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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Breaking Ranks Showcase Schools: Nashua High School North and South

April 13, 2015 by

NSDThis spotlight originally appeared in the CCSR Newsletter.

While they may be rivals on the athletic fields, the learning communities at both Nashua (NH) High School North and Nashua (NH) High School South are very purposeful about staying together as partners in education. It’s been over a decade since the district replaced the single high school with two campuses, but they have recognized from the beginning the power of synergy and collaboration. Both campuses are committed to moving forward together through collaboration and a focus on student outcomes. As Director of Curriculum Peggy Reynolds puts it, “they’re all Nashua kids, and we really feel that.”

The Nashua School District (NSD) has fostered this strong collaborative spirit through focusing on what unites them – the curriculum. Regardless of whether you work at North or South “the curriculum is the curriculum is the curriculum” says Reynolds. Teachers meet regularly both within their school, and across the two campuses to discuss the curriculum. Teachers are committed to developing the curriculum, and corresponding performance tasks, that they themselves wrote. They meet regularly to examine student work and calibrate those performance tasks to ensure they engage students in opportunities to explore greater depths of knowledge within the content. (more…)

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Is Personalized Learning the Gateway for ALL K-12 Students to Attain Agency & Achievement?

April 9, 2015 by
Jilene Dachtler

Jilene Dachtler

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on February 17, 2015.

My recent tour of several NGLC Breakthrough Models schools was an eye opener, a paradigm- shifter and ultimately, shook up a few limiting beliefs I had gained during my experience teaching in traditional educational settings.

As a newly-hired teacher at The Incubator School, an innovative school in its second year, I was excited to participate in a recent NGLC tour. The experience has deepened my understanding of our own blended learning, design model. I now know that large-scale, radical innovation is not only possible, but also probable as word spreads about the phenomenal work being done by educational innovators! True social justice can be achieved through education, where learning is personalized and students develop the agency to unleash their inherent potential to create, innovate and become productive, dynamic citizens of the world.

My optimism for public education has been reinvigorated by observing firsthand the engagement, autonomy and agency of students from a range of grade levels and socioeconomic backgrounds at schools in various stages of development. My personal perspective is informed by a corporate business career followed by 11 years of teaching, as well as my own experience as a parent struggling with traditional school systems that were often unwilling or unable to identify, nurture and support my own child’s gifts.

Since childhood, I have been passionate about working with “at-risk populations” and often volunteered with nonprofits. My experience spans every grade level K-12, every socioeconomic level, in a variety of settings including hospital schools, comprehensive elementary and high schools, a 6-12 leadership magnet, first-year pilot high schools, and a restructured high school where significant gains were made in standardardized test scores and in introducing a “college-going culture”. (more…)

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It’s Definitely Warming Up in New England

April 8, 2015 by

NESCCThere is still snow on the ground, but people were on fire at the New England Secondary Schools Coalition High Schools in Action annual gathering. The sessions were relatively quiet, but the hallways were buzzing:

  • It is really hard to put down the red pen and stay focused on the few standards that are the goal of the learning.
  • We were told we were preparing, preparing, preparing…and then suddenly we were there. We were performance-based.
  • We learned that trying to mix grading styles was making students crazy. They were always trying to figure out the algorithms used in the computerized grading system. I could barely get them to talk about the quality of their work and accept that applied learning isn’t something you can always do quickly.
  • One of the hardest things for some of my students to accept is that they are expected to actually work hard in a proficiency-based system. For some, the traditional system was really easy – especially if they excel in short-term memorization. It is a shocker that they are expected to actually show they can use all the information they have memorized. They realize they have gaps, and that is scary.
  • Some teachers are still having difficulty with organizing their classrooms in a proficiency-based structure. It’s not based on age or length of time teaching – there is something about the mindset, the ability to move beyond what you experienced growing up and what you were taught to do as a teacher, that allows teachers to make the adjustment more quickly or need more time. (more…)
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NGLC Schools Take On Competency-Based Learning

April 7, 2015 by
kristen vogt

Kristen Vogt

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on March 20, 2015.

Over the winter, I worked with NGLC’s newest grantees to create profiles of their school models. As I worked with them to identify key features of their academic models, I got to see how different elements of their innovative approach to learning intersect and work together. I’m particularly intrigued by how these schools use competency-based learning to help students succeed.

As described in the Personalized Learning School Design Attributesin a competency-based learning model, “student learning is continually assessed against clearly defined expectations and goals. Each student advances as s/he demonstrates mastery.”

This is VERY different from learning in a traditional school model, where all students in a class start the next lesson once instruction in a particular lesson ends. Students’ grades reflect the level of mastery they were able to achieve within the specific period of time allotted to the lesson. If there are gaps in a students’ understanding or skill at the end of the lesson, those gaps remain.

