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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A High School With No Students – Only “Scholars”

February 25, 2020 by

Two Students in Graduation GownsThis is the final post in a series about Del Lago Academy in Escondido, California. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Del Lago Academy uses many strategies to build a positive school culture, as described in a previous post. A final cornerstone of school culture is that the staff refer to students as “scholars.” Hearing this word throughout my visit felt reverential – a sign of deep respect, promoting a growth mindset, and predicting promising futures. The school’s explanation for using this term is persuasive and inspirational, so I’ll wrap up the series on Del Lago Academy with an extended quotation:

“We refer to Del Lago students as ‘scholars.’ Why? Similar to scientists, mathematicians, historians, and artists, our scholars engage in deeper learning tasks that require them to seek out and attain new knowledge, apply what they have learned, and build upon that information to find solutions and to innovate. Learning to read, write, think, and behave like scholars is at the heart of success in college, 21st century careers, and civic life.

“Scholars think beyond their discipline. Learning can no longer stop when exiting the individual classroom door. Meaningful solutions to complex issues such as feeding, fueling, or healing the world require interdisciplinary thinking. Del Lago scholars read, write, and think about interdisciplinary concepts and systems. Our scholars engage with professional mentors and serve internships with them. As a result, our scholars are expected to transfer their knowledge from one discipline to another.

“Scholars value relationships. Success in the 21st-century workforce requires individuals to work together in order to identify and create solutions to challenges. Meaningful, productive relationships are essential to deeper learning. We invest significant time to develop a school culture that fosters a strong sense of belonging, as well as an understanding that active learning with one another prepares our scholars for personal, career, and civic life.

“Scholars spend a lifetime learning. They experience emotions such as passion, confusion, pride, frustration, and wonder. When they encounter difficulty or setbacks, they reflect, analyze, seek support, and move forward toward their learning goal. Del Lago scholars cultivate important skills for self-guided learning.

“Our students are scholars. It is our vision for them. It is one powerful way we instill positive beliefs within them about academic work and their future. We do not view high school as practice for the future. Instead, the future is a journey that starts now, in high school, at Del Lago Academy.”

Del Lago Graduation Ceremony

Learn More

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


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Personalization and Positive School Culture at Del Lago Academy

February 19, 2020 by

This is the third post in a series about Del Lago Academy in Escondido, California. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Student Team-Building Activity

A Student Team-Building Activity

Del Lago Academy’s commitment to personalization has led to design innovations such as a village structure with cohorts of 100 students sharing a small group of teachers, daily staff circles, and facilities that support individual and small group learning.

One of the school’s key strategies for personalization and building a positive culture is a weekly advisory period. Each advisory has students from all four grades. Students stay with the same advisor for all four years of high school, but the group changes as the seniors graduate and new 9th-graders arrive.

Advisory activities often revolve around reinforcing the school’s “pillars of excellence,” which they describe as “mutual agreements guiding how we work and live together” and “a framework to proactively and intentionally teach scholars the skills they need to be responsible, respectful, ethical, and compassionate world citizens.” The five pillars are: Welcome, Do No Harm, Never Too Late To Learn, Choice Words, and Be The Best.

For the “Welcome” pillar, they have done activities on what it’s like to be welcoming and to feel welcome. When a mass shooting took place at the synagogue in nearby Poway, they did a “Choice Words” activity that focused on the impact of their words and actions. If the campus is looking strewn with trash or otherwise neglected, they might do a cleanup and a discussion of “Be the Best” and “Do No Harm.”

Older students often lead activities, including discussions to pass down the school culture to younger students. Every student has an advisor, and most staff members, including administrators and guidance counselors, have an advisory. (The principal and assistant principal co-advise with a teacher in case they have a conflict or need to step out.) Advisory meets for 45 minutes every Wednesday.

