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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How Next Gen Learning Can Support Student Agency, Part 1

February 29, 2016 by

Students1This post is adapted from the Next Generation Learning Challenges‘ Friday Focus.

Happy New Year! As I reflect back on 2015, I find myself thankful for the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by all of you in the NGLC network. Case in point: December’s #NGLCchat on Student Agency. As a parent, I wholeheartedly want my children to be agents of their own lives, growing into adults who are empowered to question the world and confident in their ability to change it for the better. But today, I just want them to put on their shoes so we can get to school on time, to wear sneakers instead of flip flops because it’s cold outside, and to do it in the next three minutes—so I make demands and expect them to do what I say and cross my fingers they don’t question me or throw a tantrum. Ugh! There’s a place for authority, rules, and compliance—I do need to ensure my kids are safe from harm, healthy, and respectful of others. But my real job—nurturing their heart, mind, body, and soul—is hard. That’s why it was so uplifting to learn from educators like you during the chat, educators with the passion and commitment and strength and expertise to recognize the agency within students and enable them to be agents of their own learning today and their own success tomorrow.

The hour-long chat was chock-full of expert thinking, advice, resources, and inspiration. For today’s edition of Friday Focus, I tried to pull it together, make meaning, and organize the wealth of insight provided by all the participants during the first segment: “Define what student agency means. What does it look like?” In an upcoming Friday Focus, I’ll dive into the next segments when participants explored how blended learning, competency-based learning, and project-based learning can support student agency.

Why Student Agency Is So Important

Why are we talking about Student Agency? Because agency underpins the whole broader, deeper range of MyWays competencies needed for student success. And today’s students NEED the skills to be lifelong learners:

Harvard professor Roland Barth has observed that in the 1950s when young people left high school they typically knew about 75% of what they would need to know to be successful in life. Today, he predicts that young people know about 2% of what they will need to know. (Barth, R.S. (1997, March 5). The leader as learner. Education Week, 16(23). 56.) This shift is not because young people are learning less than previous generations. In fact, there is good evidence that they know much more. The force behind this change is the rapid and ever-increasing pace of change, the complexity of the world in which we live and the unpredictability of what people will need to know in the coming decades – the future for which we are preparing today’s learners.

(more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

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Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMOn April 20, CompetencyWorks is hosting an introductory webinar on competency education. Register here to attend the webinar and learn how we define competency education, explore how schools are implementing competency education, and discuss why educators and communities want to convert to a competency-based structure.

Employment Opportunity: The Innovation School (Salem, MA), a Horace Mann charter modeled after Boston Day and Evening Academy, is searching for a principal. Click here and look for the job posting in Salem.

Event: The First World Summit on Competency-Based Education will be held on August 27-28, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain, as a pre-conference activity. For more information about competency education systems around the world, check out An International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad.

Thought Leadership

  • School leaders and experts predict ESSA and school demands for personalized learning will dramatically alter K-12 education in the years to come.
  • Todd Rose, a high school drop-out turned faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, discusses his latest book, The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness, with NPR.
  • Jim Dillon, an educator for over 35 years, reflects on student agency and how to spark empowerment in the classroom.

(more…)

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Putting the Pieces Together

February 27, 2016 by

GeorgiaThis post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s The EdFly Blog on February 1, 2016.

In the midst of holiday preparations, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission issued its final report and gave competency-based education advocates a little present.

With a clear charge from the Governor to develop a system allowing students to progress and learn at their unique pace, the Commission’s Move On When Ready Subcommittee gave careful thought to the many different ways new learning pathways could be developed or expanded for Georgia’s students. One of its recommendations was to begin the transition to a competency-based education system—an important component of personalized learning that allows students to advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace.

Even before the subcommittee began its work, Georgia had made significant steps to encourage innovation in education and regulatory flexibility for schools and districts testing new ways to personalize learning. In fact, the core pieces were already in place to accelerate the adoption of competency-based education. The subcommittee’s final recommendations clearly communicate the priority and leverage the opportunities already available in Georgia.

