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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Building a District Innovation Ecosystem Accelerates School Transformation

November 19, 2019 by

Four Henry County Students in Matching T-ShirtsThe Henry County Schools, a large suburban district just south of Atlanta, has spent six years transforming their district of 50 schools and 43,000 students toward personalized learning. In a session at the recent Aurora Institute Symposium, Henry County personnel and partners discussed reorganizing district functions to create an “innovation ecosystem” to facilitate the transformation.

The presenters were Karen Perry, the district’s Director of Personalized Learning; Aaryn Schmuhl, VP of Program Design and Innovation at the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement; and Jeffrey Tsang, Founding Partner of Building Blocks Education. All three have been deeply involved in the district’s “2020 Vision for Personalized Learning” redesign process and shared many of the district’s strategies and insights from this work.

Building a District Culture of Innovation

District design often evolves organically, but transforming a district requires attending deliberately to the culture of innovation. Everyone needs to hear from district leadership and the school board, “We’re about to about to embark on innovative work that’s intentionally different, and it’s going to be challenging.”

Several conditions are required for this message to take hold. First, the district and schools need to pour resources and efforts into building trust, because engaging in change requires trust. Second, it’s essential to establish and communicate a “north star” and have clear discussions about what’s needed to move toward it. For Henry County, the north star has been building student agency. Many of the district’s innovation strategies have changed over time, but the north star has stayed the same.

Third, decision makers across the district need to be meaningfully included. An inclusive process may slow down change in the short run, but it enables deeper change in the long run. Over a period of years, Henry County often gathered key decision-makers from all departments around a table at the district office and framed discussions as “Here’s a problem we need to solve; how can we do that?” rather than “We know what changes are needed; here’s what you need to do.”

This level of inclusion is essential because adopting an entirely new school model—unlike simply adopting a new textbook—involves every district department. Changes required from different departments could include:

  • Information Technology – Adopting new learning management systems.
  • Communications – Conveying the rationale for reforms to a range of key stakeholders.
  • Student Services – Exploring implications for students with special needs.
  • Facilities – Creating different types of learning spaces.
  • Human Resources – Recruiting new hires with relevant skills, dispositions, and training to build the pipeline.

A Framework for Building the Ecosystem

Henry County developed a valuable framework for building the innovation ecosystem based on three sets of school needs and two sets of district actions. The three school needs are: (more…)

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CompetencyWorks Releases Report Updating Definition of Competency-Based Education

November 14, 2019 by

Report CoverToday, the CompetencyWorks initiative of the Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL) released What Is Competency-Based Education? An Updated Definition. The report updates the 2011 working definition, which helped to build the field and create common understandings of key elements in competency-based systems among stakeholders. The definition has been used by schools to support design and implementation, by states to establish supporting policies and a common vision, and by national organizations to provide frameworks for networks of states, districts, and schools to discuss their initiatives and build shared understanding.

The 2011 working definition was developed by more than 100 education innovators at the first National Summit for K-12 Competency-Based Education. Several years later, feedback indicated that it should be updated to reflect a deeper understanding of key issues and developments in the field. The new report presents the updated definition, which was developed with extensive input from field surveys, invited attendees at the second National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education in 2017, and a Technical Advisory Group of more than 40 experts in the field.

Updated Definition

The updated 2019 definition of competency-based education is:

  1. Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.
  2. Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence.
  3. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  4. Students progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  5. Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
  6. Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems.
  7. Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.

(more…)

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Student Thinking Made Visible: Assessing Transferable Skills With Brief Performance Tasks

November 12, 2019 by

Working on Bridge Building TaskCompetency-based education emphasizes learning not only academic knowledge but also skills and dispositions. These include transferable learning skills such as problem solving and effective reasoning that enable people to perform effectively in different settings and apply knowledge and skills to different tasks. A session at the recent Aurora Institute Symposium introduced valuable strategies for assessing these skills. The tools and concepts they shared could also inform assessments of other lifelong learning skills.

The session was led by Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jeff Heyck-Williams and 5th-Grade Teacher Katie Mancino from Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, DC, a school in the EL Education network. They emphasized that teachers typically prioritize whatever will get assessed, so it’s important to assess lifelong learning skills.

