Tag: competency education, competency-based learning

KAPPA International: The Story of Angelica

July 28, 2016 by
KAPPA2

Principal Panorea Panagiosoulis and students at KAPPA International High School

This is the fifth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, and Flushing International.

Story of Angelica

Angelica was a model student at KAPPA International. She had a good attitude, did her homework, always went for the extra credit, participated in class, and had a 90 in all of her classes. But then she failed the Earth Science Regents Exam. Assistant Principal Andy Clayman said, “We had been lying to Angelica. Her good grades were giving her misinformation about how she was doing. She is the kind of student who would do anything we asked. She needed to be working on her gaps in knowledge. But we weren’t giving her the information or the opportunity she needed. It was a lightbulb moment for us.” (It’s worth watching this video to directly hear from Angelica and the team at KAPPA.)

So began KAPPA International’s journey to mastery-based learning.

It was a journey to a focus on learning, not requirements. Principal Panorea Panagiosoulis, who goes by Penny, explained, “Our students are very good at identifying what the state wants as far as minimum requirements. But we wanted to bring the focus back on learning. Instead of focusing on forty-four credits, we wanted students to be thinking about the skills and knowledge to be successful when they leave here.” Clayman expanded with, “It was a huge pedagogical shift to only focus on mastery in a student’s grade and to begin to work intentionally on building their work habits. We are seeking better and faster ways to help students develop their work habits because the connection between the habits and learning is so strong.”

Bridging the Gaps, Tightening the Curriculum

KAPPA has an interesting story. They launched in 2007 as an International Baccalaureate (IB) program because of the strong pedagogy and the dynamic role of assessment. Clayman explained, “AP exams focus on what the students don’t know as much as what they do know. But how much can you tell from an essay and multiple choice in a three-hour exam? The IB program gave students opportunities to show what they know and build the skills they would need to do well in college.” The curriculum of six academic areas, foreign language, and the arts – regardless of whether students passed and received the IB curriculum or the NYC diploma – would position students to compete for college admissions. (more…)

Get the Culture Right: The Most Important New School Factor

July 27, 2016 by

GS1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on June 28, 2016.

“Attend to your culture,” said Jim May who supports about 25 new schools each year for New Tech Network. “From certificates of occupancy to emergency plans to hiring, the list of operational realities that must be addressed when starting a new school is immense. Thus, it can be easy to overlook the importance of your staff and student culture during those early days. However, it is imperative that even amidst the swirl of starting the school that you are intentional about establishing a strong set of cultural norms and rituals that can animate your work in the coming year.”

What’s most important when opening a new school? I asked 20 experts who have collectively opened more than a thousand schools. They shared 70 hard-won lessons and it’s clear that getting the culture right is the single most important factor in the long-term success of a school.

Opening a great school is an enormously complicated project. It involves real estate, construction, financing, logistics and marketing, which most educators don’t initially know anything about.

“Most of us who want to start schools because we like instruction, but the one thing no one tells us is that when you start a school, 90% of what who do early on has nothing to do with instruction,” said Dr. Nicole Assisi, Thrive Public Schools, who has opened five southern California schools. (more…)

Flushing International’s Three Learning Outcomes: Habits, Language, and Academic Skills

July 26, 2016 by
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Collaborative work on projects at Flushing International High School.

This is the fourth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery Collaborative and The Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria

Magic. I think magic happens at the International Network of Public Schools (INPS). How else can they take a group of ninth graders who have newly arrived to the United States – with a range of English skills and academic skills – and within four years have them speaking and writing English, passing the New York Regents with their archaic focus on content (they require students to learn and regurgitate content knowledge about the Byzantine empire in order to graduate), and completing all the high school credits?

So why would an International School that is already performing magic with students want to become mastery-based? Flushing International’s principal Lara Evangelista was perfectly clear on that point. “We started along the path toward mastery-based learning when we began to ask ourselves why we assess,” she said. “Why do we grade? We realized that every teacher did it differently. The transparency and intentionality of mastery-based learning makes a huge difference for our teachers and our students. Our teachers are much more intentional about what they want to achieve in their classrooms. It has also opened up the door to rich conversations about what is important for students to learn, pedagogy, and the instructional strategies we are using. For students, the transparency is empowering and motivating. They are more engaged in taking responsibility for their own education than ever before.”

How Mastery-Based Learning is Making a Difference

The value to teachers was very clear. Math teacher Rosmery Milczewski explained that she was unsure at first, as she wasn’t familiar with mastery-based learning. “The thing that convinced me is that in the traditional grading systems, when a student would come and ask how they could do better in a class, all I could really say was study more,” she explained. “The grades didn’t guide me as a teacher. There was no way to help students improve. With mastery-based grading, we talk about specific learning outcomes. I know exactly how to help students and they know exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are.” (more…)

Frequently Asked Questions

July 25, 2016 by

FAQPittsfield School District asked me to be interviewed on video. And I was nervous, as I’ve never done that before. And I know I make faces when I think about something. I was way, way, way out of my comfort zone. So I did a lot of preparation and wrote thorough notes for myself. As these questions are some of the same ones we hear over and over again, I though I’d publish them here in case they are helpful to you. And as always, we would love your thoughts about how to answer the questions more effectively.

