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Results for: apex

APEX Academy: A Diploma Plus School

December 16, 2013 by

173339Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit with Alfonzo Paz, Assistant Principal at  Academic Performance Excellence Academy, better known as APEX Academy.

APEX is co-located in a large high school in East Hollywood with 330 students from a mostly Latino community with pockets of Armenian, African-American and Asian families. APEX is a Diploma Plus (DP) school, a model developed over 15 years ago. Interestingly, APEX, a charter school, started as a district-run school, but budget cuts began to impact the quality of their school — not so much because of reduced resources but because they ended up with teachers that didn’t share the vision of competency education. The underlying issue was with union policy that gave teachers the right to teach the way they want. How could they have a competency-based school if teachers refused to be competency-based in their instruction, assessment and grading?

I first learned about competency education when I was a program officer at the Mott Foundation during a site visit to one of the earlier DP schools (you can read more about Diploma Plus in Making Mastery Work). So I was thrilled to learn about how Diploma Plus had advanced during my visit to APEX.  DP is designed to work in a variety of educational settings depending on the focus, mission and need of the school or program. I’ve seen it mostly in alternative schools serving over-age and undercredit students.  However, APEX is what I call an “inclusive” high school – it is set up as a regular four-year high school but enrolls students no matter what their educational experience, including re-enrolling after dropping out. Here are a few of the highlights of my visit:

Structure: The DP model doesn’t have age-based grades. Instead it has three phases –  Foundation, Presentation, and, Plus. The Foundation phase is focused on getting students skills up to 10th grade level as many start with gaps in skills as far back as 4th or 5th grade.  Paz explained that APEX had split Presentation Phase into two sections as students were coming from so far behind and needed a sense of progress. Presentation is focused on helping students build up a portfolio of the work emphasizing performance tasks and assessments. Students in the Plus Phase participate in internships, college courses, and community action projects in order to support their successful transition to life after high school. (more…)

A Visit to Cornerstone Charter School (Detroit)

October 30, 2013 by

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In the northwest corner of Detroit, Cornerstone Charter Schools opened Health High School in response to the beliefs, challenges, and dreams of the community. HHS is a new school in its second year of implementation and a good example of blended learning.  The elements of the school that are personalized or competency-based, reside in its rapid response to help students stay on track and complete their courses. Below are several of the design elements:

Character Education:  In the halls and classrooms you see reference to the traits that HHS expects the adults and students to demonstrate. Citizenship, patience, kindness, self-control, gentleness, goodness, faith, peace, and love.  The school is rooted in these values, weaving them and life skills across all content areas.

Designed Around Relationships, Relevance and Rigor: Teachers are called Rigor Managers using the face-to-face (F2F) time to supplement and expand on learning. Relationship Managers stay connected to what is happening with students in school and out, providing coaching and advocacy as needed. Students have a daily class called Relevance that is inquiry-based, interdisciplinary, and connected to the real world. The ninth grade this year is looking at how to address vacant land in Detroit, drawing on science, government, and writing. Another way HHS builds relevance is through a broad career theme offering low-income students access to powerful career development opportunities. HHS was developed in partnership with Detroit Medical Center and Beaumont Hospitals.

(more…)

Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District

January 6, 2015 by
Debbie Treece

Debbie Treece

This is the first post in the Chugach School District series. Continue reading the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh posts. 

I’ve never been to Alaska before. All I can say is that it was beyond any and all expectations – as was my visit to Chugach School District (CSD).

I’m sure you’ve heard about Chugach. It’s the first district to transform itself into a competency-based model (or what they refer to as performance-based). It’s the basis of the must-read Delivering the Promise. CSD has stayed the course for twenty years, developing a sophisticated system that provides flexibility to their schools while keeping a firm eye on student achievement and progress. And they aren’t done – they are continually exploring ways to increase access to knowledge, expand hands-on and college/career readiness opportunities, and more.

It’s not easy to see the CSD performance-based system in practice. Seventy-seven percent of their students are homeschoolers, the schools in the Alutiiq communities of Tatitlek and Chenega Bay require boarding a charter flight, and the road to Whittier…well, it goes through a one-lane tunnel where you have to decide whether you want the wheels of your car to fit on top of the railroad track or to the sides, and where you have to be prepared to share the road with moose if the snow gets too deep! (There is also the Voyage to Excellence, a statewide variable-term residential program to expand learning opportunities, which I’ll talk about in future posts.)