Rubrics for Critical Thinking Skills

The rubrics presented for assessing problem solving, effective reasoning, and decision making serve the essential function of providing both students and teachers with a clear picture of what quality looks like. This enables teachers to plan instruction oriented toward deeper learning with these targets in mind.

The session focused on assessing problem-solving skills, defined as “The ability to identify the key questions in a problem, develop possible plans for solving, follow through on those plans, and evaluate both the success of the plan and the solution.” The corresponding rubric has five components: Identifies What Is Known, Defines the Problem, Generates Possible Solution Strategies, and Evaluates Solutions. The table below contains the rubric for one of these components; the full rubric is here.

Problem Solving Rubric for One Component

Three principles guided their rubric design process: (1) Rubrics define the construct that you want to teach and assess for students and teachers; (2) Each component on the rubric needs to be mutually exclusive but also narrow to a single dimension; and (3) The rubric should define a a continuum of growth from notice to expert.

Performance Tasks to Assess Critical Thinking

With the rubric in place, the question remains of what and how to assess. Two Rivers accomplishes this with brief performance tasks that are specific to the skill being assessed. EL Education believes teachers should experience the educational approach they plan to implement with students, so unsurprisingly we were led through a problem-solving performance task. In short, small groups were given two cups, some paper, rubber bands, paper clips, and blue tape. Brief, clear instructions launched groups into creating a bridge with a maximum span using the materials provided.

For this performance task, students at Two Rivers are assessed on how well they make their thinking visible, not how good their bridge is. This is done in writing on a handout, although teachers can scribe for students who need writing support. Before starting to build bridges, our first step was a “KWI” (Know, Want, Ideas) exercise in which we had to write about “What do you KNOW?,” “What do you WANT to know?,” and “What are some IDEAS you have about how to solve the problem?”

(more…)

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New Resources and Future Directions in Competency-Based Education

November 7, 2019 by

The first part of our annual reflection focused on the field’s evolution and where we are now. This second part looks at how our understanding is deepening and future directions for building and strengthening the field of K-12 competency-based education.

How is our understanding deepening?

Seeing competency-based schools in action and hearing about their successes and challenges is deeply illuminating. There are a growing number of schools and districts to learn from about all stages of planning and implementation. Many of these are innovative, newer schools and districts, such as those shown in the image below from our annual strategic reflection webinar. Many more are featured in our summary of blog posts from visits to competency-based schools in 26 states.

Innovative New Schools and Organizations

An impressive array of new reports, books, and other publications have also emerged to deepen our understanding of competency-based education since 2010. New resources from the past two years are shown in the three figures below. If there are publications you think should be added, please email me or mention them in the Comments box below.

New Resources 2018-19, 1 of 3

New Resources 2018-19, 2 of 3

New Resources 2018-19, 3 of 3

(more…)

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Where We Started and Where We Are Now: Reflecting on the Field of Competency-Based Education

November 4, 2019 by

Integrated Arts Academy Student PaintingWith the field of competency-based education growing and changing so quickly, it’s important to step back from time to time and reflect on what we’ve learned, what has changed, and what’s needed next. At the Aurora Institute we see and hear many perspectives on the field from our school visits, research, reading, conferences, policy visits, and other connections with innovators and leaders in the field. All of these views inform a reflection we do annually with our CompetencyWorks Advisory Board.

This blog post shares some of the conclusions of this year’s reflection process. We also conducted a webinar recently with a more detailed discussion of what we learned; you can find the webinar recording and slide deck here.

Where Did We Start and Where Are We Now?

From the outpouring of resources in recent years to guide CBE design and implementation, a newcomer would never know that when CompetencyWorks started ten years ago they could only find one publication on this topic. Now there are hundreds of publications, thousands of blog posts, and schools across the country in all stages of development. They have enabled great increases in the quality, quantity, and understanding of competency-based practice.

