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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The Personalized Learning Mindset

April 28, 2016 by

RocksThis post originally appeared at Education Elements on April 5, 2016. 

I recently attended Carolina Blends, an event which brings together educators from the region to tour schools and learn from each other. After touring three schools with about 50 educators, I came to believe that before you go on a school tour, you need the “PL Mindset.”

On the tours, I noticed a difference in the educators who already had a the PL Mindset. They understood that we were seeing one short snapshot of a classroom with the good, the bad and the ugly. They asked questions which helped them understand what happens in the classroom week after week. They asked how decisions about what happens in the classroom are made. They asked about how the school was different than before, and what changes they made year-over-year.

The educators without the PL Mindset often asked about which digital content was being used and if the content worked. They often criticized what was happening in the classrooms and said they were doing it better at their own schools. They said they couldn’t do this work because of bell schedules, resources, lack of infrastructure, etc. (more…)

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Charleston: Pinehurst Elementary School

April 27, 2016 by

PinehurstThis is the sixth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall HighGoodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary. 

My final stop of the whirlwind tour of Charleston County School District was Pinehurst Elementary, where I met Principal Dianne Benton and teachers James Tomasello (fourth grade), Lauren Gudger (third grade), and Jason Kraeger (fourth grade). Pinehurst serves 650 students in grades 2-5, 65 percent of whom are English Language Learners, 32 percent are African American, and 100 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch.

I’m always asked what competency education looks like in elementary schools and I do my very best to describe it. However, as I visited these three classrooms, I realized the difficulty in describing it is that it feels like a whirlwind of learning. Students are often doing a lot of different things; sitting quietly on the floor or at their desk working alone, sitting in pairs or triads talking about the topic, solving problems, working on a project, or working with devices in hand. In the corner or along the wall is a table, where the teacher is working with a small group of three to five students. The shoulders and heads form a circle as they stretch toward each other. When needed, the teacher might stand to do mini-lesson on the board. At some point in the class, the teacher will call everyone together for a meeting to make sure they understand the options for that day or the following day.

The walls are loaded with poster paper – shared visions, codes of cooperation, choice boards, resources related to the standards, and data walls for students to indicate their progress. In some rooms, there is a basket of Mardi Gras beads and little instruments for the class to use to celebrate learning when students have mastered a standard. (more…)

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Building a Movement from Within

April 26, 2016 by
Patrice Picture

Patrice Glancey

Within a system of standardized testing and teaching accountability based on student results, it’s understandable that teachers feel like they’re running an obstacle course instead of a classroom. And why wouldn’t they? Federal, state, and local standards are asking them to jump, dodge, and climb all while trying to cram years of content into 180 days. Add to that the paperwork and you get the burnout that we are seeing within our experienced teachers across the country.

It’s no surprise that when competency-education was introduced, veteran teachers rolled their collective eyes, closed the door, and continued on as usual: “This too shall pass.” However, it’s been seven years since New Hampshire included competency education in the Minimum Standards for Public School Approval. This change, which mandates students be evaluated on mastery of competencies, implies that this practice isn’t going away anytime soon. And to be brutally honest, we can’t go back to a one size fits all model; our test scores prove that it doesn’t work.

If I have learned anything about the implementation of competency-based learning over the past few years, it’s that the fire must start from within. Teachers are already feeling overwhelmed by top-down initiatives and they are beyond the point of being able to take in “another great idea.” Derek Sivers (2013) explains during his inspiring Ted Talk How to Start a Movement that every movement needs a leader to get it started. This leader can’t be administration, this leader needs to come from within. Further, Sivers explains that “a leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed,” which not an easy task for most teachers. However, the best schools run on strong teacher leaders who have found success through working in environments that encourage them to take risks and promote “standing out.”

When I arrived at Newport School District this past summer, it resembled what I like to refer to as the “perfect storm”: a new set of administrators, a culture of teachers ready for change, and a budget requiring us to think outside the box. The competency framework had already been developed at various stages K-12 and the previous curriculum director had worked with the teachers to move in that direction. My job was to get the teachers back on track and build off of momentum that had already fizzled out. (more…)

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Nineteen Districts in Idaho Start the Journey to Mastery-Based Learning

April 25, 2016 by
Sherri Ybarra

Sherri Ybarra, Superintendent of Public Instruction

Last week, Superintendent Sherri Ybarra announced the twenty districts/schools that will launch Idaho’s Mastery Education Network (IMEN). According to the press release, “IMEN was authorized in 2015 when Governor Butch Otter signed HB 110 to move Idaho towards a mastery education model. This model will move students away from the current time-based system to a mastery system and allow for a more personalized and differentiated learning experience.”

