Tag: state policy

A Tale of Two States

April 9, 2014 by

taleoftwostates-mapI had a quick conversation with Sal Khan last month that really highlighted the importance of the questions, What do we think competency is? and How do we measure it?

The different ways we think about competency and what we want for our students is one of the underlying issues causing confusion in the field. It also has powerful implications for whether we are going to help students develop higher order/deeper learning skills.

If you think that competency education is completing a course of study on adaptive software (FYI – this doesn’t meet the field’s working definition) or getting a certain score on the SAT, you will make different design choices than if you think competency is being able to apply skills in new contexts.  Another way to think about this is using the knowledge taxonomies: If you think competency is at Level 2 Comprehension, the way you design your schools is really different than if you set it in general at Level 3 Analysis or Level 4 Knowledge Utilization. So if we are talking about proficiency-based diplomas and competency-based credits — How do we know when a student is competent?

This issue jumped out when I saw that New Mexico is implementing an Alternative Demonstration of Competency for students who can’t pass the high school exit exam. New Mexico is on a slow road (think snail) to personalized, blended, and competency education, so I was curious to know how the State was thinking about competency (click here for overview of policies).  Usually, I wouldn’t refer to exit exams within the realm of competency education because they have nothing to do with transparency of learning progressions, empowering students to own their own education, providing adequate supports and time, and making sure students reach proficiency each step of the way. My personal analysis is that high school graduation exit exams are policy hammers used by state government to get schools to do better by kids, but in fact, they knock kids down as they try to enter adulthood without a diploma.  In reading the details of the Alternative Demonstration of Competency, however, it sounded so much like Colorado’s new proficiency-based diploma policy and its emphasis on cut scores that I thought it best to highlight it here. Perhaps New Mexico is backing its way into competency education? (more…)

More On Implementation in Maine

March 14, 2014 by

ME dept of edThanks to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Maine Department of Education was able to conduct a number of case studies on district implementation. The studies are great reading and raise a number of issues about principal leadership, community engagement, continuous improvement, and implementation planning. However, it’s hard to find the hour or so it takes to nestle in with each of the case studies and do the necessary reflection needed to learn from them.

So that’s why its so great that the Maine DOE Center for Best Practices did the work for us with the Threads of Implementation: A Thematic Review of Six Case Studies of Maine School Districts Implementing Proficiency-Based Systems.

It will only take you 15 minutes or so to read this summary, which includes sections on vision and framework, policy, leadership, teacher engagement, finance and professional development, technology, pacing, communications, and cultural change. The review is even more valuable as a discussion tool for district teams thinking about converting to competency education. Use each of the segments to help you devise your strategies and implementation plan, learning from the successes and stumbles of these districts.


Thanks to the state leadership in Maine – they are walking the walk when it comes to creating a learning culture.


Understanding the Needs of Students: A Report on Maine’s Implementation

March 10, 2014 by
maine-Working conceptual model of a proficiency-based diploma system

Working conceptual model of a proficiency-based diploma system, from Implementation of a Proficiency‐Based Diploma System

Although no research or evaluation can ever capture all the dynamics of change, I found the report  Implementation of a Proficiency‐Based Diploma System in Maine: Phase II – District Level Analysis a fascinating read and incredibly affirming that we are going in the right direction. How often do you read, “a common theme clear in every district in this study was that the educators and educational leaders involved in this work were thinking deeply about ways to embrace this reform in a manner that benefitted every student. There was a great deal of hard work being done in schools and school districts to understand the needs of students, develop a plan to implement this legislative policy with fidelity, and work collaboratively with all stakeholders to improve the educational experiences of Maine’s children.” A reform in which educators are trying to understand the needs of students – that’s the heart of personalization!

The research team identified the following benefits of the personalized, proficiency-based approach being implemented in Maine:

• Improved student engagement

• Continued development of robust intervention systems for struggling students

• Collaborative professional work to develop common standards, align curriculum, and create assessments

• Collective and transparent monitoring of student progress and needs by educators, administrators and families. (more…)

Vermont Breakaway on Proficiency-based Policy

January 20, 2014 by
John Fischer, Deputy Commissioner, VT Agency of Education

John Fischer, Deputy Commissioner, VT Agency of Education

David Ruff from the Great Schools Partnership forwarded me Vermont’s Education Quality Standards or Rule 2000 recently adopted by the Board of Education. He had said that Vermont was barreling forward and he was right.