The Stages of Development figure below gives an overview of early models and policies that were fundamental in driving the field’s development. The top row focuses on innovations in practice, and this CompetencyWorks blog post from our previous strategic reflection discusses most of the entries there. The new entries under “Scaling Strategies” include support organizations, regional professional learning communities, profile of a graduate, and integrated student supports.

Many organizations are now supporting the scale-up of competency-based practice at the school, district, and state levels. A comprehensive list across the country would be a valuable resource. These organizations have grown in number, influence, and the range and sophistication of services they provide. Their growth reflects the expansion of the field and increased demand for these services. The growth of these organizations has also driven demand, because districts now have more support options than ever before. Expansion of competency-based practice has also been driven by the increased implementation of PLCs, improved student supports, and the number of districts and states that have developed a profile of a graduate. These graduate profiles enable new definitions of student success that align to and support more holistic student learning outcomes.

 

Another development is a revised definition of competency-based education, which the Aurora Institute has worked on in collaboration with dozens of leaders in the field for the past two years. The revised definition will be released by the Aurora Institute in November. It reflects a deeper understanding of key issues and developments in the field since the original definition was developed and published in 2011, after undergoing a similar process of deep discussion among early innovators. It will also include materials to help contextualize and understand the definition, including a set of belief statements, frequently asked questions, common misconceptions, and resources.

The revised 2019 definition also reflects an increased recognition from leaders in the field that addressing inequity in student opportunities and outcomes—a fundamental impetus for competency-based education since its inception—is not happening quickly enough and that greater effort is needed. The revised definition will have a new element that is specifically about equity, and the accompanying belief statements include:

  • Equity is a central goal of advancing competency-based education systems.
  • Communities that aspire to achieve equity must work toward implementing a competency-based education system.
  • Competency-based education is driven by the equity-seeking need to transform our educational system so all students can and will learn through full engagement and support and through authentic, rigorous learning experiences inside and outside the classroom.

(more…)

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iNACOL Is Now the Aurora Institute

October 28, 2019 by

For 17 years, iNACOL has been a leading voice advocating for expanding K-12 educational opportunity and access. CompetencyWorks is a collaborative initiative focused on sharing knowledge on the field of K-12 competency-based education, drawing on the knowledge of its partners and an advisory board. CompetencyWorks was launched in 2012 with iNACOL as the lead organization.

Over time, iNACOL’s work has shifted from an explicit focus on the delivery vehicle for education, namely online learning, to an expanded view of the systemic changes required to ensure all students are prepared for success in our rapidly changing world. CompetencyWorks has been an essential part of this shift.

We’ve just marked another important milestone in our journey. I’m proud to announce that iNACOL has become the Aurora InstituteCompetencyWorks will continue as an initiative of the Aurora Institute going forward.

Why did we decide to change our name? First and foremost, because every learner deserves a clear path to future success, and we believe that a clearer brand identity will better position us to prepare those pathways. However, changing our name also creates three other important solutions for us:

  • We get a name that defines us as an organization committed to systems change in K-12 education. For 20 years, we’ve been the brain trust for a growing field working toward activities as diverse as school redesign, redesigning assessment, providing technical assistance to policymakers, and dismantling inequities in the structure of public education. Our networks have looked to us to set agendas, unify our frameworks, and craft narratives about our collective work.
  • The change in name responds to a shift in our mission, vision, and values. Our founding in 2002 grew out of a concern that current models of K-12 education were not providing access to the teachers and the courses students needed, nor fully preparing students for future success with an orientation toward lifelong learning, which we know is critical for the rapidly evolving world in which we live.

(more…)

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CompetencyWorks Meetup at the iNACOL Symposium

October 24, 2019 by

If you’re headed to the iNACOL Symposium, there will be a CompetencyWorks Meetup on Monday at 5:15 pm during the President’s Reception. Look for the “CompetencyWorks Lounge” sign in Oasis 1/Innovation Corner and come meet your colleagues from across the country and around the world. We look forward to seeing you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Competency-Based Education at the iNACOL Symposium

October 22, 2019 by

Announcement of 2019 iNACOL SymposiumThere will be so many great sessions at next week’s iNACOL Symposium that we’ll all be making hard choices about what to attend. Even if you won’t be there this year, reviewing the offerings can help you learn about important issues in the field, people who are doing what you want to do, and new online resources and publications.

