CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency-based education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge, and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues, and a wiki with resources curated from across the field.

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Transitioning to Standards-Based Grading

January 20, 2020 by

Sign on Wall That Says Are You Proficient YetThis is the final post in a series about the Northern Cass School District.

Northern Cass is making an ambitious transformation to competency-based education, as described in earlier posts in this series. They are shifting to standards-based grading over multiple years as the district develops needed policies and learning management systems, teachers develop materials and strategies, and students and parents have opportunities to learn about the changes.

The district’s grading scale is ‘1’ = Emerging, ‘2’ = Foundational, ‘3’ = Proficient, and ‘4’ = Extended Learning. The Proficient level means a student has demonstrated competency, and Extended means they have gone beyond the expected level of competency.

Wall Poster Showing Definition of Level 3Last school year Northern Cass teachers still reported grades on a 1 to 100 scale, and they began implementing standards-based grading to different degrees. This school year all grading is standards-based, and teachers no longer report numeric grades. To reach this point, teachers needed to identify each of their competencies and develop corresponding performance levels and rubrics. For many schools, this is one of the most challenging demands of moving into a competency-based system. (Thomas Gaffey shares Building 21’s competencies and rubrics in this CompetencyWorks post.)

The district also faces the challenge of how to handle students’ traditional grades from previous years of high school. This year’s 9th-graders (the class of 2023) will start and finish high school under the new system, but older students will graduate under a mix of the old and new systems. During the transitional years, each subsequent class will have graduation requirements that come closer to being fully competency-based:

  • Class of 2020 – 100% of learners get a 2.0; learners must achieve a 3 in 80% of the standards in a specific class
  • Class of 2021 – 100% of learners get a 2.0; learners must achieve a 3 in 85% of the standards in a specific class
  • Class of 2022 – 100% of learners get a 2.5; learners must achieve a 3 in 90% of the standards in a specific class
  • Class of 2023 and beyond – 100% of learners get a 3.0; learners must achieve a 3 in all of the standards in a specific class

In short, the more years a student spends in the new system, the more they will need to meet its expectations. Students in the class of 2023 and beyond will need to demonstrate competency (a score of ‘3’ or ‘Proficient’) in all standards. (more…)

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Framing Habits of Work and Capstone Skills in Northern Cass

January 14, 2020 by

Organization Capstone Skill DefinitionThis is the second post in a series about the Northern Cass School District. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Many competency-based schools are working hard to support the development of “personal success skills” or “habits of work.” These skills are well-understood to be essential for life success but are underemphasized in schools. There is no standard approach across schools in terms of which skills are emphasized, what they’re called, or whether and how they’re assessed. That’s understandable, because evidence to guide those decisions is still in early stages of development. One way to build the evidence base and improve practice is to share examples of what different schools are doing and the issues they’re grappling with.

Habits of Work and Capstone Skills

During my visit to the Northern Cass School District, I learned about their strategies with what they call “Habits of Work” and “Capstone Skills.” An elementary teacher told me that grades K, 1, and 2 teachers had developed the following habits of work list, which was posted for students:

  • Effort – Always do your best. Check your work and find ways to improve.
  • Timeliness – Arrive to class on time. Use time appropriately.
  • Respect – Respect self, others, and property. Follow directions/classroom rules.
  • Preparedness – Have items needed for learning. Complete classwork on time.
  • Engagement – Practice active listening. Participate.

The high school was using a similar list, minus the first element (effort). Teachers at all levels said that developing the Habits of Work was still a work in progress. My visit was last school year. The district’s Learner Handbook for the current school year makes it clear that the district has further refined the list to include just three of the elements from last year’s list: respect, engagement, and preparedness.

I’m presenting this evolution rather than just the final list to highlight how each district will likely need to develop and refine their habits of work list over time. The habits chosen have important implications for what teachers will emphasize, what students will consider important, and how habits of work relate to assessment and accountability—more on that a little later.