Competency-based learning, on the other hand, acknowledges that all students should reach the same level of mastery—no gaps. Some students will take longer than others to get there. This shift impacts classroom instruction, assessment strategies, and nearly every other assumption behind the traditional approach to school.

Let’s look at competency-based learning in a few schools to understand how it works. Although the schools incorporate it in unique ways, they all utilize at least some of these tactics: (more…)

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Generating Demand

April 6, 2015 by
Chris Sturgis

Chris Sturgis

Every month (if not every week), competency education is being incorporated into other frameworks and organizations. For example, competency-based progressions are included in definitions of personalized learning, student-centered learning, and another version of personalized learning. Organizations continue to include competency education in their national meeting agendas, when launching new initiatives, and for building organizational capacity. There are over forty organizations including, addressing, and/or advancing competency education in their work now. (If your organization isn’t on this list and you want it to be, please email me at chris (at) metisnet (dot) net.)

My concern is that a lot of resources are going toward advancing competency education at the state level when we know that educators need to come to their own conclusions that they can do better by the children in their classrooms and communities. Certainly it is important to help state level leaders understand competency education, begin to build needed alliances, and prioritize a policy agenda. However, I would argue that at this point in our development, it is even more important to begin to generate more demand for competency education from the ground up. (more…)

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How Do You Measure Competency? Curriculum Can Help Guide the Way

April 2, 2015 by

Specific Standard (CCSS, graduation, exit standard)Competency-based education is not about reformation – it is about transformation. Old processes and models of teaching and learning do not get at the intrinsic value of teaching and learning with a targeted focus on standards and mastery. If how we teach must change, then how we plan for instruction must change, too.

Curriculum can no longer focus solely on content – it must shift to encompass skills. But which skills? What will enable students to attain high standards and expectations? Currently, the most efficient way to understand which skills will result in higher levels of achievement comes from the process of unpacking standards.

Ainsworth (and Reeves before him) realized that no teacher – and certainly no student – can expect mastery of more than fifty educational standards (in English/Language Arts alone) in one school year. When our district piloted a curriculum that encompassed all ELA standards in the Common Core for tenth grade, we found that each standard could only be directly addressed about four or five times a year. No one can master the ability to identify a theme and track its development over the course of a text by practicing it four times a year for about forty minutes per session (CCSS ELA standard RL9-10.1). Not only did we ignore the research regarding how the brain learns (Sousa 2011), we also ignored the interconnectivity of ideas and concepts and its power in acquiring new knowledge and skills (Demarest 2010). (more…)

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Keeping the Focus on Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom

March 31, 2015 by

StudentQuite often, the focus of technology use from a student’s vantage point in a proficiency-based system is the production of evidence. Students are encouraged to use their devices to create products that demonstrate mastery of a standard. They do that with creativity and regularity. There are pages and pages of ways you can suggest they do this (check out Andrew Churches and Kelly Tenkley). Students love it and engagement often increases. So what’s the problem?

It’s the focus. Oftentimes, the technology becomes the center of the project. The evidence of learning takes a back seat as students get dazzled with “cool” transitions in presentation software or the multitude of effects they have available when video editing. Content moves from the center to the sidelines.

How do you keep this from happening? By helping students define the role of the technology they will be using. It is either part of the process of learning, or the production of products that show learning. Sometimes these two overlap—sometimes they don’t. In either case, most standards do not require you to assess technology use any more than you would be assessing the use of a pen over a pencil. Here are some tips to keep you and your students on track:

Address the learning goal first. (more…)

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It Starts with Pedagogy: How Lindsay Unified is Integrating Blended Learning

March 30, 2015 by
Elements of a Blended Learning Environment

Click to Enlarge

This is the fifth post in a series on Lindsay Unified High School. See the firstsecondthird, and fourth posts. 

The first thing you need to know about blended learning at Lindsay Unified School District is that they never use the term blended learning.

Joe Vagt, Director of 21st Century Learning and Technology, explains:

In our process of developing a personalized, performance-based system, we have had rich conversations about pedagogy, instruction, and assessment. We didn’t see blended learning as something new or different – it’s just a way for us to use technology in a way that provides even more opportunities for our learners.

When I went to the pre-conference workshop with Heather Staker at the iNACOL Symposium, it confirmed for me that we had the pedagogical pieces in place. We also already had a strong orientation to learner ownership, offering students choice in how they convey their learning. Essentially, the philosophy of performance-based learning was the same as that of blended learning.

The question we have to ask ourselves now is how to leverage technology to make our philosophy even more viable throughout the district. Technology is another tool to make PBS (performance-based system) a reality.

How is LUSD thinking about using technology to support learning and teaching?  (more…)

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