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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Catalyzing Mastery-Based Learning: NYC’s Mastery Collaborative

July 19, 2016 by
MasteryCollaborative

Mastery Collaborative Speed Rounds

This is the second post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways

How does a huge district open the door to mastery-based learning when the rest of the district is focused on other areas of improvement and innovation?

New York City Department of Education created the Mastery Collaborative to support schools that were ready to take on the new frontier of mastery-based learning. The Department’s policy for school autonomy has formed a strong foundation; however, schools need support as well. Led by an extraordinary group – Jeremy Kraushar, Joy Nolan, and Julianna C. Brown – the Mastery Collaborative is building a network of leader-educators, a knowledge hub, and a shared vision of what mastery-based learning can be in NYC.

“Speed round” conversations at a Mastery Collaborative meeting allow school leaders, teachers, and students from participating schools to “cross-pollinate” effective ideas, practices, and experiences about mastery. In the above photo, Justin, a 7th grader from Brooklyn, talks to Joaquin Vega, principal of Bronx International High School, about how students feel the impact of mastery-based grading.

 

The Collaborative is made up of forty schools: eight Living Lab schools and thirty-two Active Member schools (a list is at the bottom of this post with links to the articles written about the schools CompetencyWorks has visited). The Living Lab schools provide visitors with a chance to see what mastery-based schools look like and to talk to other educators who are experienced at working in a schoolwide mastery system. Living Lab schools also post resources in a shared wiki page so others can quickly look at different options regarding grading practices, design of competencies, or school policies. The Mastery Collaborative team works with the schools to set goals aligned to a shared community framework, learn from one another, and develop overall guidance documents. For example, they have developed a tool to evaluate LMS systems to expedite the process for schools to consider different products. They are in the process of working with DOE Central’s Office of Academic Policy to offer PD that will help schools develop fair, transparent, and comprehensive mastery-based grading policies and messaging for teachers, students, and parents.

Some of the schools in the Mastery Collaborative sought waivers through the PROSE initiative, a joint effort of the UFT and the Department that has offered opportunities for schools to become mastery-based. However, most of the practices within mastery-based schools do not require waivers. (more…)

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Is it a Project or an Activity? Project-Based Learning and its Cousins

July 18, 2016 by

PBL1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on June 24, 2016. 

A project is a multistep activity undertaken by an individual or group to achieve a particular aim. With that broad definition there’s a lot of project-based learning happening in schools these days. Some is better than others and there are a lot of variations: some thin, some deep; some teacher-led, some student-driven; some with clear deliverables, and some very open-ended.

In an effort to help educators select a strategy appropriate for intended outcomes, this post is an attempt at providing a framework for variations on project-based learning (PBL) and part of our project-based world campaign.

Gold Standard PBL

Buck Institute for Education (BIE) defines project-based learning as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.” Their Gold Standard PBL Essential Project Design Elements include:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding and Success Skills. The project is focused on student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question. The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry. Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources and applying information.
  • Authenticity. The project features real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards or impact. Or it speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests and issues in their lives.
  • Student Voice & Choice. Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection. Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.
  • Critique & Revision. Students give, receive and use feedback to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product. Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

We think that is a good and useful set of design principles. Most of it applies not only to project-based learning but also to a group of related instructional strategies. We see seven key dimensions (design variables) for projects and related learning activities: (more…)

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Three Key Components of School-Community Engagement

July 15, 2016 by

NotebookThis post originally appeared at Students at the Center on June 22, 2106.

In Pittsfield, New Hampshire, community members have been involved in articulating our schools’ values, vision, and mission; in developing our long-term plan for school redesign; in redefining our professional roles; in managing our continuous improvement systems; and more. Still, we’re missing the mark in creating spaces for deep and broad engagement for all our families and community members.

When recently discussing the responses to a district survey of faculty and staff on family engagement practices, our Family Engagement Team, composed of both community members and educators, recognized challenges that lie ahead in taking engagement a step deeper. Comments like “parents get in the way,” “families are not helpful,” and “no confidence in families” were sprinkled among more mostly-positive notions, despite the district’s many years of commitment to community engagement.

Once educators are on the job, they’re up to their ears in what they see as the central function of their work, which can simply reinforce their views of what it’s like to be a teacher in the first place—endless cycles of planning for instructing, assessing student progress, and re-planning based on identified new student needs. These views have been formed over a lifetime of observing their own teachers as well as experiences in their university education and internships/student teaching.

New teachers are often overwhelmed by the magnitude of their job and often struggle to keep up with even their day-to-day work with their students. Their assumptions about being a professional educator change slowly, even in the face of administrative demands to develop and maintain relationships with parents and family members. Even if family engagement makes rational and intuitive sense, it remains where it has always been for most educators: on the fringes. (more…)

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NYC Big Takeaways

July 14, 2016 by

Selfie ShotThis is the first post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. 