#1 Could you explain what competency-based education is to someone who has never heard of it?

In the United States, one of the things that unites us is our common experience of the education system. We know it so well it’s hard for us to take a step back and think about its design. Once you do, it is clear that it was designed with the goal of providing a minimal education to everyone and then to rank and sort students. However it is absolutely impossible for schools to prepare all students for college and career readiness if the system is designed to rank and sort. When students are just passed on with Cs and Ds, they are going to struggle the next year and they are going to struggle even more the next year and the year after that.

Competency education asks the questions, “If we wanted every student to reach college and career readiness, what would it look like? How would we make sure every student builds the foundational skills and the higher order skills they need to be successful in college and in the workplace?” Competency-based education is designed to make sure students are proficient each step of the way.

In the conventional system, the focus was on equality – everyone getting the same curriculum and the same amount of time. In competency-based education, our focus is on equity. The learning experiences and the amount of instructional support may vary, but with explicit learning targets, we can make sure every student reaches proficiency. With a competency-based system, we can better personalize learning for students while still making sure students are all reaching proficiency at each step. (more…)

Rethinking the Achievement Gap (Part 1)

July 22, 2016 by

GapThis post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on March 22, 2016 and the Workshop School on March 19, 2016.

There are a lot of ways to think about equity, and a lot of ways to think about achievement. In the ed reform world, the most common is what we call the achievement gap: the quantifiable difference in test performance between poor and middle class kids. This concept has done a lot of good in highlighting inequities in our school systems, and creating a sense of urgency for change. But from a learning standpoint, this narrow understanding of equity has been terrible.

There are two reasons for this. First, schools (and school systems) focused narrowly on the achievement gap end up devoting most of their time, energy and resources to things that bring up test scores. It’s not that literacy and numeracy don’t matter (though on the math side much of what we force kids to learn isn’t really numeracy). It’s that other things matter just as much, if not more. A narrow focus on the achievement gap pushes all of those things to the margins.

Second, if you’re mostly focused on getting a specific body of knowledge into kids’ heads, you organize a school that seeks to minimize or eliminate anything that gets in the way of that work. You create systems that reward compliant behavior, because it keeps everyone on task. It’s efficient. But kids don’t own their behavior in these systems. When young people leave school, they have to make their own decisions. Learning to be independent and responsible is just as important as learning to base claims on evidence. But somehow we’ve decided that we need to sacrifice the former in service of the latter. (more…)

The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria

July 21, 2016 by
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Seniors at The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria (known as “Twills”). Some of their school-wide outcomes are on display behind them.

This is the third post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and the second on NYC’s Mastery Collaborative.

The classrooms are buzzing at The Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria (TYWLS). It’s one of those schools that brings tears – tears of joy as students feel cared for, respected, supported, and challenged throughout their learning. It feels as if students and teachers alike are in what athletes refer to as the “flow state” or the “zone.” Everywhere you look is deep concentration, deep learning, and deep satisfaction.

TYWLS is using mastery-based learning to break out of many of the organizational structures that bind, and one could argue constrain, our education system. Thanks to Dr. Allison Persad, principal; Caitlin Stanton, arts teacher; Christy Kingham, ELA teacher;​ Scott Melcher, social studies; Katherine Tansey, math teacher; and Greg Zimdahl for sharing their insights and wisdom.

The Power of Performance Levels

The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, serving 600 students in grades 6-12, is ten years old. Watch the film to hear from the young women of TYWLS directly.

The Young Women’s Leadership School is focused on skills such as Argue, Be Precise, Collaborate, Communicate, Conclude, Discern, Innovate, Investigate, and Plan. These skills are the primary organizing structure for the school. ELA teacher Christy Kingham was the first to explain the TYWLS strategy. “We began to integrate project-based learning and performance tasks at the same time as we came to mastery-based learning,” she said. “We stay focused on helping students build skills, as those can be transferred into other domains. Content in each of the disciplines is very important, as that is what students use to engage in projects and performance tasks. However, we separate skills from content because of the importance of transferrable skills.” (more…)

Organizing Around Competencies, Not Courses

July 20, 2016 by

LFCCLord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) a member of the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), released HigherEd.org this week. It’s a free resource to create personalized learning plans. According to LFCC’s press release, The portal lets learners document competencies they already have and monitor progress toward new ones. Once users set up their profile of preferences, a custom dashboard is provided called MyHigherEd where they can create a personalized learning plan. Learners can identify and track new educational activities to gain competencies and work towards a nationally-recognized occupational credential. Learner notes, saved searches, and preferred resources are stored and new materials of interest are highlighted.

Although I’m not familiar with all the tools being developed for personalized learning plans in higher education, I found this to be a great example of how the educational experience can be organized differently around a competency-based structure. The competencies for each certificate are pre-loaded (and others can be added), with options for different courses that will allow students to build those skills. This allows us to create exciting interdisciplinary courses and modules while still being very clear about which skills will be taught.

