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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Two Teachers’ Perspectives on CBE

March 21, 2016 by

Competency-Based Learning

Vann

Lauren Vann and Students

I had found much success in the traditional learning model and had become weary of the stream of efforts to change my approach. When I came on board at Red Bank Elementary, I immediately recognized that students at RBE were different. They were learners who wanted to take the reins. They were excited and motivated. It was nothing I had ever seen before. Yes, I had been “successful” in producing average/above average test scores, but was that really my agenda? I began to think of all of the students I had previously taught who had gaps in their learning. I questioned whether or not I’d made a real attempt to close those gaps. I thought of the “high flyers” who always wanted more and wondered if I’d taken them as far as I could have in their learning. While I had always been intentional about teaching to all students and accommodating different learning styles, I couldn’t say that I taught specifically to each child’s needs and met them where they were in the learning progression. After researching competency-based education and hearing unbelievable stories about student success, I made the decision to be “all in.” I never knew how competency-based education would completely change the way I think about teaching and learning. –Lauren Vann

Competency-based education is best practice teaching. It is dependent on the teacher’s ability to intentionally meet the needs of the individual student. Recognizing competency-based learning as what is best for students is a paradigm shift for most educators. While it can be challenging and overwhelming to think logistically about how to be effective in meeting each child’s learning modalities, pace, and needs, it is truly the most efficient way to ensure that every child is getting the most out of their time in the classroom.

Similarities and Differences within a Competency-Based Learning Model vs. Traditional Learning Model

Like the traditional learning model, competency-based focuses on standards. The difference comes in that the traditional model teaches all standards at one pace regardless of student outcomes. Groups of standards are assessed on a single test. Students are given a blanket average for those standards that fall under the given topic heading (e.g., numbers and operations). (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Modeling

March 18, 2016 by

LettersThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 19, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

Modeling, or making thinking around behavior, concepts, and skills explicit, is one of the most powerful instructional strategies an educator can use. It is also one of the hardest, especially when it comes to those skills and processes we, as adults, have internalized. These three tips are great way to grow your modeling skills:

Plan it Out

First, identify exactly what it is that needs to be modeled. Is it a behavior? Is it a physical skill? Is it a cognitive skill? Whatever it is, be sure to name it. I might decide that my students need to see a model of someone adding to a conversation, so that is what I will call the skill: adding to a conversation. Next, I am going to think about all the times I have done whatever it is I am modeling and break it down into super-obvious steps. This part can be hard, so take all the time you need and don’t be afraid to revise the steps! So for “adding to a conversation” I might come up with these steps: (more…)

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Parker-Varney Elementary: Keepers of the Bar

March 16, 2016 by
Parker Varney

From the Parker Varney Website

What do you do when the student population in your school reverses the RTI triangle so more kids need intervention than core construction?

Amy Allen, principal at Parker-Varney Elementary School in Manchester, NH, raised this question early on in our conversation. What do you do when you might have over six different reading levels in one class of twenty-five students? She explained that in a kindergarten class, 60 percent of kindergarteners won’t know the letter A, while others are reading at a second grade level.

Allen explained that they are trying to make the shift to meet students where they are. They are using learning progressions so that even if students are organized into grade levels, they are teaching students at their performance levels within the learning progressions. (Please note: In New Hampshire, the term learning progression has a specific meaning. They are research-based maps of how students learn key concepts. One way to understand the difference between standards and learning progressions is to think of standards as what we want students to achieve and learning progressions as the way to help them get there.)

How Parker-Varney is Moving Toward Competency-Based Education

A year and a half ago, Parker-Varney began to partner with 2 Revolutions (2Revs) to revision what they wanted for students in the school and how they wanted to design learning to meet that goal. Allen explained, “When I arrived at Parker-Varney three years ago, we were program driven. We depended heavily on curriculum programs to drive our instruction. The problem is that when you use products like Every Day Math or America’s Choice curriculum, you are completely tied to that curriculum. There is no flexibility or strategy to meet the needs of students who are at a different level.”

Background: Parker-Varney serves 640 students K-5 with 70 percent FRL and 20 percent special education. Many families are in transition, often depending on shelters as they seek more affordable housing. Between 5 percent and 10 percent of students are, at any time, facing major upheaval such as moving to find more affordable housing, having to turn to shelters, having a parent incarcerated, or being placed within the child welfare system. By January 20th there were already fifteen new students.

There was another problem – there was too much focus on assessment and not enough on instruction. When one month they had more assessment days than instruction, they knew they needed to find another way. Allen noted, “We want to make sure that assessments are for learning.” They defined their problem of practice around student engagement, authentic learning, and ensuring that assessment was supportive of the cycle of learning.

Although not sequential, Parker-Varney has taken four big steps toward transitioning their school to competency-based education. (more…)

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Five Key Lessons for Mastery Learning Startup

March 15, 2016 by

Sydney Schaef

This post originally appeared at Springpoint Schools on January 5, 2016. 