Northern Cass also has a set of “capstone skills” that students must develop over time. Students do a capstone project for graduation, and their final presentation is organized in part around evidence of these skills. The capstone skills and their definitions are:

  • Organization – Creating and utilizing an efficient system to prioritize time and materials.
  • Leadership – Develops abilities in themselves and others in order to make a positive impact at school or in the larger community.
  • Collaboration – Working towards a common goal with a group of peers while demonstrating respectful interpersonal skills.
  • Accountability – Being responsible for the consequences, both positive and negative, of one’s actions; following through on obligations and commitments.
  • Self-reflection – Processing experiences as a means to deepen, enhance, value, and grow their learning and thinking skills.
  • Critical Thinking – Using a process to solve and reason through complex problems in a logical way.
  • Communication – Effectively convey messages both orally and in written form.
  • Learner’s Mindset – A belief that skills and talents are not inherited but are developed by adapting through adversity, flexilibility, and maintaining forward progress.

Each of the capstone skills is part of the Northern Cass Portrait of a Graduate, shown below. Two teachers mentioned that there is some overlap between the habits of work and the capstone skills, and there have been discussions about possibly combining them to manage complexity and streamline assessment. (more…)

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The Evolution of Competency-Based Transformation in Northern Cass

January 8, 2020 by
Three Students, School Ambassadors

Northern Cass Student Ambassadors (Visitor Guides)

“It was either we continue to produce unprepared kids, or we change. And we made the decision as a district that we are done with that and we are going to make the change.

– Kelly Trudeau, Northern Cass Educator

This is the first post in a series about the Northern Cass School District. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Northern Cass, a rural school district in North Dakota, is making an energetic transition to competency-based education. About half an hour north of Fargo, they are early innovators in what has become a larger movement for change within the state. The district is a single, newly-constructed K-12 school building that emerges after several miles of driving through farm fields. It serves 650 students from a sending area of 925 square miles, about three-quarters the size of Rhode Island.

Shared Purpose for Change

Their transformation began with a sense of shared purpose, well-stated by educator Kelly Trudeau in the opening quotation above about the need for change. (Northern Cass uses the term “educator” rather than teacher. Also “learner” rather than student.) She added that the Northern Cass School District has always been on the cutting edge, pushing educators to find innovations and best practices. “With this personalized learning journey, we’re really starting to figure out that what has been happening in education just isn’t working for our kids. It’s not preparing them for what life is like when they leave us.”

They knew it wasn’t working because they had students who were strong in school but then struggled in college and jobs. “They’ve struggled to advocate for themselves,” Trudeau added. “They’ve struggled to keep up with the rigor. Our move toward personalized learning is to allow them to learn some of those things that they’ll need to do in college—when they don’t have a teacher right next to them all of the time walking them through things and reminding them ‘This is due tomorrow’ and ‘Your test is on Wednesday’ and ‘Make sure you’re studying.’ In the personalized setting, it’s more on them to take control of that and take ownership of their learning. Then hopefully they’ll leave high school being able to do that in college or being able to be a great employee for whoever they go to work for.”

Educator Christian Thompson added, “It’s really just learning how to learn. Our students were good at understanding concepts if they knew exactly what they needed to know, if they were told when and how to learn it. But when they were thrown into situations where they had to adapt and figure out how to learn on their own, that’s what they really struggled with. And that’s when I realized that something need to change.”

Steps Toward Change

These realizations led the school community to discuss how they could really change. They turned toward discussing resources such as the book Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts Toward Personalized Learning from the Lindsay Unified School District. They also visited school districts who were years into their competency-based transformation, such as Lindsay USD in California and RSU2 in Maine.

Once they decided to change, they continued working with outside experts and building their own expertise. They are part of a “Proficiency Competency-Based Learning” (PCBL) cohort of five districts in the state moving toward personalized learning. The PCBL cohort members are working with KnowledgeWorks and the Center for Collaborative Education. Their work is funded in part by the Bush Foundation, which is supporting competency-based transformation in the region.

