Tag: standards/competency frameworks

New Emerson: Learning the Effective Practices of the Learner-Centered Classroom

March 9, 2017 by

New Emerson 1This article is the ninth in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Can performance-based learning help an award-winning school get even better?

New Emerson Elementary, a lottery-based magnet school in District 51 in Colorado, was developed in the early 1990s. The original design of a very strong focus on literacy has now expanded to include science as well with a partnership with John McConnell Math and Science Center.

In 2015, the teachers voted to become one of the seven demonstration schools to begin the process of transformation to a personalized, performance-based system. The reason: To have learners take responsibility for their learning and to move away from the time-bound aspect of all learners learning at the same rate and the same time. The school has engaged parents and students in shaping a shared vision to guide their school: Together, through the building of positive relationships, our community strives to create self-directed, interdependent, empathic, and creative thinkers with growth mindset. (more…)

What Does it REALLY Mean to Do Standards-Based Grading? (Part 2)

June 28, 2016 by
SBG

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Read Part 1 of what it means to do standards-based grading here

There is so much written about grading that I’m hesitant to offer my thoughts on what is needed to do it well. And this article is certainly not a “how to” step-by-step plan on implementing standards-based grading. I’m compelled to write about it because I keep hearing about districts trying to use grading changes as the entry point to competency education. If folks are going to do that, then this blog might be helpful. Just be mindful–most in the field will recommend that you do not lead with grading. (Please take the time to check out Part 1, where I do my best to differentiate standards-referenced, standards-based, and competency-based grading.)

What does it really require to implement standards-based grading?

From what I can tell based on my conversations with competency-based schools across the country, the following are the major activities, structures, and practices that need to be in place before you introduce new grading policies and practices.

#1 Provide Additional Time and Instruction to Support Students Who are Not Yet Proficient

If you are going to commit to getting students to proficiency on all the standards for a grade level or a performance level within a course or a school year, you are going to have to be prepared for those students who are going to be “not yet proficient.” One piece of that is to have ways to provide “timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.” (That’s the fourth element of the working definition for competency-based education.)

Many schools in their first year of conversion expect after school or lunch time to suffice for teachers to be able to work with students. However, they quickly figure out that isn’t going to work and begin scheduling for Flex Hours each day. Noble High School has taken this the farthest with fine-tuned operations and multiple opportunities to make sure students are getting exactly the help they need every week. From what I can tell, it is impossible to do standards-based grading if you don’t have really strong mechanisms for providing additional instruction for students who are not yet proficient. (See The Learning Edge: Supporting Student Success in a Competency-Based Learning Environment.) (more…)

What Does it REALLY Mean to Do Standards-Based Grading? (Part 1)

June 27, 2016 by

2016-04-13 11.11.40I read a lot of clips about how districts are advancing competency education around the country, and it always seems to me that when there are any negative reactions they are in response to new grading practices, usually referred to as standards-based grading. It strikes me that negative reactions pop up when districts either use grading as an entry point (which puts all the focus on the grading and not on why competency education is valuable) or they’ve put some of the pieces of standards-based grading in place but not the entire framework necessary to make it more trustworthy than traditional grading.

How does a district implement high quality standards-based grading, and when is the right time? I’ll do the best I can to synthesize what I’ve been learning from districts, but please do not hesitate to disagree or add more nuance to these thoughts.

Before I dive deep, allow me to once more review the three types of grading systems using standards (at least that I know about): standards-referenced, standards-based, and an emerging concept of competency-based.

What is the difference between standards-referenced and standards-based grading?

In his book, Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading, Robert J. Marzano explains the difference. “In a standards-based system, a student does not move to the next level until he or she can demonstrate competence at the current level. In a standards-referenced system, a student’s status is reported (or referenced) relative to the performance standard for each area of knowledge and skill on the report card; however, even if the student does not meet the performance standard for each topic, he or she moves to the next level. Thus, the vast majority of schools and districts that claim to have standards-based systems in fact have standards-referenced systems.”

(more…)

How Misconceptions About Competency Education Could Undermine Equity

June 13, 2016 by

EducationFor several years, the fields of personalized learning, competency-based education, and blended learning were having definitional issues with the terms often being used either synonymously or to describe very discrete practices that neglected to capture the overall concepts in each. iNACOL and its project CompetencyWorks have taken leadership in helping the field understand these concepts as different and relational to build knowledge in communicating these topics.

This understanding of terms and what they mean might seem minor, but has significant implications on outcomes – it affects both the quality of personalized learning models and how to approach and address systemic reforms toward competency-based education systems. How we understand these terms and the intersection between them could make the difference between creating a system that produces equity and one that continues to have zip code and color of skin determine educational achievement.

