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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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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Advancing Students When They are Ready

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FloridaThis post originally appeared on the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Ed Fly Blog on January 4, 2016.

It’s no secret that ExcelinEd is excited about Competency-Based Education—the new approach to learning that allows to students to advance as they master course material.

Politico Florida recently reported that with guidance from the Foundation for Florida’s Future (ExcelinEd’s sister organization), three school districts in Florida have already begun implementing competency-based education pilot programs. Now it’s time for Florida lawmakers to remove existing barriers to competency-based learning in the state so more students can benefit from this strategy.

Check out an excerpt from the piece below, or head to Politico Florida for the full article.

…Florida is in a particularly strong position to implement competency-based learning because schools here have already implemented many of the components. The state’s schools have prioritized acquiring technological devices and offering online coursework, for example. There are policies that allow students to earn credit for some courses just by passing end-of-course exams or earn college credit while in high school through Advanced Placement or community college courses. Students may graduate high school early. (more…)

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How Idaho is Making Mastery Education a Reality

February 21, 2016 by

idahoThis post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s The EdFly Blog on January 25, 2016. Kelly Brady is the Director of Mastery Education for the Idaho State Department of Education. 

Idaho is taking an approach to Mastery Education that deeply recognizes the many stakeholders that must be involved to successfully shift from traditional education to Mastery Education.

Our shift dates back to a 2013 recommendation from Governor Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education that encouraged mastery-based education. Two years later, Idaho House Bill 110 passed unanimously with the support of The Idaho Education Association, Idaho School Boards Association and business/community leaders across the state.

The bill directed the Idaho Department of Education to develop a process for identifying 20 school districts or charter schools to serve as “incubators” for Mastery Education beginning in the 2016-17 school year. The bill also established a committee of teachers and leaders that met in the summer of 2015 to explore challenges and co-create solutions, as well as a statewide awareness campaign to really help people across the state understand what Mastery Education can do for Idaho students.

Currently, we are out talking to superintendents, principals and education leaders to share more about the network program. Interested schools/districts are encouraged to submit a letter of intent and take “The Mastery Education Readiness Survey” to self-assess direction, motivation, leadership, student focus, curriculum, instruction, technology, comprehensive data system, risk-taking, organizational structure, ownership and communication. To date, we have received more districts interested than we will be able to include in the initial cohort. We will soon release an official application and a committee will be formed to evaluate the applications and select our incubators. (more…)

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Why This Experienced Teacher Believes in Mastery Education

February 20, 2016 by
Kelly Brady

Kelly Brady

This post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s The EdFly Blog on January 19, 2016. Kelly Brady is the Director of Mastery Education for the Idaho State Department of Education. 

In my thirty years as an educator, I had the privilege of working with a wide range of learners in many different settings. I worked in public and private schools, with highly-gifted students and special education students, and in wealthy areas and areas of high-poverty. Yet in all those classrooms, one thing held universally true: kids learn best when their individual learning needs are met.

Good teachers know how to personalize instruction based on what they’ve learned about each student. The best way to motivate students is to get to know them personally by building relationships that reveal their unique learning needs. But it’s impossible to do that all the time, for every kid, in every lesson. Until now.

Thanks to advances in technology and new student-centered models of teaching and learning, we now have the tools to meet the needs of every learner! My role as Director of Mastery Education in Idaho is to get these tools into the hands of teachers and school/district leaders so they can customize learning for every student.

Why am I excited about Mastery Education?

(more…)

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Maine: At the Forefront of Proficiency-Based Learning

February 19, 2016 by

AutumnA few months ago, I had the opportunity to do a road trip through Maine to visit seven districts and one university (scroll to the bottom for links). Just as the leaves were bursting into reds and oranges (and I even saw what I might call magenta!), it felt as if district after district was bursting with new practices and ideas to improve student learning through proficiency-based systems. Here is a summary of the trip:

On the Forefront of Proficiency-Based Learning

Really and truly, I think Maine is going to become proficiency-based. They have a very strong foundation based on helping students be successful – not just focusing on flexible pacing. Most of the schools I visited had a schoolwide approach for students to be self-directed in the classroom. They are walking the talk at the state level. They are working collaboratively. They are trying to figure out how to help all of their students be fully prepared for lifelong learning. (Well, we have to see about this. The legislature is considering a bill to only have students demonstrate proficiency in math and ELA and two areas selected by students.)

