Tag: districts

A Reflection on the Field of Competency Education

August 19, 2015 by

GraphEach summer, CompetencyWorks takes a bit of time to reflect on where we have come from, accomplishments, and emerging issues. Our advisory board is absolutely instrumental in this process, helping us to understand nuances and variations across states.

Below are the highlights of our discussion this year. It’s long, but I think sharing in detail is worth it, especially as each week people contact us seeking help in understanding the field. Please, please, please – we would love to hear your insights and understanding of where we have come from and what we need to think about in terms of advancing competency education. It’s the richness of multiple perspectives that allow us to be as strategic as possible.

I. How Are We Doing in Terms of Expansion?

When we wrote the first scan of the field in 2010, there were only pockets of innovation across the country, each operating in isolation. Five years later, eighteen states are actively pursuing competency education through a range of strategies including proficiency-based diplomas (ME, NH, CO, AZ), integrating competency education into the education code (VT, NH), innovation zones (KY, WI, CT), pilots (OR, IA, OH, ID), and task forces in partnership with districts (SC, WY, OK, HI, DE). Federal policymakers are now familiar with competency-based education in the K12 and higher education sector, with ESEA policy discussions considered pilots for new systems of assessments.

Districts are converting to competency education across the country, with or without state policy enabling the change. In addition to the northern New England states, which have strong state policy initiatives, districts are converting in AK, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, MI, and SC.

New school models are developing that push beyond the traditional organization of school to high levels of personalization, including those at Summit Public Schools, Building 21, Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Making Community Connections Charter School, EPIC North, and Bronx Arena. Schools for the Future has recently announced record-breaking results in its first year of operation.

Some people think the rate of expansion is too slow. Personally, I think we need to really “get it right” – robust competency-based structures, high levels of personalization so our most historically underserved populations of students are thriving, upgraded instruction and assessment aligned to higher levels of knowledge, and effective use of online learning – before we worry about the speed of expansion. Let’s practice what we preach. We are in the midst of huge learning as we deconstruct the traditional system and put into place a more vibrant, personalized system, and it may take us a bit of time. It took us well over 200 years to create the traditional system, and its rituals are deeply rooted into our own personal lives. I don’t think it is a problem if it takes us a few more years to get it right.

The Results from our Early Adopters: The early adopters are now three to four years into implementation (with the exception of Chugach School District, which has been using a competency-based model for nearly two decades). Many have developed the systemic framework within a traditional agrarian, course-based model, which means that at first glance, it appears there is little innovation…until one looks deeper to see the benefits of greater personalization, student agency/voice/choice, consistency of proficiency scales across the school, and greater responsiveness to students who are struggling. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

July 16, 2015 by

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.Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AM

School Designs

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…)

Reflections on Accelerating the Implementation Process

June 19, 2015 by

Acceleration“We have to figure out how to make implementation easy and faster.”

I hear this statement from time to time and it always makes me wonder. It makes me wonder about a number of things.

1) Quality before Speed: At this stage of development, shouldn’t our concern be more about understanding what high quality implementation looks like rather than methods to speed it up? Perhaps we can speed up the implementation process as we know it, but I’m not convinced that we know what high quality implementation looks like yet. The list of questions I have is worthy of its own blog post, but let me start with two significant issues. First, we have not figured out the best ways or the real cost of helping students who enroll in a school academically behind their age-based grade, those with special education issues, or those learning English. Second, we also haven’t taken the ceiling off the system consistently so that students can actually advance when they have demonstrated mastery. What is preventing us from making sure seventh graders can be doing ninth grade math? One might say that both of these should be considered school-level autonomies. However, I also think they are structural issues about the responsiveness of districts and schools to students’ needs.

2) Speed, Shared Vision, and Deep Personal Growth: Several months ago, someone asked me for feedback on an implementation plan for a district. There were lots of project benchmarks, timetables, specific activities, and ideas for who was going to do what. But what it didn’t have was any time or resources allotted for engaging the community in building a shared vision or understanding why the traditional system is a barrier. Nor did it have any lead time for the district staff and school leaders to deepen their understanding of competency education or strengthen their distributive leadership styles. (See Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders for more discussion on creating shared purpose and leadership styles.) (more…)

Setting the PACE: Teacher Assessment Practices in a Competency-Based Education System

May 18, 2015 by
Wordle

Wordle created by Ellen Hume-Howard

I continue to be amazed and impressed by our staff’s progress over the past five years related to our implementation of a competency-based education system. Our grading, assessment, and instructional practices have changed significantly during this time, as our teachers have continued to push forward in their quest to impact student learning.

