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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4 Ways We Can Fund Personalized Learning to Create More Equitable Schools

September 19, 2017 by

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

This post originally appeared at Education Post on September 12, 2017.

Budget shortfalls in states are framing a new angle on educational equity conversations. It is no longer simply about what is right, but what is fiscally necessary for a state to grow and thrive.

Studies from Erik Hanushek and the National Bureau of Economic Research show, state economies live and die by the extent to which they drive educational success for all their learners.

Fiscal responsibility at the state level is vital for the academic success of all children, but especially for students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, English-language learners, students living in foster care and students currently without a permanent residence.

These and other student groups who have been underserved, seemingly as tradition in public education, are more likely to attend what Johns Hopkins University researcher Robert Balfanz calls “dropout factories”—schools in which less than 60 percent of students graduate on time.

For example, the national, on-time graduation rate for students with disabilities and English-language learners is currently under 65 percent. Given the widespread use of Balfanz’s “dropout factory” definition, this means that we could be on the verge of classifying our national education system as a dropout factory for the aforementioned student groups.

HERE’S WHERE PERSONALIZED LEARNING COMES IN

(more…)

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Lessons from a Vanguard: A Look at Metz Elementary

September 18, 2017 by

This post is part of an ongoing series on Colorado schools. Read about D51 for more insights. 

Westminster Public Schools is accustomed to being in the spotlight. In 2008, Westminster became one of the first public school districts in the nation to adopt a competency-based model. In 2000, Colorado was one of the first states to adopt a school report card system. Based primarily upon standardized test results, the new law also put into place mandatory state interventions for schools and districts with persistent low performance. As the district website recounts, “after years of declining scores on the Colorado Student Achievement Program, commonly known as CSAP, the Board of Education decided the academic success of its students was too important to address through small curriculum shifts or a subtle tweaking of its programming. Instead, the district needed to radically change the way it educated students.”[1] Already looking for a more effective way to serve the districts’ rapidly changing student needs, district leadership made a bold move. Rather than pursue “drill and kill” strategies designed to quickly boost test scores, the district chose instead to implement a competency-based education model with the intention of honoring students and supporting deeper learning. This was a bold move and reflects an ethos about students and educators that continues to this day.

Metz Elementary was the first school to pilot Westminster’s new performance based system. Beginning in 2009, the school abandoned its traditional system of age-based learning to focus instead on what they wanted for students – deeper learning and performance. The school serves approximately 340 students in grades K-5, most of who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Borrowing from Chugach School District in Alaska and other schools across the country that had made the move to a performance-based system, Westminster Public Schools introduced a personalized learning approach that was all its own.

Claudette Trujillo, the principal at Metz, grew up in Westminster. After a few years teaching in a neighboring district, Ms. Trujillo ultimately returned to Westminster, where she has served in multiple roles at multiple schools. When she arrived at Metz in 2013, the school had returned to a traditional structure. Despite the district’s continued commitment to competency-based learning, a series of circumstances resulted in a lack of consistent implementation at Metz. Changes in leadership and staff have resulted in teachers relying on what they knew best, more traditional models of teaching and learning.

Principal Claudette Trujillo

Four years later, Ms. Trujillo has solidly re-established competency-based learning at the school. Teachers and students alike are invested in the structure and the enthusiasm is palpable throughout the school. Ms. Logsdon, a Level 4/5 teacher, describes it this way. “[Adopting competency-based learning is] absolutely the right thing for kids and it is absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.” When asked what lessons she has learned in the process, she offers the following reflection, “leadership for competency-based systems has to be there, and [leadership] has to believe in it.”

Today, thanks to the leadership and dedicated teachers and students at Metz Elementary, the school has implemented a dynamic system that is very much home-grown. The district’s brochure How Personalized Learning Works outlines the key components of the system at work in Metz Elementary. Core elements of the district’s approach include:

  • Clear learning targets that determine each student’s performance level in each subject
  • Ongoing assessments that inform student pathways and provide opportunities to demonstrate proficiency
  • Promotion to the next performance level as soon as a student demonstrates they are ready
  • Transparent reporting systems that allow parents, students and educators to log on any time and see where a student is and what’s next

(more…)

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The Role of Advisory in Personalizing the Secondary Experience

September 13, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on August 24, 2017. 