Master's Program Graduates

Teacher Leader Academy Graduates

Another important initiative has been their Teacher Leadership Academy. Northern Cass partnered with North Dakota State University to develop a program in which 20 educators earned a master’s degree while also advancing the district’s personalized learning work. Their courses and master’s theses included work such as rewriting the school’s policies, strategic plan, and family engagement plan, as well as developing new pedagogical strategies and leading professional development activities to share the new knowledge with their colleagues. Much of the course work and research took place at the school, eliminating the long commute to the college campus.

A Phased Transition

Despite wanting to put their new beliefs and insights into practice rapidly, Northern Cass staff recognized that deep change would require much more than a few days of summer professional development, and more than one or two school years for full implementation. Their frank acknowledgment that they are a change-in-progress has helped them manage their transformation at a sustainable pace and offers a model for other transitioning schools and districts.

In support of ambitious but manageable change, Superintendent Cory Steiner emphasized the importance of having a growth mindset for adults, not just students. “Movement forward has been so fast and good,” he said. “We take deep breaths and celebrate where we are but also keep on improving. It’s the most fulfilling educational work the teachers have ever done, but also the most difficult. At first some people wanted to jump ship, but now they’re on board, and we’ve seen a big jump in the use of competency-based approaches.” (more…)

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Reinventing Crediting and Transcripts (Part 2): Considerations for Making Change

January 2, 2020 by

Reinventing Crediting Book CoverAs described in my previous post, there are tremendous advantages that can come with a new form of scholastic crediting and a new model of school transcripts. Instead of itemizing courses completed and recording what is, in effect, seat-time accrued, we can document what students actually know—and what they can do with what they know. Students, their parents, and their future schools and employers can gain much greater understanding of the student’s genuine abilities and have greater confidence in their prospects. Students can be credited for the myriad ways they develop competencies, whether in a conventional course, an online learning environment, an internship, a co-curricular experience, an individualized passion pursuit, or an elaborate interdisciplinary project. They are no longer restricted to being credited only for a traditional sequence of classes.

The advantages of such a transformation of school crediting are clear. Indeed, as I discuss in my book, Reinventing Crediting for Competency-Based Education, they’ve been clear for decades. A US Bureau of Education (before there was a Department of Education) report published in 1954 is remarkably prescient and entirely current in the many critiques it makes of the Carnegie credit system used widely in high schools both then and now. These complaints include that it “encourages a rigid schedule of classes and subjects,” “gives undue emphasis to time served,” and doesn’t recognize “work experience or civic competence.”

But how? How do schools pursue such a large change, upending generations of expectations of what a high school transcript should look like, and shifting such a powerful paradigm? Reinventing Crediting provides case studies documenting how schools and systems have managed or are undertaking this transcript transition, either to completion, as in the case of New Zealand schools (though completion may be the wrong word, as the work is never truly done), or in the early phases, as in the case of Mastery Transcript Consortium schools such as the Nueva School (CA) or the Putney School (VT). Reinventing Crediting also provides a road map for schools and districts to transform their transcripts that draws upon the lessons learned from the case studies.

Some main points from my two chapters on the change process that are important for schools and districts seeking to transform their transcripts are: (more…)

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Reinventing Crediting and Transcripts (Part 1) – Learning from Experience

December 30, 2019 by

Reinventing Crediting Book CoverI had the good fortune to be present in April 2016 when educational leader Scott Looney articulated his vision for a new high school crediting paradigm and launched the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) in a meeting room at Cleveland’s Botanical Gardens. This new transcript model provided a key component of transforming student learning toward greater relevance and engagement, better differentiation, deeper learning, and ultimately stronger preparation for success in college and careers.

The MTC model for crediting and recording student learning presents a much-needed alternative to the standard United States version of a secondary school education. The transcript has no courses listed or credited, and no grades or Carnegie units. Instead, it shows competencies developed and demonstrated. This approach enables far more flexibility in designing, delivering, and acquiring a high-quality high school education.