Over the past two years, our focus has been on assessment. Our staff’s knowledge and growth related specifically to the assessment of students’ competency has grown significantly. Memorial School, an elementary school in Newton, NH, is part of the Sanborn Regional School District. Sanborn was one of four districts (Sanborn, Epping, Rochester, and Souhegan) to participate in a first-in-the-nation accountability strategy called PACE (Performance Assessment for Competency Education), which was recently approved by the US DOE. This joint venture between the NH DOE, the Center for Collaborative Education, the Center for Assessment, and the four participating school districts entails a reduced level of standardized testing (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium in NH) and involves the creation of locally developed, rigorous, comprehensive performance assessments by teams of teachers. These high quality performance assessments are designed to support deeper learning, and will be integrated within the units of study that students are currently engaged in, thereby creating no disruption to the learning process.

The benefits of this work are numerous. First and foremost, this effort is reflective of educators at literally every level within the State of New Hampshire working in unison to better educational experiences for our students—from teachers in the classroom to Commissioner Virginia Barry and Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather. Everyone involved truly felt that a single standardized assessment should not be the only factor determining a school’s and its students’ success. In the PACE model, the standardized assessment for reading and mathematics would be taken once at each level (elementary, middle, and high school), with complex, multi-part performance assessments administered to allow students to demonstrate and apply their knowledge in quite sophisticated ways. The performance assessments were created by teams of teachers, and were developed as part of the units of study that students would be engaged in during the mid-March to May timeframe, thereby allowing the assessments to be integrated within the daily activities that students and teachers were engaged in. Additionally, the assessments have been vetted by local, state, and national assessment experts and have provided teachers with the opportunity to look at their assessments through a critical lens of their own, something they are doing now on a consistent basis. (more…)

Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District

January 6, 2015 by
Debbie Treece

Debbie Treece

This is the first post in the Chugach School District series. Continue reading the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh posts. 

I’ve never been to Alaska before. All I can say is that it was beyond any and all expectations – as was my visit to Chugach School District (CSD).

I’m sure you’ve heard about Chugach. It’s the first district to transform itself into a competency-based model (or what they refer to as performance-based). It’s the basis of the must-read Delivering the Promise. CSD has stayed the course for twenty years, developing a sophisticated system that provides flexibility to their schools while keeping a firm eye on student achievement and progress. And they aren’t done – they are continually exploring ways to increase access to knowledge, expand hands-on and college/career readiness opportunities, and more.

It’s not easy to see the CSD performance-based system in practice. Seventy-seven percent of their students are homeschoolers, the schools in the Alutiiq communities of Tatitlek and Chenega Bay require boarding a charter flight, and the road to Whittier…well, it goes through a one-lane tunnel where you have to decide whether you want the wheels of your car to fit on top of the railroad track or to the sides, and where you have to be prepared to share the road with moose if the snow gets too deep! (There is also the Voyage to Excellence, a statewide variable-term residential program to expand learning opportunities, which I’ll talk about in future posts.)

I spent three days with the CSD team in order to fully understand their approach – and I am forever grateful for their willingness to share their knowledge and their love of Alaska. I learned so much about performance-based education: how it looks in tiny, rural schools; how it can be structured for Native education; how it supports special education students; and how the infrastructure can be intentionally designed to capture all aspects of learning and student development.

A special thanks to Debbie Treece, Director of Special Education, who organized the tour, answered a thousand questions, and drove me through a wintery-white landscape to Whittier. (more…)

Explorations in Competency Education

January 5, 2015 by
0 me in alaska

In Tatitlek

This post introduces the upcoming series on Chugach School District.

I learned a lot during my trip to Alaska to visit Chugach School District and Highland Tech Charter School. If a moose licks his lips at you, it’s time to back away carefully. Slowly wave your arms if a black bear comes your way. Get on your belly and cover your neck if a brown bear shows more than a passing interest in you. However, there is no advice if you encounter a grizzly! (I did encounter a moose in Anchorage’s Kincaid Park, including a bull, who did, in fact, a bit of lip-licking.)

It makes sense that one of the places that competency education developed is in the Alaskan landscape. Alaska is about the essentials. Alaska requires adaptability. And with the incredible mountains all around, peeking out here and there from the clouds, one cannot be anything other than humble. Humility is the breeding ground for competency education. It is humility that allows all of the adults to become learners rather than decision-makers, experts, and teachers. It is humility that creates school cultures that embrace the concept of ‘not yet.’ Students may not yet be proficient. More importantly, educators may not yet know what students are capable of or how to best support their learning.

It’s this combination of the essentials, adaptability, and humility that is required to go forth to redesign our education system without knowing exactly how the pieces fit together, let alone which pieces are required in the first place. We just know it’s important to do better than we are doing now for the sake of our children.