The goal of an advisory is to help students figure out who they are, where they’re headed and how they’re going to get there. Through an advisory system, each student has an adult who knows them and helps them navigate high school so that they leave with a meaningful, personalized plan and are prepared for post-secondary options.

An advisory is a key component of a distributed student guidance strategy that includes regular meetings at regular intervals between an advisor and a group of students, has a clear focus and is something in which all students and staff participate. Student ownership is key to an advisory process, and there is typically a “gradual release” of responsibility from advisor to advisee. With the support of the advisor, students craft and own outcomes as they pursue postsecondary learning opportunities.

In the paper Core and More: Guiding and Personalizing College and Career Readiness, we assert that the best student guidance systems are blended (leveraging technology and in-person instruction and services), distributed (leveraging staff in addition to school counselors) and scheduled (utilizing an advisory period).

This advisory period is really the glue that holds it all together. The structure of the advisory should reflect the school’s mission, vision and philosophy of learning and should provide additional opportunities for students and staff to personalize their experiences.

High school can be a confusing time with increasing options for students due to the rapid expansion of digital learning. Advisory has to be the spine of the next generation high school. Sustained adult relationships can help students navigate this new digital landscape and maximize tools and systems to enhance their personal learning plan and map their trajectory beyond high school graduation.

Chris Lehmann, Science Leadership Academy (SLA), believes that student-teacher relationships radiate from the advisory period. “Think of advisory as the soul of your school. And in everything you do, remember that you teach students before you teach subjects. Advisory is the place in the schedule where that idea has its core and then it spreads into everything else we do,” Lehmann said.

Beth Brodie of Partnership for Change notes that a key function of the advisor is to ensure that every student has someone, “who knows them well and supports them at school meetings and conferences.”

Five Core Elements

We see five core elements that should be part of every secondary advisory system: (more…)

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Taking a Minute to Reflect on Competency Education and ELL students

September 12, 2017 by

Why would a school serving high numbers of ELL students want to turn to competency education? As I visit schools serving students who are learning the English language while also learning academic skills, content, and the powerful higher order skills, I always seek further understanding about how competency education is being implemented to better serve English Language Learners.

Given the release of iNACOL’s new paper Next Generation Learning Models for English Language Learners by Natalie Troung, I thought I would take a minute to reflect back on what I’ve heard from educators over the past six years of visiting schools on behalf of CompetencyWorks. I realized as I revisited my conversations with educators that much of what has been shared certainly applies to any student.

From Flushing International High School in NYC

Power of intentionality and transparency impacts students and teachers. Principal Lara Evangelista explained the value of competency education, “We started along the path toward mastery-based learning when we began to ask ourselves why we assess. Why do we grade? We realized that every teacher did it differently. The transparency and intentionality of mastery-based learning makes a huge difference for our teachers and our students. Our teachers are much more intentional about what they want to achieve in their classrooms. It has also opened up the door to rich conversations about what is important for students to learn, pedagogy, and the instructional strategies we are using. For students, the transparency is empowering and motivating. They are more engaged in taking responsibility for their own education than ever before.”

Targeting conversations on learning and habits of success. The topic of how to help those students who are really struggling ran through the conversations. Math teacher Rosmery Milczewski explained that she was unsure at first, as she wasn’t familiar with mastery-based learning. “The thing that convinced me is that in the traditional grading systems, when a student would come and ask how they could do better in a class, all I could really say was study more,” she explained. “The grades didn’t guide me as a teacher. There was no way to help students improve. With mastery-based grading, we talk about specific learning outcomes. I know exactly how to help students and they know exactly where their strengths and weaknesses are. With mastery-based learningI am much more focused and goal-oriented when I’m conferring with students. In my advisory, mastery-based grading has changed how I talk to them about how they are doing in other classes. We always look at their work habits. That is going to tell you everything.”

Improving quality of learning experiences and assessing students. Assistant Principal Kevin Hesseltine noted, “Our projects are teacher-designed. The intentionality has made a huge difference on the quality of our project-based learning.” Wolf explained, “The question of how you judge what mastery is has made a huge difference for me. I don’t use quizzes any more. I would rather spend a day working on project with students than designing and grading a quiz.”

