September 24, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
What is competency education? The communication challenge has been bigger than I certainly ever anticipated.
We’ve had a hard time creating powerful elevator speeches. I’ve resorted to using my arms a lot. I start with a left to right motion with both arms as I say; “Our traditional system is based on moving students through school and a curriculum regardless if they learned it. Kids are passed along with C’s and D’s totally unprepared for their next course.” Then curving my arms, opening them wide, I bring them together into a tight circle; “Competency education is about redesigning schools so that they have the flexibility to respond to students, bringing together the instructional support so that they are successful. Students and parents are confident that students are learning every step of the way. Student move on after demonstrating they have mastered the material.” It works as an opening but then I’m left to explain common frameworks and assessments, tempo and pacing, anytime/anywhere, deeper learning and performance assessments.
To help us leap over the communication challenge, CompetencyWorks has prepared three sets of introductory materials that you can use as handouts with parents, community leaders, and policymakers.
We’ve formatted them two ways. The pdf versions above can be easily sent by email or used for resources on your webpage. We have also put the print versions on the Briefing Papers page if you want to print out really nice copies as handouts.
Please feel free to use the text as much as you want as we’ve licensed this under Creative Commons. The goal is to make it easier for you to help people understand competency education.
If you have suggestions for how to effectively communicate what competency education is please do share with us or send us links to your work. We know that we haven’t cracked this challenge yet.
Before you leave this page, could you do a bit of tweeting so that your network knows about the materials? Thanks!
July 21, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Here’s more news about competency education. Please notice we are starting to cover higher education a bit more as we know that many readers come to our website looking for information. Also, please know that if we include any information about products and services it is only to help you have a sense of what’s happening, not an endorsement of any kind.
Talking About Competency Education
- As described in redefinED, Sal Khan spoke at the National Charter School Conference, highlighting what would would happen if we built a house in the same way we educate children. He ended by saying, “There’s always been this tension when you have standards, when you have high-stakes exams and all that, where, gee, maybe the standards are good, but does it end up teaching to the test? Does it somehow end up taking creativity away from the classroom? The idea is that if teachers can feel good, if their students finish the mission and they’re getting reports on where all the students are, they don’t have to go into that mode, and it will hopefully liberate more class time to do more Socratic dialogue, to do more projects, to do more inquiry.” (If you haven’t read The One World School House it’s a fun and easy read – just perfect for summertime reading lists)
Competency Education Included in Reports and Recommendations
- Nellie Mae Education Foundation (the foundation that took the lead in establishing CompetencyWorks) has released a reference guide Putting Students at the Center that defines the four tenets of student-centered learning: personalized learning, anytime/anywhere learning, student-owned learning and competency-based learning. Competency education is described as: “Students move ahead based primarily on demonstrating key learning milestones along the pathto mastery of core competencies and bodies of knowledge (as defined in deeper learning). Tasks and learning units might be either individual or collective; and students have multiple means andopportunities to demonstrate mastery through performance-based and other assessments. Eachstudent is assured of the scaffolding and differentiated support needed to keep progressing at apace appropriate to reaching college and career and civic outcomes, even when unequal resourcesare required to achieve a more equitable result.
- The Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet released a report Learner at the Center of a Networked World. Recommendation 1, Action Step B is “Support pilots for new competency-based learning approaches that recognize knowledge, skills and competencies achieved in or outside of schools.” In their post on the release of the report, Jeb Bush and Rosario Dawson write, “Students must have access to interoperable learning networks that allow them to earn credit for what they have learned regardless of where they learned it — whether from a museum, a library, an after-school program, a massive open online course (MOOC), or in the classroom. In these competency-based models of learning, what you know is more important than where you go. These credits should be recognized by schools and institutions of higher education as well.”
- Southern Regional Education Board included Competency-based Learning in its 10 Critical Issues in Educational Technology. A word of caution — the way it is written it suggests that using technology will help you develop competency-based environments. However, using technology doesn’t mean a school is competency-based.
- Inside Higher Education reports that “The U.S. House education committee on Thursday advanced a package of legislation that would boost federal support of competency-based education, overhaul how cost information and other data is provided to prospective college students, and require more counseling for federal student loan borrowers.” H.R. 3136, Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act of 2014 “would reserve $1 million from funding for the Department of Education to authorize the Secretary to select up to 20 eligible entities to participate in demonstration projects related to competency-based education. Competency-based education focuses on measuring student achievement through an assessment of a student’s knowledge and skills rather than by the completion of clock or credit hours.”
June 18, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
By far, this news piece on Maine’s proficiency-based diploma is the best I’ve seen at explaining what we mean when we say proficiency-based learning or competency education. The big point is that we know ask for 4 math courses to graduate rather than being proficient in them.
We still need to get our explanations down to an “elevator speech”. We’d love to hear how you explain what proficiency-learning is? (or whatever term you use in your school and state).
February 21, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
(This is the first of a series on Pittsfield: See Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.)
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…)