Pillars of Excellence

Daily Staff Circle

In order to build a positive, personalized culture for students, Del Lago believes they need to do the same for staff. A terrific culture-building activity for school staff is a daily 10-minute morning circle that takes place just before school starts. It’s optional, but the day I was there about 30 staff members were present, which was almost everyone. Given how busy teachers are as the day begins, this was a tremendous turnout. But for staff who value community and connection with their colleagues – most of them, I suspect – it seems that it would be an uplifting and energizing part of the day. There was lots of laughter as everyone filed in, and many teachers were wearing bright orange for a school-wide pep rally that afternoon.

After Principal Ruth Hellams kindly introduced me, the meeting began with a quick touch base about any students of concern, and teachers raised issues about students’ injuries and academic problems. The goal wasn’t to fix problems during the meeting, but to share information across all of the staff who work with the students in question. Next was a brief announcement about discussing vaping-related health risks with students. A few teachers asked for a schedule change because unexpected school days off due to nearby forest fires had led advisory to be cancelled. The ten minutes passed quickly, and as teachers left to join their students, Hellams said, “Have a good day. Let’s inspire kids to do great things!”

One purpose of the morning staff circle is to model practices that staff can use with their students. On Mondays they do check-ins in smaller groups to ask how everyone is doing. Sometimes they form groups of three or four and do a quick share-out, such as describing an assessment practice they used in the past week or an interdisciplinary project they’re working on. Once a week they have a quick discussion of a piece of scholarly research that everyone has received ahead of time, related to an aspect of competency-based education. (Hellams believes that deep understanding competency-based education theory and practice is essential for sustaining it; otherwise, it’s too easy to revert to traditional thinking and practice when challenges arise.)

Thursdays in staff circle are for letter-writing, using labels the school prints with every student’s name and address. By the end of the year, a staff member has sent an affirming handwritten letter to every student about something specific the student has done – more than just “How are you doing?” or “Thank you for being part of our school.” Fridays are celebratory and include shout-outs to staff and check-outs to see how the week went. (more…)

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Science Competencies and Micro-credentials at Del Lago Academy

February 13, 2020 by

This is the second post in a series about Del Lago Academy in Escondido, California. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Del Lago Academy Banner

Del Lago Academy is a “Campus of Applied Science” whose staff have developed a biotech curriculum with digital badges and strong industry connections. I spoke with 10th-grade science teacher Rita Boyd, who was passionate about building Del Lago’s competency-based approach. Through a multi-year process, the science team developed the following 11 competencies that they call “science and engineering practices”:

  1. Science CompetenciesAsking questions
  2. Planning and carrying out investigations
  3. Analyzing and organizing data
  4. Constructing explanations
  5. Analyzing error
  6. Developing and using models
  7. Mathematical and computational thinking
  8. Obtaining and evaluating information
  9. Communicating information
  10. Engaging in discourse from evidence
  11. Technical lab skills

Students in all grades do projects every semester that give them at least two opportunities to work on each competency and demonstrate mastery through a variety of assessments. The teachers ask students to make a case for which science and engineering practices they demonstrated through different elements of their projects. After each assessment, students complete a “Competency Reflections” handout by checking off the practices they used and responding to one of the five “perplexity prompts” below to be used as evidence in their science portfolio.

  • Confounds: Explain something that caught you off guard, deeply interested, or surprised you. Something that challenges a prior understanding or something you previously would have found hard to believe.
  • Confirms: Explain what confirms what you already know or have experienced. Something that is not surprising at all. Describe what was confirming to you.
  • Conducive: Explore a term, phrase, concept, event, or idea that you find particularly conducive to your learning. Describe how your learning or understanding was supported.
  • Confuses: Examine something that is unclear and you are working on understanding. This can be a term, idea, a passage (including citation), or concept. Explain what about it is confusing.
  • Curious: Express something that you want to learn more about. Indicate what made you curious and what you hope to learn.

The science course grade is currently calculated by averaging a student’s grades on each competency, but in the future the school plans to report a separate grade on each competency. They also aspire to develop learning progressions that locate students’ evidence on a continuum from 9th-grade to 12th-grade levels on each competency. Given the teachers’ devotion and progress on these complex tasks so far, it will be great to hear about their advances in the coming years.

