Counted or not, doing what counts in competency-based education

April 29, 2014 by
Eduardo Briceño

Eduardo Briceño

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
- William Bruce Cameron (and on a sign hanging in Albert Einstein’s office)

Competency-based education comes with the risk that we focus only on those competencies that can easily be measured and overlook other competencies that are also critical for success in today’s and tomorrow’s world. If we’re mindful of what students need and design our competency-based systems accordingly, however, we can make competency-based education all it can be.

How we can get into trouble

In a competency-based system, each learner focuses on knowledge and skills at the right challenge level, just beyond what is known, and progresses to the next level upon mastery rather than based on age or time. This makes a lot of sense. It’s how people learn. (more…)

Working in a Competency Education School: Hiring Tips for Potential Teacher Candidates

April 28, 2014 by

job_interviewWelcome to May, the month when most school administrators begin the process of filling open positions in their schools for the upcoming school year. Maybe my administrative team and I are getting picky as we mature as a team, or maybe we are just getting wiser, but we honestly believe that our hiring practices have changed dramatically since our school made the shift to competency education four years ago. For those of you who are thinking about applying to work in a school like ours, we would like to offer you some words of advice before you get your résumés and cover letters together for us.

 1. We need team players. In our school, very few big curriculum, instruction, and assessment decisions are left to teachers to make on their own. Most are made by teams of teachers as part of their Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). If you join our school, be prepared to share and collaborate with your PLC on just about everything you do. With your PLC team, you will build common performance assessments, you will administer them to your shared students, and you will analyze the data with your team. We strongly believe that PLC teams work far more efficiently than individuals ever could towards advancing our vision of learning for all. Our PLC teams are organized by grade level, not by subject area. This allows them to share kids and focus their work on student learning. At our school, there is no such thing as a traditional department meeting. (more…)

Building a Bridge Between Blended Learning and Competency Education

April 25, 2014 by

A big light went on during a conversation with Anthony Kim of Education Elements:bridge

WHAT IF… The process used by districts that already use blended learning to transition to competency education is different than the process used by districts with little ed-tech that start with competency-based in their journey to personalization?

Blended-first districts that have infused their curriculum, instruction and assessment with all that technology can do, are turning to competency education as a natural progression from the self-paced nature of adaptive software and online learning. There are  specific aspects that competency education can provide – empowering students to own their education through transparent expectations, ensuring students can apply academic skills, focusing attention on habits or lifelong learning competencies, and strengthening college and career readiness by building the capacity among teachers to assess competencies/skills. And most importantly, creating the structure to support students  — students that are not yet proficient, students that are performing at academic levels 2+ years behind their grade levels and students ready to leap forward in their studies. (more…)

How a District Ended Student Dropouts with Personalized Learning

April 22, 2014 by

This post originally published on EdSurge. Author Roger Cook is the Superintendent of the Taylor County School District in Campbellsville, Kentucky.

1(1)Imagine, if you can, a school where students do not have specific teachers assigned to them, nor do teachers have specific students on their roster.

Imagine a school where students come each day with a list of standards to work on and accomplish–right when they walk in the door. They can go to the teacher of their choice in order to accomplish the completion of these standards. Or, they can do them on their own in any setting they wish, as long as they maintain accomplishing the minimum amount of standards in a minimum amount of time. Some students, for example, may work individually in the media center not having to go to any classroom.

And last but not least, imagine a district at large where the dropout rate is at zero percent.

In this type of environment, students would come and go as they please, but would be required to prove the successful completion of work and pass assessments to demonstrate understanding.

Sound crazy? Not to educators in the Taylor County School District in Campbellsville, Kentucky. In fact, that is our district’s ten-year plan. (more…)

Who Should Determine What Proficiency Is?

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idaho

map data (c) 2014 Google

Governor’s Task Force on Improving Education in Idaho has been considering mastery-based education (Connecticut also uses this term). No recommendations to the state legislature were forthcoming, because, according to the news story, “they haven’t settled how to measure ‘mastery,’ or even who will make that decision. Some urged local control, while others argued if Idaho is providing funding to these schools, the state should be entitled to set forth some expectations.”