Strong State Support
Since the 2013 report of the Governor’s Digital Learning Task Force, Governor Deal’s support has been strong. The task force made six competency-based learning specific recommendations. The recommendations spanned from assessments to funding, with an overarching theme to “provide blended and competency-based learning opportunities, so that PK-12 and postsecondary students are able to broaden, accelerate, or otherwise pace their learning appropriately and ensure mastery before progressing.” The Georgia Department of Education has also demonstrated its commitment to this policy through Georgia’s Path to Personalized Learning. The path provides more information on a variety of state-level resources available to schools to help them transition to personalized and competency-based learning. (more…)

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Henry County Schools: Four Big Takeaways

February 24, 2016 by

henry county _oneWe are going to try something different here. Our case studies are getting longer as we learn more. So instead of our releasing one blog post in a series at a time, we are going to release all of them at the same time with interlocking links.

Post #1: Four Big Takeaways (includes background)

Post #2: Ensuring Success for Each Student

Post #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size Districts

Post #4: What All of This Means for Schools

Post #5: Impact Academy

Let us know if this works better for you. You’ll need to dedicate ten to fifteen minutes to read it. Our hope is that it will make it easier for you to draw out the insights that are important to you while still building more background in competency education.

Overview

Just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Henry County Schools (HCS) operates fifty schools serving 42,000 students. It covers a mix of four cities and towns, some rural and others more suburban. The district is the largest employer in the area (over 75 percent of workers leave Henry County for work daily), with many people commuting to Atlanta or other suburbs to work.

Historically, HCS has performed relatively well, but enormous changes over the past fifteen years – including enrollment nearly doubling, the percentage of students who are FRL tripling to 60 percent of the population, and increases in racial diversity (HCS is now 33 percent white, 51 percent African-American, and 9 percent Hispanic) – created an opportunity for change. In 2013, the district created a strategic plan to transform their schools to personalized learning by 2020. One of the five pillars of this plan is competency-based learning. Although it’s always hard to determine causal relationships, Henry County has already had a 6.4 percent increase in their four-year graduate rate since they began this work. They are certainly going in the right direction.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Rodney Bowler, the school board identified multiple reasons for turning to personalized learning, including:

  • Better prepare an increasingly diverse student body for college, career, and life success
  • Move from “good enough” to “exceptional”
  • Traditional model is no longer sufficient
  • Nature of knowledge has changed
  • Information is ubiquitously available
  • Focus on metrics beyond standardized tests
  • People learn in different ways (Pace, Place, Path, People)

Superintendent Bowler says, “Henry County Schools is excited about the work being done across our schools to transform them to personalized learning schools. When you look at the core of personalized learning, it fits nicely with our mission of ensuring success for each student. Focusing on each student and their individual needs and learning styles is truly the best approach to equipping them for college, a career, and life in general. It was a no-brainer for us to make this move, and while the work has been tough, our teacher, students, and our communities that have started the transformation have seen great growth for everyone involved. We know that when all is said and done, our district will be a strong example for others looking to make this strategic change for the betterment of our learners and our future.”

It’s worth taking a minute to look at the Georgia state policies that shape Henry County’s strategy. GA does offer a seat-time waiver that allows courses to be mastery-based. Henry County has a strategic district waiver that allows them great freedom, excluding a handful of exceptions. GA state policy has also made a firm commitment to a number of secondary school policies designed to improve graduation rates and college-going rates. In addition to early college and career academies, Georgia offers Move on When Ready, which establishes a dual enrollment program that requires students to meet the admissions policy of the partnering institution of higher education. HCS is also partnering with Southern Crescent Technical, Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, and others. The district provides the transportation costs, and the state pays for the courses. Finally, the Hope Scholarship program will pay for college for students up to a master’s degree when they have a 3.2 GPA in high school and college. In addition to assessing grade level standards, Georgia’s state accountability system also uses growth measures. (more…)

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Henry County Schools: Ensuring Success for Each Student

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This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the second of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

Henry County Schools’ (HCS) vision for personalized learning is captured in the phrase “Ensuring Success for Each Student.” To help people understand the components of the vision, it has been visually organized within the structures of a building. On the roof is the goal for “all students college, career, and life ready.” There are two steps indicating the foundation for the transformation: 1) school autonomy and district support, and 2) student voice and choice. The five tenets of personalized learning are the pillars holding up the roof:

  1. Learner Profiles and Personal Learning Plans
  2. Competency-Based Learning
  3. Authentic/Project-Based Learning
  4. Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking
  5. Technology-enabled

HCS_two

Each school has a different entry point and timeline for making the transition to personalized learning. Aaryn Schmuhl, Assistant Superintendent for Learning and Leadership, explained, “We think of the five pillars as the guard rails. Schools have the freedom within the five pillars to create personalized learning for their students. We avoid using the phrase design principles, as it can sound more like a mandate of what you have to do.”

