Tag: assessment

Don’t Miss These Webinars

April 10, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 9.16.23 AMThere are more and more webinars coming up on proficiency-based or competency-based learning. We list them on Upcoming Events to the right of our web page — but just in case you missed them here they are:

How Competency-Based Education is Transforming Assessment and Accountability Systems in Schools Thursday, April 10, 2014, 3:00-4:00 PM ET

The final webinar in iNACOL’s  CCSSO Innovation Lab Network Webinar Series will feature Carmen Coleman, Danville School District, Kentucky  and Erica Stofanak (one of our contributing authors) Curriculum Instruction & Assessment Coach, Rochester School District, New Hampshire who will discuss measures for tracking student progress and growth, the various formative and summative assessments systems that are now in place, measuring teacher effectiveness, and the variety of reports utilized by administrators and teachers to indicate progress towards common goals. Various assessment tools will be shared that can be modified and utilized in other schools and districts with a similar vision.

Understanding Grading in Competency-based Schools Thursday, April 24, 2014, 2:00-3:00 PM ET

In this CompetencyWorks webinar Abbie Forbus and Brett Grimm from Lindsay Unified School District in California, will share Lindsay’s grading practices.  Lindsay Unified, a Race to the Top winner, has a strong personalized, performance-based system and well-developed grading system that emphasizes providing feedback to learners. Forbus and Grimm will provide an overview of the values and educational philosophy that guides Lindsay’s grading policy.  Then going into more depth, they will present the structure, practices, and reporting mechanisms. During this webinar you will learn how their information management system enables teachers, students and families to monitor student learning and progress along their learning progression. The final segment of the webinar will offer a discussion on implementation challenges and emerging issues.

Proficiency- & Competency-based Learning: Emerging Research on Implementation and Outcomes. May 5 12:30 – 2 ET.

Sponsored by REL-NEI, this webinar will explore emerging research on proficiency-based learning and its implications for practice in states, districts, and schools.  Jennifer Steele at RAND Corporation and Erika Stump at the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation will present findings from their newly published studies.

Proficiency-Based Learning Simplified: Supporting Students with Disabilities May 21  3-4 ET

In this Great Schools Partnership webinar Angela Hardy, Senior Associate, Great Schools Partnership
Jon Ingram , Senior Associate, Great Schools Partnership, Shannon Shanning, Special Education Teacher, and Bruce M. Whittier Middle School, Poland, ME will  address the role of Individual Educations Plans in a proficiency-based system, including the development of appropriate modifications to ensure that students with disabilities achieve proficiency.

Five Quick Thoughts About Accountability

February 13, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 2.23.47 PMThere is a flurry of conversations about federal accountability policy and assessment going on around the country. You may have heard about it described as accountability 3.0. I had the opportunity to participate in one of the conversations last week and just finished listening to the conversation led by Maria Worthen, iNACOL and Lillian Pace, KnowledgeWorks held today based on their report  A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change. And I’m feeling inspired to jot down a couple of my thoughts:

1. Federal policy must NOT mandate competency education.  We want it to enable competency education and eliminate any elements that inhibit it.  Federal policy can even catalyze it.  But at this point in time, federal policy should not expect everyone to do it. There are several reasons for this. First, any top down, bureaucratic approaches are just inconsistent with the student-centered, do what it takes, spirit of continuous improvement that is essential to personalized, competency-based schools. Second, we don’t have enough research and evaluation to tell us about quality implementation or what we need to ensure that special populations and struggling students benefit.  We just aren’t ready yet.

2. Assessment comes before accountability.  It’s almost impossible to untangle accountability from assessment in today’s policy context.  That’s because the accountability system has required states to have a specific type of assessment system.  This is a huge problem because assessment should be focused on helping students to learn.  Instead we see it as part of the accountability system. I know this is too simple… and all the accountability and assessment experts out there might dismiss this. But I just don’t think we can go where we want to go if we start with the requirements of today’s accountability system driving learning. So I think we need to define what is really important for systems of assessments and then draw from that what might be valuable for any type of accountability system.  Let’s keep our priorities straight by focusing on assessment and accountability not accountability and assessment. (more…)

Is Mastery a 3 or a 4 or Something Far Beyond That?

December 17, 2013 by
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Grant Wiggins

We hear the critique of competency education occasionally as a linear, rigid, boring process of students learning and testing, learning and testing. We also hear the concern about classroom instruction and software products that declare students proficient because they have done recall or basic skills. Certainly, we know that schools across the country are challenged by the higher expectations of the Common Core to upgrade instruction and assessments so that students can actually engage in learning at higher levels of learning (or some would say deeper).

In the EL essay How Good is Good Enough, Grant Wiggins takes on these issues, calling for us to “recalibrate” our understanding of mastery so that we can ensure students can apply the whole concept and not just the “bits.”