As Idaho explains in a mastery-based learning system, “students advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace.” Ybarra said, “The beauty of a mastery-based education system is that it is rooted in local control and is truly from the ground up. Local communities, schools, and districts will determine through this effort what is best to meet the needs of their students.” (more…)

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Charleston: A Conversation with Teachers at Goodwin Elementary School

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GoodwinThis is the fifth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall High, Goodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary.

Goodwin Elementary School is located in North Charleston, SC. 93 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 70 percent are African-American and 25 percent are Hispanic. Goodwin serves students in child development (CD) through 5th grade. A big thank you to teachers Michelle Mazell, Kelly Vossler, and Shannon Feit for letting me visit their classrooms, and Jessica Lucas, Personalized Learning Coach, for sharing insights into Personalized Learning.

First Steps toward Personalized, Competency Education

Goodwin Elementary was the birthplace of Personalized Learning in Charleston County School District (CCSD). They began their journey during the 2012-2013 school year when a cohort of 12 teachers began exploring best practices for integrating 1:1 iPads as a tool for teaching and learning. “We read everything we could find about personalization and competency-based education,” said Lucas who was then a teacher at Goodwin. “We thought we were researching blended learning but quickly realized Personalized Learning was so much more.” Three months later, the District was awarded one of 16 Race to the Top District grants. The vision for Personalizing Learning across CCSD began to take shape shortly after.

A Conversation with Elementary School Teachers

I began my conversation with Ms. Mazell, Ms. Vossler, and Ms. Feit by asking them what lessons they had learned in their journeys to implement Personalized Learning. Ms. Mazell immediately jumped in, “I was a control freak. I had to learn to let go, and it was really hard for me. I couldn’t imagine that an elementary classroom could run so smoothly without the teacher controlling every minute of the day. However, once I observed a Personalized Learning classroom, I was totally convinced this was what was best for kids. The students are much more interested when they have ownership. I don’t have to worry anymore about the student who is totally disengaged. All students own their learning and they hold themselves and each other accountable for their behavior and mastery of standards.” (more…)

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The EdLeader Reading List for the Shift to Competency Education

April 23, 2016 by

BooksThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on April 4, 2016. 

Competency education is taking root in districts and schools across the United States and around the world. Teachers and leaders are cultivating and sustaining this grassroots effort to redesign education around student success. These innovators are doing incredible work to advance powerful, personalized learning experiences for their students, arming them with the skills they need to succeed in today’s global marketplace. The transformation toward competency education is educator-led and requires strong, committed leaders who are dedicated to doing what’s best for students, as well as a deep understanding of how competency education fundamentally redesigns the education system to empower teachers and place student learning at the center.

Do you want to learn more about leading the shift toward  competency education? The resources below will inform and inspire. There are resources to get you started, to guide conversations with your colleagues and communities and to support your implementation of personalized, competency education.

Recommended Reading for Understanding Competency Education

The concept behind competency education is simple: learning is best measured by mastery of content, not by the amount of time spent in a classroom. For a more comprehensive reading list on competency education, see the list from CompetencyWorks. (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Going Back to the Targets

April 22, 2016 by

TargetThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on March 28, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

One of the first things people share with me since coming to RSU2 in September is a frustration with learning targets. This is something I hear in every school, in every grade level, and in every content area. It isn’t that people don’t understand the point of them, quite the contrary. It is that people understand the point of them so well that they now see the need to improve them. Here are the most common points I hear:

  1. The progressions of targets don’t always make sense.
  2. The target itself is really hard to understand.
  3. Foundational pieces are missing.
  4. There is a lack of consistency around how the target is interpreted.
  5. It isn’t always clear how to “exceed” on a target.

Most of the Measurement Topics and Targets we are using were drafted and adopted about six years ago when the district first switched to a proficiency-based system. It was a classic Voltaire moment, not letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Or, if you prefer sports, a Nike “Just Do it” moment.

Now, six years and a whole lot of growth later, we are realizing just how “not perfect” those Measurement Topics and Targets are. In order to make them what we want them to be, we have to take a step back in our understanding of Targets and Measurement Topics. And it is extremely important that we do. Learning Targets and Measurement Topics make personalized learning possible.