By generating a universal lexicon and addressing misconceptions and misunderstandings that arise, we can help drive the field toward blended learning and competency education with greater ease.

Miscommunications such as the ones described below can derail important conversations and add to the complexity of where blended learning and competency education overlap. They can also lead to poor implementation, lower achievement, and inequitable practices. (more…)

Red Bank Elementary: Five Big Takeaways

February 2, 2016 by

2015-11-16 08.46.17This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the first in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. Follow along with: #2 teaching students instead of standards, #3 teacher perspectives, #4 student perspectives, and #5 parent perspectives.

Amazing that a five-hour site visit at Red Bank Elementary School with Principal Marie Watson, her staff, and the students could produce so many big takeaways.

Teaching Students, Not Standards: At one point, Watson referred to the difference between standards-based and competency-based education. I asked her how she differentiated these two phrases, which are often used interchangeably. Her insight was so powerful that I’m now embracing it myself. She said that in standards-based systems, the schools teach based on the grade level. The focus is on the standards. Competency-based is about teaching students, starting where they are in their own development and academic level and then ensuring they reach proficiency on the standards. You start with the students. (This is the concept that most of the vendors of grading and tracking systems can’t seem to get their heads wrapped around. They keep creating systems based around the standards in a grade level or course.)

Intentional Blending: There is a lot of talk about models in the world of blended learning, but much less about pedagogy and how the instructional delivery choices reinforce it (or not). The team at Red Bank starts with pedagogy and building a shared understanding of how students learn as well as the implications for teaching before they make choices about products and apps. They think about whether products will support the development of higher order skills (they use the 4 Cs – creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking – as the criteria for making purchasing choices).

Competency Education for the Littlest Ones: Red Bank has one kindergarten class serving four-year-olds and one serving five-year-olds. Watson and the kindergarten teachers helped me to think about how important it is to understand the developmental stages of children and their brain development, especially when it is impacted by poverty. Watson explained, “Some students haven’t had exposure to colors or how to write their name. Some have rarely had books read to them. The idea of letters is totally new to them. It is their developmental stage that shapes whether they take off once they become exposed to new ideas and new skills, or whether they are going to take more time to build these early foundational skills. We have to pay attention to how their memory is developing as well as their motor skills. Some students may take three or four years to reach the level of development they need to become strong readers and learn their numbers with enough fluency that they can thrive in mathematics. We often see them take off and catch up at this point.”

This makes me wonder: Would it be useful to make the interplay between development and standards more explicit for teachers and parents so personalized learning trajectories could be created? If a student’s brain hasn’t developed enough to memorize 1-100, why would we expect them to do so? Wouldn’t it be more valuable to help them strengthen their skills at memorization first? Or perhaps what we need are bands or benchmarks rather than grade-level standards? (more…)

RSU2: Moving Beyond Grade-Driven Learning

January 11, 2016 by

Learning ChildThis post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. This is the third post on my conversations at RSU2 in Maine. The first post is on lessons learned and the second is a look at Richmond Middle and High School

One of the topics that came up over and over again during my conversation with the RSU2 team is how to address the needs of students who aren’t at grade level. It’s a huge topic wherever I go because the majority of districts converting to competency education are still trying to teach students grade-level standards even when they know the students don’t have prerequisite knowledge. Yes, there is much more effort to provide additional support, there is lots of scaffolding, and they are working hard to create elective courses in high schools to build foundational knowledge. But the problem seems to be that we can’t shake off the idea that we should be teaching students the standards at their grade level rather than personalizing education so they have the opportunity to build the foundational skills (and fluency) they will need to be successful.

Meeting Students Where They Are

In our conversations, RSU2 leaders described how converting to measurement topics and learning targets has been very effective in helping students who have the prerequisite knowledge to learn the skills. However, in hindsight, they found that it would have been wiser to build the capacity to use the system of topics and targets to support students where they were in their own learning progression. Steve Lavoie, Principal of Richmond Middle and High School, explained, “Ideally, we would have shifted our perspectives to look at the continuum of learning rather than continue to have measurable learning objectives structured within grade bands. Everyone has some holes in their learning, even the valedictorian, but when students do not have prerequisite skills or have significant gaps in their learning, it creates tremendous pressure on the teachers and the students. We need to know where are the kids on our continuum of learning.”

One person used the example of the “fraction chasm” where more than 50 percent of the fourth and fifth grade math standards are about fractions. In sixth grade, working with fractions continues as students learn to apply them. When students start to tackle algebra, they will once again be drawing on their understanding of fractions. If students aren’t fluent in fractions, it is going to impact their learning into secondary school. Yet, the traditional practice of teaching a grade-level curriculum prevails.