I spent three days with the CSD team in order to fully understand their approach – and I am forever grateful for their willingness to share their knowledge and their love of Alaska. I learned so much about performance-based education: how it looks in tiny, rural schools; how it can be structured for Native education; how it supports special education students; and how the infrastructure can be intentionally designed to capture all aspects of learning and student development.

A special thanks to Debbie Treece, Director of Special Education, who organized the tour, answered a thousand questions, and drove me through a wintery-white landscape to Whittier. (more…)

The Core Business of Schooling: Competency (Part II)

July 23, 2012 by

The Endurance from Wikipedia

If competence is the core business of schooling then why does it seem like a new idea every time it emerges as a topic of reform, debate and consideration?

Part of the answer could be linked to the most important aspect of any venture – its core purpose.  The core purpose of education has long been defined by a contradictory set of principles: one explicit and noble, the other tacit and more base, but seemingly (or at least historically) practical.

The explicit and noble espoused purpose of public education is often paraphrased as being about opportunity and equity – the chance on a level playing field of making more of oneself – the chance to beat the odds of upbringing and class.  Some believe you are given your lot and you have to wait for the next time around to get a better one.  In our society there is a presumption that given certain opportunities people can exceed these pre-determinations and better themselves, their families and thus contribute to the progress of society as whole.  This is a good set of principles and it has served some leading societies well – including a good part of almost every generation of Americans. (more…)

Competency-Based Education and Blended Learning: Worlds Apart or Just Two Sides of the Personalization Coin?

October 1, 2013 by

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This post was originally published by Clayton Christensen Institute on September 18, 2013.

At the Clayton Christensen Institute, we often talk about blended learning and competency-based education in the same breath. That’s because we see both as necessary features of accomplishing personalized learning at scale. A competency-based system allows students to move at their own pace upon mastering concepts, rather than being forced to move beyond material they don’t fully understand or being held back when they are learning at an advanced pace. You can imagine this highly individualized model in a traditional classroom with extremely low teacher-to-student ratios. But to operate personalization at scale, we believe technology must play a part. Software tools in a blended classroom stand to provide a mix of content, assessment, and meaningful real-time feedback that can help teachers move each student along an individual learning pathway at his own pace.

Although this theory sounds quite tidy, the reality on the ground is a bit messier. I keep asking myself: are practitioners and policymakers in blended learning and competency-based education coordinating their efforts? Both, from different angles, are building toward a vision of personalized learning. This common vision, however, does not always yield as natural a synergy as you might imagine. As Chris Sturgis of CompetencyWorks pointed out in her blog a few weeks back, competency-based education models could benefit from taking greater advantage of blended learning, particularly to lend extra support to students who have gaps in understanding or are falling behind. And although many edtech products describe themselves as “mastery-based,” these tools are not always customized to competency-based education classrooms’ needs to track students’ progress against discrete competencies and provide multiple pathways to learning.

There’s not really animosity between these two camps, if you can call them that. Proponents of competency-based education are certainly not luddites, nor are blended-learning entrepreneurs and educators gripping onto time-based policies. But at this point, it’s easier to find models that are either blended or competency-based, rather than both. I have a few working hypotheses of why these worlds aren’t always aligned, or why we aren’t seeing a lot of blended competency-based models yet. (more…)

Optimizing Personalized, Blended, Competency-Based Schools

November 21, 2013 by

It is a mouthful, — personalized, blended and competency-based learning. And I assume that someone out there is going to come up with an acronym or create a name for it. Before they do, I hope problem-based or project-based will be included in that list as well since kids need the opportunity to use deeper levels of knowledge (as well as being downright fun most of the time).

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I’ve made the case why we need to continue to understand each these characteristics separately as we are in such rapid stages of learning. We need a way to break it down when we talk to each other. When I ask a school in New Hampshire “how do you use blended learning?” I expect to hear about the adaptive software students are using, the online courses and competency recovery that is available through Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, how teachers are learning to organize their curriculum in units on the web so that students can advance more quickly, and how they are using tablets for those students that do not have internet access at home so they can download what they need and take it home with them.