This is the beginning of a series of posts on my trip to Alaska to visit Highland Tech Charter School (HTC) and Chugach School District (CSD). In this post, I share a bit about my trip and a few of my big takeaways. In future posts, I’m going deep into CSD, as there is so much to learn from them. CSD has been staying the course for nearly twenty years, and we’ll look at how they began the process of transformation; the structure of their performance-based system; the experience of teachers; how they structure their district so that it works for all students and cultures, including the important influence of the Alaska Native culture upon the education system’s development; lessons learned for small, rural schools; and implications for homeschooling.

Three Big Leaps (more…)

The Big Three Takeaways of the Magical Mastery Tour

December 3, 2014 by

ThreeAlthough there were many takeaways from my visits to schools in New York City (what Jeremy Kraushar of the Digital Ready team referred to as the Magical Mastery Tour), I’ve selected three to write about here, as they respond to questions we’ve received over the past six months.

Please note: I’m using mastery-based, the term used by NYC, and competency-based interchangeably.

Most of these findings are based on schools that are doing tremendous work in developing highly developed mastery-based models. Descriptions of Bronx International, EPIC North, Bronx Arena, Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, and Maker Academy will be published in the coming weeks. However, one insight discussed below came from a school that shared the difficulties it was having developing a prototype model. While it’s important to learn from challenges as well as successes, schools trying their best to innovate don’t need the light from the internet shined upon them, so we didn’t write up a case study in that particular case. (more…)

Magical Mastery Tour

December 2, 2014 by
Digital Ready

Photo from the Digital Ready Website

In October, Jeremy Krausher, Joy Nolan, and Michael Preston of Digital Ready organized what can only be called the Magical Mastery Tour. (Click here if you’d like the Beatles to accompany your reading.) Don’t be misled by the name Digital Ready – this team, based in the Office of Postsecondary Readiness at the New York City Department of Education, is promoting student-centered, personalized, mastery-based learning drawing on blended learning to increase and enrich learning opportunities for students. Their work is supported by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. We were joined by Julian Cohen, Senior Executive Director for the Office of School Design and Charter Partnerships, and Debbie Marcus, OPSR’s Deputy Executive Director of Sustainability and Strategy, on part of the tour. I am so grateful to everyone for sharing their knowledge about schools and providing greater depth to my understanding of how competency education is taking root in New York City.

During the three-day Magical Mastery Tour, we visited Bronx International High School, Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, EPIC North, Bronx Arena, and Urban Assembly Maker Academy (one of the Carnegie Corporation Opportunity by Design schools). In-depth descriptions of each will be published over the coming weeks.

Innovation is alive and well in the New York City schools. Bronx International and Carroll Gardens School for Innovation are two of the most developed competency-based models I’ve seen. Bronx Arena is challenging assumptions of traditional schooling every chance they get. EPIC North and Maker Academy (with only two months under their belts) are already on their way to pushing our understanding of how competency education can serve as the backbone to very different school models. (more…)

ReInventing Schools at the District Level

November 10, 2014 by
Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.00.58 AM

Bill Zima

In 2012, Maine established policy for schools to award proficiency-based diplomas starting in 2018. As the years passed, it became clear that some districts, including mine, needed more time to get all the pieces in place. In April of 2014, The Maine Department of Education agreed to allow extensions for districts as long as they met specific criteria demonstrating the district was moving forward. There were six options ranging from no extension to taking a full three years.

My district chose option five, which required us to partner with a coach to help with the transition to a learner-centered, proficiency-based system. We decided to partner with the ReInventing Schools Coalition. This decision was made based on their affiliation with Marzano Research Labs and their proven record of supporting schools through the transition. Also, the middle school, of which I am the principal, already had a working relationship with them. We have found them to be tireless in their commitment to support us through the process of meeting our vision.

With our limited funds, the decision was made to begin the district work with leadership teams from each of the schools in the district. The groups met for a single day over the summer to talk about the ReInventing Schools framework. While it was nice to only spend a single day on this topic, I would not recommend it as the norm for the introduction. Since the ReInventing Schools Coalition is well-known in Maine, having worked with many school districts in the past six years, their framework is familiar to many educators. Add to this the catalyst of the proficiency-based diploma law, and it gave our coach the ability to move quickly, leaving only a few of the school leaders needing support in the days that followed. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education

October 30, 2014 by

iNCL_CW_logo_K12CompetencyWorks released An International Study in Competency Education: Postcards from Abroad in October. You can access the archived webinar and additional resources here. We also just learned about the Common Ground Project based in Brussels, offering a slightly different way of framing competency education. (See Our Learning EcoSystem.)

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