February 21, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
It was a delight to visit Pittsfield School District (PSD) to learn about the redesign of the district starting with the Pittsfield Middle High School. It’s a comprehensive design: Keep “students at the center” using personalized learning strategies that build upon a competency-based infrastructure to ensure students master twenty-first century skills and demonstrate academic content and skills. It’s a mouthful for sure – and this district is doing it.
Tobi Chassie and Susan Bradley, Co-Project Managers of the Systems Change Initiative shared their impressive results. The percent of students being accepted to college has jumped from 20% to 80%. Chassie explained, “There is a palpable difference among faculty and the community in enthusiasm and hope. And their expectations for the kids have increased.” Bradley emphasized, “A lot of the difference is in student voice – they just had to let it out. They just needed a system and process that allowed them to express their voice. Their voice has motivated the teachers.”
How It Started: The redesign started after faculty and staff agreed that the status quo wasn’t acceptable and committed to do better for their kids. The district had been forced to reduce staff due to the economic downturn and dropping enrollment due to redistricting. Pittsfield Middle High School (PMHS)was a SIG school and the community saw it as a problem. They also agreed that incremental cuts or reducing programs wasn’t an option. The school board wanted a coherent system of education.
Starting in 2008 with a community-wide dialogue, a shared vision was created for a student-centered redesign based on five principles:
- Learning is personalized
- Teaching is focused on coaching and facilitating
- Learning reaches beyond the school walls
- Progress is measured by mastery, not by age or the number of classroom hours, and
- Time is a flexible resource
Note that the competency-based elements are captured in “measured by mastery” and “time is a flexible resource.” The others focus on personalization, valuing learning wherever it takes place, and the changing roles of educators.
Their Community Engagement Strategy: PSD doesn’t do “buy in” or input when they discuss community engagement. PSD’s active community demanded that it be an authentic partner, not passive observers satisfied with updates. In order to ensure the community is a partner in considering and shaping new ideas all along the way, PSD has created formal structures. (more…)
September 5, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Sitting on the shores of Crystal Lake, my mother’s friends were clutching the edges of their beach chairs with curiosity. The tale of the Common Core was gripping, an absolute cliff-hanger. What will Arne do next? What will Diane Ravitch say? If the way our system is designed isn’t working, what’s taking us so long to become competency-based? How will innovate school leaders get states to upgrade their information systems and assessment policies? I’m not joking — During vacation I’ve been asked daily for briefings on education, always starting with the Common Core, and have to eventually excuse myself because waves of questions just keep coming and coming.
In trying to tell the story of competency education, I realize I don’t really have a good elevator speech. Explanations are more of an adaptive process in which questions are asked and the answers open up new ways of thinking. But we don’t always have time for that.
Now we have help. On September 30th from 4 – 5:15 the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is sponsoring a webinar for the Frameworks Institute to share their findings from the Core Story of Education Project on how to best communicate a more complex vision of how learning happens, what disrupts it, and how to build a system that supports all children in reaching their full potential. . In a 75-minute webinar designed with the communication needs of education reform organizations in mind, FrameWorks will explore the findings and recommendations. They’ll walk us through questions such as:
- How can the case for meaningful education reform be infused with a story?
- How would we know we had a good story?
- How might it help education advocates explain what we know about what works to people who need to make sound decisions about public policies in their communities?
Click here for more information and to register for the webinar.
March 19, 2013 by Rose Colby
From Making Mastery Work
Several weeks ago, I attended the CCSSO Innovation Lab Network meeting as a member of the New Hampshire team. At that meeting, Nick Donahue of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation spoke about how we must effectively message our work. After researching several of the resources he outlined (see wiki for the Frameworks Institute report Preparing America for the 21st Century: Values that Work in Promoting Education Reform), one important thought emerged and resonated with me as I prepared for a retreat with a school board and Principal of a traditional high school who wanted to know more about competency education.
I followed Nick’s advice as I designed the three hour work session with the first third of the meeting based on why we must prepare our students for the future. After doing a visioning exercise for the board to imagine what learning will look like on the campus in ten years, the members engaged and voiced many futuristic thoughts and ideas. It laid the groundwork for the discussion on college and career ready skills, competency frameworks, rich performance assessment and grade system reform.
