Tag: policy

Threshold Concept: Meeting Kids Where They Are

June 23, 2017 by

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This is the twentieth-first article in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

David Hood’s “Paradigm of One” describes how the current model focuses on “one teacher, teaching one subject, to one class of one age, using one [textbook], at one pace, in one classroom, for one hour,” and describes this rut in which the traditional system is stuck.1 In a time-based factory-model education system, students move through grade levels with varying amounts of learning with recorded grades of A-F without ensuring mastery. This all but guarantees that students will have significant gaps in core knowledge when they move from one grade level to the next. These disparities grow over time. When different levels of expectations are held for different students, the disparities grow larger, wider and deeper.

New personalized learning environments that are competency-based and student-centered help teachers identify the strengths of individual students and help meet kids where they are. They include assessments for learning with structured feedback to pupils, setting individual learning targets, planning to support individual needs, using data to dialog and diagnose each student’s learning needs every day.

In our current, traditional educational system, there is a significant focus on old pedagogical models for delivering a one-size-fits-all lesson of grade-level content each day. The retrograde effects of accountability systems are perhaps most apparent in the challenges educators face across the United States to truly try to meet students where they are.

The research on how students learn examines how important it is to meet a student within their zone of proximal development, allow for productive struggle and design progressions effectively where learning hinges on successful prior learning. A student’s zone of proximal development is defined as the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help.2 We know that when students are able to address prior gaps in their learning, they can accelerate their learning dramatically. As such, educators need to be able to scaffold instruction at the appropriate level as well as offering the supports and resources depending on student needs when delivering instruction. If our old pedagogical approaches force content to be traditionally delivered through one-size-fits-all approaches within age-based grade levels, we are not truly meeting students where they are. How do we advance equity in a system that approaches it with sameness in pedagogy? Is it fundamental to create equity through a foundation that is competency-based to ensure every student reaches mastery?

Meeting students where they are requires a true fundamental shift of the learning environment to become learner-centered and to be organized around mastery-based learning progressions across a continuum over time with opportunities for in-depth teaching and learning based on each student’s goals and needs and providing extended learning opportunities and supports with flexibility. And, most importantly, competency-based systems require knowing where every student is academically and holistically and then making sure each student receives the instruction and support they need to build confidence, lifelong learning habits, knowledge, skills and competencies to be successful.

Advancing competency-based systems means meeting students where they are every day and engaging in a cycle of supporting learning academically, socially, emotionally and holistically. There are major challenges when students have moved through a time-based system with decent grades to find out when entering a competency-based educational model that they are several grade levels behind. How do we address these issues in the traditional system that leave students with major gaps in knowledge, skills and abilities, and a lack of preparedness based on the system’s focus on drilling students forward with time-based (not learning-based) progressions? (more…)

Threshold Concept: Pedagogical Innovations Based on Learning Sciences

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This is the twentieth article in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

Learning models should be rooted in the research about how students learn best (the learning sciences), with any redesign putting student success at the center. One way to to design a system based on learning sciences research is to consider how educators are engaged in teaching as inquiry where “inquiry is the state of identifying student learning problems, hypothesizing on causes, investigating and testing causal links, and acting on the findings to improve outcomes,” according to Dr. Linda Bendikson.1

Using research and evidence as a foundation for ‘inquiry’ allows all levels of the system to engage in deep conversations around what is working in student learning and how educators are central to systemic improvement. It is important for educators to question how they are using an inquiry approach to improve culturally responsive teaching, as well.

In competency-based systems, we must engage in tough conversations around outdated pedagogical approaches. It is time to critically analyze how the current time-based models may be barriers to addressing learner needs. We should examine how we assess and determine whether our assessment strategies are consistent with the learning sciences research on how students learn best. In addition, we need to determine if our pedagogical approaches align with research on student motivation and meeting kids where they are at the appropriate level of readiness, whether the learning strategies employed are truly fit for purpose. We must ensure we are designing for equity using research on how students learn best, youth development theory, and evidence-based approaches. (more…)

Threshold Concept: Assessment Literacy

June 22, 2017 by

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This is the nineteenth article in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

“Student assessment is essential to measure the progress and performance of individual students, plan further steps for the improvement of teaching and learning, and share information with relevant stakeholders.” – OECD, 2013

Assessment literacy is important for practitioners but it is also important for policymakers and stakeholders throughout the system to understand the roles that different types of assessment play in student learning, how assessment and moderation are used to comparatively and fairly judge student mastery, and how the information generated by assessments can be used toward a cycle of continuous improvement in teaching and learning. The lack of assessment literacy across the system is a major blind spot. Thus, building significant capacity for assessment literacy is needed to advance new competency-based approaches and address tough issues in our current system.

