Author: Chris Sturgis

We are Going to Miss You, JoEllen

October 5, 2017 by

JoEllen Lynch

The world is a different place.

We received very sad news that JoEllen Lynch, Executive Director of Springpoint and a member of the CompetencyWorks advisory, passed away on October 3rd.

Quite honestly, I find myself at a loss for words.

I’ve known JoEllen for so long, and she has always been such a force of nature in my world – stretching the role of community-based organizations to deliver educational services to students who had been pushed out of school, pushing the NYC Department of Education to better serve over-age, undercredited students, and catalyzing districts to create new high schools based on powerful principles of youth development and competency-based education. Always at the heart of her work were young people who many had forgotten. The names changed – at-risk, over-age, undercredited, opportunity youth, promise youth – but JoEllen’s dedication was unswerving.

One of the things I loved the very best about JoEllen is that she just said what she thought. Straight out. Absolutely no nonsense. If I wasn’t pushing hard enough. If I was missing an important concept. If I just wasn’t understanding the nuances. She would let me know.

JoEllen has been playing such an important role nationally as founder of Springpoint. She was dedicated to embedding youth development principles into the very core of schools so that young people were respected and empowered at school and in their lives. What you may not know is how important she has been in NYC or the number of people’s lives she touched, the number of people she inspired and mentored. I can’t imagine the fog of sadness that has drifted into the offices at Good Shepherd and youth-serving organizations all across the city.

Day in and day out – JoEllen always did what was best for kids.

Thank you, JoEllen. We are going to miss you so much.

September 2017 CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

October 1, 2017 by

Here are the highlights from September 2017 on CompetencyWorks. Happy reading. And let us know if you have questions you want us to delve into!

 

CASE STUDIES AND SITE VISITS

3 Lessons Learned from PACE by Amy Allen

Nina Lopez in Colorado

 

CBE NEWS

Congratulations Are in Order

 

HIGHER EDUCATION AND TRANSCRIPTS

Changing the System from Within: Using Competency-Based Education to Transform Teaching by Mary Tkatchov,  Erin Hugus, Jon Scoresby, and Haley Marshall

What’s New in Competency-Based Higher Education? by Natalie Abel

Competency-Based Education in the K-12 Space

 

UNDERSTANDING COMPETENCY EDUCATION

What to Read to Learn about Competency-Based Education

 

EDUCATOR RESOURCES

Just Ask: The CBE 360 Survey Toolkit

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education? by Natalie Abel

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Giving Learners MORE Voice by Courtney Belolan

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education? by Natalie Abel

(more…)

Congratulations Are in Order

September 27, 2017 by

Brian Stack and James Murray

Congratulations to James Murray, Waukesha STEM Academy (WI), and Brian Stack, Sanborn Regional High School (NH)! They have each been recognized as State Principal of the Year, and they are both leaders in advancing competency-based education. In previous years, other leaders in competency-based education, including Derek Pierce of Casco Bay High School and Alan Tenreiro of Cumberland High School, have received similar recognition.

I imagine that over time, we will see more and more of leaders in competency-based education gain recognition.

Why?

First, competency-based education, when well designed, should be creating the culture and processes that support continuous improvement. This means that their schools should always be reflecting on how they can do better using the available data and by generating data through dialogue and surveys to enhance understanding. Who benefits? The result is that more students should be making progress, and teachers should feel valued for their input and be part of a team that has a shared understanding that they are going to make decisions based on what’s best for students.

Second, leaders in competency-based education will need to develop leadership and management strategies that engage educators and other stakeholders. The top-down bureaucratic culture that emphasizes compliance just isn’t going to work. This means that competency-based educators are going to need to develop leadership strategies that engage and empower others (these go by different names, including adaptive leadership or distributed leadership). Essentially, leaders manage the processes that bring together diverse perspectives to find solutions. (District 51 has gone the farthest I know of in trying to institutionalize these practices through holacracy.)

