Tag: competency education

A Conversation with Adams 50

March 12, 2014 by
Oliver Grenham

Oliver Grenham

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with part of the Adams 50 leadership team: Oliver Grenham, Chief Education Officer; Jeni Gotto, Director of Assessment and Instructional Technology, and Steve Saunders, Communications Director. Our conversation, summarized below, touched on the results they are seeing, the big implementation issues they have faced, and the new ones popping up. Check out their incredibly great wiki to understand their design and implementation, as well as the new video describing their competency-based system.

1. On An Uphill Trajectory, or Getting Out of the Red

Grenham was adamant: “Is our competency-based system making a difference in achievement? Absolutely.”

The graduation rate within Adams 50 continues to increase (the high school is now 74% for the traditional four-year rate, while the most recent districtwide five year rate is 75.4%, which is expected to be higher next August). This in a district with 81% FRL, 45% ELL, and about 39% student turnover per year (18% by Colorado’s newly implemented school-year based calculations). It’s great news.

In terms of school performance, out of Colorado’s four-category accountability system, Adams 50 moved all their schools out of turnaround status (they are marked red on the state reports), with only four schools (two middle and two elementary) in priority improvement. Of the remaining schools, half are in improvement and the other half in performance. (more…)

Voices from the Field: Owning the LEARNING!

February 17, 2014 by
Heather Bross

Heather Bross

This article was originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition January newsletter. The RISC newsletter is designed to give you practices and opportunities to move students from compliance into engagement, an essential element for building a personal mastery system.

As with each New Year, new hope for success and happiness formulates in all of us. Which makes this an ideal time to begin goal setting and the practice of self-monitoring with students.

As a coach and an avid Detroit Lions fan, I had many mixed feelings over the weekend. My beloved Detroit Lions were out of the playoffs, so my family watched as the Packers lost to a team led by someone who, I must admit, struck a chord deep in my educator heart. You may have already heard the tale of 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s letter to himself at age 9 predicting that he would someday play pro football. Funny thing, he was very detailed in writing that he would play for either the 49er’s or the Pack-ers…. The irony of that brings a smile to any sports fan’s face.

In the letter, Colin prophesizes the future: “I’m 5 ft. 2 inches 91 pounds. Good athlete. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 ft — to 6 ft 4 inches 140 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football Then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years. My friend are Jason, Kyler, Leo, Spencer, Mark and Jacob.

Sincerely, Colin (more…)

Ingenium Schools: A Big City Competency-Based School

June 13, 2013 by
Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 2.59.23 PM

Ingenium Schools website

Is competency education a reform better suited for rural and outer ring suburbs than urban districts? That’s one of the questions I get asked a lot in the back of the room at meetings. No one ever asks that question during the regular sessions, leading me to think that the question goes beyond the size of the districts, and that the question is actually asking will competency education work in areas of concentrated poverty? Or perhaps, in our racially segregated country, people are using the code word “urban” to mean will it work for African-American students?

It is true that many of the district-wide reforms, supported by the work of the Reinventing Schools Coalition, started in rural districts and have taken hold in rural and suburban districts.  However, we now have a proof point that the very same model is taking root in south Los Angeles at Barack Obama Charter School (BOCS). And they are getting results – last year they had a 150 point gain in one year based on the California Standards Tests.   (more…)

The Power of Principals

June 10, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 11.35.25 AMMaine’s Center for Best Practices has released a new case study The Power of Principals — I consider it a must-read for anyone starting down the path of proficiency-based education.  It’s the story of how Regional School Unit 20 has advanced toward personalized, proficiency-based learning over the past three years. Here are my three big takeaways:

1) Three important questions to guide design.  The case study starts with the story of Searsport District High School. After losing its accreditation and getting a federal Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration grant, they began transitioning to standards-based reforms. In redesigning their school, Searsport District High had focused on two questions:

  • What should kids who graduate from Searsport District High School know and be able to do when they graduate, and
  • How shall we design curriculum, assessment, instruction, and reporting to ensure that they do know?

The case study explains: There was a third question, though, that they hadn’t yet addressed: What will we do if a student does not know what they need to know?

In response to this question, Searsport devised its system of academic interventions… The intervention system developed two branches:  skill-based interventions, for when the student was not getting a standard or learning target, and behavior-based interventions, for when the student was choosing not to complete assignments.  In both cases, it was seen as essential that the intervention occur as soon as possible after the need was recognized, certainly during the same day.  Check out the flow chart on page 5. (more…)

Meet-Up at iNACOL Symposium

June 5, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 5.10.25 PMiNACOL is putting the final touches on the iNACOL’s Symposium competency education strand of workshops and sessions.  An incredible group of practitioners (some emphasizing online/blended learning and others not) are going to be leading sessions. In addition to the formal sessions there will be a CompetencyWorks lounge area near the exhibitor hall that you can use for informal discussions and meet-ups.  In fact, we’ll be meeting there Sunday evening during the opening reception just so we can introduce ourselves (thanks to Tom Willis Cornerstone Charter Schools who called me and said we needed this to happen.) The iNACOL Symposium is a big, exciting meeting,  so knowing each other’s faces early on will make a huge difference.

Although we know things always change, here is how the competency education strand looks now:

Sunday Pre-Conference

Design Choices for Competency Education will be for experienced innovators and newbies alike. We’ll walk through all the different choices districts and schools make, sharing what worked, what you learned, and what you might do differently.