In fact, I’d say that they might be leading the nation in terms of districts converting to personalized, proficiency-based learning (PBL). New Hampshire and Vermont are putting into place very strong systems of support and the policy infrastructure needed for competency-based education and learning to be sustainable. If Maine can stay steady through this period of rising tension to increase innovation and responsiveness to students, it is likely that they will see a rapidly expanding stream of high school graduates who have the self-directed lifelong learning skills that will change the course of their lives and the economic strength of the state. Eventually, Maine’s Department of Education will want to re-design the policies and structures to support and sustain PBL.

I’m sure there are districts in Maine that are not thrilled with the idea of a state-legislated proficiency-based diploma. For example, one of the districts I visited described their motivation as complying with state policy rather than doing what was best for kids. Yet, as we talked more, it was clear that they were finding substantial value in many of the transitional steps and were bringing on a strong team of people who already understood many of the elements of PBL. Generally, they thought PBL was a good idea, just not one they would have done on their own.

There are also growing concerns that districts are not going to innovate enough in time to help every student meet the graduation requirements in all eight domains by 2018. This has caused legislators to try to ease up on the expectations. It will be important for Maine to find solutions that continue to strengthen schools and motivate students and not fall under the wheel of the blanket statement that it is “practically impossible to get every student to become proficient.”

The Reasons Maine is Making Headway

What’s the reason Maine is making such headway? First, there was a convergence of three efforts that built upon each other to produce a strong shared vision: (more…)

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Lake County Schools: Windy Hill Middle School

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WolvesThis post is the fifth in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida. Begin with the district overview and follow along at these schools: South Lake High, Lost Lake Elementary, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, and Lake Windy Hill Middle

Kathy Halbig, Coordinator of Personalized Learning at Lake County Schools (LCS), described Windy Hill Middle School as “a high performing middle school with a strong level of trust. The staff are confident in their ability to manage change and take risks.” Yet, the team at Windy Hill knew they still weren’t reaching every student, which is why they decided to make the transition to personalized learning with implementation beginning the fall of 2015.

We had a rich conversation with Assistant Principal Abby Crosby and Personalized Learning Facilitator Mary Ellen Barger. Here are the highlights:

Building a Common Understanding of Personalized Learning: The journey to personalization at Windy Hill started by engaging everyone, including the school advisory committee, business community, teachers, and parents.

Four (Overlapping) Steps to Personalized Learning: The Windy Hill scale up strategy has four components that are not entirely sequential. First, invest in the culture of personalization, including growth mindset. Second, go with the teachers who are ready, willing, and able. Third, build capacity through a train-the-trainer model so Windy Hill teachers can train others in the personalized learning classroom design and delivery skills. Fourth, build the capacity for writing units that take into consideration that students are starting at different points and using a variety of multiple assessments. (more…)

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Will Maine Stay the Course?

February 18, 2016 by

MaineAyyy! Maine legislature has a bill to reduce the expectations of high school graduation from meeting all standards in all eight domains to only meeting the standards in math and ELA + two domains selected by the student. As I discussed earlier, the original policy is creating tension in Maine; however, this is a swing way too far the other direction, as it allows students to not have any expectations in the other four domains. At least that’s how I understand it.

I’ve received a number of emails regarding this reconsideration of the graduation requirements. It certainly feels like we need more conversation about how we can make sense of proficiency-based graduation requirements that will create meaningful diplomas, provide students with the skills they need for their transitions into their adult lives, and not penalize those students who might be bumped around by the transition. I think what is needed is a facilitated dialogue with people from different perspectives and who are creative (as in can unlock themselves from assumptions and build off each other’s ideas) to talk through what meaningful policy regarding proficiency-based diplomas might look like.