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When I visit a school in Maine to learn about their competency-based model they will tell me about their proficiency-based schools. I might hear about the transparency of the measurement targets and learning targets based upon standards, how their learning management system Educate allows teachers to track progress and principals to monitor pacing across the school, about their school-wide system of supports including daily Flex hour and reading specialists that work with individual students as well as building capacity of their teachers, their grading scheme based on depth of knowledge that targets proficiency at Level 3 (i.e. application of knowledge and skills) and how they are developing assessments for Maine’s Guiding Principles or what might others call lifelong learning competencies. (more…)

Next Stop, Level 4

March 24, 2014 by

elevator buttonsDepending on which knowledge taxonomy you use, the highest level with the deepest learning is either Level 4 or Level 6. As we think about equity in a personalized, competency-based world, how do we ensure that all students – even those who entered school at an earlier point on the learning progression than their peers and are on a steeper trajectory – have the chance to deeply engage in learning? How do we make sure that students who want extra challenges but want to stay with their peers can continue to grow without advancing to the next level of studies?

The granularity of standards may be too fine to have students trying to do Level 4 for each one. Learning progressions organized around anchor (power) standards and essential understandings will lend themselves more easily to knowledge utilization. Still, we know that incorporating projects, designed by teachers, students or together, takes time, planning, resources and flexibility. So how are schools managing to create Level 4 opportunities and ensuring that all students have a chance to dive deep into their learning?

Schools are using a variety of techniques: (more…)

Teachers in Charge: USC Hybrid High’s Approach to Competency-Based Blended Learning

June 4, 2014 by
Student at USC

From USC Hybrid High School web site

Originally posted June 3, 2014 at Christensen Institute.

Last week I had the privilege of visiting the USC Hybrid High School (HHS), a new charter school in Los Angeles and winner of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Learning Challenges grant. HHS is pursuing a blended and competency-based model—that is, the school is leveraging technology to deliver some academic content online and building opportunities for students to advance upon mastery, rather than according to hours of instruction. HHS has seen numerous iterations over its past two years in existence (EdSurge’s Mary Jo Madda did a great write-up of these changes earlier this year).

For example, last year the school used Apex Learning almost exclusively to drive a flex blended-learning model (wherein online learning is the backbone, and teachers work with students one-on-one and in groups on projects and tutorials). Now, in its second year, the school has shifted away from a single-provider model to instead making teachers the primary designers of the blended-learning models in their individual classrooms by using a wider range of tools. The school is also putting its money where its mouth is in this design: each teacher receives a stipend to purchase his own software products according to his particular course(s) and tastes. (more…)

How Alaska’s Chugach District Changed Education Through Performance-Based Learning

November 13, 2014 by

Chugach

This post originally published on EdSurge on November 10, 2014.

Chugach, Alaska isn’t just known for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and 1964’s tragic 9.2 magnitude earthquake anymore. The Chugach School District has become recognized as an innovator in grassroots school reform, especially when it comes to performance-based learning.

And for good reason. Within the first five years of starting to rebuild its education system, Chugach leapt from the bottom quartile to an average 72nd percentile on Alaska’s required state assessments. The Chugach School District performance-based education system was honored by President Bush as the first education organization to earn the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, and again by Alaska’s own quality award program by being the first recipient of the APEX award.

In small remote village schools spread out across 22,000 square miles of the roadless pristine wilderness of Prince William Sound, Alaska, communities and educators collectively tossed out the traditional education system to build an entirely new system from scratch. We knew that traditional education was built for another era. Community input, common sense and research led to a school system where there was no second grade, or third grade, or any grade. Students no longer received report cards with letter grades of A through F. No longer was the system built for adults to manage students. It was now built to meet the individual needs of each student. (more…)

Highland Tech Charter School – Putting it All Together

November 24, 2014 by

This is the first post in a series on Highland Tech. Part 2 is Advice From Highland Tech StudentsIMG_0293

Student ownership of learning. Standards-based framework. Personalization. Performance assessments. Standards-based grading aligned with Bloom’s taxonomy. Inquiry-based learning. Project-based learning. New roles for educators.

Highland Tech Charter School (6-12) in Anchorage, AK is putting all these pieces together, but the process is not without its bumps. One staff person wondered, “Is HTC having an identity crisis?”

The pieces don’t all fit together smoothly…yet. The team at HTC is continuing to fine-tune a cohesive, personalized, mastery-based approach, where the size of the school (with 200 students and eleven teachers) is both an advantage and a limitation. They are easily able to work together collaboratively as a school, yet there are limitations in deploying resources to students with a wide range of academic and developmental needs (not to mention a wide range of educational expertise).

It didn’t feel to me like HTC was having an identity crisis. Instead, the different elements of the school are so well-developed they are pushing up against each other, requiring the staff to think strategically about how to integrate the elements as well as keep them in balance. (more…)

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