At one point in the presentation, the board members became my ‘students’ and I launched them into a rich performance task (see below), having them unpack what they would have to do to tackle the problem, and then showed them how this work fit the competencies and the assessment plan I would use as a teacher. All of a sudden this school board was launched into 21st century learning using a competency based learning design. They got it! (more…)
January 24, 2013 by Brian Stack
This past week I had the privilege of attending an IEP meeting for Carter, a student that I have come to know quite well over the past three years. Carter has a learning disability and was diagnosed with ADHD back in fifth grade. School has always been a struggle for him, particularly the parts of school that require him to be focused and attentive in class and to meet assignment deadlines for his teachers in a timely manner. When he is focused, school comes relatively easy to him. With the help of his case manager and the support of his parents over the last two years, Carter has managed to earn all of his freshman credits and sophomore credits. The final course grades that appear on his transcript aren’t stellar, but regardless no one can argue with the fact that he reached proficiency for each of his course competencies and thus received credit for each of his courses. (more…)
September 3, 2012 by Chris Sturgis
If you are considering having your district or school move towards competency education, then find an hour to dive into the recently released The Long Conversation or, “It’s hard, but worth it. Did I mention that it’s hard?”
This case study on Kennebec Intra-District Schools better known as RSU 2 commissioned by the Maine Department of Education really is a must read for anyone starting to think about implementation. It’s chock full of lessons and insights that can help you leap over the hurdles you are bound to encounter.
Setting a Vision: The process used by RSU 2 under the leadership of Don Sivisiki, now at the Maine Department of Education and its vision for student centered learning can be helpful to think about how to shape a process to engage school board, educators and community members. (more…)
August 28, 2012 by Chris Sturgis
I don’t think there is a word for it…probably time to make one up. I just love the feeling of “a-ha!” – when I get an itsy-bitsy glimpse of understanding about our world and our work. I had two “a-ha!s” when I caught a glimpse into the Muscatine Community School District’s (Iowa) efforts in competency education.
The Muscatine Journal covered a school board meeting where a competency education pilot was described.
It starts in the classroom: Muscatine has 26 volunteer teachers that are going to pilot competency education in their classrooms. They are from elementary, middle and high school as well as their alternative school. They are doing their own research and figuring out how to integrate standards-based grading into their classrooms. (more…)
August 7, 2012 by Diane Smith
On a recent walk, I was stopped by my neighbor who had a complaint about her son’s end-of-year report card. “See this,” she said, pointing to the bumper sticker on her car that proudly declared her son an honor roll student at Olympia Middle School. “It’s a lie; it doesn’t match the information from his teachers about what he knows and can do. I don’t understand. What should I do?” Her voice sounded pleading and I could sense a rising frustration with the public school system, a beloved institution that I had participated in and protected for over thirty-six years.
We have no chance at making strategic and systemic changes in our education system if we don’t bring parents along on the change journey. And, the changes that occur when districts embrace proficiency-based practices (competency-based/standards-based) go against the traditional picture of education that parents experienced and daily use as their frame of reference. Our parents were batch educated, moving through a textbook from cover to cover with classmates who shared birthdays that put them all at the same grade level. (See Sir Kenneth Robinson) Their students, on the other hand, are allowed to progress without any barriers traditionally affixed to the calendar, the clock, or the curriculum. This means that a fourth grader might be working at a second-grade reading level and, at the same time, be working on fifth or sixth grade math standards. Or, a high school student may earn credit for learning experiences that occur outside of the traditional school year. Parents chased points to reach artificial levels of excellence; their students are evaluated against descriptions of proficiency or higher, knowing exactly what they need to know and do in order to be successful. It’s no wonder that parents have such a hard time accepting some of the new changes that proficiency-based teaching and learning bring. (more…)
June 9, 2012 by Chris Sturgis
David Theoharides, Superintendent of Sanford Schools in Maine wrote a beautiful reflection in his June 7th op-ed Vision pursues ‘student-centered, proficiency-based learning‘. The piece also brilliantly served to further engage the community in the transformation towards the Sanford Vision: Learning for Life with its focus on student-centered, proficiency-based learning. (more…)
May 10, 2012 by Chris Sturgis
Read more about Spaulding High School.
Traveling to Amherst, Massachusetts, for the Proficiency-Based Pathways meeting and a visit to Spaulding High School in Rochester, New Hampshire, was one of those profound reminders of the enormously beautiful variation in our country in terms of culture, race, and ethnicity—and, of course, geography—as the greening woods, running rivers, and sparkling forsythia nearly blinded my New Mexico eyes.
As you probably know, New Hampshire has transformed credits from seat-time to competency in all of its high schools. Spaulding’s principal, Mr. Rob Seaward, understands the spirit and value of competency education and is working with teachers to get it into every classroom. They are in the first year of the change and are still working out the kinks, so it’s way too early to look for results. However, here are just a few of the highlights of the site visit. (more…)