Badge ImagesScience Micro-Credentials

Boyd’s 10th-grade science students can also earn three online badges (micro-credentials) for skills in using spectrophotometers, serological pipets, and a genetic engineering technique in which students transform a bacterium using a plasma they make in the lab. To pursue the badge, students first had to receive a ‘4’ grade (extending the competency) on the qualifying class assignments. This led many students who were excited about earning the badge to revise and extend their ‘3’-level work (meeting the competency) from earlier in the year. After qualifying based on their classwork, students needed to upload their evidence, write a reflection, and make a presentation to the class.

Del Lago uses the Portfolium online badging platform, which is part of the Canvas learning management system the school uses. The badges evolved from discussions among several San Diego County schools on topics such as developing a set of required skills and principles for using serological pipets. Then Del Lago aligned those skills and principles with their science competencies, and Portfolium turned that information into a badge. Some other grade levels and academic disciplines at Del Lago are engaging in similar processes to develop badges for selected competencies. More information on this work is available at the CompetencyX website.


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Interdisciplinary Projects and Assessment Practices at Del Lago Academy

February 10, 2020 by

Lots of Students in Front of Del Lago Academy Building

This is the first post in a series about Del Lago Academy in Escondido, California. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Del Lago Academy – Campus of Applied Science, a high school in the Escondido Unified School District, opened in 2013, just north of San Diego. The 800-student school was launched through energetic efforts of community members and school district personnel seeking a more personalized education than the district’s 2,200-student comprehensive high school offered. A bond issue funded the new school as the district’s student population expanded. Admission to the district’s two high schools is lottery-based and open to all students.

The school has developed and continues to strengthen many competency-based practices aligned with Del Lago’s four core beliefs – personalization, authentic learning experiences, an ethic of excellence, and skilled professional teachers. Principal Ruth Hellams has developed a passion for competency-based education during her three years at Del Lago and is dedicated to advancing the school’s founding vision. (She’s doing her doctoral dissertation on how to sustain alternative education in a traditional system.) The school’s founding principal, Keith Nuthall, created and protected the school’s vision in a way that has enabled it to survive substantial turnover of instructional staff and changes in school and district leadership.

Students Doing Project in HallwayInterdisciplinary Projects

Del Lago’s innovative structures enable important aspects of competency-based education. Students in grades 9-11 are organized in “villages” of about 100 students who move together throughout the school day to the same group of shared teachers, with two villages per grade level. This builds community as students get to know each other well, and it helps teachers work collaboratively to get to know and support students. Twelfth grade doesn’t use the village system because the many individualized course choices and off-campus opportunities available to seniors make it impossible for 100 students to move through the day together.

The village system facilitates Del Lago’s commitment to interdisciplinary projects – a key element of deeper learning and designing for the development of rigorous, higher-level skills, which is one of the quality principles of competency-based education. The school also has a “bell schedule” with no bells, so teachers in village teams can flexibly change the day’s schedule to create an extended block of time for interdisciplinary projects or other learning needs. They make use of this flexibility not only within villages, but also across multiple villages and grade levels when they want a larger pool of students for interest-based groupings.

“Teachers re-roster their students and renegotiate their time within the school day” one teacher explained. “Then you’ll see 220 kids moving around in different ways to different classrooms and parts of the school, and this is just part of the alternative structure – big groups of kids moving but not within the regular bell schedule.” Knowing how bells can snap students out of their focus on a learning experience, Del Lago teachers appreciate not having this distraction.

One 9th-grade interdisciplinary project emerged from students who didn’t like the state’s physical fitness test and developed a project to research and propose a different one. In history class they researched how the current test was created, through the U.S. military in the 1950s. In their science and ENS (exercise nutrition & science) classes they researched which muscle groups were important and how to strengthen them. In English class they wrote materials to recommend a new test and made presentations about it. One group of students who wanted an extended option administered the new test at eight local schools and presented their findings and recommendations at the San Diego school district office and an education conference.


