Tag: making mastery work

Getting Your Feet Wet Reading List

May 29, 2013 by

tulum-374The 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…)

Let’s Get REAL

March 7, 2013 by

As we all know, there is nothing better than learning from other practitioners. So Boston Day and Evening Academy’s Responsive Education Alternatives Lab (REAL) is a great opportunity. Registration has just opened for the July 8-11 training in Boston.

The objectives of REAL include:

•    Learn the process for creating competencies that both align to the Common Core and meet the needs of your students;
•    Build benchmarks and competencies and scaffold them into a scope and sequence;
•    Work in content teams and by program;
•    Leave with a work plan that allows you to fully implement competency-based learning and assessment;
•    Become part of a national peer-learning network.

There are scholarships available to all registrants by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

If you want to know more about Boston Day and Evening Academy, check out Making Mastery Work, Aligning Competencies to Rigorous Standards for Off-track Youth: A Case Study of Boston Day and Evening Academy
and the wiki.

Teachers: The Engine of Change

February 22, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2012-11-21 at 9.22.12 AMI remember the first time I heard a principal explain, “We try to run our school through dialogue not memo. I work hard to make sure that very few things are communicated through memo.” Trained by the Industrial Areas Foundation in relational organizing, this principal was describing what it takes to operate within a distributed leadership model. I keep thinking about this as competency education expands because I’m not convinced we can make the transition to competency-based instruction by memo. The thing that keeps me up in the middle of the night is seeing competency education corrupted by a compliance-oriented, fixed mindset.

So you understand why I was fascinated by the section on leadership in Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education. I’ve read it a couple of times and it certainly resonates with what I’ve seen in my site visits around the country.

Hear how Grey-New Gloucester school district are engaging educators on the February 28th webinar.

The authors highlight the dynamics in which “Teacher leadership provided considerable momentum in the institutionalization of competency education practices.” (Interestingly in Section Five they highlight the leadership role of students as well.) The tuning process at Vergennes High School in Vermont in which teachers work together to clarify the benchmarks and what proficiency looks like is described in the report: (more…)

Whole District Reform – Oh My!

February 15, 2013 by
Bruce Beasley

Bruce Beasley

I’ve never seen anything like this in all my days of visiting schools and districts — whole district reform designed around a shared vision, similar practices, and such a high degree of transparency.  Of course we have a growing number of competency-based schools generating innovative practices, but my visits to Maine and Lindsay California have convinced me that the power of competency education is through aligning all the schools!

You’ll have a chance to hear about how a district is making this shift at our next webinar on February 26th at  3:30 – 4:30. Register here.

Superintendent Bruce Beasley and  Karen Caprio, Director of Curriculum and Staff Development from MSAD 15 or Gray-New Gloucester, Maine will be joining us to take us through their journey.

·      Why did MSAD15 decided to embrace a proficiency-based model?

·      What was the pre-implementation process?

·      What is the overall structure or approach you use in proficiency-based education?

·      What were the major issues that developed when you first began to implement proficiency-based education?

·      How does your approach vary across elementary, middle and high school?

·      What were the major issues that developed in implementation in high school?

If you want to do some background reading before the webinar, MSAD 15 is highlighted in Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education .

What Gets Measured Gets Done

January 24, 2013 by
Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 7.47.00 AM

from Making Mastery Work

Do you find the topic of assessments befuddling at times? I certainly do.  But I’ve dedicated myself to increasing my assessment literacy.  I’m making headway — in understanding all the issues involved in the different types of assessment, as well as developing an understanding what a system of assessments looks like in a competency-based world.  I’d love any recommendations for the very best resources on assessment (please leave recommendations in comments) as I’m starting to update the wiki page.  In the meantime here are three resources:

1)    The upcoming webinar on Creating a System of Assessments will feature two of the schools from Making Mastery Work – Casco Bay High School and Vergennes Unified.  We will be hearing how each school took a different approach to building out their capacity. You can register here.

2)    The Quality Performance Assessment Initiative at Center for Collaborative Education has a lot of helpful information. I’m reading their new guide right now, and it is helping me understand with greater depth why performance assessment is so important.  I’m realizing that it is just as important for teachers as student so that they can build the deeper teaching skills needed for deeper learning.

3)    In Paul Leather’s presentation to the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents last year, slide 30 shows how NH is thinking about a balanced system to assess student mastery along learning progressions. It made a lot of sense to me and helped me understand how the pieces fit together. (by the way, this presentation has a ton of useful slides).

You can find the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Proficiency-based Learning Task Force report here.

