September 24, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
What is competency education? The communication challenge has been bigger than I certainly ever anticipated.
We’ve had a hard time creating powerful elevator speeches. I’ve resorted to using my arms a lot. I start with a left to right motion with both arms as I say; “Our traditional system is based on moving students through school and a curriculum regardless if they learned it. Kids are passed along with C’s and D’s totally unprepared for their next course.” Then curving my arms, opening them wide, I bring them together into a tight circle; “Competency education is about redesigning schools so that they have the flexibility to respond to students, bringing together the instructional support so that they are successful. Students and parents are confident that students are learning every step of the way. Student move on after demonstrating they have mastered the material.” It works as an opening but then I’m left to explain common frameworks and assessments, tempo and pacing, anytime/anywhere, deeper learning and performance assessments.
To help us leap over the communication challenge, CompetencyWorks has prepared three sets of introductory materials that you can use as handouts with parents, community leaders, and policymakers.
We’ve formatted them two ways. The pdf versions above can be easily sent by email or used for resources on your webpage. We have also put the print versions on the Briefing Papers page if you want to print out really nice copies as handouts.
Please feel free to use the text as much as you want as we’ve licensed this under Creative Commons. The goal is to make it easier for you to help people understand competency education.
If you have suggestions for how to effectively communicate what competency education is please do share with us or send us links to your work. We know that we haven’t cracked this challenge yet.
Before you leave this page, could you do a bit of tweeting so that your network knows about the materials? Thanks!
August 25, 2014 by Paul Leather
On Monday August 11, 2014, leaders from our four NH PACE-implementing school districts gathered, along with our partners, Dan French and staff from the Center for Collaborative Education and Scott Marion of the Center for Assessment. PACE stands for Performance Assessment for Competency Education. We are moving forward this year with a demonstration project, to prove that we can advance the transformation of our public education system, in part, by changing our accountability model. We would like to lessen the importance of taking simply the summative Smarter Balanced in the spring of 2015 by establishing a richer array of assessments designed to help us with measuring learning and growth for students, teachers, and schools. We would rather see an assessment system include SBAC at grade spans, as well as complex performance assessments.
We believe that this kind of system will allow us to measure a more complete range of knowledge, skills, and practices, necessary for CCR. Linda Darling-Hammond, Gene Wilhoit, and Linda Pittinger have pictured this range of learning in a recent paper:
August 12, 2014 by Tom Vander Ark
Originally posted Aug. 8, 2014 at Getting Smart.
From Getting Smart
Since Horace borrowed the idea from the Prussians, we’ve been batch-processing kids based on birthdays through a print curriculum. This batch-print system was moderately efficient until we tried to retrofit it to work for all kids. It just created a mess of tacked on services and a crazy patchwork quilt of courses. As educational demands of society increase, it becomes increasingly obvious that the batch-print system doesn’t work well for at least two thirds of our kids.
Many of us believe that personalized learning environments where students progress as they demonstrate mastery hold the promise to boost achievement and completion rates for struggling students while speeding accelerated students through the K-16 system several years faster than is common today. However, the transition to a competency-based system is pedagogically, politically, and technically challenging. Despite policy barriers there are thousands of schools creating these next generation blended and competency-based environments. To accelerate the shift and improve outcomes, states should address these 7 things now.
1. Standards. Embrace a broad view of college and career readiness expressed in standards and graduation requirements. Maine went a step further and adopted a requirement for a proficiency-based graduation (discussed on CompetencyWorks). (more…)
June 9, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Innovation cycle from Wikipedia
In 2012, Maine’s legislature passed L.D. 1422, which established proficiency-based high school diplomas. The policy stated that the class of 2015 would be expected to demonstrate proficiency, not just pass a class in English, math, science, social studies and physical education. Based on requests from superintendents statewide for more time, however, Maine’s Department of Education is allowing districts to extend the date that proficiency-based diplomas will be required to 2020.
This is a smart decision on the part of Maine’s Department of Education. Proficiency-based education really has to be a voluntary reform – one that people do because they think it makes sense and will do the right thing for kids. From what I can tell, a third to a half of Maine’s districts have moved towards proficiency-based education (see the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning). In general, these districts have embraced the idea of proficiency-based education. The last time I was in Maine, however, it was clear that many are still in the early stages of implementation. (more…)
June 2, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
The American Youth Policy Forum is sponsoring a webinar Promoting Partnerships Between K-12 and Expanded Learning through Competency-Based Approaches on June 12, 2014, 1-2:30 PM ET. Expanded learning is an important technique for personalizing education for students — see examples from Pittsfield and Making Community Connections Charter School. This webinar is a great chance to get up to speed on the practices and policy conditions that can enable students to build their skills out in the real-world.
