Author: Chris Sturgis

Competency Education and the Complicated Task of Communicating

August 17, 2017 by

Did you see that competency education (the same as mastery-based education) was mentioned in the New York Times? In some ways it is a very helpful article to introduce people to the idea of competency education, highlighting students taking ownership, students engaging more, the opportunity for students to really learn or master the skills and content before moving on, and the focus on growth.

Yet the article also includes examples of the difficulty we are facing in communicating what competency education is about, what it means to have a high quality competency-based school, and the noise from some of the critics. Below is a sample of the conversation I had with the author (in my mind, of course) while reading the article.

Instruction

One of the issues we are facing is that although competency education is primarily a cultural and structural shift, it also has implications for instruction. We know that instruction matters – it matters a lot. You can have strong instructional practices or weak instructional practices in a school. You can have some teachers with strong professional knowledge or some with weak professional knowledge in a school.

What competency education does is creates a structure by which teachers are talking with each other about what it means to have a student become proficient, aligning their assessments and instructional strategies, and exploring what is working and what isn’t working to help each and every student reach proficiency. Competency education, when well implemented, should be igniting the professional learning of the educators.

Competency education does introduce a few important implications for instruction and assessment:

  • Students need to be active learners with opportunity to apply their learning to new contexts (this is what makes it about competencies and not just standards). This means there also need to be assessment strategies that assess students at higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (i.e., performance-based assessment).
  • Instructional strategies need to meet students where they are. Yes, we want to think about grade level standards AND we want to think about where students’ performance levels are and where they have gaps. Then using their professional knowledge and taking into consideration the needs of other students and resources, educators work with students to develop strategies that will help them progress.
  • To the degree possible, summative assessments should be aligned with the depth of knowledge and the learning goals of the students. This may mean organizing assessments to be “just-in-time” with students bringing forward evidence of their learning. A student who has completed a unit at the beginning of the week and believes they have fully learned the material shouldn’t have to wait until the end of the month to move on to higher level work. In other learning experiences, there is going to be value in students working on a large project all with the same due date. But when the curriculum can be organized into more modular units, it opens the door to more flexibility for students.

When I see something like “students work at their own pace through worksheets, online lessons and in small group discussions with teachers” I get worried that either the school isn’t offering enough applied learning opportunities or we aren’t communicating what is happening instructionally in the classroom. First of all, students should know where they are on their own learning paths. Second, teachers are offering instruction through several methods, including individual and small groups, online videos they have made, or perhaps online instruction. In most, most but not all, of the classrooms I have visited, students talk about the use of online adaptive programs as how they practice. Most will say they prefer to learn about new material from their teacher or from a video their teacher made. Third, there will often be choices about how students practice and then demonstrate their learning. Worksheets might be one of them, and I’ve seen students playing games to practice and build math and vocabulary fluency, working on projects, writing essays, and engaging in large, inquiry-based projects that will wrap-up with a presentation. (more…)

Mastery Communications Week Launches on Monday #masteryweek

August 11, 2017 by

What is competency education? To answer this question, we need to have strong communication strategies and messages.

To help us improve our communication strategies, Springpoint Schools (along with Great Schools Partnership, New York City’s Mastery Collaborative, Next Generation Learning Challenges, KnowledgeWorks, Getting Smart, reDesign, CompetencyWorks, and iNACOL) has organized Mastery Week. Throughout this week, we will be shining the spotlight on insights and best practices on communications regarding competency education. (See the flyer on Mastery Week for more information)

There will be digital sharing and online collaboration that can help schools and districts develop their communications plans. Each day during Mastery Week, our Mastery Week site will feature an article from one organization on a specific area of mastery communications. You’ll also find stories and resources from practitioners that illuminate successful approaches. We encourage everyone to share useful content and join the conversation on social media and other platforms.

Here is the schedule:

Monday’s Focus is on Resources: The welcome post on the Mastery Week website will explain the mechanics of the week, discussing resources that can help schools communicate with diverse stakeholders. There will also be five questions for engaging teachers and students.

Tuesday’s Focus is on Post-Secondary Institutions: The Great Schools Partnership will discuss communicating with postsecondary institutions and engaging with parents around what mastery means for their students’ postsecondary opportunities with five questions to engage college admissions experts.

