Tag: Iowa

When Teachers Can Implement At Their Own Pace

October 15, 2014 by

bull dog for van meterI recently had the opportunity to visit Van Meter School in Van Meter, Iowa with Sandra Dop, Consultant for 21st Century Skills at the Iowa Department of Education and facilitator of the Iowa Competency-based Education (CBE) Collaborative. Two faculty members accompanied us from Drake University’s School of Education, Dr. Randy Peters and Dr. Laura Kieran. They are members of the CBE Collaborative, bringing vision, curiosity and dedication to scoping out the future of competency education in Iowa.

Van Meter Community School District is a small district located 15 miles outside of Des Moines. It has one school building comprising K-12. Total attendance is 677 students, of whom 158 chose to open enroll into the district (students in Iowa can enroll in another district of their choice). The Mission of Van Meter Community School District is “to personalize learning for each student’s success, today and tomorrow.”

Van Meter is transitioning to full-school competency education, but has been doing standards-based grading school-wide in K-12 for three years. Elementary Principal and Director of Teaching and Learning Jen Sigrist explained the evolution: “We had a few teachers trying it before (five and six years ago), which led to each secondary teacher trying it for at least one class four years ago. After that, we made the move district wide. The last team to come on board was 5th grade mostly because they were not included in the secondary conversations and were preparing kids for the secondary by giving traditional letter grades in the past. They were happy to jump on board with the entire district three years ago.” (more…)

What’s New in Competency Education in K12 and Higher Education

August 26, 2014 by

K12 ResourcesScreen Shot 2014-06-23 at 5.46.08 PM and Events

In the News

  • The Des Moines Register’s article Five Trends to Look for This School Year includes student-led conferences and student setting the pace. Shawn Cornally from Iowa Big is quoted, “”Some students move much faster, and some students move much slower, but they learn it a lot better.”

Iowa Goes BIG: Next-level learning

May 22, 2014 by

This blog was originally posed May 20, 2014 at the Iowa Department of Education with the sidebar, below. Be sure to watch the video about BIG – it’s really fun and interesting.

Some say they learn best by reading. Others say they learn best by doing.iowa big logo

For students who prefer the latter, the Cedar Rapids and College Community districts have joined forces to offer a non-traditional setting where the classroom has no walls, the coursework has no textbooks, and the grade level is not a consideration. Be assured this is no cakewalk: The students master skills and content consistent with their classroom counterparts. But they do so through projects that go beyond the school yard and solidly into the community.

The districts call the school Iowa BIG – big for its concepts, even bigger for its impact. (more…)

Iowa Goes BIG: From Reservations to Success


This blog was originally posted May 20, 2014 at the Iowa Department of Education. Be sure to watch the video about BIG — it’s really fun and iowa_de-150x150interesting.

There is no particular formula for successful competency-based education (CBE). Programs vary from in-school coursework where the student learns at his or her own pace to internships and project-oriented work.

Ideally, students could choose which path to take since they have different preferences in the way they learn, said Iowa Department of Education Consultant Sandra Dop.

“Some students might choose one type of learning over another,” she said. “For instance, a student might want a specific learning environment for gaining proficiency in a particular subject, but another learning environment to demonstrate proficiency in another area.  All of this is negotiated with the teacher.  Kim Carter of QED Foundation calls it, ‘negotiated pace with gradual release,’ meaning that the students are not completely on their own to set a pace, and they slowly take over their learning as they develop the skills to do so. ” (more…)

The Right Work To Do

February 25, 2014 by
the boxes-jason ellingson

Jason Ellingson

The boxes arrived last week. Those boxes stacked high, full of Iowa Assessment test booklets, answer sheets, and directions for administration. They arrived and are sitting against the far wall of my office – not physically, but philosophically in the way. In two weeks, our students will take those tests. They will spend multiple hours over a course of a week filling in bubbles to demonstrate to the federal and state governments that they have grown academically in content areas like reading, math, science, and social studies. There will be no test on grit or perseverance – except their ability to complete the test without creating a pattern on the answer sheet. There will be no test on creativity – unless they do create a pattern on the answer sheet.

All of this will happen in the midst of a year where my district has truly pushed itself to know the learner better to grow the learner better. We have pushed hard to mold ourselves into what our students need, not mold the students into what we need. We have more teachers that ever using data to revise instruction, using standards-based learning, and thinking about competency-based education. We work toward a new goal of personalized learning in our district – and it is exciting, invigorating, daunting, and … the right work.

So, those boxes sit in my office while I have the pleasure of attending a convening hosted by the Nellie Mae Foundation and KnowledgeWork on the federal accountability framework in light of competency-based education. The convening was a great two days focused on assessment, core CBE principles, the role of the federal government in education, and the unintended consequences of building a new framework that is easy to understand (and which may do more harm to CBE than the current one).