An important concept in assessment today is related to the concept of comparability. Comparability is defined as the degree to which the results of assessments intended to measure the same learning targets produce the same or similar results. This involves documenting the reliability of judgments and not assuming that comparability is stable over time or invariant across multiple subgroups such as English language learners and special education students.1

There are unique circumstances in the U.S. education system that have driven the need for much greater degrees of comparability than is true in most other nations. When the federal government became involved in K-12 education with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, it was in direct response to deep inequities that remained even after school segregation. Because of the history of inequities in education offerings among student groups, concerns for equity are much greater than in many other countries, which drives, to a significant extent, the degree to which we need to take greater care that measures are fair and have common meaning among students, schools, and districts.2 This drives the prevalence of standardized tests in our country, causing the concept of assessment to often be conflated with the end-of-year, statewide, summative accountability tests.

Practitioners working deeply in competency-based learning models realize quickly how our K-12 education systems lack systems for calibrating the quality of student work, so we know that fundamentally there is significant consistency across schools and systems. As much of a systems challenge as this would appear across the states in the U.S. today, building professional educator capacity and policymakers’ understanding of assessment literacy is fundamental to shifting to personalized, competency-based systems at scale and focusing on equity.

A common misconception about assessment literacy is that it is only about how to interpret standardized test results. In contrast, assessment literacy is a much broader and more significant concept. The New Zealand Ministry of Education defines assessment literacy as:

“the possession of knowledge about the basic principles of sound assessment practice, including its terminology, the development and use of assessment methodologies and techniques, and familiarity with standards of quality in assessment. The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning, as both student and teacher respond to the information that it provides. Information is needed about what knowledge, understanding, or skills students need. By finding out what students currently know, understand, and can do, any gap between the two can be made apparent. Assessment is the process of gaining information about the gap, and learning is about attempts to reduce the gap.”

Personalized, competency based learning requires us to reorganize systems around doing what it takes to ensure every student is attaining mastery, rather than the ranking and sorting them into high achievers and low achievers that is created through variable A-F grading practices. Redesigned systems will need to build capacity for clear evaluation criteria to make valid and reliable comparisons of students’ progress against outcomes (commonly understood outcomes) using evidence and common rubrics.

Thus, progress isn’t measured by ranking and sorting kids against each other, or through grading “curves,” but instead for each student to measure their evidence against articulated, high-level, common expectations of success and with clear depictions for what success looks like. This process of developing clear expectations for common proficiency levels is a key part of a “calibration.” Calibration is a process that allows two or more things to be compared via a common standard (e.g., a weight in the physical sciences or commonly scored papers in an education system). The purpose of common performance tasks given to students by different schools and districts is to serve as a “calibration weight;” a way to compare the way one school or district scores students on the common task, with the way other schools and districts score those same students’ work. In order to use the common performance tasks as calibration weights, districts need to re-score other districts’ common performance tasks. Calibrating expectations as well as grading and scoring processes for learning goals, is very important in competency-based learning systems. Calibration may involve groups of educators who collaborate and develop consensus around rubrics for scoring student work. The calibration process makes scoring student work consistent and more aligned to the standards upon which rubrics and scoring criteria are based, as well as creating reflective processes focused on improving student learning.

In addition to calibration processes for consistently and accurately evaluating student work, assessment literacy also includes knowing which assessments are appropriate for what purpose (e.g., formative, progress monitoring, or summative). This idea of common expectations, and evaluating evidence against common standards and rubrics to build and evaluate comparability across schools and systems, requires careful  moderation of assessment practices across the system and perhaps across the state level. Professional development of educators to assess student evidence using calibration processes and developing rubrics with scales for evaluating performance tasks against criteria, is central to building the capacity needed in a competency-based education system. A competency-based learning system that offers personalized pathways for students to meet learning goals and learning targets must rely on multiple forms of evidence against common standards and expectations.   (more…)

Threshold Concept: Certifying Learning

June 21, 2017 by

This is the eighteenth article in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

How is it possible that our education system still graduates many students who lack basic reading and math skills when they hold a high school diploma? Unpacking what a diploma means and how we might re-envision this qualification is crucial to inform short-term policy conversations. The United States has made significant progress in improving high school graduation rates over the past decade. However, far less attention has been given to what the diploma signifies. Today, the only thing we can know for sure about a high school graduate in most U.S. school districts is that they have put in the required seat time in the requisite courses. When schools are passing students along and graduating them with major gaps in skills and knowledge, they are doing them a disservice. Sadly, we are not being honest with our high school graduates when we tell them that their diploma means they are ready for the next step. Students who require remediation in college courses are less likely to persist and graduate. Those who directly enter the workforce and lack the basic communication, problem solving, collaboration skills, and habits of learning, may face unemployment.  