Others have also written about the Mastery Transcript Consortium on the CompetencyWorks blog. Tony Wagner wrote here in June that it will “change the game by creating an entirely new way to report the quality of student work and their readiness for postsecondary learning—one that is based on real evidence of mastery, rather than a grade or time spent in a particular class.” Chris Sturgis wrote last year that “the MTC wants to create a system of credits and transcripts that represents the whole child, or whole teenager in the case of high schools.”

As an early participant in the development of the MTC, having prepared its first set of sample rubrics and competencies, I’m delighted to have now authored the first book on the MTC and its new transcript model. Reinventing Crediting for Competency-Based Education: The Mastery Transcript Consortium Model and Beyond lays out the why, what, and how for this alternate transcript model.

As regular CompetencyWorks readers know, many schools nationally have been re-structuring high school education around competencies, and course credit is dependent upon competencies demonstrated. However, many of these schools have not changed the format of the transcript itself very much. The transcript may provide additional information in the form of core competencies identified and recognized in student learning, but it doesn’t transform what we credit and record regarding student learning. To quote New Hampshire educator and author Brian Stack in a piece published at CompetencyWorks, “most competency-based high school transcripts still contain the same base reporting measures, which include course names, final course grades, credit earned, grade point average, and class rank.” The MTC goes a step further, allowing for high school education to no longer be constrained by the conventions of the traditional course names and sequences and empowering students and educators to chart more personally pertinent pathways to acquiring a high school diploma.

Like nearly every innovation, the MTC transcript model has many important antecedents and analogues. My book focuses on three examples of excellent competency-based crediting systems in higher education and abroad that competency-based educators can learn much from. Western Governors University, which Heather Staker wrote about on this site in 2012, dispels with conventional courses. Students choose a major, which is composed of domains, competencies, and objectives. They progress by accumulating competencies via both a multiple choice test and a performance task until they have mastered a domain. Similarly, New Zealand’s universal system of high school crediting, the National Certificate of Education Achievement (NCEA), discards classes and coursework on its transcript altogether, itemizing instead only the standards students have mastered. Students, with the advice of their teachers/counselors, can select from a wide array of nationally determined standards and organize them into unique, personally pertinent pathways. Chris Sturgis has also written at length about New Zealand’s NCEA here at CompetencyWorks.

Even less familiar to K-12 educators is the outstanding model used by the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Medical College (LMC). MTC founder Scott Looney had the benefit of geographic proximity and personal connections to LMC when formulating his vision, and he has brought secondary educators from across the United States to study the successful LMC crediting and transcript model. (more…)

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Building 21’s Open Competencies, Rubrics, and Professional Development Activities

December 23, 2019 by
Building 21 Symposium Session

Building 21’s annual workshop at the Symposium. 100+ participants show the growing demand for CBE!

At Building 21, we have created an open resource called Learning What Matters (LWM) Competency Framework which includes all of our competencies and corresponding rubrics, which we call “continua.” Every year at the Aurora Institute Symposium, we facilitate a workshop introducing participants to our competency-based model. This workshop is great for folks new to competency-based education (CBE) but it’s also valuable for experienced CBE practitioners who want to learn more about our approach.

A common question we get from beginners is, “but what does it look like?” One of the ways to begin to answer this question is to show participants what grading looks like in a competency-based model and how it is different from traditional grading.

In our workshop, participants assume the role of a teacher, as we challenge traditional grading practices, followed by a demonstration of how Building 21 uses the LWM Competency Framework to change instruction and assessment in its schools. This workshop features the same activities we use with new teachers at our schools. We encourage all schools to facilitate these activities with their teachers even if they are not using the LWM competency framework.

Activity #1 – What Are My Assumptions About Grading?

We start the workshop by asking for volunteers for a mystery activity. Once secured and without telling them what they are volunteering for, we send them out of the room. The remaining participants are given the following set of instructions:

“Each volunteer will come into the room and dribble the ball for 15 seconds. When they are done, you will grade their dribbling on an online form.”