Here in RSU 2, we use the following definitions and explanations: (more…)

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Proficiency-Based High School Diploma Systems in Maine

April 21, 2016 by

DiplomaI toured the state of Maine last fall to try to understand what was happening in districts, as the policy for a proficiency-based diploma challenged all districts to create more meaning than time-based credits for graduation and figure out how to get all students to be able to cross the finish line. (Maine’s policy essentially made high school a four year clock that started ticking when students enter ninth grade.) You can find the overview of the Maine Road Trip here.

Last month, the Maine Education Policy Research Institute (MEPRI) at the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research & Evaluation (CEPARE) at the University of Southern Maine released their fourth policy report Proficiency-based High School Diploma Systems in Maine based on six case studies. This stage of the research asked three questions:

  1. How do Maine public school and school district educators and administrators perceive the challenges and facilitators of implementing the state’s mandated proficiency-based diploma system as described in An Act To Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy?
  2. How do Maine public school and school district educators and administrators perceive the impacts of implementing the state’s mandated proficiency-based diploma system as described in An Act To Prepare Maine People for the Future Economy on management systems and structures, fiscal allocations, school climate, instruction, as well as curriculum and assessment?
  3. How are Maine public school districts defining proficiency and developing local PK-12 proficiency-based diploma policies?

For any state thinking about going in this direction as a high leverage policy strategy, it is well worth reading all the reports.

Here are a few highlights from the report by Erika Stump, Bernadette Doykos and Catherine Fallona. (more…)

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Charleston: A Conversation with Teachers at Stall High School

April 20, 2016 by

Shared VisionThis is the fourth post in my site visit to Charleston County School District in South Carolina. Read the first post on building the CCSD framework, the second on implementation strategies, and schools Pepperhill Elementary, Stall High, Goodwin Elementary, and Pinehurst Elementary. 

Our first stop at Stall High School was to visit with Hannah Studemeyer, a Personalized Learning Coach. On the wall was the Progression of Implementation, the district roadmap for implementing competency-based, personalized learning. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning, explained the Progression is important because it provides alignment and transparency with the transition to a competency based personalized learning system. For each step in the Progression, Charleston has developed a training module and a proficiency scale that provides the practical direction needed for implementation. Each school then creates a plan specific to the needs of their student population, existing programs and digital resources, readiness of teachers, etc. No two schools implementing personalized learning look exactly the same.

ProgressofImplementationDr. Brittingham and Ms. Studemeyer noted an important first step in the journey is to develop a learner-centered climate and culture where students learn the skills they need to become self-directed learners, a necessary component for ensuring success with personalized learning. Stall’s schoolwide shared vision, “R. B. Stall will be an innovative learning community that inspires all to build a better future,” embraces this philosophy. Principal Kim Wilson and his leadership team are committed to seeing their vision become a reality by using it to guide all of their decision making. “Our school shared vision is the lens through which we make all our decisions, if something doesn’t fit into our vision to Inspire, Innovate & Learn, we don’t do it,” explained Wilson.

Each classroom has developed a social contract or shared vision, which is their class goal; a code of cooperation, which delineates actions needed to reach their goal; and standard operating procedures, which identify processes that allow students to become independent learners. These actions have fundamentally changed the learning environment at Stall High School, and have been an important first step in implementing personalized learning. (more…)

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Blast Off with the Assessment for Learning Grantees

April 19, 2016 by

AfLWith ESSA upon us, we are all hurrying to get our heads wrapped around what is possible in terms of how we think about ensuring that our districts and schools are meeting needs of children and what state policy might look like to create the conditions, systems of supports, and appropriate expectations to drive dynamic, active learning experiences for students while improving services to historically underserved populations of students. It’s a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.

One resource that hopefully will help us along the way is the Assessment for Learning project developed by Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) at the University of Kentucky in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) at EDUCAUSE. The AfL project has been designed to explore:

  • How can assessment support a broader definition of student success?
  • What assessment practices most effectively empower students to own and advance their learning?
  • How can we most effectively build educator capacity to gather, interpret, and use evidence of student learning to enhance instruction?
  • How does assessment for learning inform broader contexts of accountability, policy, and system design?
  • How can we pursue equity through assessment for learning?

AfL has announced their twelve grantees, and I thought I’d bring to your attention a couple of the projects that are positioned well to help us understand what a personalized, competency-based system of assessments might look like. They are tackling issues such as grades (letter and age), habits of success, performance-based assessment, micro-credentialing, competency-based approaches to helping teachers learn about performance-based assessments, and student agency. We are about to lift off on a huge new wave of learning! (more…)

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