Wednesday’s Focus is on Equity: The Mastery Collaborative will explain how a clear mission with an equity lens can drive a communications strategy. You will also find five questions for Border Crossers and NYC students to underscore these themes. There will be a Twitter chat at 3 pm ET.

Thursday’s Focus is on Teachers: Next Generation Learning Challenges will share best practices, tools, and resources that highlight how to support teachers as critical ambassadors for mastery learning. You can find five questions for teachers and school leaders.

Friday’s Focus is on Multi-Media Communications: KnowledgeWorks will provide an overview on the ways in which multi-media communication creates deep engagement around mastery education. You will also find a podcast from Getting Smart and resources from reDesign.

(more…)

New Metrics and Student Engagement System

August 4, 2017 by

It is definitely time for the competency education innovators in K-12 and higher education to be learning from each other.

One of the opportunities for learning from each other is in thinking about information management systems that support student learning and collect what students know and are able to do in some form of a transcript. For example, in skimming the case study on the University of Wisconsin Flexible Option, I found two ideas that can push our thinking forward in K-12.

Metrics on Pace

In the Metrics Framework, the University of Wisconsin identifies three elements of pace:

  • Measuring rate of assessment completion within each subscription period (time) to reach personal educational goals
  • Assessing rate against student’s planned rate
  • Measuring nature of student’s engagement with curriculum

For aggregated student level data, University of Wisconsin is “aggregating average (mean, mode, median) pace through a program. This aggregate should be measured from student matriculation to completion (or other reason student leaves program). Aggregate pace can also be measured yearly. Aggregate pace can also be analyzed by types of students including demographics, professional interests, etc.”

Student Engagement System

(more…)

July 2017 CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

August 1, 2017 by

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

 

SITE VISITS AND CASE STUDIES

Cleveland Metropolitan Schools

 

ASSESSMENT

Converting 1-4 to 100 Point Scale and then Averaging

 

HIGHER EDUCATION

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

 

EDUCATOR RESOURCES

CBE Across America: What’s New in 2017 (Updated)

 

AROUND THE WEB

Center for Collaborative Education

Christensen Institute

EdSurge

Getting Smart

New Mexico Center for School Leadership

Students at the Center Hub

Red Flag: Converting 1-4 to 100 Point Scale and then Averaging

July 31, 2017 by

We have a problem. More and more districts and schools are supposedly converting to competency education, but they are doing so without committing to the big idea that we want to make sure every students succeeds. Committing to the big idea is essential — some might call this demanding excellence, others equity. In competency education, it really becomes the same thing.

At CompetencyWorks, we’ve realized that it isn’t going to help to keep talking about the exemplars (from districts that are able to show that students are benefiting) and the “look-fors” (what we think are effective practices based on visiting so many schools) that we include in our case studies of districts and schools. We also need to talk about the red flags (a sign that something isn’t working right) and missteps (either problematic design or implementation) to help districts identify potential problems sooner.

This morning I read an article about a community in Maine that may be taking a misstep with their new diploma system. The article focuses on the issue of grading, and it appears that they are missing the concept of why 1-4 scoring is more valuable than A-F grading. It’s not clear what else they may have or are planning to put into place – so I’m not referring to their overall plan.

              From the article: An initial draft of the proficiency based diploma was introduced at the May 15 School Committee meeting. Using the new proficiency based learning system, the draft stated that students are evaluated on a 1 to 4 scale, with 1 corresponding to “does not meet proficiency” to 4 which is “exceeds proficiency.” The initial draft took the proficiency grades (1-4) and converted them into numerical grades (100 point scale)… An example from the Proficiency Based Learning and Diploma Implementation Proposal: A student earns a 77, 85, and 88 (out of a 100 point scale) on three assessments for a graduation standard. The average of these three is 83. Therefore, the numeric grade is 83; the proficiency score for that graduation standard is 3.0 (a.k.a. proficient).

From what I can tell, it looks like the district shifts from A-F (which is usually based on a 100 point scale), turned it to 1-4, and then turned it back into the 100 point scale. (more…)

CBE Across America: What’s New in 2017

July 27, 2017 by

Snapshot

This is an updated version of the original list, published here. All new case studies in 2017 have been highlighted in yellow. 

