Tag: competency-based learning

Continuous Improvement: Addressing the Needs of Struggling Students

January 17, 2017 by

foursquareThis is the twenty-sixth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

After the first few years of transition, districts begin to have the bandwidth to look more deeply at where students are not advancing or are at a lower level academically than their age-based grade. Although not necessarily done in a linear fashion, there are three ways that districts and schools begin to respond to struggling students. First, they create strategies and direct more resources to struggling students. This often opens a conversation about how to meet students where they are so they build their pre-requisite skills rather than always depending on scaffolding that makes curriculum accessible but often leaves students in the same situation – taking on higher level courses without a strong foundation. (For more on this topic see Meeting Students Where They Are: Academic Domains and The Accountability Paradox.) Second, they begin to explore more deeply how habits of learning impact student achievement, building out their capacity to nurture students. Third, they seek out ways to improve instruction overall so that more teachers within the school have the disciplinary knowledge to help students advance.

At Sanborn Regional High School, the Freshmen Learning Communities are designed to help ninth graders build the skills they need for success and identify where students need additional support. They are finding that the conversations about students with special education needs are more focused on learning and progress than behaviors. The understanding of standards, differentiated instruction, and accommodations for assessments has become much more clear and intentional.

Pittsfield Middle and High School (PMHS) is exploring different ways to respond to the needs of students who are struggling or enter school more than one year behind in grade level. They’ve developed a strong intervention system, with an emphasis on reaching students in middle school. They have reading and math specialists and are providing double doses of reading and math. They also are reaching into elementary school with a special education teacher at every grade level, working to help students learn foundational skills. Still they aren’t seeing the results that they would like so they are continuing to explore what else they can do to ensure students are successfully learning. (more…)

Continuous Improvement: Improving Performance and Personalization through Powerful Data

January 16, 2017 by

dataThis is the twenty-fifth article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

Timely, relevant data plays an important role in the transition to student-centered learning. In the process of the transition to competency education, school leadership, educators, and students will want, or even demand, an integrated information system to take advantage of the increased data on student learning. The drive toward improved student performance will increase the demand for data to guide greater personalization. Teachers who recognize the value of tracking student progress based on standards will not be content with the modifications allowed in most traditional student information systems or learning management platforms organized around semesters and courses. They will want to be able to monitor, support, and credential learning on standards regardless of if students are working below or beyond their grade levels. This requires organizing standards in a learning continuum beyond the course structure and displaying data in a way that gives a picture of the student profile—an entire student’s body of work and mastery, not just grading assignments and assessments within a course.

An integrated learning system to support competency-based environments starts with student profiles and standards-based learning continuums. Indicators of a student’s progress on each standard across content areas are key. Many vendors are offering standards-based or competency-based grading, but don’t provide the student-centered approach to managing progress along a learning continuum in all the significant domains. The student information systems that support traditional time-based schools are organized by courses or classes— not students—thus it is very difficult to generate a picture of how students are advancing across disciplines and over the years.

In early stages of the transition, most districts collect data on how students are progressing within the academic disciplines. As the competency-based system is further implemented, tracking of data on student learning often expands to include habits of learning, the type of learning experiences to ensure students are having adequate opportunities to apply learning in real-world settings or projects, and a broader set of domains. Bob Crumley, Superintendent of Chugach School District, explains, “It’s important to send a message that the state testing indicators aren’t the end all, even if that’s the focus of state legislators. It sends a powerful message when the state only tests reading, writing, and math but not social studies or employability skills. As a district, we had to put into place a system that created a meaningful and balanced way to talk about student progress and our effectiveness in all areas. We believe all content areas are equally important. We dedicate staff development and resources on all ten content areas. We monitor progress and celebrate growth in all ten areas.” (more…)

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Accountable Talk

January 13, 2017 by

classroomThis post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on December 15, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

I cannot think of a subject area, or class, in schools today in which we are not working with learners on articulating thinking. We regularly ask learners of all ages to put forth an idea then explain their reasoning in support of that idea. In English Language Arts we might ask readers to say what kind of person they think a character is, and use evidence from the book to explain why they think that. In Science classes we ask learners to form a hypothesis then use observations and data to prove their hypothesis correct or incorrect. In Social Studies we might ask learners to argue why a particular historical figure was a strong leader. In art and music classes we ask artists and performers to critique works and performances, using observations and knowledge of technique to support their judgments. I’m sure you’ve thought of an example from other contents in which learners are expected to share, or exchange, ideas and why they hold those ideas. This is very important work, and sometimes difficult work.

An education trend well worth embracing is accountable talk. Accountable talk is the process of learners sharing their thinking with others, and engaging in thoughtful discussion with others about those ideas. When learners work through an accountable talk experience, they go beyond simply sharing ideas and thinking. They discuss similarities and differences in their ideas and reasoning with the the ideas and reasoning of others, and work towards clarifying any confusion or misunderstandings between group members. Not only does engaging in this work deepen understanding, it builds a foundation for respectful and civil discourse, an essential lifelong skill we surely want our future learners to be well versed in.