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

February 3, 2020 by

What's New ImageAurora Institute News and Reports

  • When the new Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL) website goes live in early spring, will become part of it. All CompetencyWorks blog posts and reports will be available in the new location. More information will be provided when the new site is launched.
  • In January the Aurora Institute and the Center for Assessment released How Systems of Assessments Aligned with Competency-Based Education Can Support Equity. The report offers guidance for designing balanced assessment systems to support competency-based education’s equity goals.

Competency-Based Education Resources

  • Assessment for Good Podcast LogoThe Center for Collaborative Education launched a podcast, Assessment for Good, that grapples with traditional, and often oppressive, educational assessment practices. The podcast explores designing assessments that help educators understand what students know and can do while ensuring love and compassion are not lost in the process.
  • Phyllis Lockett of LEAP Innovations is writing a terrific series of columns for Forbes Magazine with a focus on personalized learning. Her column Third-Grade Shoes Won’t Fit In 2020 provides powerful advocacy for personalized learning and addresses common misperceptions.
  • In Proficiency Based Learning: Stay The Course, Iterate & Improve, Mike McRaith of the Vermont Principals Association shares thoughtful reflections on why Vermont should continue to deepen its proficiency-based practices and what is needed to “weather expected pockets of concern, and alleviate stakeholders’ fears without knocking the work off course unnecessarily.”


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Designing Equitable and Culturally Responsive Learning Spaces

January 27, 2020 by

Karla Vigil and Emily AbedonTruly supporting the needs of all learners requires intentional planning and design. In our recent session on designing equitable learning spaces at the Aurora Institute Symposium, the Equity Institute explored how culturally responsive teaching and leading pushes us to reimagine what is possible in our schools. Placing student voices and identity at the forefront of our work helps ensure that those we serve help to define what counts as successful. It challenges us to build student-centered, actionable strategies to support our vision for an equitable education system.

The workshop took its participants on a journey, rooted in equity and focused on becoming culturally responsive educators. We begin with identity development and understanding how educators’ individual identities are intrinsically connected to our students’ identities. Using uniquely designed tools, such as the Equity Institute’s “identity bonds,” participants gain skills necessary for engaging with their communities. Identity bonds provide educators with the opportunity to reflect on their own personal identities and ask critical questions like:

  • Which identity are you most proud of?
  • What part of other people’s identities do you notice first?
  • Which identity gives you power?
  • Which part of your identity do you see having the most effect on your interactions with your students?

Educators At TableWhen educators have the opportunity to think about their identities and have critical conversations with their colleagues, they gain crucial awareness about themselves. This awareness can, with practice, enable them to connect to the larger community and ultimately their students in more authentic ways.

We may think of ourselves as individuals, but each one of us is operating as a member of larger groups in society, depending on how we have been socialized. As Sensoy and DiAngelo (2017) have stated, “Our socialization is the foundation of our identity. Thus to consider that we have been socialized to participate in systems of oppression that we don’t condone is to challenge our very sense of who we are.”[1]  For example, I may have been socialized to think of gender as binary. Today, we know that gender identity is not fixed and falls along a continuum. Recognizing how we have been socialized and how this process impacts our beliefs today is critical when trying to build connections with students who may have been socialized differently. The work with the Equity Institute is informed by the knowledge that our identities and our students’ identities are profoundly impacted by culture and socialization.

Our goal is that the participants begin to develop a deep understanding of how life experiences, values, assumptions, and identity influence the way we see the world around us. When teachers can understand their own identity, they can develop the characteristics needed to effectively teach their students who may have different cultural backgrounds.

A section of the workshop is dedicated to developing and maintaining relationships with students by empowering their cultural identity. If teachers start the school year by building a responsive classroom community and understanding who their students are, where they come from, and how they learn, then they can begin to build trusting relationships. The goal during this process is for teachers to understand how their own experiences and backgrounds impact their day-to-day practice in the classroom. This daily practice can lead to forming connections with all of their students. The teacher can then leverage students’ cultural identities to create units and curricula that reflect students’ passions. Additionally, teachers will begin demonstrating a greater appreciation for diversity and building a strong learning community. We aim for educators to strengthen their understanding of how relationships are a cornerstone of culturally responsive teaching and personalized learning. (more…)

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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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