Here are a few of the highlights of the policy:

1) Definition:  This is one of the best policy definitions of proficiency-based or competency education I’ve seen. I would probably have used “unit” instead of lesson because we all know sometimes if you just keep moving forward while you are learning something, it just clicks! But that’s in the weeds.

Proficiency-based learning” and “proficiency-based graduation” refers to systems of instruction, assessment, grading and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn before they progress to the next lesson, get promoted to the next grade level, or receive a diploma.

2) Graduation Requirements: Vermont makes it clear that graduation is based on proficiency.

A student meets the requirements for graduation when the student demonstrates evidence of proficiency in the curriculum outlined in 2120.5, and completion of any other requirements specified by the local board of the school attended by the student.

Later on it goes into more detail stating that credits must be proficiency-based and leaving room for schools to move to an entirely proficiency-based structure if they desire.  (more…)

Watch Out for Wyoming

January 10, 2014 by
Richard Crandall

Richard Crandall

Competency education is likely to take root in Wyoming over the next few years. The new Director at the Wyoming Department of Education, Richard Crandall, is a fan of competency education. Crandall worked as a state senator in Arizona to get legislation passed as part of the Move on When Ready initiative, which introduced the Grand Canyon Diploma.  A recent article in the Caspar Star Tribune reports that “Crandall said that by 2015 and 2016 ‘you will see a few of these national models popping up’ in the state.”

Given Crandall’s experience in Arizona it’s likely we will see Wyoming consider the Excellence for All model upon which the Grand Canyon Diploma is based. Arizona is one of the states participating in the National Center for Education and the Economy’s Excellence for All (EfA) initiatives.  EfA promotes aligned instruction and examination that allows students to advance to higher-level work once they pass the exams.  Schools organize around a lower and upper division, each with a selected instructional system.  (more…)

New Hampshire Rocks Competency Education Policy

November 25, 2013 by
Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 9.30.56 AM

Paul Leather
Deputy Commissioner of Education

There just isn’t any other way to say it. The proposal of minimum standards for competency-based schools approved by the New Hampshire Board of Education is so thoughtful, so detailed, so clear – it just rocks! According to the Keene Sentinel the Board unanimously approved the proposal. Next stop: a joint legislative committee with the Board adopting the standards in January.

For anyone involved with state policy, it’s worth taking the time to read the entire thing to see how New Hampshire is reworking its core policy around personalization and a competency-based diploma. In the meantime here are some of the highlights of the policy. (Please forgive me if I misinterpreted any of the policies, and let me know so I can correct it here.)

Definitions As always, policymakers have to clarify what language means. Here are just a few of the terms clarified at the beginning of the policy. The phrase acknowledgement of achievement is used when a student has demonstrated achievement of district competencies and/or graduation competencies. It plays an important role in allowing students to be recognized for what they have learned, wherever it might take place.  Competencies means student learning targets that represent key content-specific concepts, skills, and knowledge applied within or across content domains. Mastery means a high level of demonstrated proficiency with regard to a competency; Personalized learning means a process that connects learning with learner’s interests, talents, passions, and aspirations, including actively participating in the design and implementation of their learning. Note that student voice and choice is explicit.

Local Policy for Personalization: As in most states, schools are under local control. State policy can outline expectations but it is up to local schools boards to develop the full policies.  This policy outlining minimum standards sets the expectation that the local school board shall adopt and implement written policies and procedures no later than July 1, 2015 relative to 1) meeting the instructional needs of each individual student and 2) providing alternative means of demonstrating achievement of identified graduation competencies toward the awarding of a credit for a high school diploma or equivalent such as extended learning opportunities, career and technical education courses, and distance education.  In other words, district policies have to enable students to get the support they need and be able to learn anytime, anywhere. (more…)

Colleges commit to accepting proficiency-based diploma

November 15, 2013 by

270px-Maine_in_United_States.svgThe Maine Department of Education posted the following update on how colleges are responding to a proficiency-based diploma.  The Great Schools Partnership with a cadre of high schools and colleges is also making substantial progress on designing a proficiency-based diploma. Stay tuned for more! 

A frequently asked question relating to Maine’s move to a proficiency-based diploma by 2018 is “Will colleges and universities accept proficiency-based transcripts?”