To support schools in their redesign process, HCS is partnering with Mastery Design Collaborative led by Jeffery Tsang. MDC is providing guidance in the overall design process by meeting with teams from the school bi-weekly. (more…)

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Henry County Schools: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size Districts

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HCS3_scaling

Click Image to Enlarge

This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the third of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

Henry County provides important insights into how larger districts can organize strategies to transform their schools with a more “personalized” approach and how they can avoid the unintended consequences that result from mandates. Their scaling strategy is definitely one to consider and adapt to work for your district.

Overarching Strategy of Change

The challenge before HCS was to get every school to make the transition to personalized learning, knowing that schools were going to have different entry points and that they couldn’t provide support to all the schools all at the same time. Aaryn Schmuhl, Assistant Superintendent for Learning and Leadership, explained, “We looked at several different school models, and each one is different. It quickly became clear to us that we can’t tell people how to do it. We want to support education entrepreneurs who can create a personalized learning school using their vision and strengths.”

The strategy that was developed “starts with the willing, draws on a small group of consultants, and creates an inclusive process where everyone makes the transition.” Historically, schools in Henry County have had a high level of school autonomy. Thus, it was important to keep as much as possible “loose” for the schools. The decision was to keep school redesign and the tools schools use “loose,” while the learner profile platform and competency-based learning infrastructure remained “tight.” It was important in terms of equity that the assessments built around the competencies and performance indicators be consistent across the district. They set the expectation that all schools would start the transition within the next three years and that each could develop a model using the five tenets of personalized learning in a way that worked for them and their students. Karen Perry, Special Projects Coordinator for HCS, emphasized this with, “We wanted to give schools the choice of when they go, but the 2020 vision for the district is that all fifty schools will be engaged in the work of personalized learning, whether that is in the application, planning, or implementation stage.” (more…)

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Henry County Schools: What All of This Means for Schools

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carla montgomery_HCS4

Carla Montgomery

This post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the fourth of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

During my visit to Henry County Schools (HCS), we stopped off at two schools for conversations with principals and teachers about their experience to date. Luella Elementary, led by Carla Montgomery, is in the planning stage. The nearby Luella High School was in its fourth month of implementation.

Luella Elementary

Principal Carla Montgomery walked us to the fifth grade math classroom of Ms. Davis to provide an example of what she hoped their entire school might look like in a few years. As I watched students work independently, in small groups, at computers lined up against the wall, or with Ms. Davis, my first thought was that I was observing a station rotation model. However, as I talked to students and watched them change where they were working or the tools they were using to learn, I realized they were moving around as needed. Montgomery noted, “It seemed very chaotic at first, but Mrs. Davis continued working with kids, acclimating them to making decisions based on their learning needs, and now they know what is expected.” (more…)

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Henry County Schools: Impact Academy

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Impact AcademyThis post is part of a the series on Henry County, Georgia. This is the last of five posts. Read them all the way through: Post #1: Four Big TakeawaysPost #2: Ensuring Success for Each StudentPost #3: Scaling Strategies for Mid-Size DistrictsPost #4: What All of This Means for SchoolsPost #5: Impact Academy.

Of the many innovative steps Henry County has taken is the Impact Academy, designed to give students a non-traditional option to their school experience. Impact Academy serves secondary school students through a blended virtual school or enriched virtual school. Okay, that’s a bit confusing. It’s a virtual school because students can spend most of their time learning at home and teachers work at their homes two days per week. However it’s blended in that students come to school for up to two days per week to get face-to-face support from teachers and collaborate with other students around projects. Aaryn Schmuhl, Assistant Superintendent for Leadership and Learning explained it as, “We wanted to do enriched virtual learning. The online curriculum is the core of the work, with teachers available to work with students who need extra help. Students can come in any time, but they are required to meet with their teachers if they are struggling or falling behind. Essentially, the program becomes more structured the more students struggle.”