Finding ways to build successful learning experiences. For students who are really struggling, Jordan Wolf suggested that the key is seeking ways to build success, “Sometimes it is important to find small chunks that give a roadmap to success for students. In JumpRope (Flushing’s grading software), I can expand down to a much more granular level until I can find a place to focus in which the student can build success on one or two things. After they realize they can be successful, they’ll be willing to try a little more.” To make sure students get extra attention when they are having difficulties, a policy has been developed where a 1.7 triggers an intervention. There is also a policy for course extensions when students have not been able to reach all the learning outcomes. The expectation is that students will finish everything by the end of the following semester.

Helping teachers improve their own learning. Milczewski explained, “When I look at JumpRope and I see that a majority of students are having difficulty with a specific outcome, it tells me two things. One, I need to re-teach it, and two, I need to reflect on my own teaching to find a better way to reteach it.”

From Dual Immersion Academy (DIA) in District 51 Colorado

(more…)

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The How to Your Why

September 11, 2017 by

So much has been said about the importance of an organization having a purpose for the work they do. Schools have crafted purpose statements often containing phrases like “life-long learners,” “productive citizens,” and “successful members of society.” This is best done following a series of meetings with all stakeholders to capture their thoughts on what the experience of school should be for the community. At RSU 2, our purpose statement is “Cultivating Hope in All Learners.” We wanted a lofty commitment that falls just short of saying, “We want to make the world a better place.” All decisions we make, from allocating our resources to scheduling our learners, must be done in a way that shows we support our purpose.

But how do we know we are supporting the purpose? That question has been on my mind lately, causing me to ponder the middle ring in Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, the “How”: how we do the things we do in support of our why. If your actions do not reflect your why, you should either change your actions or change your why. Left as is, people will begin to see hypocrisy in your organization. And once they believe you are not being true to the work, they will find evidence to support their doubt, even if it is falsely interpreted. Leaders will find themselves in a constant mode of management.

What I have come to notice is to get at the “how we will work together to meet our purpose” requires agreement on common language and common approaches. The stakeholders responsible for the implementation of the plan must spend time to truly understand it so the purpose can be realized. These understandings must include agreed upon definitions and tenets.

Recently, I watched a five minute New York Times Magazine interview with comedian Jerry Seinfeld in which he described his process for writing a joke. When you listen, his rules of thumb of joke creating and telling come out loud and clear. They are:

  1. Write about nothing
  2. Think of something you think is funny
  3. Be funny right away
  4. Write on yellow pads with a Bic pen
  5. Look for connective tissue to link the story
  6. Biggest joke at the end
  7. The wronger something feels the righter it is

While some of these might be typical for all comedians, some may be true for Seinfeld alone.

The same can be said for how a school realizes being a personalized, competency-based system of education. Our rules of thumb, lets call them tenets, the principle or belief held as true by the members of a group, will be both similar and special to the district who defines them. Said in another way, what are those things that we agree need to happen to reach our vision? No system is exactly like another. Whether it is demographics, geography, or traditions and superstitions (like writing every episode of Seinfeld with a yellow pad and a Bic pen), schools have personalities. That is what we mean when we talk about school culture.  That is why every school and system needs to invest the time and energy, in productive struggle, to build understanding of how they will put the learners and their learning at the center of everything they do. (more…)

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Just Ask: The CBE 360 Survey Toolkit

September 8, 2017 by

Are your students experiencing the competency-based experience the way you hope they are? Is there transparency so they know what they need to do to be successful? Do students feel that they are making decisions about their learning? And how does the student experience differ from what teachers believe they are doing?

The only way to find out is to ask students and teachers about their experiences. American Institutes for Research (AIR) has created the CBE 360 Survey Toolkit to help you get started. This customizable toolkit includes a student experiences survey, a teacher practices survey, a user’s guide, and companion tools such as checklists and consent documents. These materials are free for anyone to use. Microsoft Word versions or the SurveyMonkey templates can be provided upon request. If you are interested in using these exciting new tools in your school(s) and would like additional support adopting or utilizing these surveys, please contact the CCRS Center at ccrscenter@air.org.

Do you want to know more? AIR is hosting the webinar Tools for Looking Under the Hood of Competency-Based Education on September 12, 2017, 1:00 – 2:15 p.m. ET. This webinar will provide an overview of the toolkit, and participants will hear from national experts and practitioners on lessons learned with implementing CBE.

Also check out the report Looking Under the Hood of Competency-Based Education to find out what AIR discovered by using the survey.