This post lists the sessions in the competency-based education strand so you can start thinking about what to attend. Other strands such as diversity, leadership, personalized learning, school redesign, and systems transformation also have strong content relevant to competency-based education. You can review the sessions across all strands here.

Tue 10:00 am – Building Understanding of Competency Education and Changing Grading Practices. Are competencies and standards the same? How do you assess competencies? Why do we create rubrics and convert them to points? Should measurement of learning be punitive? In this session, we will dive deep into these questions by providing an alternative approach to traditional grading. Through a series of activities, participants will engage with the Learning What Matters competency model and leave the session with a fresh perspective on how six schools in the Building 21 network assess students. (Presenters: Thomas Gaffey, Sandra Moumoutjis)

Tue 11:15 am – Pitfalls, Successes, and Lessons Learned from a District’s 7-Year Journey to Implement Competency-Based Education. Kenowa Hills Schools will share the district’s 7-year journey in implementing a modified Marzano High Reliability Schools Framework focusing on: (1) School culture and climate, (2) Guaranteed and viable curriculum and essential standards, (3) Gradual Release of Responsibility instructional framework, (4) Standards-Based Grading and Learning Management Systems, and (5) Personalized systems and processes. The district will share practical implementation pitfalls, successes, and lessons learned during their journey. (Presenter: Mike Burde)

Tue 2:15 pm – The Future Now is Kettle Moraine: Learning Competencies Not Learning Standards. Hear about the journey of Kettle Moraine School District as they moved from curriculum-based instruction to standards-based instruction and are now utilizing competency-based learning. Leaders from elementary through high school will share the lessons learned, paradigm shifts needed and resources used to foster the shift to competency-based learning. Resources shared will help participants determine readiness to make a shift and plan for their journey to a competency-based learning system. (Presenters: Laura Dahm, Kevin Erickson, Theresa Ewald, David Tong, Eric Moore, Katherine Bihr)

Tue 4:00 pm – Competency-Based High School Redesign: Common Pitfalls and How To Plan For Them. Using the experience of Kankakee High School, which undertook a transformational school redesign effort in the Fall of 2018, we will analyze five especially problematic implementation challenges, their responses, and the resulting lessons learned. There will be an emphasis on applying these lessons in the planning stages of a CBE implementation. Participants will leave with an understanding of how they are likely to be challenged in these five domains and practical ways to address them head-on. (Presenters: Brent Johnston, Chip Linehan, Felice Hybert, Sandra Moumoutjis)

Tue 4:00 pm – Moving Beyond GPA: How Competency-Based Schools Are Using the Mastery Transcript to Drive Equity and Engagement. The Mastery Transcript Consortium is a growing collective of hundreds of high schools working together to design and implement a model of crediting and transcript generation that includes Mastery Credits and attached evidence of learning (instead of grades) for both content areas and skills critical to success in college, career, and life. This participatory session will engage attendees in an interactive, hands-on, co-design session of the Mastery Transcript. (Presenters: Stacy Caldwell, Mike Flanagan, Patricia Russell)

Wed 10:00 am – 2nd Generation State and District Competency Sets: Reimagining Competency Sets as Guideposts to Prepare Learners for a Rapidly Shifting, Complex Future. Are the competency frameworks in your district or state pointing the way towards a future that requires interdisciplinary problem-solving, creativity, adaptability, and leadership? CBL pioneers were pushed against the limitations of the industrial education model: annualized courses, age-based cohorts, seat-time, etc. Their efforts created opportunities for us to begin designing 2nd generation competency frameworks, that transcend the limitations of content-standards. (Presenters: Sydney Schaef, Antonia Rudenstine) (more…)

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Competency-Based Education Across America

October 17, 2019 by

2019 Snapshot of CBE State PolicyUpdated: October 2019.

iNACOL’s 2019 map shows the many states that have taken steps forward in enabling and investing in competency-based education. To highlight this progress, all of the CompetencyWorks blog posts from our site visits and interviews in 26 states are listed below. Schools, districts, and support organizations have used these inspirational accounts of local reforms to inform deeper competency-based learning and systems change in their own settings.