I love my job – always learning, always meeting incredibly insightful, dedicated educators, always seeing new parts of the country – it’s just one big adventure. However, the most recent trip to New York City was also fun, fun, fun thanks to the incredible team at the NYC Mastery Collaborative: Jeremy Kraushar, Joy Nolan, and Juliana (Charlie) Brown. Natalie Abel, program manager at iNACOL and project manager for CompetencyWorks, also came along to get to see mastery-based learning up close. Add on seeing Hamilton, which helped to sweep out some of the webs of racial bias that seeps into one’s head, and this trip was by far one of the highlights of 2016.

I learned so much from this trip and have done my best to capture the depth of the conversations in each of the posts:

(more…)

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Cumberland High School: Starting with Proficiency-Based Grading

July 13, 2016 by
Alan Tenreiro

Alan Tenreiro

I didn’t get a chance to visit Cumberland High School in Rhode Island, but I did have a fascinating conversation with Alan Tenreiro, CHS Principal and NASSP’s 2016 National Principal of the Year. “Standards-based grading is the linchpin, but transparency is what transforms the system,” he said to start out our conversation. “We began with transparency because you have to think about all the other pieces that have to be aligned behind the scenes to make it work. Transparency creates consistency while also creating autonomy for teachers. These are the elements that are going to create more equity for students.”

Proficiency-Based Grading

CHS has created a proficiency-based grading system that is based on student performance levels while transparently converting into a numerical grade. The performance level rubric is designed to create consistent scoring across all staff members, relying on moderate, strong, and distinguished command of the standard. Students receive feedback on how they can improve their performance.

CHS has also eliminated zeros and the D and F. A video on their grading policy describes how the rubric scores are then turned into the numerical scores used to determine A, B, or C.

Grading What? Measurement Standards

CHS academic expectations are organized around measurement standards. Students are assessed against them. There are about four to six measurement standards for each content area and teachers use common scoring guides. An example of a measurement standard might be demonstrating the use of evidence-based claims in a social studies course. Within the academic departments, teachers have worked to create learning progressions around sub-standards – what are the things students need to know and be able to do in order to meet the measurement standard? (more…)

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Shaping Student-Centered Learning at Our Piece of the Pie

July 12, 2016 by

OPPThis is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public SchoolsWindsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

“Our young people have already had the experience of being kicked to the curb. They are behind in credits and they are behind in skills. And there is no way for them to catch up in a traditional high school. Mastery-based learning offers a meaningful path to high school graduation. It is also effective in helping students strengthen the foundational skills they need for jobs and college. We are now pursuing dual enrollment with College for America. We can imagine a mastery-based pathway that focuses on building skills that can start in high school and move through college programs right into jobs.”

– Bob Rath

Bob Rath, CEO of Our Piece of the Pie®, Inc. (OPP®) in Connecticut, has dedicated his life to improving life outcomes for young people who have been slipping through the cracks of the public education system. OPP operates at the intersection of youth development, workforce development, and academics, serving young people who need help to finish high school, build post-secondary skills, or gain access to the labor market. At OPPortunity Academy and the other schools run by OPP, a mastery-based approach can further unify these approaches for students by focusing on what they know, what they can do, and what they need to do to advance.

Many thanks to Rath, Principal Rodney Powell, and Chief Operating Officer Hector Rivera for sharing their vision about how competency-based learning can form the backbone of multiple pathways to graduation and beyond for young people..

OPPortunity Academy

Bob Rath was one of the co-authors of Seizing the Moment: Realizing the Promise of Student-Centered Learning.

Bob Rath is open about the challenges of creating a comprehensive mastery-based model in an alternative school. “Student-centered learning and personalization have opened a door for engaging and teaching students who are over-age and under-credited (OAUC). To be stuck in a seat-time world is condemning them.” Rath explained that young people become OAUC in two different ways. Some have significant academic deficiencies – they are the victims of social promotion and fail a lot of courses, and suddenly graduation feels like an impossibility. For the second group, life happens. They move a lot, they end up in child welfare, they or their parents get sick, they have a child, or they get arrested. For students with complicated lives, attendance can be a problem. Rath noted, “Mastery-based learning allows them to pick up wherever they left off. It gives them hope. These two groups need different things; some young people need both. We are still working on finding the right model, the right mix of approaches.” (more…)

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Harvard and Wellesley and Tufts, Oh My! (And Did I Mention MIT and Babson?)

July 11, 2016 by

College LogosI didn’t think I’d ever see the elites take a stance regarding proficiency-based learning. Thanks to the leadership of New England Secondary School Consortium, sixty-seven colleges and universities in New England have “provided statements and letters articulating their support for proficiency-based learning and stating – unequivocally – that students with proficiency-based grades and transcripts will not be disadvantaged in any way.”

Check out the NESCC website – you can find the list of institutions of higher education within each state and link to their signed letter with their pledge that students with proficiency-based transcripts will not be disadvantaged in any way.