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What to Read to Learn about Competency-Based Education

September 7, 2017 by

I’ve been getting a lot of emails recently about how to learn more about competency-based education. Here are a few ideas to get you started based on my discussions with educators and what I know is available. It seems that more is being produced every day. As you know, CompetencyWorks is dedicated to learning from the cutting edge. So if you have resources that have been effectively used in your district or school, please let us know about them. Even more helpful is to know how you used them and what question prompts you used to spark discussion and reflection. Send them to chris at metisnet dot com.

Why Change?

Competency education is gaining attention. Some of this may be authentic, arising from educators and communities that are frustrated with the traditional system and how it is designed to produce inequity and lower achievement. Some attention may come from people who are interested in competency education because it helps them advance the ideas that they feel strongly about. Some may be required by state policy. And some may see that it is trending and want to make sure they are in the know.

Communities and districts that decide to make the change to competency education usually take the time to understand The Why: why do we want to make a change at all? Converting to competency education requires too much work if you are doing it because you have to or think you should. The districts that are successful in the conversion to competency education feel urgency because the world has changed around us and they need to change their schools. They also feel a moral imperative once they realize that the system is designed to underserve students.

In interviewing district leaders over the past six years, there is a pretty common set of books they have used to engage school boards, their staff, and community members about the reasons there needs to be a change. You can learn more about the process communities use in the section on Ramping Up from Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems. (Please let us know if there are materials you have used successfully to help people engage in The Why.)

What is Competency Education?

The next question then becomes, “What is going to be better than the traditional system?” The following resources should be helpful as the basis of discussion. (more…)

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3 Lessons Learned from PACE

September 6, 2017 by

Principal Amy Allen

Parker Varney Elementary School in Manchester, NH has been involved in the PACE initiative since 2015. (You can read more about Parker Varney here and here.) PACE, or the Performance Assessment for Competency Education, is an initiative designed to transform classroom practice to improve college and career readiness by building educator capacity and increasing student engagement through the design and use complex performance tasks. The initiative is also helping to build a shared understanding of proficiency for ELA (third and eighth grade) and math (fourth and eighth grade) across New Hampshire by using cohorts of districts that work together for a year.

As we moved to personalized, competency-education, there could have been many missteps. However, the strong network of district leaders, principal, and teacher leaders proved invaluable. With a powerful network supporting us, what might have been missteps instead became powerful lessons learned.

#1 Making the transition to personalized, competency-based education with performance assessments is paying off.

Our students are more engaged in learning than ever before. The result has been deeper, more authentic learning opportunities and greater student engagement. At Parker Varney Elementary, students in a multi-age 2/3-grade classroom exhibited significant progress in reading achievement. At the start of the 2016 school year, 29% of Grade 2 students and 75% of Grade 3 students were proficient in reading as measured by the district’s benchmark assessment. By March 2017, 77% of Grade 2 students and 85% of Grade 3 students were proficient in reading as measured by the district’s benchmark assessment.

From September 2016 to April 2017, special education referrals declined by 21%. At the start of the 2016 school year, our Grade 2 and Grade 3 English Language Learners were 54% proficient in reading as measured by the district’s benchmark assessment. By June 2017, 85% of those students were proficient and making at least one year’s growth as measured by the district’s benchmark assessment.

In the student exhibitions, you see students shining as they take on the role of experts. During a tour, I brought two national visitors to our innovation-learning lab. Eighty-nine students were showcasing their Jr. Steam projects in which they had designed robotics to solve environmental problems. With 100% of the class participating, the room was filled with students excited to share their ideas, learning, and success. These deeper learning opportunities removed the barriers encountered by students in special education, English Language Learners, and poverty.

One of our parents called me after the presentation and told me that they had to move across town and would have to enroll in a different elementary school. She said she was concerned that her student would not have the same experience at the other school as she did at Parker-Varney. I asked her to clarify and she said, “My child has never been so excited for learning. He has always felt that he was not as smart as his classmates. We moved a lot and he has always been catching up. I saw him today and he was glowing. He was so proud to show off his robot and how it would improve pollination. He loved talking to every visitor and answering questions. He used words that I have never heard but more importantly, he knew his information and he has never felt so smart.” Every parent wants their child to love to learn and feel good about themselves; competency-based personalized learning has opened that door for our students.

#2 Meeting students where they are is a whole school commitment.

(more…)

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