Author: Anna Fazekas

Breaking Ranks Showcase Schools: Nashua High School North and South

April 13, 2015 by

NSDThis spotlight originally appeared in the CSSR Newsletter.

While they may be rivals on the athletic fields, the learning communities at both Nashua (NH) High School North and Nashua (NH) High School South are very purposeful about staying together as partners in education. It’s been over a decade since the district replaced the single high school with two campuses, but they have recognized from the beginning the power of synergy and collaboration. Both campuses are committed to moving forward together through collaboration and a focus on student outcomes. As Director of Curriculum Peggy Reynolds puts it, “they’re all Nashua kids, and we really feel that.”

The Nashua School District (NSD) has fostered this strong collaborative spirit through focusing on what unites them – the curriculum. Regardless of whether you work at North or South “the curriculum is the curriculum is the curriculum” says Reynolds. Teachers meet regularly both within their school, and across the two campuses to discuss the curriculum. Teachers are committed to developing the curriculum, and corresponding performance tasks, that they themselves wrote. They meet regularly to examine student work and calibrate those performance tasks to ensure they engage students in opportunities to explore greater depths of knowledge within the content. (more…)

Competency Education in Practice: Newfound Regional High School Spotlight

December 29, 2014 by
Bristol, NH Central Square Wikipedia

Bristol, NH Central Square
Wikipedia

This spotlight originally appeared in the CSSR October 2014 Newsletter.

In 2005, New Hampshire became the first state to abolish the Carnegie Unit and mandate that by SY ’08-’09 all high schools measure credit according to students’ mastery of course competencies rather than seat time. CSSR works with a number of New Hampshire schools through the i3 NETWORK to build the pedagogical and leadership capacity to take on this transformational work. Newfound Regional High School is one of those i3 NETWORK schools.

Newfound Regional High School | Bristol, NH

The school motto, “working to provide a personalized, competency-based education for every student,” is deeply engrained in the work the school has done to implement competency education and aligned performance assessment. School Redesign Coordinator Jim LeBaron is quick to emphasize the dramatic cultural shift that is taking place within the building, but acknowledges that for educators: “seeing kids engaged and taking ownership of learning is a big win for getting educators on board.” The road to where they are now has not always been easy and LeBaron offered up several tips for schools looking to do similar work:

Writing Competencies

Having departments work together to determine overarching competencies within their disciplines is superior to individual subject areas developing their own competencies. These overarching competencies allow for more interdisciplinary work, thematic projects, and a more vertically aligned pathway through the content areas. At Kearsarge, the autonomy of classroom teachers to develop their own unit plans and the autonomy of individual students to personalize their own learning pathways was maintained. By not prescribing performance tasks aligned to the competencies, students are expected to choose how they will demonstrate mastery. (more…)

Competency Education in Practice: Kearsarge Regional High School Spotlight

November 21, 2014 by

KearsargeThis spotlight originally appeared in the CSSR October 2014 Newsletter.

In 2005, New Hampshire became the first state to abolish the Carnegie Unit and mandate that by SY ’08-’09 all high schools measure credit according to students’ mastery of course competencies rather than seat time. CSSR works with a number of New Hampshire schools through the i3 NETWORK to build the pedagogical and leadership capacity to take on this transformational work. Kearsarge Regional High School is one of those i3 NETWORK schools.

Kearsarge Regional High School | North Sutton, NH

The road to Competency Education at Kearsarge Regional High School (KRHS) coincided with the adoption of school-wide learning expectations associated with the school’s core values and beliefs. Academic Expectations include: effective and clear communication; critical thinking; and information, technology, and media literacy. Social and Civic Expectations include: initiative and productivity; responsibility and accountability; and collaboration. Students are assessed on these expectations through each of their courses but receive a separate grade than that earned through the demonstration of course competencies. (more…)

Policy Implications in Competency Education: An Interview with Don Siviski

November 14, 2014 by

CSSRThis interview originally appeared in the CSSR October 2014 Newsletter.

Don Siviski is a career educator who began his career as a middle school teacher, formerly served as the Maine Department of Education’s Superintendent of Instruction, and now works as a school change coach with CSSR. He was closely involved in the comprehensive policy work that resulted in Maine legislation requiring graduates to demonstrate mastery of competencies in order to graduate. Siviski is now working closely with CSSR’s i3 NETWORK schools, as well as with CSSR in Springdale (AR) Public Schools-the first competency education pilot in Arkansas, the most recent state to grant a seat time waiver. We sat down with him recently as he reflected on the policy work that resulted in competency education for the state of Maine, specifically-the intersection between belief and practice; establishing proof points and zealots for your work; and building collective capacity.

The intersection of belief and practice

Siviski’s work to impact comprehensive reform in Maine began by facing the discrepancy between what the community professes to believe about education, and the reality of their practice. Specifically most folks articulate the belief that all kids should go to school, get an education and succeed. However, in practice our educational system sorts and tracks students, formulates grades based on completion and compliance, and ensures that students have unequal outcomes. To effect policy change, communities throughout Maine had to get in agreement on tough culture change traditions-adults had to ‘unlearn’ the system they had all experienced in order to put new learning in place. For Siviski the emphasis was always student-focused, not adult-centered. The competency-based value structure prevailed when the focus was on students and the critical need to produce graduates prepared to compete globally. Siviski noticed over and over that once teachers and community members saw students becoming agents of their own learning, they ethically could not go back to the old system as belief and practice were now aligned.

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Practitioner Implications in Competency Education: An Interview with Rose Colby

January 8, 2014 by
Colby

Rose Colby

This interview originally appeared in the CSSR October 2014 Newsletter.

Rose Colby is a career educator who has worked for the last eight years as a competency-based learning and assessment specialist. She works extensively in New Hampshire schools, as well as more broadly in schools across the country as the competency education movement expands. Colby recently began working with a number of CSSR schools on the development of competencies and the review of grading and assessment practices. We sat down with her recently to discuss the practitioner implications of competency education.

For Colby, competency education (CE) boils down to honoring “wherever and whenever kids do learning based on their personal learning plan.” Through the use of high quality assessment methods, i.e. performance tasks, kids move forward based on demonstrated mastery of course competencies. She is quick to cite the abundance of research: CE is aligned with what cognitive science tells us about how we learn-not the current silo-ing of standards. The following are three areas of focus that Colby suggests for practitioners moving towards these transformational practices: core beliefs; writing competencies; and grading & scheduling. She also shared tips on how to get started exploring this work.

Core Beliefs

For Colby, the traditional instructional model includes: curriculum, instruction, assessment, and grading. A transformational instructional model includes: high quality competencies, performance assessment, personalized learning pathways and dynamic grading. In the traditional model educators approach the educational setting as “here’s what you need to know, and how I’m going to teach it.” In CE, educators consider the experience and mastery that individual students bring to the learning environment to determine a personalized learning progression. Colby believes that what’s best for all kids are practices that are offered to all kids and not particular groups. She worries that too often schools offer these highly differentiated, personalized pathways for kids who are in danger of not graduating, when in fact they better engage all students in their own education. (more…)

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