Tag: assessment

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

October 8, 2015 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AMOhio department of education released its application to participate in the state’s new Competency-based education pilot program. It also created self-assessment tools for school districts to determine their readiness to participate in the program.

More Movement in the States


  • Arne Duncan supports Purdue University’s competency-based education program, and he is quoted as supporting competency education and shifting away from time-based systems.
  • An interview with Jennifer Deenik, Living Systems Science Teacher at Souhegan High School, by Jennifer Poon, Innovation Lab Network Director at CCSSO, takes a peek inside New Hampshire’s performance assessment pilot program.
  • Diploma Plus operates small alternative programs for students who have repeatedly failed a grade or are on the verge of dropping out. This interview with William Diehl, chair of the Diploma Plus board, discusses the key components of the schools’ efforts to prepare students who are coming from behind.
  • The Woodrow Wilson Foundation, in partnership with MIT, are creating the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning Sciences, which provides graduate programs in teacher education and school leadership. The Academy will be competency-based with a blended curriculum, and the first class will enroll in 2017.
  • In Giving Students Charge of How They Learn, John McCarthy discusses student-developed products based on learning targets, student-developed rubrics, student-developed conferences, and setting students free to learn with you.

Videos and Films

  • Beyond Measure is a film that challenges the assumptions of our current education system, and paints a positive picture of what’s possible in American education when communities decide they are ready for change. Watch the trailer here.
  • The Illuminating Standards Video Series explore the relationship between meeting demanding state standards and designing powerful learning experiences for all students. The video series are listed by grade level.


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Buyers Beware

October 7, 2015 by

CautionI am getting a bit frustrated with information management systems that claim to be competency-based. They describe themselves in a number of ways – as LMS and as tracking systems – and I’m sure the names will continue to develop as we get a better grasp on the necessary functionality.

I’ve been spending time over the past year watching demos, visiting vendor booths, and trying to be open-minded about their full functionality. Most of the time I’ve been disappointed.

So before you even spend time looking at a system, ask these questions:

Can it easily show the standards students are working on that may be different than those specifically in the age-based grade level? This is problem number one – most of the systems I have seen continue to use courses as the organizing structure. They load up the course with the grade-level standards, usually from Common Core,  for eighth grade math or ninth grade ELA. But what if a student is working on sixth grade math skills or is advancing to eleventh grade writing? There needs to be a way, an easy way, to show where students are on their learning continuum and for teachers and students to get “credit” for mastering skills even if it isn’t in the grade-level standards. One of the products drawing in a lot of funding requires teachers to add all the standards into their course if they have students working at different levels as an extra, burdensome step. This is one of the core problems of the traditional system – focusing on the curriculum instead of the students. You do not want to institutionalize this with your new information system.

Can I get a student profile that shows me how a student is advancing in all of the disciplines? When a system is teacher-centric, it only focuses on what a teacher needs to know. If it is going to be student-centric, then you should be able to customize student profiles that help students, parents, and advisors reflect on pace and progress. (more…)

Going Deeper with New Resources

September 23, 2015 by

It’s helpful to read all the papers that get released on competency education and other related efforts…but they never totally help you understand how to do something. Thus, I keep my eyes out for resources that allow you to go deeper more easily.

There are two new resources that I think could be helpful to educators – Making Mastery Accessible by reDesign and Illuminating Standards at the Center for Student Work. And if you know of others that you have found helpful to you in your work, please pass them on.

redesignMaking Mastery Accessible was developed in partnership with Springpoint and is supported by Carnegie Corporation as a follow-up to Making Mastery Work. It can help you navigate terminology and there are lots of resources from other schools so you can see how they have organized their schools, what they have developed as overarching competencies, and access lots of teaching resources. There are also tools developed by reDesign to help you think about your process of conversion. For example, there are a number of design tools including readiness, adoption process, and grading policies.

snakes are born this way

From the video Snakes Are Born This Way

Illuminating Standards is a project to help people see how they can use project-based learning and performance tasks to help students meet the standards set out in the Common Core. It’s been developed through a partnership with Expeditionary Learning and the Harvard Graduate School of Education (check out the home page, as there are a lot more resources available there). There are great videos about how to teach standards using project-based learning and student voice/choice. You will also find projects and examples of student work at each grade level.