This is super important – if we always teach at grade level standards, how do we find out where students really are on their learning progression? If we don’t know what they know and don’t know, how do we help them learn it? Most of the standards-based grading information systems don’t help us with this – they tell us how students are progressing in the standards at the grade level or in the course but not where students are, inform us about what skills they have (and don’t have), and help schools plan how to make sure students have the prerequisite skills. So a question for all districts converting to proficiency-based learning is, “How will you know what skills students have and how will you track their progress?”

John Armentrout, Director of Information Technology, explained, “There are many implications to consider in how a school creates the architecture of the measurement topics and learning targets. One of the things to think about is how it will support students who do not have the foundational knowledge for the age-based curriculum.”

So the question now becomes, What would this look like? (more…)

Deer Island-Stonington High School: Breathing Life into the Standards

December 9, 2015 by
DISHS2

Image from the DISHS Website

This post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. This is the second of a three-part look at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. Start with the first post on Turning Around the Culture.

West led the high school in a process that began to reorganize the school around four themes: multiple pathways, personalization, proficiency-based learning, and community-based education. He explained, “We didn’t want to be a diploma factory to just pass out diplomas. We wanted kids to be prepared. The biggest obstacle was lack of student engagement. Kids often go through the motion of doing what is expected but they aren’t invested in their own learning. If we could engage students, they would be more open to meeting the higher academic expectations.” (more…)

Noble High School: Creating Timely, Differentiated Supports

December 2, 2015 by

NobleThis post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine. You can also learn about Biddeford School District and Casco Bay High School.

If we gave out awards at CompetencyWorks, I’d give Noble High School an award for the fourth element of the CompetencyWorks definition of competency education: Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs. (more…)

Biddeford School District: Never Unpack Alone

October 27, 2015 by

Maine Road TripThis post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine.

Dan Joseph, Reinventing Schools Coalition/Marzano Research Lab, suggested I visit with Jeremy Ray, Superintendent of Biddeford School Department, to learn about how they were progressing toward proficiency-based diplomas. The conversation included Margaret Pitts, Principal, Biddeford Primary School; Lindsey Nadeau, Early Childhood Coordinator, JFK Memorial School (kindergarten); Kyle Keenan, Principal, Biddeford Middle School; Mary Bellavance, Instructional Coach at the Middle School and a contributor to CompetencyWorks; Deb Kenney, Principal, Biddeford Intermediate School ; and Paulette Bonneau, Principal, Biddeford Regional Center of Technology. Thanks so much to all of you!

Biddeford is a small district serving a town of 21,000. The student enrollment is approximately 2,600 with about 60 percent FRL. Ray described that although they aspire to higher student achievement, “those kids who go to college tend to stay.” Thus, driving their focus is a strong emphasis on improving achievement and expanding the numbers of students going to college. Already there are signs they are moving in the right direction – Pitts mentioned that the proficiency-based instruction along with strong RTI has resulted in a decrease of third graders who will need intervention next year. Biddeford is already seeing signs of an upward trajectory.

Ramping Up

Ray explained they didn’t jump to the RISC model. He believes that change starts with people. He wanted to make sure that principals would trust the RISC staff. Dan Joseph joined two leadership team meetings before a contract with RISC was established and he began working with teachers.

Biddeford made a decision to focus the community engagement at the school level rather than district. It was a strategic choice for Biddeford. The state policy requires districts to create proficiency-based diplomas, so there is less demand for community-wide engagement to move forward. Yet, community engagement is important for building a shared vision and embracing the new values. Given that Maine takes local control very seriously, it made sense to use an even more decentralized strategy. Keenan explained that they started with having schools engage their parent communities about what is best for our kids.

Ray also believes that “the quickest thing to get a thing killed is to name it.” With the support of the Biddeford School Board, he made sure the message was clear that proficiency-based learning is not an initiative or a fad. This is based on what is best for children.

Starting with K-8

It made sense for Biddeford to start with K-8, as it was already comfortable with standards-based education. Furthermore, high schools add a layer of complexity to change: Maine state policy starts the clock ticking when a student enters ninth grade by only calculating a four-year graduation cohort and counting students who need a fifth year as a drop-out. Thus, they are often the most intransigent to change. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

July 16, 2015 by

CompetencyWorks in the News


Steps to Help Schools Transform to Competency-Based Learning
, a Mind/Shift article by Katrina Schwartz, features Chris Sturgis and CompetencyWorks’ recent report: Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders. A panel of district leaders implementing competency education presented a webinar on this report; you can find the archived webinar here.Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 7.22.41 AM

School Designs

Competency Education Policy

  • States considering policies to support competency-based education are on the rise, according to a recent iNACOL blog post. Policy levers that support competency education and personalized learning include innovation zones, school finance changes, planning grants, new assessment frameworks, and pilot programs. Read more here. (more…)
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