CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency 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. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

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Highlights from the CBE Leadership Forum at iNACOL17

November 17, 2017 by

At iNACOL17, CompetencyWorks organized a Leadership Forum for people with more than one year experience in implementing competency-based education. We organized conversations so that people would have a opportunity to meet each other, exchange ideas, and look both backward and forward. There is no way to capture the lively conversation of 60+ people talking about a topic they care deeply about. However, I will do my best to give you a flavor of those conversations.

Before I highlight a few of the conversations, I feel it is important to share some feedback from our colleagues who work at the national level and in intermediary/technical assistance organizations. I received multiple requests from district and school leaders that the Leadership Forum next year only include people at the state, district, and school levels, and that people from supporting organizations have their own space to talk. The feedback was consistent and from several different tables: The people from field organizations took up too much air time and often spoke from what they think should be happening rather than what is rooted in experience. This is important information for all of us, including myself.

The field is changing, with much more expertise rooted in the districts and schools than ever before. It is worthwhile for us to take a step back and think about what the implications of these changes mean. We certainly need both types of perspective – those with in-depth knowledge developed from implementation and those with broader perspectives who understand differences in how competency-based education is developing, as well as with expertise around the different topics for which we need to build capacity. We also need to honor that district and school people have few opportunities to meet with their colleagues, whereas people in supporting organizations have lots of opportunities for meetings, given that this is how much of our work gets done.

I don’t know what we will do next year – however, my instinct is to honor the requests of district and school leadership. Perhaps those people who want to attend and are not in those positions can participate as note takers and facilitators so that they have opportunity to listen and learn.

Highlights of Conversations:

As you reflect back on your experience in the implementation of CBE, what were the easiest wins or successes?

  • Getting people to see the value of a CBE system.
  • With a clear mission/vision, the work of defining competencies becomes easier.
  • Building on what is already in place so you don’t try to create something completely new, including finding ways to engage people who are already doing some of the practices and building from there.

(more…)

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How Competency-Based Education Differs from the Traditional System of Education

November 16, 2017 by

This is the fourth post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education.

Across the country, schools, districts and states are replacing the traditional, time-based structure with one that is designed to help each student reach proficiency. Educators organize learning in a variety of ways that respond to students and are designed to motivate and engage students in mastery of their own learning. Competency-based structures are also designed to ensure students reach proficiency so that students and parents are confident that their students are learning what they need to as they advance towards graduation.

Below is the working definition of competency-based education. (Please note: the working definition is being updated and a logic model being developed to be released in second quarter of 2018).

Students advance upon demonstrated mastery — By advancing upon demonstrated mastery rather than on seat time, students are more engaged and motivated, and educators can direct their efforts to where students need the most help.

 

Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students — With clear, transparent learning objectives, students have greater ownership over their education.

 

Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs — Students receive the supports and flexibility they need, when they need them, to learn, thrive and master the competencies they will need to succeed.

 

Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students — New systems of assessments give students real-time information on their progress and provide the opportunity to show evidence of higher order skills, whenever they are ready, rather than at set points in time during the school year.

 

Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions — Personalized, competency-based learning models meet each student where they are to build the knowledge, skills and abilities they will need to succeed in postsecondary education, in an ever-changing workplace and in civic life.

The section below illustrates key differences between competency-based education as compared to traditional education systems, and offers examples of how competency-based systems can embed an intentional focus upon equity. (more…)

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5 Things I Learned While Scoring Micro-credentials

November 14, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on October 18, 2017.

How can we create learning experiences that respect adults as learners and support teacher driven professional development? That was the question educators in Rhode Island set out to answer as part of the Assessment for Learning Project. At the heart of the project was a set of performance assessment micro-credentials designed by teachers. I had the task of reviewing many of the 100 submissions we received and two things are now clear to me. First, writing a performance assessment micro-credential is a performance assessment in and of itself. Second, adults are not much different from younger students when it comes to assessment. I found being a reviewer to be fascinating! Here are some of the things I learned while scoring micro-credentials.


(more…)

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Waukesha STEM Academy: Personalizing Instruction and Learning Experiences (Part 2)

November 13, 2017 by

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the second in a four-part series on Waukesha STEM Academy. Start the entire series here or read the first part on Waukesha. 