Similarly, in the hallway, volunteers are told:

“You will enter the room and dribble the ball for 15 seconds. When you are finished, the  participants, who remain in the room, will grade your dribbling.”

You can imagine that those instructions are inadequate for many people. We almost always get followup questions from both groups about grading criteria, grading scale, or location of the dribbling. And we purposefully do not answer those questions.

Coincidently, we usually have a basketball coach in the grading group. Also, the volunteers typically have a novice dribbler and a former/current basketball player. Upon completion of the dribbling and online grading, as a group, we scroll through a spreadsheet of the grading form responses while participants look for patterns in the data.

Grades from Dribbling ActivityThe table to the right shows a typical result for a single dribbler:

We ask, “When you look at this data, what do you wonder?”

In the discussion that follows, the group considers the following issues:

  • The incredible variability between graders, who are all viewing the same performance
  • The diverse grading methods
  • The lack of feedback to help the dribbler improve

Additionally, graders share feedback such as noticing that their “standards” changed as they saw more dribblers, and they wanted to go back and re-grade dribblers.

  • Sometimes dribblers share that as they saw their grade, they had an emotional response to the low grades.
  • There is usually a comment that goes something like this: “The dribbler was told to dribble for 15 seconds, and they all did that, so how can I give them anything less than an A?”
  • Graders wanted standardized rubrics shared across graders to limit variability.

This raises some really important questions for the group. What is the purpose of grading? Who is the grade for? What SHOULD be the purpose of grading. What is the value of an F? Is a D good enough for credit? Are low grades motivating?

As facilitators, we close this activity by posing a question to the group that guides our own professional work: “What if you can create a framework for student assessment where the purpose of any grade or rating is to give specific feedback to help the student improve and to measure their growth over time?” (more…)

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The Competency Train Pulls Into Kankakee: Common Start-up Challenges and Strategies

December 17, 2019 by

Kankakee School LogoAdapting Arlo Guthrie’s famous lyric was irresistible, but we should also know Kankakee for their devotion to competency-based education. Their session at the recent Aurora Institute Symposium on how to plan for common start-up challenges in high school redesign was full of valuable lessons for transitioning schools and districts.

The presenters from Kankakee School District 111 in Illinois were Felice Hybert, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, and Brent Johnston, Curriculum Coordinator. They were joined by two leaders from Building 21—Chip Linehan, Co-Executive Director, and Sandra Moumoutjis, Chief Instructional Designer. Building 21 partners with school districts to design, launch, and operate innovative schools, including a competency-based school in Pennsylvania that was featured on CompetencyWorks in 2016.

Building 21 LogoKankakee has partnered with Building 21 through their affiliate program, which supports schools and districts that are transitioning to competency-based education. Building 21 provides affiliate districts with their competency-based learning management system and data dashboards, technical consulting, leadership coaching, and teacher professional development. The partnership began when the Kankakee superintendent asked Hybert to write a grant application on competency-based education. She came across CompetencyWorks, read the blog posts on Building 21, found helpful resources on their website, and contacted Tom Gaffey, Building 21’s chief instructional technologist.

Kankakee started working with Building 21 in March of 2018 and began implementation with students in the fall of 2018. Each incoming class of 9th-graders will use the new approach, so the transition will be complete in four years. During the first two years, Building 21 has been an essential resource that Kankakee has “called constantly” for consultation. There was a two-week teacher “boot camp” for extensive professional development during the first summer, and now they have a daily 45-minute period (from 2:20 to 3:05 p.m.) when the students leave and teachers collaborate. This is made possible in part by a state waiver of student seat-time requirements.

Here are three sets of lessons learned that Kankakee and Building 21 shared in their Symposium session.

Start with Adults, not Students

Kankakee learned that any meaningful change begins with changing adult mindsets. The teachers’ thinking from their own traditional education got in the way of envisioning change. The rationale for change was clear, because the high school was already a low-performing school, and teachers knew that many students were leaving without what they needed to be successful. Many teachers agreed that the school was “running a credit-recovery factory,” and they knew that the rates of graduation, attendance, and teacher retention were all well below state averages.