NESSC highlighted some of the themes that came out in the conversations with the colleges and universities:

  1. Admissions offices receive a huge variety of transcripts, including transcripts from international schools, home-schooled students, and a wide variety of alternative educational institutions and programs that do not have traditional academic programs, grading practices, or transcripts.
  2. Students with non-traditional transcripts – including “proficiency-based” or “competency-based” transcripts – will not be disadvantaged in any way during the admissions process. Colleges and universities simply do not discriminate against students based on the academic program and policies of the sending school, as long as those program and policies are accurately presented and clearly described.
  3. As long as the school profile is comprehensive and understandable, and it clearly explains the rigor of the academic program, the technicalities of the school’s assessment and grading system, and the characteristics of the graduating class, the admissions office will be able to understand the transcript and properly evaluate the strength of a student’s academic record and accomplishments. In short, schools use so many different systems for grading, ranking, and tracking students that a school’s system can only be properly understood when a transcript is accompanied by a comprehensive school profile. A class rank or GPA, for example, doesn’t mean much unless the admissions office also has the “key” (i.e., the school profile) that it needs to understand the applicant’s academic accomplishments and abilities in context.
  4. All the colleges and universities we spoke with strongly support public schools that are working to improve student preparation for postsecondary learning and success, including instructional strategies that equip students with the essential knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits they need to thrive and persist in a collegiate academic program and earn a degree.

(more…)

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Will Eliminating the “F” Eliminate Bad School Design?

July 9, 2016 by

F GradeThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on July 6, 2016.

The dreaded “F” is going out of vogue in schools. This week’s Washington Post article, “Is it becoming too hard to fail?”, chronicled a host of K–12 school systems that are moving away from the age-old tradition of failing students whose work doesn’t cut it, in hopes of keeping students motivated and on the road toward graduation.

The article, however, does not answer the most important question that these new policies must consider: by eliminating the “F,” are students in turn less likely to fail?

There is an obvious tautology to this question. The answer depends on how we measure failure, if not by letter grades. The reality is that in our current system some students may not master a semester’s worth of Algebra or social studies in the time allotted before a final exam determines their grades. Simply eliminating bad grades does not minimize that fact. Commentators like Mike Petrilli are right to point out the risk, then, that making it impossible to fail reeks of the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

But skeptics of eliminating failing grades must likewise acknowledge that our current grading system perpetuates school designs that are already failing to ensure students’ long-term success. Indeed, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, just 37 percent of high school seniors are prepared for college-level math and reading. These low levels of performance are disappointing but not surprising if we pause to think about the fundamental structure of our K–12 education system. By design, we move students forward grade by grade based largely on the amount of instructional hours they have spent in class—dubbed “seat time”—rather than their mastery of academic skills and content. This structure permeates even week-by-week instructional methods: as schools rush to cover the bevy of standards on state tests each spring, and as teachers instruct students spanning a wide range of mastery levels, classes tend to move forward to new course material regardless of whether students have proven that they understand the concepts covered in the days and weeks prior. (more…)

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When Tears Don’t Stop Flowing

July 8, 2016 by

I can’t stop crying this morning.IMG_0073

For the Dallas police officers who were killed and their families. For Philandro Castile and his family. For Alton Sterling and his family. And for all the police who live in more fear today and for African-Americans who live in fear every day that they or someone they love could land in jail or worse be killed by someone who has made an oath to protect them.

I don’t know what to do to stop this slippery slope into violence, fear, and anger that is tearing at our country. And I don’t know what to do to scrape out the racism that is in every nook and cranny of our society. But I can talk about what we at CompetencyWorks are trying to do in our small piece of the puzzle.

Get the Values Right: The more Susan Patrick, co-founder of CompetencyWorks and President/CEO of iNACOL, and I talk about competency education, the more we understand that the traditional system is based on sorting students and that the fixed mindset can also be a racist mindset. We have heard comments along the way that make us realize it isn’t just that some students can’t learn as well as others. There are those who believe that some students shouldn’t learn as much as others as it reshapes the educational and economic playing field.

We’ve been talking to educators across the country to try to deeply understand the culture and values that are needed to make competency education effective and to ensure that personalized learning will result in greater equity. In mostly white communities we hear discussions about the growth mindset, transparency, empowerment, and responsiveness to students. In communities with rich racial diversity, there are others values. At Merit Prep, we heard about safety and making sure students feel valued. In New York City, there is discussion about cultural responsiveness and making sure students feel respected. These values are important because the lives of African-Americans, Hispanics & Latinos, Asian-Americans, and new immigrants are tremendously different based on the color of their skin, their language, or their clothes.

Now, we really do need to think about this – the color of skin is no different than the color of your eyes, the shape of your nose, or the length of your toes in terms of who each of us are as a human being. But in our America, we have made the color of skin the thing that shapes our lives and our identities. Whites who haven’t schooled themselves in white privilege might not understand how much being white shapes their identities and their lives. But deep inside they worry – maybe I haven’t deserved everything I’ve gotten. And therein lies some of the fear.

A few days ago, in a conversation with Susan about how to strengthen the list of values we raise as conditions for competency-based education, I raised the question of whether it was better to describe the value as “cultural responsiveness” or “students feel safe, respected, and valued.” Her reply? Both. We need both. I agree. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of ridding our schools of patterns of institutional racism and ourselves of bias.

Thus, here is our updated list of values needed in a competency-based system: (more…)

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