Below is the description of the webinar and you can register here:
Students need a broad range of knowledge, skills, and abilities to graduate from high school prepared for college and career success. K-12 systems have traditionally been unable to incorporate many of those skills into their instructional practices. However, many educators and policymakers are beginning to reframe their approach around a more student-centered philosophy in which student progress can be measured through demonstration of competency in place of seat time.
As this shift to a system focused on measuring actual competency takes hold in communities across the country, this means that educators can think more flexibly about what counts as an educational opportunity. Expanded learning opportunities that take place beyond the traditional school day, either at school in community-based organizations or in real-world settings, can provide student-centered learning opportunities. They should be seen as a key partner with schools to promote academic advancement and college and career readiness for all students. More intentional partnerships between school day educators and expanded learning opportunities can validate learning already happening in non-formal settings and allow for a wide range of learning experiences that might otherwise be unavailable to students.
This webinar will be the first in a series focused on showcasing promising initiatives in which expanded learning is being embedded into competency-based K-12 systems. This event will discuss the rationale for such an approach, describe program implementation strategies, and highlight the necessary conditions for implementation. Presenters will include Kim Carter, QED Foundation; Alexis Menten, Asia Society; Jennifer Portillo, Denver Center for International Studies; and Beth Colby, Council of Chief State School Officers.
May 21, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
The Maine Department of Education has condensed their six case studies on districts that have embraced proficiency-based education into one article. Threads of Implementation: A Thematic Review of Six Case Studies of Maine School Districts Implementing Proficiency-Based/Learner-Centered Systems looks at nine issues: vision and framework; policy; leadership; teacher engagement; finance and professional development; technology; communications; pace of implementation; and cultural change. Given that it’s a concise summary, we’ve reposted it below.
Beginning in February 2012, the Maine Department of Education through its Center for Best Practice (Center) began publishing a series of in-depth case studies of school districts who were implementing proficiency-based/learner-centered systems. These districts were in very different stages of their implementation journeys. For example, the member districts of the Western Maine Education Collaborative (WMEC) were just beginning implementation while Poland Regional High School (of RSU 16) had been completely proficiency-based since it opened in 1999. Though each of the districts featured in the Center over the last two years took decidedly different paths on their way to change, there were common themes that emerged throughout the case studies. Their experiences serve as lessons for other Maine districts just beginning this transition in preparation for all schools in the state issuing diplomas starting in 2018 to students based on demonstrated proficiency.
Vision and Framework
All districts involved in making this change considered it vitally important to engage in a vision-setting process that made explicit certain assumptions. This visioning process came at different times for each district. For RSU 18, the visioning process – a Future Search – happened early. The school board invited 80 stakeholders to participate in a process that would answer the question: “What do great schools look like? And what should kids learn in great schools?” RSU 2 went through a similar process, but engaged in it after individual schools had been working on proficiency-based issues for years – in fact, their visioning process came only after a significant pushback from parents. The individual schools of RSU 20 had clear visions of their own, but the district as a whole did not. When the individual schools came together to form RSU 20, one of the early acts of the new school board was to approve a proficiency-based vision for the district (though individual schools were free to choose their own way to approach this vision). (more…)
May 9, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
The Christenensen Institute just released “From policy to practice: How competency-based education is evolving in New Hampshire”. It is a fantastic paper, providing a comprehensive look at how New Hampshire is leading the way in competency education.
One of the things I loved in this paper is the opening section that recounts Steven Spears’ experience at one of the US’s big three car companies, highlighting that assessment can either be used as part of the learning process or as inspection. What goes unsaid in this story is that cars that don’t pass inspection in the traditional factory model still requires another step—they get fixed. In today’s top-down accountability model in education, we inspect—and then still pass kids on without getting them what they need.
The author, Julia Freeland, uses the working definition of competency education developed by innovators in the field (and the one we use here at CompetencyWorks) as an organizing structure for her interviews with 13 schools. This is helpful both in understanding how schools are implementing competency education as well as an overview competency education for newbies who are trying to get their head wrapped around redesigning district systems and schooling to focus on students and their learning, not the delivery of instruction. (more…)
May 1, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
The Oregon legislature is doing only what I can call a policy shuffle – a few steps forward, a few steps back. The recently passed House Bill 4150 has a number of fascinating pieces that are weaving together Oregon’s proficiency-based system. Let’s start with the its step back:
Revisiting Grading: One of the big lessons learned for districts and schools in competency education is do not lead with grading. It may be also be a lesson learned for states, as well.
Oregon had taken a giant step forward last year with HB 2220, which required a form of standards-based grading report cards. Districts and schools were required to tell parents exactly how their children were progressing, based on standards and separating behavior from academic progress.
It seems to be a case of too much, too soon. Now they’ve taken a baby step backwards with this year’s HB 4150, modifying HB 2220 to allow for but not require standards-based grading. The Oregon Department of Education’s guidance states: (more…)
April 9, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
I 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…)
March 14, 2014 by Chris Sturgis
Thanks 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.