There are two resources available if you want to start thinking about these types of leadership/management strategies:

Maybe Brian and James will write reflections on learning to become a leader in a competency-based environment for us?

Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency Education: Future Action

September 25, 2017 by

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

In this fifth post on our annual strategic reflection.

We use the term charting the course to discuss what needs to happen to develop the most effective competency-based systems possible, support its expansion, and shape the context that will make it sustainable. It’s pretty easy to list all the problems and issues that need to be worked through, but it’s a lot harder to think about how to do that in a way that is consistent with the values of competency education, builds the capacity and leadership of the field, leverages current organizations and infrastructure so that more than one piece of the puzzle is put into place at a time – and does all of this with limited resources.

Below are a number of the things we think are high priority to tackle – and hope it will catalyze conversation about how we do that so that several can be addressed or reinforced by initiatives.

1. Strengthen diversity in the field.

2. Strengthen the working definition and create logic model.

3. Improve communication strategies targeted to different stakeholders

4. Build shared understanding of quality. Tools to support learning across schools and communities of practice.

5. Engaging higher education and colleges of education to:

  • Prepare leaders and educators for personalized, competency-based systems.
  • Build bridges across K-12 and higher education to address college admissions issues including ranking by GPA.
  • Build aligned understanding of credentialing learning with proficiency-based diplomas and multiple pathways.

6. Shift district top-down policies to more bottom-up or co-design in order to support greater school autonomy.

7. Generate demand for the information management systems for CBE models and student-centered learning.

There are also a number of things we need to pay attention to in order to improve teaching and learning within CBE schools: (more…)

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…)

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.

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…)

PACE Sees Early Evidence of Student Achievement Gains

September 5, 2017 by

Susan Lyons

Please note: This article was corrected on September 6th to accurately reflect the findings on PACE.

According to the presentation by Susan Lyons of the Center for Assessment to the New Hampshire State Board of Education, early evidence is showing improvements in the PACE districts in the Smarter Balanced assessments over the past two years. The mean of students demonstrating proficiency in PACE districts has increased from 48 to 63 on the 8th grade ELA and from 35 to 48 on the 8th grade math. The PACE districts are inching above the state mean. Another researcher, Carla Evans, is seeing significant improvement for students with disabilities in PACE districts compared with non-PACE districts. Evans’s research, based on early results, is showing that students with IEPs in PACE districts are significantly outperforming their peers with IEPs in non-PACE districts on the SBAC assessment in both math and ELA. Despite these gains, achievement gaps between students with IEPs and students without IEPs are still apparent in the PACE districts.

Lyons believes that two elements of the PACE theory of action are driving the changes:

  • implementing the performance assessments as intended enhances and extends desired instructional practices; and,
  • student engagement and student learning increases/deepens when performance assessments are implemented as intended.

Notice the language of implementing performance assessments as intended: PACE is focused on ensuring high quality implementation of performance assessments. It is a partnership of the state and local districts to commit to high quality instruction and assessments for the children of New Hampshire.

We’ve all become so accustomed to state systems of assessments that are designed to compare apples with apples and make student outcomes transparent (with the idea that by making them transparent, school performance will improve). The problem is that those state assessments have been used to blame and shame schools, and are not actually designed to directly help improve student learning. Thus, we’ve gotten used to assessments being something other than part of the cycle of learning. (more…)

Working in Competency Education for 1+ Years and Coming to iNACOL17?

August 31, 2017 by

If you are coming to iNACOL17 and you’ve had some experience in competency education, we’ve created a Leadership Forum during the pre-conference workshops on Monday October 23rd from 1-4. It’s a chance for you to spend a couple of hours talking with other leaders from around the country on topics that are important to you. Contact me at chris at metisnet dot net and I’ll send you the code, as the Leadership Forum doesn’t have a cost.

If you are new to competency education or can’t make the pre-conference, we also have a Pop Up Problems of Practice and Policy with Virgel Hammonds and Susan Patrick.

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