, which directs the Department of Education to begin Idaho’s transition to a mastery-based education system. And last week, Governor Butch Otter signed the bill into law.

This is another stride towards implementing Governor Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education, and it is an important step forward in preparing Idaho students for success in the 21st century. (more…)

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New Release – Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders

June 3, 2015 by

ReportCover-ImplementingCBEinK12SystemsToday, CompetencyWorks released Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. It is a comprehensive look at how districts across the country from Alaska to Maine have been transforming their districts from the time-based system to one that puts students and their learning in the center of all decisions.

The paper is based on conversations with educators during the past four years about how they are managing the transformation. Throughout the paper you will hear directly from district leaders as they reflect on the transformational process and their lessons learned.

Each week, additional districts begin to explore competency education and what it would take to design their systems to be more personalized so students get the support they need to be successful. In order to make it easier for you to use the paper as a discussion tool, CompetencyWorks has created excerpts for each of the four stages: 1) Ramping Up for Transformation 2) Designing the Infrastructure for Learning 3) Transitioning to a Competency-Based System and 4) Embracing Continuous Improvement and Innovation.

Please join us on June 25th at 2 pm ET for a webinar on Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems. Register here.

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Needed: Partners with Assessment Expertise

June 2, 2015 by

MeasurementI had a sense of dread as I flew to Colorado to join the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment for its annual Colloquim on Assessment and Accountability Implications of Competency and Personalized Learning Systems. A room full of experts on measurement? I was prepared to have any ideas I might have about what assessment looks like in a fully developed competency-based system destroyed in a Terminator-like fashion.

Instead what I found was a room of incredibly thoughtful, creative, forward-thinking people who are willing to explore along with all of us how we might organize a system that keeps the focus on learning while using discrete and meaningful mechanisms to ensure rigor and equity. Along with myself, Ephraim Weisstein, founder of Schools for the Future, Maria Worthen, Vice President for Federal and State Policy at iNACOL, and Laura Hamilton of Rand were invited to the Colloquium to kick off the conversation. My brain started churning as I listened to the presentations from Kate Kazin, Southern New Hampshire University; Samantha Olson, Colorado Education Initiative; Christy Kim Boscardin, University of California, San Francisco; and Eva Baker, CRESST.

And then my brain went into overdrive listening to the insights of the team of assessment experts as they sorted through the conversation, explored different options, and identified where there was opportunity to create a system that generated consistency in determining levels of learning. It would be a system in which credentialing learning generates credibility, a system that allows us to trust when a teacher says a student is proficient, providing us with real confidence that they are, in fact, ready for the next set of challenges.

Some Big Take-Aways

Below are some of the big take-aways that Ephraim, Maria, and I came away with.

1. Get Crystal Clear on the Goal: It’s critical for the field and competency-based districts and schools to be explicit about their learning targets (however they might be defined and organized) so results can be evaluated and measured. There are a variety of ways of structuring competencies and standards, and we need to think about the ways in which we can measure them (or not).

2. Consider Applying Transparency to Designing Assessments: We all operate with the assumption that summative assessment items have to be hidden in a black box. However, we could make test items transparent – not their answers, of course – but the questions themselves. Consider the implications—lower costs, more sharing, more opportunity for the stakeholders to understand the systems of assessments. It’s worth having an open conversation about the trade-offs in introducing transparency as a key design principle in designing the system of assessments to support competency education. (more…)

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Competency-Based Education Approaches in K-12 Schools, Part One

June 1, 2015 by
Stefanie Blouin

Stefanie Blouin

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on May 26, 2015.

Competency-based education (CBE) isn’t just gaining ground in higher ed: a number of K-12 educators from across the country are now embracing the approach—with promising results.

In this first post of a two-part series, you’ll learn how educators from Philadelphia’s Building 21 share some of their best CBE resources. Below is a round up of tools and resources focused on competency-based education to help practitioners personalize learning for students.

But First, Get A Student’s Take on CBE
Listen to Nico, a student from E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., talk about how competency-based education has helped engage him as a learner: (more…)

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When Schools Design Their Own EdTech Platform

May 28, 2015 by
Al Motley

Al Motley

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on May 12, 2015.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series where Matchbook Learning’s Chief Technology Officer Al Motley examines the process his team is using to design, develop, and launch Spark 2.0, a technology platform that integrates multiple tools to create an ecosystem for students, teachers, parents, and administrators that supports student learning. In this interview with NGLC staffer Kristen Vogt, Motley talks about involving the organization’s executive team, the school’s leadership team, and teachers and students in designing Spark 2.0.

How did you launch the design of Spark 2.0 with your team?

We started with a kickoff meeting. It was a really important step for us. We used it to make sure that key stakeholders were aligned on the purpose and goals of Spark, that the groups involved knew each other’s roles on the team, and that everyone understood the steps of the project. The meeting helped us create excitement about this project, and we wanted to make sure to get into classrooms to see how teachers and students are using the tools we have now.

The success of a tech development project like this is often all about process. We are building buzz each step of the way, making it a big deal. We want everyone at the school to know that, “This is for you, to solve your problems.” During the meeting, our CEO, Sajan George, and I both tried to frame the project around what it means to Matchbook, to the education community, and to future students and schools that will use the tool. We set the tone for urgency and what it means for the organization.

“I think the key in framing was to appeal how Spark could and would further each strategic partner’s respective mission. Too often customers with an IT project appeal to vendors in how they can better fulfill a customer’s mission. The relationship can become transactional and cost driven very quickly. Two different missions with two different partners leads to a more strategic relationship that supports and drives Matchbook Learning’s vision for Spark.”  –Sajan George, CEO, Matchbook Learning

Who is part of the team?


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