Many people describe WSA as a STEM school or as a project-based learning school. Murray quickly pointed out, “I couldn’t really make a blanket statement that we are a project-based school or not. It really depends on the student and how they learn best. For some students, hands-on learning and projects all day work great; for others, not so well. We organize the instruction and learning around what works for students.” He continued, “We started out as a project-based school until we discovered that not every student is ready to do hands-on learning the day they walk through our doors. We failed forward and learned by doing and not doing. Now we ask and discover through conversations with our students what the best fit is for them and roll from there. What does the student need? What type of environment do they like? What type of modality fits their learning habits best? What type of seat do they like, even! Maybe their best fit is direct instruction from a teacher, possibly a slide-show or presentation, maybe it is to watch a video so they have some control and can re-watch, or maybe what they need to do is create a video to teach other students.”

Instruction

The shared pedagogical philosophy at WSA begins with making learning visible. This starts with an agreed-upon workflow process that has students able to access ‘playlists’ or the resources they need for the unit or progression of skills, followed by students planning for and engaging in learning. The next stages are skill building and practice tasks and experiences with formative feedback, which is then followed by summative work where students submit artifacts that demonstrate their proficiency for a specific level of skill and demonstrating mastery. Finally, the learner continuum is used to monitor and share student progress to help support a competency-based learning system. And the cycle begins again.

As emphasized above, the specific instructional strategies vary based on a combination of student needs and the teacher’s professional judgment about what will be most effective delivery and modality for students. There are different instructional modalities, including direct instruction, complementary and adaptive educational software, Socratic seminars, problem-based learning, and project-based learning. There is an emphasis on students applying their learning through the design process, innovating and creating things, capstones projects followed by gallery walks, and project-based learning. Murray explained, “It really feels unique and pretty real when you walk down the hallways and into learning spaces here, because you don’t see just STEM at WSA, you actually have to step over it.”

WSA knows that teachers need time for planning. Given the high degree of interdependence of math skills, with students needing to access prerequisite concepts and processes, the math team has 80 minutes [together] every day for planning and strategizing for providing support to all students. “When we sat back and reflected on our schedule for about the hundredth time in Year 3,” Murray laughs, “we recognized that we truly needed to be responsive to our teacher’s needs and not just our students’, or burnout was sure to follow.  Similar to how a teacher would ask a student how they learn best, I asked our staff how they would work best, and they gave some amazing feedback and a vision. This vision blended with our students’ needs and brought upon our new daily and weekly framework, which is quite fluid to support needs of all learners in the school.” Feedback was then gathered from students, staff, and parents to continue to grow the best possible framework for optimal learning and teaching conditions.

Mix of Courses and Educational Experiences

Before WSA made the transition to personalized, proficiency-based education, there were eight core courses and transitions a day. “With that many transitions and classes came that much less time to learn and time wasted moving between classes,” Murray says. “What if we didn’t have bells, reduced the amount of transitions between classes, and built up the amount of time that students were able to spend on experiments, projects, and collaboration? What if we just gave students more time to apply their learning and opened up the pacing a little bit?” It seemed to be the switch that needed to be flipped, because engagement and performance skyrocketed, and WSA currently organizes their day into four main COREs, as they’re called. Murray insists that the day isn’t a block-schedule and there is evidence to prove it. “When we visited other schools or teams come to visit us, they quickly ask if our schedule is a block schedule when they see it and I show them the past two, three, and four weeks that we have just experienced. Every single week this year has been different for the most part, based on what took place each week – which trips were built in, which mentors and partnerships came to visit, when Advisory took place, and when we felt the need to build in a FLEXible afternoon, where students created their own schedule for half of the day. Folks aren’t sure how to take that, but it excites them when they see that it’s possible.” Murray shared that at WSA, they even run mornings and half days where the students are able to visit Passion-Project Seminars based on their own interests and, at times, the students are the ones who are running the seminars. (more…)

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Why a Competency-Based System Is Needed: 10 Ways the Traditional System Contributes to Inequity

November 9, 2017 by

This is the third post in the blog series on the report, Quality and Equity by Design: Charting the Course for the Next Phase of Competency-Based Education. See the first post and second post.

