May 20, 2015 by Jeremy Kraushar and Joy Nolan
What is your dream mastery-based grading tool?
This design challenge drew a roomful of educators from twenty mastery/competency-based schools around New York City—and reps from seven educational technology companies that offer mastery/competency-based grading platforms.
The aim was to create a city-wide list of ‘must have’ and ‘nice-to-have’ features and functions of a dream mastery-based grading system—and to foster an unprecedented level of information-sharing and intense collaboration between mastery-based schools and the companies that provide the grading platforms, tools, and trackers they use.
|Mastery Grading Must-Haves:
- User-friendly, intuitive design
- Parent login, student login (separate)
- Bulk upload of custom standards and skills
- Ability to edit and copy outcomes during the school year
- Ability to share competencies across different courses
- Ability to customize competencies/outcomes by class
- Ability to track assignments across years and across courses
- Centralized by student for all classes (a student can see all his/her present/past classes in one place)
- Multiple modes of viewing student progress (by course or competency)
- Progress Reporting (24/7 student views, parent views)
- Excel reporting (ability to import/export students scores and data)
- Ability to create/upload rubrics that link to competencies/outcomes
- Ability to link assessments and grades to rubrics
- Communication feature for students, parents, teachers, and administrators
- Compatible with STARS (citywide grading tool for NYC schools)
- Visual signal or alert pushed to users upon outcome/comp being met
- Reliable tech support and PD
Source: Mastery Collaborative from www.digitalready.net
April 13, 2015 by Contributing Author
This spotlight originally appeared in the CCSR Newsletter.
While they may be rivals on the athletic fields, the learning communities at both Nashua (NH) High School North and Nashua (NH) High School South are very purposeful about staying together as partners in education. It’s been over a decade since the district replaced the single high school with two campuses, but they have recognized from the beginning the power of synergy and collaboration. Both campuses are committed to moving forward together through collaboration and a focus on student outcomes. As Director of Curriculum Peggy Reynolds puts it, “they’re all Nashua kids, and we really feel that.”
The Nashua School District (NSD) has fostered this strong collaborative spirit through focusing on what unites them – the curriculum. Regardless of whether you work at North or South “the curriculum is the curriculum is the curriculum” says Reynolds. Teachers meet regularly both within their school, and across the two campuses to discuss the curriculum. Teachers are committed to developing the curriculum, and corresponding performance tasks, that they themselves wrote. They meet regularly to examine student work and calibrate those performance tasks to ensure they engage students in opportunities to explore greater depths of knowledge within the content. (more…)
March 17, 2015 by Chris Sturgis
Today, CompetencyWorks released a new paper, Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning: Insights from Experts. The paper is based on a two-day conversation with twenty-three incredibly insightful people who work in competency education, personalized learning, and blended learning – and the paper only captures a small portion of the rich conversation. (See A Mountain of Knowledge to Climb for more background) There are several parts to the paper, including:
- an exploration of the relationship between personalized learning, competency education, and blended learning and the concerns about equity that arise in each;
- issues that district leadership will want to consider in managing change, such as providing greater autonomy to schools;
- guidance for competency-based schools to enhance their instruction through blended learning; and
- how districts that have integrated blended learning can take the next step towards becoming competency-based.
Blended learning can help in competency-based schools in so many ways – sometimes with a tidbit of risk we need to guard against. We all know that high quality adaptive software can be helpful for students to develop their foundational skills. Blended learning can also help to offer students the opportunity to take what they are learning and go deeper, or begin to use what they are learning in knowledge creation. These aren’t discrete activities such as extra credit or helping peers. This is the opportunity for students to be highly challenged. Blended learning can be used to offer additional challenging projects that students can take on (call them honor projects, if need be) to strengthen their learning by asking them to further apply their skills to new situations (Level 4 Depth of Knowledge). Students will be able to access the challenges or problem-based learning independently so teachers can stay focused on supporting students who are still struggling to reach proficiency. The risk here is that schools only offer deeper learning to the high-achieving students, which is totally unacceptable. So we need to create both/and – embedding Level 4 work for all students into the school design at some point in the schedule and curriculum, and offering Level 4 work for students who have advanced to proficiency in the unit or course.
Another way blended learning can be helpful is to allow students to advance to the next level of learning once they have reached proficiency on a unit or course. This requires us to strip the ceiling off the education system by offering units online so students can advance. The risk is that that this will turn into a dynamic that so-called faster students are considered the better students. I’ve already visited schools where students talk about faster and slower students – it was done respectfully but was definitely a way for some students to differentiate themselves from their peers.
There are also challenges in using certain types of online learning in competency-based schools. These are raised in the paper and hopefully vendors will take these into consideration as they further develop their products.
We’d like to hear from you — How is your district/school using blended learning? What are the lessons learned and insights? What would your advise be to districts/schools about how to best implement blended learning to support students build and apply their skills?
January 15, 2015 by Jonathan Vander Els
Too hot? Too cold? Just right!
We have learned a lot over the past five years as our district has implemented a competency-based model of grading and assessing. Competency-based grading and assessment requires a significant shift in the way we think about assessment—its purpose and its meaning. Our school, Memorial School in Newton, NH and our district, the Sanborn Regional School District, moved to this model five years ago. We continue to learn more about what assessment of students truly means as our overall understanding of assessment practices (our assessment literacy) increases.