Transformation efforts focused on the philosophy and rationale of competency-based education. Kankakee and Building 21 leaders emphasized the need to embrace risk-taking, vulnerability, ambiguity, and an iterative cycle of trying new strategies, experiencing success and failure, and making additional changes. They affirmed the messiness of working through change at the classroom, department, school, and district levels. Staff members were encouraged to adopt a stance that said “I don’t know the answer to that—this change doesn’t come all wrapped up in a binder. Let’s figure it out together.” They discussed the inevitability of meeting resistance and how to avoid backsliding once things got hard. In short, the school adopted a bias toward action and continuous improvement. (more…)

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Deep Community Partnerships Lead to Authentic Project-Based Learning at Oakland USD

December 12, 2019 by

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on August 27, 2019.

How to create authentic Project-Based Learning? In Oakland Unified, community partners and teachers are working together from the very beginning to design projects.

Young Whan Choi

Young Whan Choi

Teachers are often asked to make sure that their project-based learning (PBL) units are authentic. In response, a teacher might decide to teach a PBL unit where students are putting Christopher Columbus on trial. Doesn’t it sound more exciting than simply learning the facts of the history? They might even ramp up the authenticity points by bringing in a judge or lawyer to preside over the trial.

This “expert audience” approach does add an element of authenticity. Teachers are going above and beyond the traditional curriculum when they bring in a community expert as an audience for student projects.

Teachers in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), however, are exploring even deeper partnerships with the professional community as a way to ensure that PBL projects are authentic. These partnerships begin at the earliest moments of project design, well before the students set foot in the classroom. There are many inspiring examples of what might be called a “client”-driven model of PBL. San Diego Unified has been scaling these kinds of projects in their Linked Learning schools while here in the bay area, one of the most promising models is Y-PLAN—an initiative out of the Center for Cities and Schools at UC Berkeley. In Y-PLAN, students work on real problems of urban and regional planning.

 

 

A recent example from Y-PLAN occurred when students at Oakland High School in the Law and Social Justice Academy worked with an affordable housing developer. They visited the site of the proposed project and then conducted research to find out what the community would like to see in the housing development. For the final presentation, the students created proposals that they shared when the developer came to their classroom.

The key difference in this approach to authentic PBL is that the community partner engages with teachers from the beginning to shape the project. With this goal in mind, OUSD organized a “community partner engagement” day during our weeklong PBL Institute in June. Over 40 different partner organizations and individuals joined 120 middle and high school teachers on the second day of the institute.

OUSD teachers gathered at MetWest High School for the Project Based Learning Institute

OUSD teachers gathered at MetWest High School for the Project Based Learning Institute. (Courtesy of Greg Cluster)

Before the teachers showed up, we asked them to give us information on the PBL project they were hoping to plan during the institute and if they already had a community partner that they wanted to work with. Our planning team of seven central office leaders then invited relevant partners like public radio station KQED, Alameda County Public Health Department, Red Bay Coffee, Oakland Public Works, and the Museum of Children’s Art.

On the morning of the “community partner engagement” day, teachers prepared a project pitch composed of three slides—the final product students would create, a driving question, and a key learning outcome. In the afternoon, partners and teachers met to discuss the PBL project idea. (more…)

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

December 6, 2019 by

What's New ImageAurora Institute News and Reports

  • iNACOL is now the Aurora Institute, reflecting our evolution to focusing on systems change and education innovation through student-centered approaches to next-generation learning. A video and more information are here. CompetencyWorks – which was launched in 2012 with iNACOL as the lead organization – will continue as an initiative of the Aurora Institute.
  • The Aurora Institute published What Is Competency-Based Education? An Updated Definition and a companion podcast. The report updates the 2011 definition in many ways, including new elements focused on equity, student agency, and different pathways. It also provides belief statements, FAQs, and resources to contextualize and deepen the definition.
  • The Aurora Institute also published Aligning Education Policy with the Science of Learning and Development. We know more than ever about how students learn best, but education policy hasn’t kept pace with these advances. The report explores research and offers recommendations to align policy with what we know about student learning.