I also appreciate LFCC’s willingness to share the competencies that they consider as important to eight certificates, such as AAS in Health Information Management and Information Systems Technology with Cyber Security. It’s helpful for high schools to think about how the foundational skills in the academic disciplines can begin to align with specific career competencies.

Background From the Press Release

(more…)

Catalyzing Mastery-Based Learning: NYC’s Mastery Collaborative

July 19, 2016 by
MasteryCollaborative

Mastery Collaborative Speed Rounds

This is the second post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways

How does a huge district open the door to mastery-based learning when the rest of the district is focused on other areas of improvement and innovation?

New York City Department of Education created the Mastery Collaborative to support schools that were ready to take on the new frontier of mastery-based learning. The Department’s policy for school autonomy has formed a strong foundation; however, schools need support as well. Led by an extraordinary group – Jeremy Kraushar, Joy Nolan, and Julianna C. Brown – the Mastery Collaborative is building a network of leader-educators, a knowledge hub, and a shared vision of what mastery-based learning can be in NYC.

“Speed round” conversations at a Mastery Collaborative meeting allow school leaders, teachers, and students from participating schools to “cross-pollinate” effective ideas, practices, and experiences about mastery. In the above photo, Justin, a 7th grader from Brooklyn, talks to Joaquin Vega, principal of Bronx International High School, about how students feel the impact of mastery-based grading.

 

The Collaborative is made up of forty schools: eight Living Lab schools and thirty-two Active Member schools (a list is at the bottom of this post with links to the articles written about the schools CompetencyWorks has visited). The Living Lab schools provide visitors with a chance to see what mastery-based schools look like and to talk to other educators who are experienced at working in a schoolwide mastery system. Living Lab schools also post resources in a shared wiki page so others can quickly look at different options regarding grading practices, design of competencies, or school policies. The Mastery Collaborative team works with the schools to set goals aligned to a shared community framework, learn from one another, and develop overall guidance documents. For example, they have developed a tool to evaluate LMS systems to expedite the process for schools to consider different products. They are in the process of working with DOE Central’s Office of Academic Policy to offer PD that will help schools develop fair, transparent, and comprehensive mastery-based grading policies and messaging for teachers, students, and parents.

Some of the schools in the Mastery Collaborative sought waivers through the PROSE initiative, a joint effort of the UFT and the Department that has offered opportunities for schools to become mastery-based. However, most of the practices within mastery-based schools do not require waivers. (more…)

Is it a Project or an Activity? Project-Based Learning and its Cousins

July 18, 2016 by

PBL1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on June 24, 2016. 

A project is a multistep activity undertaken by an individual or group to achieve a particular aim. With that broad definition there’s a lot of project-based learning happening in schools these days. Some is better than others and there are a lot of variations: some thin, some deep; some teacher-led, some student-driven; some with clear deliverables, and some very open-ended.

In an effort to help educators select a strategy appropriate for intended outcomes, this post is an attempt at providing a framework for variations on project-based learning (PBL) and part of our project-based world campaign.

Gold Standard PBL

Buck Institute for Education (BIE) defines project-based learning as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.” Their Gold Standard PBL Essential Project Design Elements include:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding and Success Skills. The project is focused on student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question. The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry. Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources and applying information.
  • Authenticity. The project features real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards or impact. Or it speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests and issues in their lives.
  • Student Voice & Choice. Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection. Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.
  • Critique & Revision. Students give, receive and use feedback to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product. Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

We think that is a good and useful set of design principles. Most of it applies not only to project-based learning but also to a group of related instructional strategies. We see seven key dimensions (design variables) for projects and related learning activities: (more…)

Three Key Components of School-Community Engagement

July 15, 2016 by

NotebookThis post originally appeared at Students at the Center on June 22, 2106.

In Pittsfield, New Hampshire, community members have been involved in articulating our schools’ values, vision, and mission; in developing our long-term plan for school redesign; in redefining our professional roles; in managing our continuous improvement systems; and more. Still, we’re missing the mark in creating spaces for deep and broad engagement for all our families and community members.

When recently discussing the responses to a district survey of faculty and staff on family engagement practices, our Family Engagement Team, composed of both community members and educators, recognized challenges that lie ahead in taking engagement a step deeper. Comments like “parents get in the way,” “families are not helpful,” and “no confidence in families” were sprinkled among more mostly-positive notions, despite the district’s many years of commitment to community engagement.

Once educators are on the job, they’re up to their ears in what they see as the central function of their work, which can simply reinforce their views of what it’s like to be a teacher in the first place—endless cycles of planning for instructing, assessing student progress, and re-planning based on identified new student needs. These views have been formed over a lifetime of observing their own teachers as well as experiences in their university education and internships/student teaching.

New teachers are often overwhelmed by the magnitude of their job and often struggle to keep up with even their day-to-day work with their students. Their assumptions about being a professional educator change slowly, even in the face of administrative demands to develop and maintain relationships with parents and family members. Even if family engagement makes rational and intuitive sense, it remains where it has always been for most educators: on the fringes. (more…)

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