In the essay, Grant Wiggins proposes this definition of mastery: Mastery is the effective transfer of learning into an authentic and worthy performance. Students have mastered a subject when they are fluent, even creative, in using their knowledge, skills, and understanding in key performance challenges and contexts at the heart of that subject, as measured against valid and high standards.

But of course standards can vary. Wiggins argues that we must recalibrate our schools to external standards. He goes as far as to say that schools that don’t are not standards-based. That’s a big challenge to schools around the country saying that they are doing standards-referenced or standards-based grading. (more…)

What Does It Look Like: Student Ownership, Voice and Choice in a Competency-based School

November 22, 2013 by

belfast1As more districts become curious about competency education, they want to see what it look like in the classroom. Of course competency education doesn’t look one way — it varies based on the degree schools are using blended learning, how they are personalizing education, how student-centered, how project-based the school is, and the design and culture of the school . However, you can certainly get a feel for what is possible by watching videos, listening to students and teachers reflect upon their experiences. So we’ve pulled together a few — most of these schools emphasize student-centeredness or personalization.  You can find other videos and blog posts about competency education In the Classroom on the wiki.


Unpacking the Standards and Learning Targets

Reassessments and Retakes: A Necessary Part of a School-Wide Grading Policy

October 21, 2013 by

“Lawyers who finally pass the bar exam on their second or third attempt are not limited to practicing law only on Tuesdays” – Wormeli, 2011

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Rick Wormeli

We allow people to retake their driver’s license exam as many times as they need to in order to demonstrate competency. The same is true of other professionals such as teachers, lawyers, doctors, and electricians who are required to pass a certification/licensure exam. Reassessment is a part of our real world. I find it ironic, then, that, as educators, we cringe at the thought of allowing reassessments in the classroom in an effort to “prepare kids for the real world!” I held this belief until a few years ago when O’Connor and Stiggins (2009) and Wormeli (2011) helped set me straight. Reflecting back, I now cringe at the harsh reality that, from 2001 to 2006, I sent hundreds and hundreds of students into the real world without the opportunity to reassess to solidify their learning.

At my school, Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, New Hampshire, we believe in the concept of reassessments so much that we actually have a school-wide common procedure that supports its use in all classes. In fact, we have a number of school-wide common grading procedures that are designed to support our competency-based grading and reporting system, one that is now in its third year of implementation K-12 in our district.

In a competency-based system, reassessments are a necessary part of the learning process. “True competence that stands the test of time comes with reiterative learning. We carry forward concepts and skills we encounter repeatedly, and we get better at retrieving them the more we experience them.” (Wormeli, 2011). Making reassessments a school-wide practice changes the learning culture for students from one where they are trying to earn enough points to pass to one in which they are held accountable for everything they need to know and be able to do. Reeves (2000) describes the cultural shift that will happen over time as schools implement such a policy. “The consequence for a student who fails to meet a standard is not a low grade, but rather an opportunity – indeed, the requirement – to resubmit his or her work.” Indeed, that cultural shift is happening today at my school. (more…)

What’s the Point of School If You Can’t Learn From Your Mistakes?

September 30, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 4.46.55 AMOne of the things about competency education that seems to confuse people is the idea of re-assessment. People jump quickly to an image of kids just taking tests over and over and over until they pass.  A major education organization was quizzing me the other day – they asked, who gets to take re-assessments, when, how many times? There seemed to be an assumption that there should be a re-assessment policy rather than the responsibility being on the teacher to guide students through the cycle of learning toward proficiency.

What seems to be missing from this conversation is the concept of revision.  In competency education we emphasize revision, not re-assessment. Sure there is re-assessment for students when they haven’t demonstrated proficiency yet. But the important part of the learning cycle is in the process of students revising their work or working with a tutor to help them correct misconceptions until they can explain their mistakes and do the problems correctly.  Students can even learn how to manage part of the feedback and revision cycle themselves through self- and peer assessment.

Students at the Center’s video, Self-Assessment: Reflections from Students and Teachers, captures the importance of revision.  It’s fun to listen to the students, and, as always, they get to the point. One student asks, What’s the point of school if you can’t learn from your mistakes?

Jobs for the Future has released three other videos as well on peer and self-assessment: Student Centered Assessment Jeopardy that reviews different forms of assessment,  Peer Assessment: Reflections from Students and Teachers, and Heidi Andrade speaking about the culture of critique that is created through self- and peer assessment.  It’s worth taking the 15 minutes to watch the videos if the concepts of self- and peer assessment are new to you.

photo credit: Student at the Center’s video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkFWbC91PXQ

Process-Folios: Peeking Into A Student’s Head

August 28, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 2.26.21 AMWhat educator hasn’t wished they could get inside a student’s head – if even just for a moment – to really understand how she thinks, learns, and what she still needs to do to grasp a concept or lesson? Process portfolios (also known as “process-folios”) provide an opportunity to not only peek inside a student’s progression toward mastery, but also to get the student more actively engaged in understanding his own learning process.