Alaska

Chugach School District (2019)

Part 1 – Rethinking Grade Levels and Age Groupings at the Whittier Community School

Part 2 – Bringing Parents Into Competency-Based Schools

Part 3 – Pathways, Pacing, and Agency Are Intertwined

Part 4 – Sustaining and Sharing Cultural Heritage at the Tatitlek Community School

Chugach School District (2015)

Report – Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System

Part 1 – Explorations in Competency Education

Part 2 – Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District

Part 3 – Chugach School District’s Performance-Based Infrastructure

Part 4 – Chugach Teachers Talk about Teaching

Part 5 – Ownership, Not Buy-In: An Interview with Bob Crumley, Superintendent Chugach School District

Part 6 – Chugach School District: Performance-Based Education in a One-Room School House

Part 7 – Teaching through the Culture: Native Education in a Performance-Based System

Part 8 – Performance-Based Home Schooling

Highland Tech Charter School (2014)

Part 1 – Highland Tech Charter School – Putting it All Together

Part 2 – Advice From Highland Tech Students

Arkansas

Springdale School District (2015)

Innovation Springing Up in Springdale

Student-Focused Learning in Springdale (2017)

Part 1 – Springdale, Arkansas: A Tradition of Innovation and Future of Opportunity

Part 2 – Building Learning Momentum at Springdale’s School of Innovation

Part 3 – Finding Time and Providing Support for Student-Driven Learning

Part 4 – Encouraging Learning Risks and Growth

California

Da Vinci Schools (2018)

Part 1 – Innovation in the Air at Da Vinci Schools

Part 2 – Conversations about Learning at Da Vinci

Part 3 – RISE (Revolutionary Individualized Student Experience)

Barack Obama Charter School (2013)

Ingenium Schools: A Big City Competency-Based School

Lindsay Unified High School  (2015)

Part 1 – Six Trends at Lindsay Unified School District

Part 2 – Preparing Students for Life….Not Just College and Careers

Part 3 – An Interview with Principal Jaime Robles, Lindsay High School

Part 4 – An Interview with Brett Grimm: How Lindsay Unified Serves ELL Students

Part 5 – It Starts with Pedagogy: How Lindsay Unified is Integrating Blended Learning (more…)

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Learner Variability in the Classroom through Micro-credentials

October 15, 2019 by

Teacher With Students“I’m not just a math teacher; I’m a teacher of the whole child,” Bethany Orr, a fourth grade teacher in North Carolina and Iredell-Statesville Schools’ 2019 Teacher of the Year, reflected after earning a learner variability micro-credential on self-regulation.

Orr spent a semester digging into the research behind how learners vary and tried several strategies tied to self-regulation, a key learner variability concept, to support two of her students. She demonstrated her understanding and use of strategies such as mindfulness breaks by collecting artifacts that showed how her students benefited from these changes in practice.

Orr said one of her biggest takeaways from the micro-credentials process was the importance of leveraging students’ strengths, which she did not do initially. “Having them write was not their strength,” she explained. “Both of the students are very verbal, and so I got audio recordings of them reflecting. I got so much more from them when I didn’t ask them to write.”

Because a diverse student population brings varied experiences and abilities to the classroom, teachers must understand each child’s strengths and challenges in order to create a learning environment where each student can thrive. Micro-credentials, a natural extension of the formal and informal learning activities educators engage in every day, provide teachers with personalized, competency-based recognition for the skills they learn throughout their careers.

The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation produced a stack of 15 Learner Variability micro-credentials—including the Self-Regulation micro-credential—in collaboration with Digital Promise Global’s Learner Variability Project. These micro-credentials are steeped in learning sciences research, providing insights into how best to support and engage the full diversity of learners found in every classroom.

After earning her Self-Regulation micro-credential, Orr reflected that her “relationship with [her students] is much stronger now than it was at the beginning of the year.” She added: “They started to see that I was working to understand them better and that they were important to me, important enough to learn something new to try to help them, and I think that really changed things.” (more…)

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