August 1, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
We still haven’t fully conquered the communication challenge regarding competency education, although we are getting closer with the help of Achieve’s Communication Toolkit.
Although this explanation written by three school board members from Chittenden South Supervisory Unit in the Shelburne News is focused on standards-based learning I think it is worth sharing because it can help us strengthen our communications. They start off with the analogy of a GPS system—helping students to reach their destination with lots of ways of getting there — and then emphasize three important points. If we were to use the GPS as a metaphor — what are the 2-4 things we should emphasize in competency education? – how about making sure students get the learning they need for the next level; able to build and develop skills anywhere; schools responding to students when they need help; able to apply what they are learning to real-world problems? Or would you start with pace? Is flexible pace really the most important aspect of competency education? How do we communicate that flexible pace doesn’t mean letting kids fall behind?
What is standards-based learning?
One way to think about SBL is through the metaphor of a Global Positioning System (GPS). Our goal as educators is to help students reach their destinations—the standards. In a standards-based system, education focuses on three areas:
Articulate: Educators design Learning Targets for their classes aligned with national, state, and local standards. These targets clearly articulate what students should know, understand, and be able to do for each unit of study. The targets are like the “destinations” in a GPS. We decide where we want to go, and we enter the location—we need to be specific about our destinations in order to get the best directions. Teachers, students, and parents are aware of the destinations, so there is no mystery about where we are headed. (more…)
July 27, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
It’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
July 21, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
One of the opportunities that emerges in competency education (or competency-based education in the world of higher education) is to revise the transcript – both high school and college – to reflect the competencies that students have developed. This can include academic, technical, and the personal traits (habits of learning & work) that students have demonstrated. The Great Schools Partnership has worked with states, districts, and New England college admission directors to develop a prototype proficiency-based transcript. In addition, according to Inside Higher Ed, “The Lumina Foundation has kicked in $1.27 million for NASPA to partner with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) to explore how to collect, document and distribute information about student learning and ‘competencies,’ including what is gleaned outside of the traditional academic classroom.”
At the high school level, the emphasis has been on developing a proficiency-based transcript that would be accepted by and helpful to the admission process. At the college level, the focus is on creating a transcript that would tell the story of an individual’s overall skills to an employer. For example, we can anticipate that new transcripts might expand to include digital badging so students can demonstrate their credentials or micro-credentials specifically related to technical skills.
This is also an opportunity for us to begin to re-think how we define assets. Our focus on college and career readiness in the K12 sector and the tightening of the pipeline from college into the workplace in higher education has expanded to think more broadly than just academic and technical skills. We now recognize that those “soft skills” that are so hard to develop – such as creativity, collaboration, communication, and problem-solving as well as the personal traits such as persistence – are equally important. (more…)
July 20, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
How is a district that wants to start re-designing around competency education going to learn about what it is, how to do it, and implementation strategies? The best way is to learn from other districts. And the best way to find others is through networks.
There are several networks in place already…although it is likely we need a few more in anticipation of increased districts in each state beginning the journey. Below is a list of networks we know about. Please let us know if there are others that should be added to the list.
- Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools has started a network of districts that have already begun to implement blended learning, and that now want to build the competency-based structure.
- The iNACOL Symposium has a strand on competency education. It’s not an organized network ….but its probably the best place to find and meet others working on competency education.
- Great Schools Partnership and its affiliated networks New England Secondary Schools Consortium and League of Innovative Schools can be very helpful in networking within NE.
July 19, 2015 by Brian Stack
Five years ago, when my high school first implemented its competency education model, we as a faculty reached consensus on our purpose of grading. We believe that the purpose of grading is to communicate student achievement toward mastery of learning targets and standards. Grades represent what students learn, not what they earn. This helped us establish a common set of grading practices that every teacher agreed to use in their classrooms. They include things like the separation of formative and summative assessments (with formatives carrying no more than 10 percent weight for an overall course grade), the linking of summative assessments to performance indicators which link back to competencies in our grade book; the use of reassessment; the use of a 4.0 letter rubric scale for all assignments and assessments; and the separation of academics from academic behaviors. This article will focus on this last grading practice – from how we developed our academic behaviors to how we assess them and how we are using these grades to better prepare our students for their college and career futures.
At my school, we believe in the importance of separating what it is we want our students to know and be able to do (academics) from academic behaviors like working in groups, participating in class discussions, and meeting deadlines. While we firmly believe these behaviors are critical to academic achievement, comingling them with academic grades does not give us an accurate picture of the level of achievement our students have reached with their academic course competencies. When we first proposed this idea five years ago, separating behaviors was a big mind shift for many of our teachers who were accustomed to giving participation points as part of a course grade or taking points off of an assignment when they were turned in after a deadline. Early in our design phase we were charged with the task of finding a meaningful way to hold students accountable for these important work study practices without compromising the purity of our academic grades that we set out to establish. (more…)
July 16, 2015 by Natalie Abel
CompetencyWorks in the News
Steps to Help Schools Transform to Competency-Based Learning, a Mind/Shift article by Katrina Schwartz, features Chris Sturgis and CompetencyWorks’ recent report: Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. A panel of district leaders implementing competency education presented a webinar on this report; you can find the archived webinar here.
Competency Education Policy
- States considering policies to support competency-based education are on the rise, according to a recent iNACOL blog post. Policy levers that support competency education and personalized learning include innovation zones, school finance changes, planning grants, new assessment frameworks, and pilot programs. Read more here. (more…)
July 15, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
There is a new resource available for school designers that want to launch innovative schools. Check out the New Schools Venture Fund Catapult: Invent 2015. It’s for schools that will open in 2016. They don’t have a restrictive list of what it means to be innovative – but they do identify some of the ideas they find exciting, including:
- Competency-based models that truly allow students to progress along a path and at a pace that best meets their needs;
- New and better ways to integrate digital content with teacher-facilitated instruction which advance the current state of blended instruction;
- Development and/or integration of novel approaches to measure academic and/or non-academic dimensions that support an expanded definition of student success;
- Creative and scalable approaches that enable students to develop and explore their interests and pursue their passions; and
- Bridges between early childhood and K-12 systems and ways to integrate the two.
Hurry, hurry, hurry. Applications due August 15th.
by Susan Patrick
Looking for a few resources to send state policy makers to get started on competency education? Here are some suggestions.
How Are States Advancing Competency Education?
The report Necessary for Success: A State Policymakers Guide to Competency Education (iNACOL CompetencyWorks) provides an overview and recommendations for state policy.
There is also a short briefing paper on Aligning K-12 State Policy with Competency Education that you can use and adapt for your state.
This article provides an overview on Iowa’s initiative.
New Hampshire’s efforts have been well-documented, including NH’s Story of Transformation and From policy to practice: How competency-based education is evolving in New Hampshire.
Maine also has been documenting their efforts. You can find resources here.
Background: Overview of Competency-Based Education
States considering policies to support competency-based education are on the rise. Policy levers that support competency education and personalized learning include creating innovation zones, supporting school finance changes, planning grants, implementing new assessment frameworks, and starting pilot programs.
Five approaches in state policy to enable competency-based education:
- Competency-Based Education Pilot Programs
- Innovation Zones
- Competency-Based Diplomas
- Competency-Based Task Forces
- Flexibility for Competency-Based Assessments