When we moved to this model of grading and assessment, our elementary teachers made a wholesale change to grading with a four-point rubric. There would be no number scale (100 point scale) and there would be consistency across grade levels horizontally and vertically. The grade scale rubrics we used would identify the expectations around each level. Our learning curve was steep as we created the rubrics, but we found that our learning was not going to stop there. It continues to this day.
Our first year, we identified our rubric indicators as E (Exceeding), M (Meeting), IP (Inconsistent Progress), and LP (Limited Progress). The chart below reflects this first attempt at our rubric scale. The first roadblock came after the first progress report was distributed. As an educational staff, we looked at IP as what the descriptor outlined—inconsistent progress. A student was able to demonstrate competency, but it was on an inconsistent basis. Many parents provided feedback that it just “felt negative” (the word inconsistent). We decided that “In Progress” was also an accurate indicator, and parents agreed. We made the change immediately within the “Level” while keeping the performance descriptor the same. (more…)
November 11, 2014 by Matt Townsley
Here in Iowa, competency-based education is gaining traction at the state and grassroots level. In fact, the Iowa Department of Education has launched a multi-year CBE collaborative. Needless to say, it’s an exciting time to be an educator in the Hawkeye State!
Meanwhile, a core group of Iowa schools have started to implement a standards-based grading philosophy in middle and high schools. Because of these two movements in our state, standards-based grading and competency-based education are often times incorrectly presented as synonymous practices. As a member of Iowa’s CBE task force and through my work as a district administrator in a system that has embraced standards-based grading K-12, I’ve been in a position to think about and discuss these two topics extensively. When area schools hear about our grading and reporting practices, we are often asked how our system relates to those working towards competency-based educational models. While many of the ideas overlap, I felt compelled to tease out these two education terms in order to honor their similarities and differences.
What is standards-based grading?
Standards-based grading “involves measuring students’ proficiency on well-defined course objectives.” (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006). (Note: Standards-based reporting involves reporting these course objectives rather than letter grades at the end of each grading/reporting period.)
The visual below compares traditional grading with standards-based grading practices. (more…)
November 5, 2014 by Caroline Messenger
No matter how you approach it, you cannot mitigate the massive change agent that is competency-based education. It does not leave much room for “old school” notions of teaching and learning. It does not tolerate anything less than a committed belief that all students can achieve at high levels.
It certainly demands a philosophical and ideological shift in thinking about “best practice” in education.
When I had first embarked on this journey, I had prepared myself for these shifts as they pertained to my practice. How can I become more student-centered? What does that look like? How will I know if my students are ready?
The question I never asked: How will I assess it and grade it? (more…)
October 28, 2014 by Brian Stack
I worked for a school district and high school that made the transition from a traditional to a competency-based grading and reporting system about five years ago. As one of the early adopters of what has now become a national educational reform movement, my fellow administrators and I often get inquiries from colleagues around the nation who are looking for advice as they make a similar transition in their own school or district. One of the biggest categories of questions we field from other administrators is on communication with parents about the competency education model. In this article, I will share with you some of the most frequently asked questions that we get from our parents and how we typically respond.
How is a competency education model different from a traditional one?
Competency education is based on the principle that the grades a student receives measure what the student knows and is able to do. Courses are organized into competencies that measure a student’s ability to transfer content and skills in and across content areas. Students are assessed on these competencies through performance assessments—multistep assignments with clear criteria, expectations, and processes that measure how well a student transfers knowledge and applies complex skills to create or refine an original product. Teachers use rubrics to measure student learning on these assessments and report that learning on report cards and transcripts by skill or competency.
Competency education diverges powerfully from the traditional “one size fits all” approach. In the best examples, students are given many opportunities and many pathways to demonstrate that they have reached competency. They are able to progress at their own pace. Their teachers provide individualized instruction and coach them through their learning progression. Teachers collaboratively develop the assessments that will measure how well students have performed. The result is a more rigorous education that identifies exactly what students know, are able to do, and to what degree.
August 27, 2014 by Jeremy Kraushar
Revelle, student at FDA VII. From FDA VII video.
“I want to achieve, I want to get high grades; [mastery-based learning] is a great way to map out exactly how to get there.”
— Revelle, student at Frederick Douglass Academy VII, Brooklyn NY
A small but growing number of New York City schools are making assessments more meaningful for teachers and students through mastery-based approaches to learning. There are early and encouraging signs that mastery can motivate and engage students who have experienced previous academic failure by providing a clear outline for what they need to learn. The video below demonstrates these powerful effects at Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School (FDA VII) in Brooklyn:
Mastery-Based Learning – Featuring Frederick Douglass Academy VII High School from Digital Ready on Vimeo.
Starting Out Small
While school-wide implementation models have been a source of inspiration, more often than not, a shift toward mastery starts on a much more compact level. Last year, teachers at FDA VII “took the leap” by transforming their curriculum and grading policies to reflect student learning more transparently. This year, school leadership hopes to take it school-wide. At Brooklyn International High School and Hudson High School for Learning Technologies, teachers have worked alone or in small groups to pilot new ways to deliver content broken down by skill, and provide more granular feedback in distinct areas of learning. (more…)