As I see it, the biggest challenge we face in American public schools today is this: we’ve got an antiquated factory-based school model, and a workforce that has proven particularly effective in implementation. Let’s face it: most of us were taught this way as students, and most of us were trained this way as teachers. I among.

For the last several years, I have had the opportunity to serve as the Mastery Learning Specialist at the School District of Philadelphia, a position made possible by the Carnegie Corporation’s vanguard school design grant, Opportunity by Design. The grant afforded us as a design team a full year to engage in deep research, scan the field, visit exemplary school sites, talk with stakeholders, design, get feedback from experts, reflect, and iterate on our work.

The experience was transformative. Out of this collaborative design experience have emerged multiple open admission, competency-based schools in Philadelphia, and an open-source competency model, designed and developed as a collaboration between the School District of Philadelphia and nonprofit partner, Building 21. We call it the Learning What Matters Competency Model. The LWM Competency Model has been described by experts as “a major contribution to the field,” and “one of the strongest, personalized, competency-based models in conception.” I share that not to boast, but to say, we took the work very seriously, we were set up for success by the resources invested in the project, and we are now keen to explore opportunities to share the model broadly and invite others to improve, and build upon, the work.

I have come to believe that if you are serious about innovation in education generally, and about transforming outcomes for historically underserved youth specifically, you’ve got to study up on competency-based education (CBE). In every way, CBE challenges the dominant pedagogical model of our American public schools and the assumptions on which it is based. It embodies the principles that I believe must guide and ground the work of redesigning our public schools.

Competency-based education is, interestingly, both ancient and nascent. It is the core of our oldest apprenticeship models that span history and pre-date our formal schooling institutions, yet at the same time, it is an emergent and rapidly growing strand within our current education landscape. Schools and school networks are leading the way in practice. Funders are prioritizing “mastery-based” or competency-based (my preferred term) learning models. Many states are making significant shifts in policy in order to provide the flexibilities needed, such as removing seat-time mandates, rethinking the Carnegie credit as the time-based unit of learning, and exploring flexible promotion, crediting, and graduation pathways and policies. In other words, this is happening – and it’s a powerful and important tide of change in our time. (more…)

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Building 21’s Competency Dashboard

March 14, 2016 by
Thomas Gaffey

Thomas Gaffey

This is the second post about my site visit to Building 21 in Philadelphia. Read the first here.

I had a fascinating conversation with members of Building 21’s design and instructional coaching team, Sydney Schaef, Sandra Moumoutjis, Thomas Gaffey, Angela Stewart, Laura Shubilla, and Chip Linehan. At times I started to explode in giggles of excitement as we spoke about their insights and information management system. B21’s work is invaluable for us to tackle the elephant (i.e., respond to students who have multi-year gaps in their skills). Part of their solution is one of the most student-centered information management systems to support their personalized, competency-based process I have seen.

As described in the first blog, B21 is highly personalized, with students working in their zone along the continua of performance levels for each competency. In order to both monitor progress and measure grade-level performance, they knew they needed an information system that would fully support students and teachers. They visited a number of schools across the country and looked at many of the best information management systems designed for competency-based education. Even those that were the most interesting didn’t reflect their values or design. Most were still course-based, and often with a feel of checklist after checklist. Furthermore, the costs were high, and most weren’t open-source. Thus, despite all the advice to never build your own, they found a partner in Jarvus and their product Slate. (FYI, Ed Surge has a nice piece about the product. Matchbook Learning has used Slate as the platform for their information system Spark, and the U School (sharing space with B21) and the Science Leadership Academy also are using it.)

Designing a Powerful Student-Centric Information System

I wondered aloud how they were able to find a company that seemed to “get CBE” when so many of the vendors keep reproducing courses as the center of their architecture. Gaffey offered, “Get a bunch of twenty-two to twenty-six-year olds and they can do anything. The problem is the folks over thirty think they know what a student information system is.” His statement gets to the heart of the issue – what does a student information system look like in a student-centric, personalized, competency-based system?

Gaffey explained, “There were several things we wanted that traditional SIS and grade reporting systems have been unable to do. First, we want to make sure that learning across the school can be tracked. Second, we focus on mastery. This means we want students submitting multiple pieces of evidence of their learning in multiple contexts. Third, we want to be less course-oriented, more performance-oriented. Fourth, we want to make sure that students can see their growth and progress. Finally, we want everything to feed into a meta-profile for students.”

Here are some of the very cool things that B21 is working toward using a combination of Slate and robust Google Docs: (more…)

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Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Goal Setting

March 11, 2016 by

EggsThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on January 11, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

I used to cringe inside whenever I heard the phrase “goal setting” in relation to my students. Images of ladder and step graphic organizers with goals like “get good grades” or “play professional basketball” with half-hearted steps like “work hard” or “make the team” made me want to give up before I even started.

​Now I think about it differently. Goal setting is about deciding to do something and planning to get it done. Simple as that. Big or small, lofty or humble, anything can be a goal. Stop and get eggs: goal. Get a PHD: goal. Learn to tango: goal. Stop losing my keys: goal. Answer emails: goal. Walk for 20-30 minutes every day: goal. Drink less coffee: goal. I could go on. The goal itself does not matter. What matters is the process, what you do between deciding to do something and doing it.