How can the high school diploma align to a more comprehensive definition of success?

For the purpose of this series, let’s consider core concepts that may need to be unearthed as design flaws in our current system which may be missing from current debates. The term “curriculum redesign” is a common concept emerging in global education systems which is fundamentally asking the question, “what do our students need to know and be able to do” — especially with respect to a more holistic notion of student success for the future. Whether a community conversation or a state conversation, the idea of engaging communities and families in conversations around what is different, and around what students need to know and be able to do is increasingly important.

What do we need to think differently about a broader set of outcomes? These would include considerations for academic knowledge and skills, and competencies such as learning how to learn, lifelong learning which includes how to set goals personally, academically, professionally and attain them, learning important social emotional skills, empathy, compassion, cultural responsiveness and understanding. Lastly, it includes navigating an increasingly complex world with problem-solving, communication, and self efficacy skills to actively engage in civil society and democracy.

The fundamental question curriculum redesign attempts to answer What should students learn to succeed in the 21st century?” From Asia to Europe, from Australia and New Zealand, to Africa and India, and across the provinces of Canada there is a deep and complex debate taking hold in each community around what students need to know and be able to do. Conversations in policy in the United States around what students need to be prepared are happening around standards and graduation requirements; however, they are based on limited definitions of success centered around content proficiency. States can begin to engage districts and communities around what students need to master for true preparedness, and the implications for rethinking outdated accountability models. We need to think about redesigning education with new models of active, inquiry-based pedagogy to move forward with more holistic, learner-centered, competency-based learning models that help students gain the knowledge and skills they need to thrive after high school graduation. Once local communities have a shared understanding of what student success looks like, they can drive state-level understanding of curriculum redesign and the implications for new accountability models, new designs for assessments, new school models and building systems capacity (and better coherence). (more…)

Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education

June 20, 2017 by

This is the seventeenth blog in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

The purpose of Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education is to explore and reflect on the ideas that state policy needs to address in the long-term to support a transformation to competency-based education systems designed to ensure equity so all students can be truly ready for success. We will explore some ways that state policy could approach tackling threshold concepts as part of a long-game strategy.  

Our challenge is to catalyze the creation of a new, transformational theory of change for state policy to work toward in the long term. In doing so, we need to identify the blind spots – the things that we don’t even know that we don’t know – that are standing in the way of a system that is fit for purpose.

Our intent is to push current thinking beyond the assumptions that perpetuate root causes of inequity and the structural issues that perpetuate injustice. We are focusing on a strategy for policy to support systems change over the long haul toward competency-based systems that ensure mastery for all students and equity for all.  

There is a growing realization that the traditional system design for American K-12 education is failing to adequately prepare students for the future. It is time to build a system on the core principle that all students can succeed and be ready for the next step in their learning, the workforce, and life. (more…)

CompetencyWorks Releases New Reports on Key Issues in Competency Education

June 7, 2017 by

In advance of the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, CompetencyWorks released new draft reports exploring key issues challenging the field of competency education:

Competency education is expanding nationally – sometimes led by educators at the school and district level, and sometimes introduced by leadership at the state level – to effect change in the purpose of education from sorting students to ensuring that students learn to the levels of college and career readiness. This is an enormous leap with enormous consequences.

To make sure that we were understanding as many of these consequences as possible, CompetencyWorks designed a participatory process leading up to the Summit where practitioners could contribute their knowledge through Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs). Through the TAG process, organizations, schools, and leaders engaged in deep conversations around these issues and shared their collective insights, which we incorporated into these reports. Thank you to the 100+ people who participated in the Technical Advisory Groups to develop the ideas in the paper.  

During the Summit, attendees will discuss these key issues, collaborate on the field’s challenges, and brainstorm solutions and best practices to advance K-12 competency-based education, using these reports to guide discussions. After the Summit, we will revise these reports based on the attendees’ input.

If you didn’t get a chance to participate in a TAG and would like to chime in, please leave comments either here or in one of the blogs based on the papers. It is just as helpful to us at this point to know what you find really helpful or powerful as it is to know what isn’t or what is missing.

Four Emerging Issues in Competency Education

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What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

April 28, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicNews

State Policy Updates

Community and Parent Engagement

  • “Research suggests that when schools partner with and engage parents to understand and stay involved in their child’s learning experiences, the parents are more likely to support district innovation, and students tend to have better academic and social outcomes.” Learn more about why engaging parents matters via Students at the Center Hub.
  • Iowa’s Marshalltown School Board is hosting a work session to focus on competency-based grading and encouraging the public to attend, learn, and provide feedback.