In the meantime, I’ll share what is zipping around in my head regarding this issue. These are just initial ideas and certainly do not take into consideration all of the work that it takes to move ideas and legislation within a state.

We Need to Believe that Our Children and Our Educators Can Learn, and Fully Support Them in This. No matter what, we always need to believe in ourselves and that we can learn with the right supports and with extra effort (that’s the growth mindset, right?). It’s important to frame any policy question so that we ask, What would it take to get all of our students proficient in all domains? rather than start with the disabling position that “it’s practically impossible” to get all students to proficiency. We can’t give up before we even get started.

Tension is Not Always Bad. When Tension Leads to Creative Tension and Innovation, it is a Very Good Thing. I was trained as a policy wonk, and tension makes me crazy. I always want to fix it. And then, while at the Mott Foundation, I had the good fortune to meet incredibly skilled community organizers such as Ernie Cortez, Scott Reed, Steve Kest, Mary Dailey, and so many others who explained to me, over and over, that creating tension can lead to creative tension, which brings new faces to the table, and that a sense of urgency produces new solutions.

Maine’s graduation expectations are creating tension. High schools are still time-based – as one educator told me in Maine, “the clock starts ticking the minute students enter ninth grade.” Of course, the urge is to release it and to make it go away. However, I’d say keep that tension for right now because you want to hear the best innovative ideas about what could be done differently. Are there any schools not scared about the new requirements because they have been putting into place strategies that are working? Who has been the best at getting their low-income, special education, and ELL students ready for a proficiency-based graduation? What are they doing differently? What would superintendents and principals like to do if they could? (more…)

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Lake County Schools: Sawgrass Bay Elementary Increases Engagement with Personalized Learning

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Sawgrass1This post is the fourth in a five-part series on Lake County Schools in Florida. Begin with the district overview and follow along at these schools: South Lake High, Lost Lake Elementary, Sawgrass Bay Elementary, and Lake Windy Hill Middle

Sawgrass Bay Elementary (SBE) has fully embraced personalized learning. In the first year, eight teachers started piloting the new practices in math in grades 3-5. A year later, they have full implementation in math and ELA throughout the school. As we wandered through classrooms, the conversation with Principal Heather Gelb; PL Facilitator Amy Billings; and Instructional Dean Michelle Work was full of insights and observations. Gelb enthusiastically explained, “We are seeing a big culture shift. It’s only been a year, and the teachers are noticing that the kids are highly engaged. Personalized Learning is a more intentional implementation of best practices as they pertain to student autonomy. This will be a shift for everyone.” Below are a few of the highlights from our conversation:

Background: Sawgrass Bay is situated in the corner of Lake County and is relatively close to Orlando. Many families have jobs in the tourist industry, which has led to high mobility as they move to obtain higher paying jobs. SBE is the largest elementary school in Lake County Schools, serving 1,300+ students in grades K-5. Nearly half are ELL.

The Power of Student as Leaders: Work explained that SBE is infusing Covey’s seven habits of the Leader in Me program into the overall personalized learning approach as a means to increase students’ sense of responsibility and the skills they will need. She explained, “When students feel empowered, there is no reason to act out. Instead of feeling that things are being done to them, they feel more in control of their own actions.” Assistant Principal Maurice Simmons expanded on this point with, “The Leader in Me program is helping our kids see themselves as leaders. Before, they were kids or children or students. Now they see themselves through the lens of learners and leaders. They feel more responsible for their own actions and for helping their classmates.” I saw the strong emphasis on the “habits” in Mrs. Miller’s classroom, where there were celebrations of students demonstrating the different qualities and a strong culture of “I can” and “We can.” [Red Bank Elementary in Lexington, SC is also using this program.] (more…)

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