The discussion on accountability traveled far and wide. Some of the main points and questions raised included:

  1. We do not want to see competency education mandated from the federal government. We want to have federal accountability policy be structured to enable competency education and its core principles. (more…)

Getting Started and Scaling Competency-based Education

January 3, 2014 by
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Andrea Stewart

Iowa is a state no longer content with the status quo perpetuated by an antiquated educational system. Recent legislation and the work of an appointed state task force comprised of diverse stakeholders have unlocked the potential in proficiency-based learning for Iowa’s students. Inspired by the opportunity to change the nature of learning, ten school districts have joined the Iowa Department of Education and representatives from higher education and Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to engage in collaborative learning, to implement competency-based education (CBE) pathways in their districts, and to develop a state framework for CBE implementation.

As we build capacity in understanding CBE in our district and throughout the state, I am often approached with questions about how to get started or how to scale and sustain the work. I usually respond by asking how many days or hours the person has to engage in that conversation. We laugh, but nothing is further from the truth. The atomistic behaviorism that compels Westernized thinking is a limit to understanding CBE as a transformative systems change. Russ Ackoff believed that if we optimize the performance of parts of a system, we suboptimize the system as a whole. Peter Senge agrees that the leverage is in optimizing the interdependencies of a system. With CBE, the limits to growth are microcosmic and macrocosmic, which make them particularly difficult to recognize, map, and mitigate. As such, it is necessary to both take a balcony view and to roll up our sleeves for work in the trenches as Iowa embraces competency-based pathways.

Question 1: What do people who are new to competency-based education need to know or do?

  1. Start with the “why”—a compelling reason for change—and move out from there to the “how” and the “what”. In Muscatine, we talked about the following: need to disrupt the antiquated system so that it can adapt to 21st century demands; understanding that date of manufacture should not determine a student’s path through her or his education experiences; belief that our students need to be adaptable, entrepreneurial, and resilient, which demands a system that supports those demands and that growth. Spend time on the vision and create a theory of action.
  2. Create a common language through an extensive literature review. This includes definitions of terminology related to CBE as well as defining what CBE is not—deconstructing how this work is not just new terms for what our system has tried before (outcomes-based education from the 70s/80s, for example). This philosophy and methodology are qualitatively different from past paradigms—this needs to be explicated. (more…)

Iowa Competency-based Task Force Release Report

December 13, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 8.26.48 AMIowa has released the final report of the Competency-based Task Force. To remind you, in 2012 Iowa’s state legislature passed legislation (Senate File 2284 and House File 215) to study competency-based instruction and develop a strategic plan. It’s an easy report to review and provides insights into how a state can move forward in competency education. (For those of you who haven’t read it, Necessary for Success provides an overview of how states are advancing policy to catalyze, incubate and support competency education as well).

Below are some of the highlights of the 13 recommendations from the Task Force for the legislature, Department of Education, and other institutions.  It’s helpful to know in reading the recommendations that Iowa has established 4 principles for competency-based education (CBE): (1) Students advance based on proficiency;  (2) Competencies include explicit, measurable, and transferable learning objectives that empower students;(3) Students receive rapid, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs; and (4) Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge along with development of important skills and dispositions. (See Department of Education’s Guidelines for PK-12 Competency-based Pathways.)

  • Expand competency-based credits: Allow students younger than ninth grade to earn credit in any curricular area toward graduation if they complete the requirements for the credit. Current code specifies that such credit can be earned before ninth grade, but only in the curricular areas of English or Language Arts, mathematics, science, or social studies.
  • Model competencies: The Department of Education, the Iowa CBE Collaborative, and other state and national experts should write model competencies that align with the Iowa Core and the universal constructs. In the preliminary report, the Task Force developed a Competency Validation Rubric to help districts develop competency frameworks. (more…)

Lingering Questions #1: Pacing and Supports

July 17, 2013 by

This was originally published on the College & Career Readiness & Success blog.

On June 24th, the American Youth Policy Forum and the College and Career Readiness and Success Center at tlingeringhe American Institutes for Research co-hosted a webinar on “State Implications for Competency-based Education Systems.” Presenters included Kate Nielson, Policy Analyst, National Governors Association; Diane Smith, Director, Teaching and Learning Initiative, Oregon Business Education Compact; Sandra Dop, Consultant for 21st Century Skills, Iowa Department of Education; Carissa Miller, Deputy Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Following the webinar, we collected a series of lingering questions from participants on a range of topics. Their responses to the first of three important questions are below:

In a competency-based system, students have the ability to complete work at their own pace. How have states thought about how to support students who need more time to demonstrate competency? Alternatively, what do states do when students finish early? How can states think about adjusting resources and funding to allow for such a shift?