Before exploring key issues in a competency-based system, it is valuable to unpack why the traditional system is an obstacle to creating high-achieving schools and equitable outcomes.

The strategies used by districts in response to state accountability exams under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), including one-size-fits all instructional strategies and delivering grade level curriculum regardless of what students know, exposed the traditional system for what it is: a sorting system. Despite implementing a series of education reforms and programs, many schools struggle to produce better outcomes largely because the traditional system is not set up to do so. Despite teachers’ persistent best efforts to support every student, the traditional system passes students on before they have mastered each stage of learning. Those who have mastered the skills continue on a path towards graduation and college. For those who have not, little is offered to help them learn what was expected. The result is a new set of students each year who may not have the necessary prerequisite skills and knowledge to take on the content offered by each successive year’s teachers. This sets up teachers and students alike for failure. This sorting function of traditional education is exacerbated by unequal and inequitable school resources that continue to haunt the education system.

10 Flaws in the Traditional System

The traditional system is simply not designed to produce the goals we have set for it, or that our children, communities and nation so desperately need and deserve. There are ten primary flaws in the traditional system that can be corrected by redesigning the system for success in which all students achieve mastery. These flaws include that the traditional system: (more…)

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Creating a Learner-Driven System in Waukesha (Part 1)

November 8, 2017 by

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the first in a four-part series on Waukesha STEM Academy. Start with this look at what’s happening state-wide. 

I arrived early at Waukesha’s STEM Academy – Saratoga Campus (WSA). Entering the front door, one immediately steps into a relatively open space carved into smaller areas by bookshelves, desks, and a variety of seating options. The place was humming. Students streaming in, unpacking backpacks, clustered in corners talking, some wrapping themselves in chairs with a book or a computer. A film crew from a local station was set up in another area to interview two young women who were winners in a regional Toy and Game competition. (See for yourself in A Day in the Life or virtual tour videos.)

I hadn’t had my coffee yet and was having difficulties taking it all in. Especially the five-foot-long Ball Python in principal James Murray’s office, which luckily hadn’t had his coffee either and lay there peacefully. (I later learned that a parent, who was ready to pass on the snake to the next caretaker, had dropped it off at the school.)

WSA serves over 300 students in a middle school, all of whom are selected through a random lottery and without any criterion to enter. Jokingly, Murray points out the irony in the lottery process, because even though the school is a one-to-one technology school, full of 3D printers, laser engravers, CNC routers, saws, drills, and a flurry of digital learning platforms and 55” TV’s lining the walls like posters, the lottery is conducted through a process that uses an old-school Bingo hopper. “We want all students, “Murray points out. “We don’t want to go out and hand pick our students…we want students…period.” He shares that, “we have the 1st through the 99th percentile in academic readiness and the 1st through the 99th percentile in behaviors when they come through our doors. After Day 1, it’s a whole new ball game, and we help foster caring, compassionate citizens who end up becoming great students. One is the byproduct of the other, and I honestly don’t feel that these can be grown in isolation, nor should they be.”

He also quickly disposed of the idea that middle school simply means grades six through eight. “On paper, this campus is grades six through eight. That’s about where that antiquated theory ends, though. Students enter our school with skills that stretch from second grade and extend beyond tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade. Basically, we’ve eliminated grades based on your age… here is no born-on date for progress and success. We help students own the fact that when they arrive here, they are on a 540-day journey, with each student entering at a different place and moving at a different pace. We are, simply put, a competency-based school.” Although we at CompetencyWorks have anticipated schools thinking this way, to date it is few and far between. I didn’t even need my coffee anymore. I was alert to make sure I didn’t miss any of the details about how WSA had developed.

Theory of Action

WSA has a clear theory of action that drives how the school is organized and the culture of the school. (more…)

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

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What's new! star graphicA Must-Read: The Hewlett Foundation Assessment for Learning Work Group released Principles for Assessment Design and Use to Support Student Autonomy.

Thought Leadership

Assessments

  • This article examines the ways in which we assess students’ high school experiences and the impact this has on their eligibility for college.