Both sites have a lot of material, so you might want to dedicate an hour or have a team of people look through to find out what might be most useful in your work right now.

See also:

What I Learned From My Daughter’s First “C”

September 22, 2015 by

CThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on September 15, 2015.

It’s no secret that I’m an advocate for competency-based learning models. I’ve gone on the record lots of times as just that. I shared my thoughts on Montessori education as one of the original competency-based models and until very recently, I had two daughters who were learning in competency-based, Montessori learning environments.

This year our third grade daughter transitioned from the only formal learning environment she’s ever known–a no-grades, no-desks, pick-your-own-work Montessori classroom–to a gifted, STEM magnet in a large traditional urban school district.

We really sweated the transition, but it’s been mostly a breeze for us and our daughter. She bounces off to school every day, even though she has to get up more than a full hour earlier. She dutifully and cheerfully does her nightly (much more challenging) homework. She tells stories about how funny her teachers are and every day she mentions a new friend. She’s learning new things in new ways and even described her new school as “more like a Learning Camp” than a classroom.

In other words, all signs point to “happy, thriving, learning child.” So, why on earth did I let one grade, her first “C,” totally shift my perception of how she was doing in her new school? (more…)

Competency-Based Learning Assessments Coming Soon to North Carolina?

September 16, 2015 by

NCWe were delighted to see that the North Carolina budget conference report published yesterday indicated their interest in competency-based education. As I understand it, there is no budget attached to their intent to transition to a “system of testing and assessments” for K12 that “utilizes competency-based learning assessments.” As you can see from the text from the report below, they are using the five part working definition of competency education to define the system.


SECTION 8.12.(a) It is the intent of the General Assembly to transition to a system of testing and assessments applicable for all elementary and secondary public school students that utilizes competency-based learning assessments to measure student performance and student growth, whenever practicable. The competency-based student assessment system should provide that (i) students advance upon mastery, (ii) competencies are broken down into explicit and measurable learning objectives, (iii) assessment is meaningful for students, (iv) students receive differentiated support based on their learning needs, and (v) learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include the application and creation of knowledge.

SECTION 8.12.(b) In order to develop the use of competency-based assessments for all elementary and secondary public school students in North Carolina in accordance with subsection (a) of this section, the State Board of Education is encouraged to evaluate the feasibility of integrating competency-based assessments for use in local school administrative units and as part of the statewide testing system for measuring student performance and student growth. The State Board may examine competency-based student assessment systems utilized in other states, including potential benefits and obstacles to implementing similar systems in North Carolina, and the relationship between competency-based assessments and innovative teaching methods utilized in North Carolina schools, such as blended learning models and digital teaching tools.

We’ll share more information on North Carolina’s interest in competency education as we gather it.

From Formative Assessment to Tracking Student Mastery: The Road to Competency-Based Instruction

August 20, 2015 by
Megan Mead

Megan Mead

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on July 16, 2015.

Once upon a time, classrooms were filled with students who were expected to learn the same thing on the same day. Students rushing to their seats at the first sound of a bell, sitting quietly, taking notes, practicing independently (struggling silently), proving understanding through end of unit tests, and awaiting for their instructors cue to move forward. If you walk into the classrooms of today, you may still see this scene. BUT, in more and more classes across the country, you will see something very different; you will see classrooms that are dynamic and increasingly next gen, classrooms that are breaking the mold in an effort to make the learning experience one that is both personalized and engaging for students.

Fundamental to competency-based learning and any attempt to personalize is mastery tracking, fed by formative assessment. In Formative Assessment to Initiate Learning, we touch on the idea that formative assessment is an ideal starting point on the path to personalization. Next, we dive into why using these results to track mastery is so important.

Learning Productively

Personalization and a competency-based model lead to learning more productively. Looking at a traditional school day, how much time is wasted? How much time is spent on efforts that do not link to directly to instruction? This is not to assume that non-academic events are all a waste of time, this is often where life skills are experienced and memories are made, SO lets focus on the actual instructional time, of instructional time, how frequently are all kids getting the right subject at the right time with the right support?