You may think to yourself: Oh sure, I know all about portfolio assessment — that’s when students present a big senior project before a panel of community members. Great stuff. Or, maybe the name reminds you of the promising, but ultimately failed (derailed, some may say, by the standards movement) experiment with statewide portfolios in Vermont.

Wrong. Those are summative assessments. Although Steven Seidel won’t swear by the “birth story,” the idea for process portfolios likely emerged out of the arts-oriented work he, Howard Gardner, and the team at Project Zero were doing via Arts Propel in the late 1980s with the Pittsburgh Public Schools and Education Testing Services.  The impetus for creating process-folios focused on the notable role reflection could play in learning, particularly learning in the arts. Seidel recalls the team’s concern at the time that “using the term portfolios would only mean collections of one’s best work” —  the common understanding when educators talk about portfolios. However, Seidel explains that “the kinds of portfolios for learning that we were developing were designed to include lots of one’s work —  what the student thought was his or her best work, but also selections of work in process so you could see the process of learning happening through the collection of selected pieces.” (more…)

Retake Policy: Lessons Learned from Pat Benatar

July 29, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 3.08.52 PMAs an Eighties baby and a fan of sample based music, I have spent a great deal of time surrounded by crates of vinyl. The history educator in me sees these as cultural artifacts: moments frozen in time that convey the values and feelings of people willing to put themselves out to the masses.

This same act is one we see in our students every day. In their attempts to be competent, they put out their best work for all to see. Depending upon a number of factors, that work hits or misses the mark. In the competency-based classroom environment though, the expectation is that education is not a “one-and-done” event, but rather a “move on when ready” model.

So the question is posed: How do we juggle the ideal with the real in the realm of retake policy? Below is a plan that I put into place with my classes and has seen some great successes. (I would love to hear your feedback and personal ideas/experiences in the comments!)


1. For the summative assessment, require a minimum to show best effort:

By clearly stating what the expectations are when introducing the summative, we can better communicate where the line of rigor is to allow a student to show that they put their best effort forward. When used in my classroom, some of the minimums that have seen success are a minimum grade on the original summative, and the summative needing to be submitted on time. In the traditional setting, I have also seen this bar move according to the expectations of the classroom teacher—for example, the beginning of the semester may require a certain grade for the opportunity to retake and as the semester progresses, that minimum grade might be increased.



Changing To a Competency Based Grading System: A Student View

July 24, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 8.59.59 AMMy New Hampshire high school made the shift to a competency-based grading and reporting system two years ago. Educators who talk to me about that experience often want to know what that change process looked like from a student’s perspective. Surprisingly, most students were comfortable with the shift provided that they believed the school and teachers were effective at explaining how their grade would be calculated. The students who seemed most reluctant to change at the beginning were the ones who were already performing at a high level in the old system. These kids knew how to play what I like to call the grading game. They didn’t always test well, but they knew they could always compensate for that by doing all their homework, raising their hand every day in class, and bringing in canned goods on Thanksgiving week for extra credit points. The problem is that these behaviors made the assumption that, if students had good study habits, then they must have learned. When we think about it this way, it seems outrageous to support a system that doesn’t directly connect to competencies – the ability of a student to apply content knowledge and skills in and/or across the content area(s).

To help educators understand what I went through when my school made this shift, consider the following set of fictitious letters between a student and I. These letters are adapted from actual scenarios that I faced in the first year of implementation.



Dear Mr. Stack,

I am writing to you to express my displeasure that our school changed its grading practices for the upcoming school year. I have always been an “A” student. I do all of my homework, I always raise my hand to participate in class, and I always turn in my assignments on time. I am not; however, a good test-taker. In the past my teachers have always known this and they have compensated by giving me extra credit opportunities, making my homework worth more points, and giving me lots of participation point opportunities.

With this new grading system, it seems all the emphasis is being placed on doing well on tests. Homework is worth practically nothing. It seems due dates don’t matter. I am very concerned that I am no longer going to be an “A” student.

Why would our school change to a system that is going to hurt kids like me? I am very discouraged.


Nicole (more…)

Validating Competence with Wild Pigs in the Woods…

July 3, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 10.19.09 AMWith the school year coming to an end, I have begun the yearly practice of reflecting upon all that has occurred in and out of the classroom. This past week, I have been following along with the conversation around Iowa’s Competency-based workshop through Twitter. Although I was not able to attend, it was great to see the conversations as well as the feedback on the presentations helping to push competency-based education further in active environments.

As I continue to see this grow in both my home state of New Hampshire as well as other forward thinking states, I have begun to think more about the structures of these systems and how we can show student competence. If the ultimate goal is to have our students both college and career ready, then how is it we can validate that student learning has occurred?

In the process of reflection, I was brought back to a statement that my high school math teacher, Mr. Restuccia, used to consistently say. When confronted with a problem, and we could spit out the answer, he would state the claim, “Even a wild pig will find strawberries in the woods sometimes.” Although frustrating as a student, his statement was true to the fact that, just because we had the answer, didn’t mean that we truly understood the concepts or how to use the information. (more…)

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