November 21, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
It is a mouthful, — personalized, blended and competency-based learning. And I assume that someone out there is going to come up with an acronym or create a name for it. Before they do, I hope problem-based or project-based will be included in that list as well since kids need the opportunity to use deeper levels of knowledge (as well as being downright fun most of the time).
I’ve made the case why we need to continue to understand each these characteristics separately as we are in such rapid stages of learning. We need a way to break it down when we talk to each other. When I ask a school in New Hampshire “how do you use blended learning?” I expect to hear about the adaptive software students are using, the online courses and competency recovery that is available through Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, how teachers are learning to organize their curriculum in units on the web so that students can advance more quickly, and how they are using tablets for those students that do not have internet access at home so they can download what they need and take it home with them.
When I visit a school in Maine to learn about their competency-based model they will tell me about their proficiency-based schools. I might hear about the transparency of the measurement targets and learning targets based upon standards, how their learning management system Educate allows teachers to track progress and principals to monitor pacing across the school, about their school-wide system of supports including daily Flex hour and reading specialists that work with individual students as well as building capacity of their teachers, their grading scheme based on depth of knowledge that targets proficiency at Level 3 (i.e. application of knowledge and skills) and how they are developing assessments for Maine’s Guiding Principles or what might others call lifelong learning competencies. (more…)
October 15, 2013 by Courtney Belolan
One of the reflection questions I routinely present to teachers to use as they develop their customized classrooms is the following:
How am I making learning targets as transparent as possible in my classroom, instruction, and assessment?
When I visit classes I routinely ask students the following questions:
1. What is your target?
2. How do you know when you reach that target?
3. How do you know what to do next?
These questions get at one of the essential elements of competency-based learning: the transparency of learning. In a successful customized classroom, everybody has the map. The destination — a learning target — is clear to all. The route to the destination, the foundational knowledge and expected reasoning level, is given to everyone. Everybody has a map, and uses it.
Getting to the point where everybody in your class has the map can be a bit of a journey in itself. Change takes time, especially the change from a traditional classroom to a customized classroom. Take small steps. Here are some tools that you can use: (more…)
August 23, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Stephen Bowen, commissioner of education for Maine; www.maine.gov
In the same week that I heard that Maine’s Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen was stepping down to lead the Council of Chief State School Officer’s Innovation Lab Network, the Maine DOE’s Center for Best Practice released its latest case study, Sustained Change, Continuous Improvement, focusing on the transformational efforts of Regional School Unit 16 (Mechanic Falls, Minot, and Poland).
Bowen’s career shift promises that the direction of the ILN will be sustained and a continuation of his leadership for personalized, proficiency-based education. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more emphasis at the ILN on adaptive leadership and leveraging systemic reforms as compared to piloting new practices.
However, his departure raises questions about the future direction for Maine. It’s one of the leading states in competency education, but there is a cadre of folks in influential positions that are not advocates for the Common Core. So Maine could find itself using a different set of standards to shape learning trajectories and design competencies. The person appointed by the Governor to replace Bowen has a lot of choices – to continue to support personalized, proficiency-based education, the primary education policy passed by the state legislature is one. Or they may simply push new agendas and allow districts to continue the work. Worst-case scenario, there is an effort to dismantle the investments of the past decade.
August 14, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Interested in finding out more about Maine’s implementation of a proficiency-based diploma? Take a look at the report Preliminary Implementation of Maine’s Proficiency-based Diploma by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute.
It’s a good read that provides lots of insights into the stage of development of their personalized, proficiency-based system. The characteristics that are outlined in the report should be helpful to districts and states that are involved in planning or early implementation.
My only frustration in reading the report is that it would have been great to get a sense of the results of the most developed schools (which was beyond the scope of the study) or at least to find out if they were seeing results.
Hopefully someone will start to look at the early indicators to understand if those districts and schools that are farther down the road in implementation are seeing improvements in academic achievement or other important indicators for their most vulnerable students. As national attention on competency education grows, we need to demonstrate that competency education works for low-income students or special populations soon.
July 24, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
The Maine Department of Education has just released a new video on their efforts to transition to personalized, proficiency-based education. This is a delightful, inspiring, informative video on the interdisciplinary academies (innovation, ecology and international) at Troy Howard Middle School.
Also check out Maine’s new website Getting to Proficiency: Helping Maine Graduate Every Student Prepared. It’s designed to provide technical assistance for districts and schools that are getting started in proficiency-based education. It’s a model for other states who are starting to put together introductory materials for their districts. Be sure to check out the planning tool.
June 12, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Maine’s Center for Best Practices is building up a resource center that can help principals and educators understand the nuts and bolts of personalized, proficiency-based education. As I was reading the latest case study based on RSU 20 (highlighted here), I was poking around in the resource section and found a document on the Basics for Assessment for Learning. For those of you who are asking the question “What does competency education look like in the classroom?” this may be helpful – although if you are familiar with the work of Rick Stiggins, this won’t be anything new.
Essentially this describes the core practices of a proficiency-based classroom. You can see all the most important ingredients – clear, transparent targets; preparation for when learning isn’t taking place; strong emphasis on formative assessment; and empowered students.
Getting Started: Assessment for Learning
5 Keys to Quality Assessment
- Clear Purpose-Year 1
- Clear Targets-Year 1
- Sound Assessment Design-Year 2
- Good Communication-Year 2
- Student Involvement-Year 1 (more…)
June 10, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
Maine’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…)
May 29, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
The 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…)
May 22, 2013 by Chris Sturgis
As you may know, ACHIEVE has established a Competency-Based Pathways Work Group to examine how competency education may impact assessment, accountability, graduation requirements, and other state policies. Working with leaders from ten states, Cory Curl and Anne Bowles are providing tools, research, and analysis so that state policymakers can assess opportunities to support competency education.
Cory and Anne have just completed site visits to Maine, Kentucky, Illinois, and Colorado, and shared their findings during a webinar (inspiring me to think about sharing insights that way rather than the blog….Hmm, what do you think?) Given that others had visited as well, we shared our insights. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Danville, Kentucky has been getting attention for their project-based learning (See the show on PBS.) They see the ACT as a meaningful metric for determining college and career readiness and are moving toward improving ACT scores based on the college ready benchmarks. Their website explains, “Students are considered to be college-ready by meeting specific benchmark scores for each content-area tested by the ACT. EXPLORE and PLAN also provide benchmark scores that tell us whether or not students are on track to meet those important ACT readiness scores. Scores from these assessments are also included in a school and district’s overall score.” They are now in the process of beginning to weave competency education into their work, keeping a strong focus on equity. (more…)
April 25, 2013 by Gary Chapin
Systems consultant Judith Enright, in the Maine Center for Best Practice video on the Western Maine Education Collaborative, reminds us, “change happens one conversation at a time.” It’s a truism, of course, but in our work promoting competency-based learning, it has met its moment. Again and again – in the case study work I’ve done, or in my own experience talking to teachers, parents and education leaders – I find that the real work of cultural transformation occurs when one person talks to another honestly, and a relationship is forged. One conversation at a time.
Which means a lot of conversations. (more…)