Resources

  • In A Path Forward to Educational Equity, Karla Vigil and Emily Abedon of the Equity Institute share a framework they have developed and additional suggestions to guide teachers and leaders looking to become fluent in multicultural education and more culturally responsive in their practice. Also see their Culturally Responsive Walkthrough Tool.
  • The Student-Centered Learning Continuum provides a rich description of the characteristics of high-quality, student-centered learning. A series of rubrics provide clear and measurable ways to assess the depth of the four key SCL tenets—that learning is personalized, competency-based, anytime/anywhere, and student-owned—in an educational setting. The research-based continuum was developed by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the RAND Corporation.

Professional Learning

  • A webinar on Scaling Up Deeper Learning Approaches in Public Schools will be offered by the Learning Policy Institute and the Alliance for Excellent Education on December 11 at 2:00pm ET. Experts from the field and researchers will discuss the challenges and opportunities educators and district leaders face in expanding deeper learning. The Assessment for Learning Project will be holding a National Conference February 11-13 in San Diego with four practice-based strands on formative assessment, performance assessment, exhibitions & defense of learning, and graduate portraits. The goal is to reframe thinking about assessment and enabling conditions while grounding learning in proven practice.
  • Global Online Academy is offering a new online program, “Competency-Based Learning: From Theory to Practice,” in which teachers will work with a coach to create a personalized pathway through five key shifts toward implementing competency-based learning. Other upcoming GOA courses focus on rethinking the roles of students, teachers, time, and place.
  • Jane Szot of Distinctive Schools in Chicago shares her network’s Personalized Learning Innovation Fellows model that supports teachers in leading change toward personalized learning. The fellows pilot new strategies, drive efforts emerging from the network’s partnership with LEAP Innovations, and model exemplary practices in their own classrooms.

Eliot Levine is the Aurora Institute’s Research Director and leads CompetencyWorks. Follow @eliot_levine

 

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The Challenges of a Large, Diverse School District and the Promises of Performance Assessment Micro-credentials

December 2, 2019 by

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on November 13, 2019.

Backpack With Micro-credentials Inside

In our large, urban school district—Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky—we are challenging ourselves to do more than ask students to bubble in circles to “prove” what they know. We are expecting students to demonstrate and provide evidence of their abilities, skills, and dispositions. We know we are not alone. Across the world, schools are creating profiles of learners and portraits of graduates to describe the aspirations of their students. Schools are organizing exhibitions, demonstrations, presentations, and defenses of learning. Schools are planning learning experiences that are engaging and relevant, and that recognize that a person’s agency grows when their work is applied to the world.

At the more than 150 Jefferson County Public Schools, this has proven to be a worthy and large task. We have set the bar high—we want to ensure that every student, every year:

  • will create multiple, high-quality, ideally interdisciplinary products or performances to add to their digital portfolio, which in JCPS we call the Backpack of Success Skills.
  • will experience meaningful learning equitably no matter their ability or background.
  • will be empowered to determine the evidence upon which their abilities and dispositions will be judged.

As soon as the bar was set, the challenge was obvious to us. Normally, our students did not have a wide body of evidence to include in their “Backpack of Success Skills” or to use in a presentation or defense of their learning. They had too few meaningful learning experiences to refer to when discussing their Success Skills. There wasn’t much evidence of students being the agents in their own learning, of meeting the aspirations set by the Success Skills.

The Challenges

This has raised a problem of practice for teachers all across the district: How do we design learning experiences and assessments that require and create the opportunity for students to produce evidence of learning and growth?

And a problem of practice for district leaders: How do we support teachers in this design, in ways that do not undermine the principles of agency and authenticity that we know under-gird all constructivist approaches to teaching and learning, including this newest iteration – deeper learning.

(more…)

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