Each part of accountable talk can be challenging, especially for learners not used to practicing this kind of conversation. When first starting with accountable talk it is best to give learners some scaffolding. There are two important scaffolds to begin with: modeling and talk prompts. Modeling gives them a concrete example of what the accountable talk process looks and sounds like. Talk prompts give them a concrete way to start. Below are some examples of talk prompts for different ages and contexts. Think about the learners you work with, and which ones will work best for them. Remember scaffolding is meant to be temporary. Once learners are successful, begin to remove the scaffolds. (more…)

How to Participate in the Equity Technical Advisory Group

January 12, 2017 by

equityAs announced yesterday, CompetencyWorks will be holding a National Summit on Competency-Based Education in June to convene 100 leaders representing a range of perspective, geography, expertise, and racial/ethnic diversity. Yet, across the country there are thousands of leaders and educators who have expertise in competency education who could make valuable contributions to these conversations. Thus, we have designed Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs for short) that will create a participatory process leading up to the Summit to draw on your knowledge and ideas.

The first TAG is coming up soon: We will be focusing on equity from January 30 – February 3, 2017. In the Equity TAG (E-TAG) we will be exploring the question:

How should we frame equity and the strategies to improve equity within a personalized, competency-based system?

Please note: We are asking that only people involved with district or school-wide competency education for at least one year participate in TAGs. These are not designed to support people just learning about competency education. (We suggest that those of you who are new to the topic start by reading the case studies of districts and schools.) You will have opportunity to learn from these conversations as the papers on each TAG prepared for the Summit will be made available in early June as well as the final reports post-Summit.

REGISTER for the Equity Technical Advisory Group here. (You can actually sign up for any of the TAGs. We ask for contact information and a sense of your expertise, and, at the bottom, you can sign up for the TAGs.) (more…)

Who’s Leading the Way?

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A Promising Competency-Based Model for Historically Marginalized Students

who-is-leading-the-way-in-cbeCompetency-based education models are complicated organisms, and staging their development and growth is generally a multi-year task, whether one is a launching a new school or re-envisioning an existing program. As the world of CBE picks up momentum our team at reDesign is continually asking ourselves, “Who’s Leading the Way in Serving Historically Marginalized Young People?” In preparation for #iNACOL16 we documented some of our learning in a Prezi (pictured above). We will continue to add to it over the course of this year, so please let us know about the models you think of when you ask yourself the same question. (more…)

National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education

January 11, 2017 by

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-11-23-15-amWe are delighted to announce that CompetencyWorks is hosting a National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education in Denver, Colorado on June 21-23, 2017. After we did our initial scan of the field in 2010, we helped to organize the first Competency-Based Learning Summit, bringing together 100 innovators to address challenging issues involved in creating competency-based systems. (See Cracking the Code: Synchronizing Policy and Practice for Performance-Based Learning and It’s Not About Time: Highlights from the 2011 Competency-Based Learning Summit.)

Six years later, competency-based education is advancing across the country as a critical component of creating an education system able to personalize education while staying true to the vision of an equitable education system. As our understanding of competency-based education has grown, so has our understanding of critical issues that must be addressed in order to ensure equity of access and outcomes as well as high quality of implementation. In response, we are convening the second National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education to draw on the collective leadership, creativity, and expertise to chart our course for the next wave of innovation, implementation, and expansion. The Summit will tackle six issues: equity, policy, quality, meeting kids where they are, identifying emerging issues, and revising the working definition of competency education.

The Summit is invitation-only and will convene 100 leading innovators to move the field of competency-based education through the next generation of ideas and actionable outcomes, with a specific focus on equity and diversity. However, there are thousands upon thousands of incredibly dedicated educators and policymakers creating competency-based systems. In order to gain insight into all of your knowledge and create the opportunity for you to participate in shaping the ideas to be considered at the Summit, we have created a participatory process to engage a wider network of experts and ensure we’re tapping into the collective knowledge of the field. We invite you to participate by joining a Technical Advisory Group (TAG), outlined below.

Join a Technical Advisory Group (TAG)

As part of this participatory process, we are creating a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for each of the following four key issues, where we will share a draft document and ask the TAG to share their insights at some point during a one-week virtual session. If you have at least one year of experience in competency education, we hope you’ll take the opportunity to sign up for at least one TAG here. You can use this opportunity to engage your organizations, schools, professional learning communities, and networks in deep conversations around these issues and share your collective insights. The schedule for the TAG sessions are listed below: (more…)

Three Lessons Learned from New England States Transitioning to Competency-Based Education

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This is the sixth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

david-prinstein-quoteWhat can we learn about state-level strategies from New England states transitioning to competency-based education? At this point in the evolution of competency education, there are a few solid lessons to be learned from the New England region. It is helpful to compare and contrast the different approaches of the states, looking for powerful insights into the considerations of different strategies and approaches, as this provides deeper understanding and can shine a light on what is the best path for a state. Some states, such as Connecticut, may want to create enabling policies, while others, like Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, will contemplate bolder, more comprehensive steps toward transformation.