Plenty of learners can state a goal. It is in the planning and doing that they struggle. Chances are most of the learners in our classes have not actually been taught how to do this. Chances are most learners get limited instruction and practice with how to do this.

In learner-centered environments, goal setting and completion plays a critical role. We need to model for students a variety of strategies for planning and completing goals. Then we need to give them repeated, intentional practice with those strategies. Then we need to guide them to figure out which ones work best for them, and use them. (more…)

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10 Simple Lesson Plans for Scaffolding Student-Led Projects

March 10, 2016 by

laptop-studentsThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on January 17, 2016. 

When working with my high school students on implementing their own student-led projects, I adapted much of my project-based learning (PBL) curriculum from a guide titled Youth Engaged in Leadership in Learning (YELL), created by Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Families.

Adapted from the YELL Curriculum Guide (I specifically used Unit 3; Unit 1 is on Communication and Unit 2 is on Leadership- both have great ideas), this was my (shortened) version of my 10 lesson plan for scaffolding student-led projects in my classroom.

Getting Started with Student-Led Projects

  • Assess. Decide how you will access the project and student grade(s) ahead of time and communicate that at the start. I suggest some sort of electronic portfolio (I used Google Docs) where assignments and formative assessments exist at the end of each lesson. At the end, there I had a performance-based assessment with a rubric. There was also a final reflection paper due at the end of the project.
  • Adapt. Flex this up or down according to grade level and skills.
  • Relate to Content. This will work in middle and/or high school advisory, social studies, language arts, or other project-based block.
  • Plan. This can happen in 2 weeks or 6 weeks (or longer). You could also massively extend lessons, especially lessons 6, 7 and 8 and this could become a 6+ week unit. Use your creativity and know what will work best for your students. You are on your way to building successful student-led projects.
  • Involve. Involve other adults in the building, and let parents know this is happening. Line up adult mentors who could come in to the building and help students on particular projects that line up with their expertise, or use online tools to connect students to mentors/adult experts.

Lesson 1 – The World is Ours. What Do You Care About?

Have students brainstorm ideas, problems and concerns. In my classroom, we did this in groups and the list was LONG. It filled two butcher paper sheets long. Students can brainstorm. There are no wrong answers. Examples include: drug abuse, lack of internet at home, more access to video games (this will get listed as an injustice), too many stray dogs in your neighborhood, alcoholism, homelessness. Debrief. (more…)

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Breaking out of the Boxes at Building 21

March 9, 2016 by

B21This is the first post about my site visit to Building 21 in Philadelphia. Read the second here.

Of all the schools and districts I’ve visited over the past four months, it has taken me the longest to write about my visit to Philadelphia’s Building 21 (there is also one in Allentown) because their ideas just blow me away. I’ve had to take time to absorb them and figure out how to describe them to you. I’m guessing I still don’t fully understand the rationale and implications of some of their design decisions. The team at B21, led by co-founders Laura Shubilla and Chip Linehan, have been so intentional, so thoughtful, so focused on drawing on what we know is best for helping adolescents learn, and so out of the box. As districts both big and small make the transition to competency-based education, Building 21 is one to watch as it cuts the path toward new ways of structuring how we organize learning and advance students.

A few of the big takeaways from my visit to Building 21 are:

  • Designing for students with a broad spectrum of skills and life experiences
  • Cohesive competency-based structure with a continuum of performance levels
  • Two-tiered system to monitor student progress
  • Information system that is designed to be student-centered and teacher-enabling (see tomorrow’s post)

This post will hopefully be helpful in explaining B21. However, if you are interested, I highly recommend taking thirty minutes to look through the Competency Toolkit and the Competency Handbook. They’ve done a fantastic job at making their model accessible for students, parents, teachers, and all of us who want to learn from them. (more…)

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What We Can Learn from Chugach School District

March 8, 2016 by

AKIt’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? The first district to design a competency-based system was a relatively new one, located in the most northwestern corner of our country and serving remote villages of Native Alaskans. You can read all about it in the new report Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System.

Staying the course for over twenty years, Chugach has developed a personalized, performance-based system that places students at the center and deeply values teaching and teachers. As we know, competency-based education starts with the idea that we can actually design for success and eliminate the traditional practices that lead to sorting and inequity. It also positions districts to manage continuous improvement processes that are constantly helping to build the organizational and instructional capacity of schools.

What Chugach helped me to understand is how profoundly competency-based education positions teachers to be able to use (and develop) their instructional expertise, their assessment literacy, their creativity, and their relational skills in helping students become independent learners.

Although I think this report will be helpful to anyone interested in competency-based education, it will be particularly useful to those interested in teaching and learning within competency-based schools, those working in rural communities, those thinking about how to create the competency-based infrastructure, and those working with Native American, Native Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian communities.

If you want to learn more about Chugach, we highly recommend Delivering on the Promise. It’s a great read for anyone who is trying to understand what competency-based education is really about.

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