For eleven years, Henry County had been developing and using their own online content, combining their course catalog with that of Georgia Virtual School to offer a wide variety of courses. When they realized that 13 percent of the students were being served through private schools, home schooling, or virtual schools, they decided they needed to expand their options. By building out the district capacity to provide online educational opportunities, they are also able to ensure that it is consistent with the personalized, competency-based approach. Currently, 720 full-time and 1500 part-time students are served in a row of nine trailers on the grounds of Henry County High School. (more…)

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When Grading Harms Student Learning

February 23, 2016 by

GradesThis post originally appeared at Edutopia on November 23, 2015.

There are so many forces at work that make educators grade, and grade frequently. For sports eligibility, coaches constantly look at grades to see if a student is at an academic level that will allow him or her to play. Colleges review transcripts to examine what type of courses students took and their corresponding grades. Teachers must follow policy that demands them to enter a certain amount of grades every week, month, or marking period. There’s no stopping it. However, we need to reflect upon policies and practices like this – and possibly consider regulating them. Is grading the focus, or is learning the focus? Yes, grades should and can reflect student learning, but often they can get in the way and actually harm student learning.

The Dreaded Zero

I used to give out zeros in the hopes that it would force students to do work and learn. This was a terrible idea! I’m so happy that I received the professional development and resources to challenge my thinking on how I was graded as a student. Myron Dueck notes that students need to care about consequences, and many students simply don’t care about zeros. In fact, some of them will say, “Fine, I’ll take the zero,” which totally defeats the intended purpose and in fact destroys any leverage that I have to help students learn. Zeros do not reflect student learning. They reflect compliance. Instead of zeros, we should enter incompletes, and use these moments to correct behavioral errors and mistakes. Often, one zero can mathematically destroy a student’s grade and pollute an overall metric that should reflect student learning. Here, grading is getting in the way of truly helping a student, as well as showing what that student really knows.

Points Off for Late Work

I’m guilty of this one as well. Similar to using zeros, when students didn’t turn in work on time, I threated them with a deduction in points. Not only didn’t this correct the behavior, but it also meant that behavioral issues were clouding the overall grade report. Instead of reflecting that students had learned, the grade served as an inaccurate reflection of the learning goal. Well, I certainly learned from this experience, and instead began using late work as a time to actually address the behavioral issue of turning in late work. It was a teachable moment. I had students reflect on what got in the way, apply their problem-solving skills to these issues, and set new goals. Students should learn the responsibility of turning in work on time, but not at the cost of a grade that doesn’t actually represent learning. (more…)

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Introductory Webinar on Competency-Based Education, April 20th

February 22, 2016 by

what is competency-based education_Given that there is growing interest in competency-based education, we thought it would be a good idea to do an introductory webinar. We’ll go over what the working definition means (and doesn’t mean). We will then explore how it is being developed in a medium-sized district and in a very innovative start-up so you can have a sense of how educators are designing around the core concepts. The webinar will also be archived so you can listen to it later if you can’t join us. You can register here. And all the information is below.

Competency education, an educator-led reform, is taking root in schools and districts across the country. The concept behind competency education is simple: learning is best measured by students demonstrating mastery of learning targets, rather than the number of hours spent in a classroom. By redesigning the education system around actual student learning, we will effectively prepare each student for college and a career in an increasingly global and competitive economy.

In this webinar, attendees will learn the foundational tenets of competency education, explore school models that meet students where they are, and glean promising practices from leaders and practitioners pushing the next generation of teaching and learning.

The co-founders of CompetencyWorks, Susan Patrick, iNACOL President and CEO, and Chris Sturgis, MetisNet, will share competency education’s structural elements. To understand how these elements are implemented in districts and schools, this webinar will highlight two different, emerging competency-based models. Dr. Kristen Brittingham, Director of Personalized Learning, will introduce the model in development at Charleston County School District, South Carolina. Then we will explore the innovative model being designed at Building 21 in Pennsylvania with Sydney Schaef from Building 21(currently at reDesign). Virgel Hammonds will then discuss why educators and communities want to convert to a competency-based structure, and he will share his experiences from Lindsay Unified, RSU2 and as Chief Learning Officer at KnowledgeWorks.

Speakers:

During the webinar, extend the conversation to your personal networks using #CBLearning.

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