Recruiting and Supporting Educators

Colorado

  • The Colorado Education Initiative released a new strategy that includes Competency-Based/Personalized Learning, and states that CEI is intensifying their efforts to help districts build systems where students advance based on demonstrated readiness and educators tailor learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests.
  • Colorado’s Thompson School District is launching a “Seeing Is Believing” Tour as a type of professional learning where practitioners across 10 secondary schools work across buildings to showcase their classrooms, share success stories, and to unite as a district to do what’s best for students.The Donnell-Kay Foundation embarked on a journey across Colorado schools to examine how schools that have transitioned to a four-day school week are leveraging the fifth day. Here’s an update on their journey and learnings.

Massachusetts

(more…)

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Steps Toward Maturity: Introducing the Concept of Student Autonomy (Part 2)

November 7, 2017 by

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

In the first part of this series, I call for us to be strategic in how we communicate the concepts related to student agency to the general public while also building a more precise understanding of what it means and how to help students develop the mindsets, maturity, and skills to be lifelong learners. In this article, the concept of student autonomy is defined as well as the implications for building a system of assessments.

In the previous article, I suggest that study groups on concepts related to student agency could help the field. I’d start with the newly released paper Principles for Assessment Design and Use to Support Student Autonomy, developed by the Hewlett Assessment for Learning Working Group and available at the CIE website. It is a must read. This paper introduces design principles to help build student agency through assessment for learning practice and is a launching pad for much deeper conversations in our field. Below are a few highlights to consider:

Student Autonomy

The paper uses the term autonomy to refer to two concepts: student agency and self-regulated learning (beware the confusion that could happen with SRL and SEL).

Student Agency: According to a recent report from Harvard University, agency is “the capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative—the opposite of helplessness. Young people with high levels of agency “do not respond passively to their circumstances; they tend to seek meaning and act with purpose to achieve the conditions they desire in their own and others’ lives” (Ferguson, Phillips, Rowley & Friedlander 2015, p. 1). Indicators of student agency in school include a sense of efficacy, a growth mindset, a goal-orientation to learning, and higher future aspirations (Ferguson et al., 2015).

Self-Regulated Learning: Self-regulated learning (SRL) is one aspect of the broader skill of self-regulation (NRC, 2012). SRL involves employing strategies such as goal-setting, developing plans to achieve goals, monitoring progress toward goals, and upon reflection adapting learning approaches to move closer to desired goals (e.g., Boekaerts & Cascallar, 2006, Pintrich, 2000, 2004; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2011). SRL applies not only to cognition but also to motivation and overt behavior, for example, removing distractions from a learning situation, effective time-management, and the focused exertion of effort (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2007). (more…)

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Steps Toward Maturity: Making Meaning of the Mindsets and Skills for Student Agency (Part 1)

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Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This is the beginning of a periodic series on what it means to help students build the mindsets and skills to be a lifelong learner.

Student agency is a phrase that is nearly impossible to use in everyday language and is certainly not a phrase that parents use to describe their children. “Look at the agency my darling Marla has climbing that tree.” “My Martin is doing so well, he is demonstrating such agency these days.” Nope, nuh uh. That isn’t language that is going to be accessible to parents.

Student agency is also a concept that has yet to be fully developed or understood in our field. I’ve heard way too many people who specialize in blended and online learning interpret agency as choice. More choice, more agency. Wrong! I’ve heard people say that working through adaptive educational software is agency. Of course, there could be some elements of skill-building depending on what skills or dispositions a student is working on (with the coaching of the teacher leading to greater agency), but in general, programs are designed to guide students with discrete choices along the way. I’ve heard others describe it primarily as leadership, others as giving students opportunity to have voice. However, helping students become lifelong learners and have the ability to navigate new, and often challenging, environments is much more than choice, voice, or leadership opportunities.

There are other related concepts, such as executive functioning (the worst of all in terms of family-friendly language), self-regulation, social & emotional learning, habits of success, and of course the all-important growth mindset. In the next article, the concept of student autonomy will be introduced for us to consider.

It is helpful to have complementary sets of concepts so that experts within schools (i.e., teachers) and within the research community can develop and implement evidence-based strategies that help students learn and succeed. We need the technical language, and we all need to become adept at using the technical language, so we can communicate with preciseness and discern between different capacities and strategies. (more…)

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