However, context matters: considerations need to include public demand and level of public trust, what is already in place, the degree to which districts and schools have already embraced some or all of the elements of competency education, level of consensus among leadership, competing agenda items, and the structural and financial issues that shape schools, such as district consolidations, funding, and political turmoil.

Three Important Lessons Learned

  1. Educators turn to competency-based education because it makes sense regardless of the state policy. Given the strong state leadership in establishing comprehensive competency-based policy in most of the New England states, it would be easy to think that state policy is always the first step in making the transition to competency-based education. However, there are innovators and schools considering competency-based education in Massachusetts with little encouragement from state leaders. In Maine, one of the original sources of early innovation were the districts that formed the Maine Collaborative for Customized Learning.
  2. Policy is important, but not sufficient. Establishing high-leverage policy such as proficiency-based diplomas or credits will direct districts toward competency education. However, it doesn’t mean they will move quickly to implementation or that they will implement it effectively. Creating innovation space doesn’t necessarily produce a groundswell of innovators. Statewide change requires a combination of innovation space, support, networks, and political coverage. Maine provided upfront training to a “coalition of the willing” before passing a policy that created proficiency-based diplomas. Vermont and New Hampshire have extensive support strategies, although they are very different in design. Most importantly, community engagement strategies need to be deployed to provide opportunities for shaping the vision of the district and schools as well as to learn about competency-based education practices.
  3. Walk the talk by using similar guiding principles as those found in personalized, competency-based districts. It isn’t going to work for states to use traditional change and communication strategies if they want to move beyond the traditional system. For example, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to implement competency-based education through compliance strategies. Compliance assumes that the state knows exactly what should be done when, in fact, there are many ways to design personalized, competency-based models. The paradigm shift is too important to the process of transformation—educators and community members need the opportunity to learn, to reflect, and to decide that this is what they want to do. In addition, the large systemic changes have many implications to be considered. Co-design or collaborative processes that draw on multiple perspectives is a much stronger strategy.

(more…)

A Timeline of K-12 Competency-Based Education Across New England States

January 10, 2017 by

This is the fifth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

The New England region stands out for its early innovations, bold vision, and high percentage of districts becoming competency-based. Yet, a quick glance at the timeline shows that the earliest models popped up on both sides of the country – in Boston and Anchorage – around 1995. So why is it that competency-based education has taken hold in New England with such momentum?

timelineLet’s take a look at a few of the possibilities.

A Good Idea Creates Continuity

The New England states have not had continuity in leadership. Governors have changed, as have the Secretaries of Education and other key personnel. Complicated budget issues, volatile political dynamics, and redistricting have demanded attention. Yet competency education has continued to be a major priority. Why? Because there are enough people in influential positions who believe in it. Some have argued that because students in New England states are relatively high-achieving, there just isn’t any other way to generate improvement except to create a more personalized, flexible system. Moreover, many educators will vouch for it, affirming that once you understand what competency education can do, there is no going back. With strong local control, this makes it harder for state leadership to change course because the policy is perceived as beneficial to students and educators. (more…)

The Trouble with Prescriptive Policies When Paradigms are Shifting

January 9, 2017 by
david ruff

David Ruff

This is the fourth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England. For a more in-depth look at this issue, join David Ruff of Great Schools Partnership and Paul Leather of New Hampshire Department of Education on January 11th for a CompetencyWorks webinar to explore K-12 competency-based education policy and practice across five New England states. Register here.

How can a state bring about a much-needed change when the only way to ensure effective implementation is for educators to want to make the change?

This is what some might called the paradigm-changing policy paradox shared by the New England states and most states across our country. This tongue-twisting, profoundly complex paradox is created because of two dynamics. First, given that competency education requires a paradigm shift or a change in values and assumptions, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to implement effectively without educators embracing those values. When the policies and practices of competency education are placed upon the old values of fixed mindsets and compliant students, classrooms become overwhelmed by linearity and checklists as students tediously climb a ladder of standards. It is very difficult to mandate or require people to believe differently or do something they don’t think is valuable. There has to be an opportunity to engage, reflect, and learn. Second, the states in New England (similar to most states across the country) value local control and are resistant to policies or regulations that feel like a mandate. Thus, prescriptive policies are unlikely to engage districts, schools, and educators and may even produce substantial pushback.

ellen-hume-quoteGiven that it is impossible to mandate that people accept new values and beliefs, state policy to advance competency education will not immediately translate to transformation of the education system, regardless of how bold, intricate, or high-leverage it is. What are state policymakers to do? How can they drive toward a new education system while not actually mandating that any school change? If competency education is more easily and effectively implemented by educators who have come to their own conclusion that it is needed, how do you engage districts and schools through state policy to want to convert?

Thus, states are challenged to find ways to engage districts in the learning that it is needed to implement competency-based education. (By the way, this same paradox challenges districts, principals, and teachers as they seek to engage and motivate school leaders, other teachers, and students). (more…)

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