Session 1

Overview of Competency Education – What is it, what are the models, and who is doing it? – Susan Patrick, iNACOL and Chris Sturgis, MetisNet

Session 2

The Building Blocks of Competency-Based Learning: Competencies, Assessment, Learning, and Grading – Rose Colby, Education Consultant

Session 1 and 2 (Workshop)

Transparency = Ownership: A Model for Student-Centered Learning – Alison Hramiec, Boston Day and Evening Academy (more…)

Getting Your Feet Wet Reading List

May 29, 2013 by

tulum-374The question came up the other day, what are the best 2-3 short readings for someone that hasn’t been exposed to the idea of competency education to read?  Susan and I were talking about this and we came up with the following (below).

We’d like to know what you use to engage people in thinking deeply about competency-based, proficiency-based, performance-based, or mastery-based learning.  We are keeping a Recommended Reading List up to date…so please forward helpful resources to us.


Getting Your Feet Wet Reading List

1) To Learn About What’s Wrong with the Traditional System

In The One World School House, Sal Khan provides two easy to read chapters containing historical insight and information about the fundamental flaws in the traditional system. In  the chapter “The Prussian Model,” he describes how the structure of today’s schooling developed with its grade levels, calendar, semesters, and daily schedules. In “Swiss Cheese Learning,” he outlines the flaws in the problem, emphasizing that even our A+ students end up advancing with gaps in their knowledge that may create significant challenges later on. (more…)

Need Your Help On FAQ: Non-academic Competencies?

May 17, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 3.10.28 PMI am receiving an increasing number of emails from people that have questions about competency-, proficiency-, mastery-, and performance-based education, and I’m sure many of you do as well. Given the increased attention to competency education, we need to make it easier for people to get an answer —  a really solid good answer — that offers the spirit of competency education and considers issues of equity so that we are as effective as possible in early implementation.

So we’ve started a FAQ page(s) on the wiki.  And when I add a new one I am going to put a blog as well because we need your help —

  • How might you revise the answer to be more helpful?
  • Do you have examples or resources that you can point us to that can help newbies better understand the nuances of the issues?
  • Have you done any training on the issue? Could you share with us how you do the training so that we can build up our capacity as a field to teach others what we are learning? (more…)

Think Swiss Cheese

May 15, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 4.07.06 PMI think about design a lot.  Indeed, Fast Company is a monthly read. Design is an empowering, creative process. It can also help us rethink the assumptions holding us back.

The way design and the design process is taking hold in education is exciting and sometimes disturbing.

It’s exciting that competency education and time (as in, flexible use of time so students keep working until proficient and extending time to learn anytime) are being included in many of the new sets of design frameworks. For example:

  • The Carnegie Corporation’s 10 Principles for Secondary School Design “prioritizes mastery of rigorous standards aligned to college & career readiness:
    • Curriculum that enables all students to meet rigorous standards
    • Multiple opportunities for students to show mastery through performance-based assessments
    • Student advancement based on demonstration of mastery of knowledge and skills.”
  • Wave IV of Next Generation Learning Challenges “emphasizes redesigned, scalable, whole-school models that combine the best aspects of place-based and online learning with more personalized, mastery-based approaches to result in substantially improved outcomes for students.”

Have you seen other examples of competency-, proficiency-, mastery- or performance-based approaches being built into school or systemic design? Please let us know in the comments section!

  • Race to the Top-District competition emphasized personalized and mastery-based. However, the only winner that had a well-developed idea of what a mastery-based system means is Lindsay Unified. Middletown (NY) will be piloting an elementary school model, and Carson City  (NV) is making college level courses available whenever students are ready. Fingers crossed that we’ll see the other grantees dig into what is possible once they start to focus on student learning.

It’s disturbing that we aren’t fully designing around our most underserved students. A mainstream, linear, factory-based assumption is gripping us so tightly (I can’t help but think about the saber-toothed tiger in the tar pits) that we keep designing around the antiquated idea of students as widgets. (more…)

Systems Change – Five New England States at a Time

May 13, 2013 by

This post was originally published by Knowledgeworks on April 30, 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 2.06.49 PMA truly remarkable education transformation is underway in five New England states – CT, ME, NH, RI, and VT – inspired by the idea that every child can graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge to succeed in life. This transformation – called proficiency-based learning (aka: competency, mastery, or standards-based) – flips the education system on its head, providing multiple pathways, extra time, and intensive supports for a truly customized learning experience.

I was fortunate to experience this transformation first hand last week, thanks to an impressive tour led by the Great Schools Partnership. This organization is impacting every level of the system: from the grassroots coaching partnerships they have with schools and districts throughout the region to the high-level systems change conversations they lead as the coordinator for the New England Secondary Schools Consortium (NESSC). My big take-away from the tour is this: These leaders have the right vision for learning and an incredibly talented team of experts to help make that vision a reality. (more…)

How States Are Advancing Competency Education

May 9, 2013 by

map2Do you have questions about how other states are transforming their education systems to competency-based schools?

Here is your chance to hear directly from two state leaders and ask all of your questions. Join us for a CompetencyWorks webinar on May 17th at 3 pm ET on How State Educational Leaders are Advancing Competency Education based on Necessary for Success: Building Mastery of World-Class Skills — A State Policymakers Guide to Competency Education.  Join Susan Patrick, iNACOL; Jason Glass, Iowa Department of Education; and Don Siviski, Maine Department of Education for what promises to be a great conversation. And if you haven’t joined one of our webinars before,  you should expect two great conversations because the chat room is always spinning with exchanges, ideas, and new relationships. You can register here for the webinar.

If you want to get up to speed on state policy issues we have a few resources you might find interesting: (more…)

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