Student Voice

Personalized Learning

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The Every Student Succeeds Act: A Catalyst for Competency Education at Scale?

January 4, 2017 by
Susan Patrick

Susan Patrick

This essay by Susan Patrick and Maria Worthen was featured in the report Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

New England’s competency education journey is the story of how stakeholders, coming together to create a shared vision for student success, can move the needle on state – and ultimately federal – policy.

When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed in December 2015, it reflected the lessons learned and the advocacy of educators, superintendents, state leaders, and congressional representatives from New England to make room for systems that align to competency-based education. Congressional staff looked to states like New Hampshire to ensure that they could continue to implement innovative performance assessments for accountability purposes that also support learning.

The new flexibilities in ESSA did not appear out of thin air. They are the result of years of hard work by states who are getting results from competency-based education, but were unable to fully realize their vision due to the limitations of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The New England states featured in Beyond the Tipping Point: Insights in Advancing Competency Education in New England  are well-positioned to take advantage of ESSA’s opportunities to deepen their efforts in shifting to personalized, competency-based education.

What Are ESSA’s Opportunities for States?

recommended-reading-on-state-policyESSA, the new K-12 federal education law, shifts significant power back to states, with increased flexibility to rethink accountability, redesign systems of assessments, and modernize educator development. It provides a new opportunity for states to redefine what success means for students, beyond a single test score, and to align systems around this vision. It is now possible to design a more student-centered education system in which assessment supports learning and accountability enables data-rich, continuously-improving personalized learning environments in which students advance upon mastery. In this new era, states also have the opportunity to shape the future of the teacher workforce, building the capacity to take on the new roles required in a competency-based system.

Rethinking Accountability

Under ESSA, state accountability systems will now be required to include at least four indicators, providing a historic opportunity for states to rethink the definition of student success. These indicators include:

  • Grade-level proficiency;
  • English language proficiency;
  • Graduation rates; and
  • An indicator of school quality selected by the state, which could include student and teacher engagement, school climate, and non-cognitive skills.

States may include any other indicators beyond these four in their accountability system; however, all indicators must be disaggregated by student subgroup, and the first three indicators listed above must carry the greatest weight in identifying schools for improvement. States must identify at least the bottom five percent of the lowest performing schools in the state for comprehensive improvement, and the schools with the greatest achievement gaps for targeted improvement of subgroup performance. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

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What's NewUpcoming Events

CompetencyWorks is hosting a Leadership webinar on advancing competency education in New England on Wednesday, January 11 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET. Learn more and register.

New York City’s Mastery Collaborative is hosting upcoming Living Lab online sessions. Register here.

  • Wednesday, January 4, 4:00 p.m. ET: KAPPA International High School—Messaging Mastery with Language and Visuals
  • Thursday, January 5, 4:00 p.m. ET: Harvest Collegiate High School—Building a School-Wide Philosophy of Mastery

Reports

Podcasts

  • This podcast by Cortney Belolan and Matt Shea discusses the “what” and “why” of competency education, and the “how” of implementation.
  • Getting Smart released a podcast featuring students from the iNACOL Symposium’s student panel, sharing their thoughts on transforming K-12 education.

School Models

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Should Instructional Choice Trump School Choice?

January 3, 2017 by

typingThis post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on November 23, 2016.

Today, President-elect Donald Trump appointed school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as our next secretary of education. Given DeVos’s decades support for charter schools and tax-credit scholarships, most are speculating that this signals Trump’s commitment to follow through on his promise to commit over $20 billion to expanding charter schools across the country.

Looking ahead, Trump and DeVos would be wise to embrace an expanding notion of educational choice. Indeed, in the 21st century, a choice agenda should focus on optimizing instructional choices, not just school choices. A next generation vision of choice should be about schools—of the district, charter, or private varietal—providing numerous and flexible learning pathways tailored to each of their students. In the long run, we believe that a robust supply of personalized instructional options within schools may be the most potent driver of combatting stubborn achievement gaps and graduating more students college and career ready.

Historically, the quality and experiences that a given school could offer were fairly uniform within that school. All students sat in the same rows, with the same educators, receiving the same lectures, reading the same materials, and taking the same tests. School was designed like a factory assembly line, providing all students with the same—regardless of whether that particular version of “same” was a good fit. As decades of research have shown, this led to variable and often unequal learning outcomes among different students, both within and between schools. But because of the manner in which most school districts operated, if a school model proved ill-suited to a student or his family and couldn’t pay out of pocket for another option, then he was essentially out of luck.

School choice regimes, in part, emerged as an answer to that embedded constraint of our factory model education system. (more…)

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