Fascinating that they saw it as an either-or decision rather than something that they might be able to construct together. New Hampshire started out with an emphasis on local control in designing the competency frameworks, but superintendents and school boards soon realized that resources can be better used in ways other than recreating the wheel in each of their districts.  So the state department of education led a process of co-designing to create statewide competencies that capture the big ideas we want students to be able to achieve in math and English language arts. (more…)

Upcoming: Adams 50 Tells Their Story

April 21, 2014 by
dr. swanson

Adams 50 Superintendent Pamela Swanson

REL Central has organized a webinar Competency-Based Education Systems: One Colorado School District’s Experience at which leadership from Adams County School District 50, fondly known as Adams 50, will discuss their approach and lessons learned.

Dr. Oliver Grenham, Chief Academic Officer and Dr. Pamela Swanson, Superintendent will present the district’s instructional model for all learners (including instruction and assessment) and discuss particular concrete examples. The presenters will also discuss challenges and steps they have taken to address the challenges as they have strived to implement a competency-based system.

The webinar is May 14, 2014 from 1:00-3:00 pm MST. You can register here.

10 Principles of Proficiency-based Learning

April 18, 2014 by

simplifiedGreat Schools Partnership continues to produce great resources to support states and districts converting to competency education. They have drawn from what districts are doing in New England and have created Proficiency-based Learning Simplified resources. They are a good resource for states, districts and schools to start the conversation about the new policies and practices that need to be put in place. We know that we are on a journey, and its a creative one, so don’t be surprised if you find that you want to take these ideas further or that you come up with other ways to address the policy and practice elements. No matter what, these resources will save you time in getting started and structuring the conversations needed to build clarity and consensus.

Here’s GSP’s 10 principles of proficiency-based learning: (more…)

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The Paradox of Right the First Time: Transform Assessment Practices to Reflect Growth

April 16, 2014 by

examThose of us experimenting with how we accurately measure student skills and abilities hit a wonderful fork in the road the first time we experience the unintended consequences of change. The story goes something like this.

A cool Friday morning as school begins, Mr. Brock is welcoming his 11th-grade psychology class with a casual hello and a smile. As the bell rings, Mr. Brock proceeds through the daily business of taking attendance and fielding quick questions. Prior to that day’s summative assessment, he overhears two students casually conversing.

John, sitting at his desk with his materials strewn in a form best described as controlled chaos is combing through past formative work, open responses, and segments of the textbook he has identified as areas of focus. Diligently checking components off of his preparation list, you can see the hard work and time he put in to preparing for the day’s activities.

Strolling in about four minutes after the bell had rung, Timmy sits down, drops his backpack on the floor, and waits quietly. Noticing the laissez-faire demeanor of his classmate, John leans over and asks a question…. (more…)

Light At the End of the Tunnel

April 14, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.26.36 PMAfter finishing a round of site visits in New Hampshire and Colorado I had come to the conclusion that it was the lack of innovation in the private sector that was the biggest barrier to competency education. Everywhere I went, educators complained about their Student Information Systems (SIS) as unable to accommodate personalized learning and pacing.

The best that the SIS vendors (Power School and Infinite Campus were the systems used by the schools I visited) could do was add standards into courses so that teachers could do limited standard-based grading.  However, there was no way to indicate learning gains if students were working on standards before or beyond the course. The most worrisome issue was that it was impossible to generate student learning profiles that showed progress along a learning progression.  The course-based rigidity of the SIS systems required schools to operate two information systems and teachers to enter data twice because of interoperability issues. In one district, the leadership said that the inability of their SIS provider to innovate around personalization had limited full conversion of their high school

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As much as lack of innovation can be a barrier, the reverse is also true. Innovative technology that really understands personalization is going to help us jump into the future.  Seriously, I can barely contain my excitement after seeing Empower, the upgraded version of Educate used by many of the proficiency-based districts around the country.  Empower enables two new capacities that are going to open the door to innovation and zoom in on learning: (more…)

District Transformation in Danville

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danvilleI’m itching to go to Danville, Kentucky after listening to Superintendent Carmen Coleman on the webinar How Competency-Based Education is Transforming Assessment and Accountability Systems in School. She walked us through the process that Danville took towards a personalized, competency-based system (fyi — Kentucky uses the term performance-based).

School Board Leadership: The school board read The Global Achievement Gap, followed by school board and educator site visits to High Tech High and NYC’s iZone.  Their experience was “disturbing” as they saw that their own students weren’t being given the opportunity to do the same level of work – “even what we would have considered gap students were outperforming our AP students.” In addition to visiting schools, Danville had teacher exchanges where they brought teachers from other schools to Kentucky. (more…)

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