Jennifer Davis, Director, Innovation Lab Network, CCSSO (responding in place of Carissa Miller) – For students who need more time, most states and districts implementing CBE have outlined mechanisms for knowing when students are struggling and providing them with a variety of supports.  Schools in Maine, for example, keep track of students’ pace against “teacher pace.” When students fall behind teacher pace, additional resources and supports are given.  In Lindsay Unified School District in CA, falling behind pace triggers the co-creation of an individualized learning plan (ILP) outlining the steps and supports the child will pursue to accelerate.  Other states, like Kentucky, mandate an ILP for all students, which helps students, parents, and teachers monitor the child’s progress.  Most states and districts implementing CBE are developing rich banks of digital resources for students to access on-demand.  This, coupled with human guidance through mentors or advisors, provides students with multiple and/or targeted methods for reaching mastery. (more…)

State Paths To A Competency-Based Education Approach

July 16, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 2.07.26 PMThis post was originally published on the College & Career Readiness & Success blog on July 10, 2013.

The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) and the College and Career Readiness and Success (CCRS) Center recently hosted a webinar on implications for state policy in competency-based education systems. The discussion brought together national and state leaders to share what progress has been made in states, what has been learned in doing such work at the state level, and guidance on where other states might begin. The session covered topics ranging from setting a vision, capacity building, policy changes, and assessment and accountability, but what may have been most interesting were the contrasting narratives of scaling approaches across states. There is no standard approach that researchers can yet point to—implementation methods have varied dramatically across contexts, though certain common themes have emerged.

Common Vision

Presenters highlighted a common starting point when moving toward competency-based systems – developing a common vision. As states rationalized the move to a competency-based system, they first needed to come to consensus on what they wanted for all students. In order to achieve  buy-in across a very diverse set of stakeholders, including everyone from teachers to governors and legislators, states have  worked across a wide range of stakeholders in K-12, higher education, and elsewhere to develop a collective vision for what their students should know and be able to do. (more…)

Do You Feel It? Iowans Are Gathering Around CBE

June 24, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 12.56.02 PMIowans are gathering later this week to share their knowledge and ideas for advancing competency education at the CBE Conference:  Define!  Design!  Deliver! sponsored by the Iowa ASCD. As you probably know, the legislature set up a task force to look at the issue, including looking at pilot projects in Muscatine and Spirit Lake.  A final report is due this November with recommendations about how to proceed.

If you are interested, here are some of the highlights of the agenda. Iowans love twitter, so if you are interested you can follow along with the conference on the 26th and 27th.

Dream! Define! Design! Deliver!”
Rose Colby, Competency-Based Learning Specialist

Every teacher’s dream is to have students ready to learn, engaged in their learning, and competent in the demonstration of their learning. Yet, in today’s classrooms, the very nature of the learning environment, the varied levels of student readiness, and the shackles of standardized testing prevent us from realizing this dream. Welcome to competency based learning! In defining the core beliefs of competency based learning, we will look at the macro scale design of learning systems and the micro scale design of curriculum and instruction that supports students who will learn anytime, anywhere, and at their own pace.

“Getting Learning Right the First Time: Building Learner Capacity and Competence”
Jim Rickabaugh, Executive Director of CESA 1, Wisconsin

This session will provide participants with an overview of work underway in Southeastern Wisconsin to build learning capacity and success for all students by personalizing their learning. Participants will be exposed to an empowering way to think about and meet our national achievement challenge. The logic underlying the model will be examined and a powerful change strategy will be shared. Participants will hear examples of amazing results achieved by real students in real schools. This session also will introduce a continuum of skills and strategies to engage and empower learners in ways that build learning ownership and independence.

“Riding the STEM Wave with CBE”
Kari Webb, NW Iowa STEM Regional Manager, Iowa
Lakes Community CollegeThe latest Buzz Word in economic development tied to education reform is STEM: science, technology, engineering and math. Competency Based Education advocates would do well to ride this wave as it gathers momentum (and funding) across the state and nation. Participants will explore the intersection of STEM with CBE, including active learning, upside down pedagogies, outside-of-school learning partnerships.

“Tips, Tools & Schools: Competency-Based Learning”
Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart

The shift from cohorts to competency-based learning is happening in schools across the country. This session will explore how competency education has the potential to connect learning to students’ passions and interests, drawing them toward higher order thinking and, therefore, deeper learning. Suggested Reading: The Shift from Cohorts to Competency (more…)

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