When initially considering the proficiency-based diploma bill, the Legislature’s Education Committee specifically heard testimony from representatives of higher education on this question and were satisfied enough that they voted unanimously to recommend passage.

Since then, many districts have also done their own research to satisfy themselves that colleges and universities will indeed accept such transcripts.

Additionally, the New England Secondary Schools Consortium (of which Maine is a partner) recently asked colleges and universities in member states to sign a pledge endorsing proficiency-based practices and assuring that no applicant is disadvantaged by coming from a school that uses standards-based reporting and transcripts. To date, 48 colleges and universities have signed the pledge, and that number continues to grow.

Recent Maine high school graduates are proof positive of that commitment from higher education. For example, the high schools of RSU 2 graduated their second class of seniors with a proficiency-based diploma last year and reports that they now have students attending many of Maine’s leading schools including the University of Maine, Bowdoin, Bates, UMaine at Farmington, Husson University and all of the community colleges. Additionally, their graduates are also attending colleges and universities throughout the country, including Hofstra University (NY), Boston College, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Columbia College of Chicago, Keene State University (NJ), Rochester Institute of Technology, Eastern University (PA), Portland State University (OR), Arizona State University, University of Rochester, Emerson College (MA), Wheaton College (MA), Wentworth Institute of Technology (MA), Roanoke College (VA), Mt. Holyoke College (MA) and others.

For more information about Maine’s efforts to graduate every student prepared and the transition to a proficiency-based diploma, visit www.maine.gov/doe/proficiency.


Recommended Reading: Preliminary Implementation of Maine’s Proficiency-based Diploma

August 14, 2013 by

maineInterested 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.

Only Ten States Require Districts to Use Time-based Credit

August 6, 2013 by

Taylor White

Yep, only 10. That’s what the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and learning found out in their scan of state policies regarding credits as part of their reevaluation of the Carnegie Unit’s role in education. Taylor White from CFAT writes: Though many other states have offered such flexibility for more than a decade, the recent trend is clear: Mandatory use of seat-time is becoming a thing of the past.

After reviewing all 50 states and DC, CFAT organized states into five categories (below). You can find out where your state is by downloading the full report here.

  • Category 1) Carnegie Unit abolished as primary measure of student learning. Credits must be awarded based on students’ mastery of content and skills rather than on seat-time. (1 state)
  • Category 2) Districts define credits and may use seat-time OR another measure (e.g. proficiency or competency) to award credit in core courses. (29 states)
  • Category 3) Districts may apply for special-status or waivers to use measures other than seat-time to award credit for core courses. (4 states)
  • Category 4) Districts do not have any flexibility and must use time-based credits. (11 states)
  • Category 5) Districts have some flexibility, but it is limited to special circumstances, such as credit-recovery programs or out-of-school learning, and may require approval from the state. (6 states)

Lingering Questions #3: Habits of Mind (Non-academic Factors)

August 2, 2013 by
Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 11.53.09 AM

Personal management umbrella?

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 the 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 last of three important questions are below:

There is growing consensus that schools should recognize not only academic content mastery, but the additional knowledge and skills (e.g. critical thinking, communication, social and emotional, self regulation, self advocacy, etc.) required to become college and career ready.  What role can a competency-based system play in helping students develop these skills? Additionally, how have states/districts begun to develop competency-based assessments and what do they look like?

Jennifer Davis, Director,  Innovation Lab Network, CCSSO (responding in place of Carissa Miller) – Some states, such as Maine, Oregon, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin have defined the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they require of students to include these cross-curricular skills, and have embedded them into their state-defined competencies and/or diploma criteria.   Many states are exploring how both formative and summative assessments in a competency-based system can play a role in ensuring students develop these skills.  Various models exist, ranging from stand-alone assessments (for example, EPIC’s CampusReady and ThinkReady, MSLQ, QISA MyVoice, ETS Personal Potential Index, ACT ENGAGE, the Grit Scale, INCLASS, and so on) to integrated assessments (for example, PISA for schools), to performance-based assessments.  States in CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network are beginning work intended to better understand the learning progressions that describe students’ progress through these skills and dispositions, and to design performance-based assessments that capture them.  The Center for Collaborative Education is taking on similar work as well. (more…)

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