Productivity and Progress

January 21, 2013 by

from Making Mastery work

In the report Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education, the authors highlight four findings on information management systems used by the ten schools in the Proficiency-based Pathways Project:

  • Performance tracking is often the first priority for competency education system building. A simple system can go far, but there is still far to go.
  • Schools must often—still—straddle traditional and competency education systems.
  • Neither packaged courseware products, which have little flexibility, nor learning management systems that allow for maximum customization but offer no content, meet teacher needs for online curriculum delivery systems.
  • A human system needs to work in tandem with the performance data system

Most importantly they remind us that “even though a student or teacher can go online and track performance, people need to figure out how to use that powerful information effectively.”

The report goes on to give examples of how the schools are managing all the data on student learning that is generated, making sure that there is transparency so students see that data as well, while deploying resources to either retrofit time-based products or convert into time-based structures. (more…)

Question Making

January 19, 2013 by

from Making Mastery Work

There is something a bit magical about the transformation from time-based/A-F structures to competency-based education.  Over and over again students, teachers, parents and administrators discover and rediscover the magic of learning.

All of it starts with creating powerful questions. We all know that our learning is shaped by how we construct questions. In fact QED Foundation includes “Question Making” within their Curiosity and Wonder rubric, one of their essential habits of learning.

Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education helps us understand the questions behind competency-based schools. The authors capture the questions the ten schools use to drive their decision-making as well as the variety of design decisions that each school makes.  For example, the questions below guide the overall design of schools, focusing on the mastery and assessment system.

  •  What are the learning targets or competencies that best represent the skills and knowledge students are expected to master?
  •  What is the relationship between the program or school’s learning targets, the Common Core State Standards, and other relevant standards? (more…)

Upcoming Webinars

January 2, 2013 by

358NM_Competency_Report_Cover_Thumbnail_FPDrawing upon the knowledge in Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education, CompetencyWorks is hosting a series of six webinars that allow you to hear directly from your peers about how they are managing issues in school design and operations. You can sign up for the webinars now!

Thursday, January 31st  3:00p – 4:00p ET
Aligning Competencies with the Common Core with Beatriz Zapater and Alison Hramiec of Boston Day and Evening Academy and Rebecca Wolfe, Jobs for the Future. (Register)

Friday, February 1st  2:30p – 3:30p ET
Creating Systems of Assessments will highlight efforts at Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine and Vergennes Unified High School in Vermont in building capacity of their schools to provide meaningful assessments. (Register)

Tuesday, February 12th  3:30p – 4:30p ET
Student Experience: Pacing and Personalization will look at two different models, and how they are organizing resources to respond to the different needs of students. Joining the webinar are David Osborne, National Center for Education and the Economy, Andrew Skarzynski, Medical Professions and Teacher Preparation Academy, and Ephraim Weisstein, Schools for the Future. (Register) (more…)

Wading into the Water: Curriculum Design for Competency Education


from Making Mastery Work

The section on Curriculum and Instruction in Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education is chock full of insights into the dynamics of setting up and sustaining a competency-based school.

It’s not surprising (but still frustrating) to learn that the curriculum publishing industry “has yet to wade successfully into the waters of competency education[…]”  This means that teachers are “being stretched to develop and adapt curriculum and formative assessments[…]” So clearly when planning for competency education it’s worth it to take some time to see if you can borrow other schools’ curriculum and assessments as a starting point. It probably won’t meet your teachers’ preferences exactly, but it is often easier to adapt than to start from scratch.

So what makes curriculum for competency education different than traditional time-based curriculum?  Here are a few things that jump out of the report:

Design for Significant Scaffolding:  In a competency-based school, instruction is provided at the targeted levels for each student, not at the level they should supposedly be at because of their age or grade-level.  So the curriculum needs to be able to reflect that. As highlighted in an early blog post, this is an issue at any school serving low-income students or whose parents didn’t go to college, not just alternative schools. (more…)

The Learning Edge

December 17, 2012 by
Laura Shubilla

Laura Shubilla

CompetencyWorks is releasing it’s 2nd issue brief, The Learning Edge: Supporting Student Success in aCompetency-Based Learning Environment today.  We picked the fourth element of the working definition, “Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.  We learned from school visits that we often don’t think about the systems of supports until after the first year when all of a sudden we realize that there are a large group of students that didn’t reach proficiency in their courses.  They had to go back and do mid-course corrections that risked being add-on programming rather than an integrated school design. So we thought it would be a good idea to share what these schools are learning early on as competency education advances in communities across the country. (more…)

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