Realistically, 5% – 10% a typical day is spent on instruction that is targeted. What if we flip that so that learning at the right level in the right the way occupies the majority of the day? Then we optimize customization, increase productivity, maximize motivation, boost persistence — all while radically improving achievement.

Why Track Student Mastery

If we want all kids to reach higher standards faster, then learning productivity is key. We must understand who our students are as thinkers and where they are at academically in order to maximize a sequences of experiences that are tailored for them. If we can do this well, then we can get kids to succeed at higher levels. At the core of this is tracking student mastery. And here are 10 reasons why: (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

August 7, 2015 by

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AM

What Is Competency Education?

  • A Q&A with Rebecca Wolfe, Director of Students at the Center project and personalized learning advocate, discusses how personalized learning can help historically underserved students.
  • Formative assessment is an ideal starting point on the path to personalization; tracking student mastery is an ideal next step. Read more here.

Implementing Competency Education


Learning Progressions: Are Student-Centered State Standards Possible?

July 27, 2015 by

Stepping StonesIt’s interesting – we have this enormous set of academic standards (Common Core, Next Generation Science, and other state standards), but it’s not 100 percent clear if they were designed by backing out of what a group of experts think students need to be “college and career ready,” or to what degree they were established by how students really learn, moving from one concept to the next. If we were really committed to student learning, then we would want to make sure that the way standards are organized is based on the very best of what we know about how students learn and how instruction can help students learn.

There has been substantial research into how students actually learn and the best strategies to help them advance to the next concept. This set of research has produced learning progressions (also called maps or trajectories, but I’ll just use the phrase learning progressions). It’s helpful to think about learning progressions as the stepping stones across a river – there are many ways across, but some are definitely better than others.

Achieve held a meeting in May, gathering the researchers and state leaders to talk about the learning progressions and the potential value to our efforts to establish competency-based pathways. It was a fascinating meeting because of the incredible potential of these powerful instructional approaches and because of the number of remaining issues that need to be resolved.

What are Learning Progressions and How are They Valuable?

One of the big issues (although it should not stop us from moving forward) is that there is no one agreed upon definition of learning progressions among the researchers who have developed them. In fact, their field would be much more influential if they did a bit of field-building among themselves. Examples of the definitions highlighted at the Achieve meeting include:

  • Increasingly sophisticated ways of thinking about or understanding a topic
  • A framework for formative classroom practice that reflects how students learn within a domain
  • Building blocks to mastery of knowledge and skills addressed in college- and career-ready standards


Can MOOCs Become System-Builders?

July 1, 2015 by
From Atlantic Article

Image from The Atlantic Website

Something really special happens in the second or third year of implementation in schools that are applying competency education with the spirit of learning and the spirit of empowerment – educators develop a deep sense of urgency to improve their skills so they are in a better position to help students learn.

In the first year or so, there is a shared purpose that the goal is to make sure students learn, not cover the curriculum; educators have figured out the new infrastructure for learning; the understanding of what proficiency means for each academic level has been calibrated; everyone is aware of where as a school they are strong and where they are weak in terms of being able to help students learn; and if a strong information system has been put into place, everyone also knows exactly how students are progressing and which ones need more help. With this transparency about how the school is performing, educators become focused on how improve their instructional tool kits – deepening their knowledge about how to teach their discipline, how to upgrade instruction and assessment to higher order skills, integrating language and literacy practices, how to organize learning opportunities so students are really engaged in robust learning, how to better coach students in building habits of learning….and the list goes on.

It’s a tremendous lift in instruction and assessment led by educators themselves who realize that their own professional skills need to be improved if they are going to help students achieve – I think of this as the transition toward the Finnish model. Teachers have explained that this stage of the transition is both the most challenging and the most rewarding. However, as a country, we are challenged to provide adequate professional development and learning opportunities for teachers that are rooted in the values and practices of competency-based education and are available in just-in-time modules. (more…)

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