We recently updated the map of competency education because so many states – including Idaho, Florida, Ohio, and Utah – have taken steps forward for state policies to enable and invest in competency-based education. In reflecting upon how competency-based education is developing, we pulled together all the “case studies” we have done based on site visits and interviews in seventeen states. As soon as we can, we want to visit Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, Wisconsin, and we just heard about a district in Mississippi.

For those of you trying to learn more abut competency education, we are hearing that some districts are using the case studies as discussion tools. Everyone reads about one school and then talks about what is challenging, how their understanding of the traditional system is changing, and what ideas they think might be valuable. It’s just a warm-up to embracing the values and assumptions that are the roots of competency education.

Alaska

Chugach School District (2015)

Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System

Part 1 – Explorations in Competency Education

Part 2 – Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District

Part 3 – Chugach School District’s Performance-Based Infrastructure

Part 4 – Chugach Teachers Talk about Teaching

Part 5 – Ownership, Not Buy-In: An Interview with Bob Crumley, Superintendent Chugach School District

Part 6 – Chugach School District: Performance-Based Education in a One-Room School House

Part 7 – Teaching through the Culture: Native Education in a Performance-Based System

Part 8 – Performance-Based Home Schooling

Highland Tech Charter School, Alaska (2014)

Part 1 – Highland Tech Charter School – Putting it All Together

Part 2 – Advice From Highland Tech Students

Arkansas

Springdale School District (2015)

Innovation Springing Up in Springdale

Student-Focused Learning in Springdale (2017)

Part 1 – Springdale, Arkansas: A Tradition of Innovation and Future of Opportunity

Part 2 – Building Learning Momentum at Springdale’s School of Innovation

Part 3 – Finding Time and Providing Support for Student-Driven Learning

Part 4 – Encouraging Learning Risks and Growth

California

Lindsay Unified High School  (2015)

Part 1 – Six Trends at Lindsay Unified School District

Part 2 – Preparing Students for Life….Not Just College and Careers

Part 3 – An Interview with Principal Jaime Robles, Lindsay High School

Part 4 – An Interview with Brett Grimm: How Lindsay Unified Serves ELL Students

Part 5 – It Starts with Pedagogy: How Lindsay Unified is Integrating Blended Learning

Colorado

District 51 (2017)

Part 1 – Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51

Part 2 – Building Consensus for Change at D51

Part 3 – The Vision of Performance-Based Education at D51

Part 4 – Holacracy: Organizing for Change at D51

Part 5 – Growing into the Framework: D51’s Implementation Strategy

Part 6 – Laying the Foundation with Culture and Climate

Part 7 – Supporting Teachers at D51: A Conversation with the Professional Learning Facilitators

Part 8 – Creating a Transparent Performance-Based System at D51

Part 9 – New Emerson: Learning the Effective Practices of the Learner-Centered Classroom

Part 10 – Transparency and Trust

Part 11 – Lincoln Orchard Mesa: What Did You Notice?

Part 12 – Performance-Based Learning in a Dual Immersion School

Part 13 – R5 High School: Abuzz with Learning

Part 14 – The Teacher Association Perspective on Performance-Based Learning

Part 15 – A Journey of Discovery at Broadway Elementary

Connecticut

Overview

Superintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut

New Haven (2016)

Creating Meaningful Instruction through Mastery-Based Learning in New Haven, CT

New Haven Academy: Pedagogy Comes First

Windsor Locks Public Schools (2016) (more…)

These Red Flags Signal Competency Education’s Three Biggest Misconceptions

July 26, 2017 by

This post was first published at EdSurge on June 13, 2017. It has been slightly revised from the original version. 

I’ve continued to go back to Tony Wan’s piece, Why There’s Little Consistency in Defining Competency-Based Education. I’m thrilled he wrote it, as I think it holds up a mirror to all of us working in the world of competency-based education about where we can do better. However, I think the title may be a bit misleading.

I actually find that there is a medium amount of consistency: It could certainly be better, but there is much more consistency about competency education than about other ideas that have been introduced into the world of education. (After the 21st Century Community Schools were created, for example, I was traumatized as a program officer at the Mott Foundation by the hours and hours of cross-talk about the similarities and differences between a community school, an after-school program, and a youth program in the community.)

I do agree wholeheartedly that there are a few places where misconceptions are getting in our way. We’ve discovered that the five-part working definition of competency education developed by 100 innovators six years ago hasn’t protected us from misunderstandings. People are quite comfortable picking the first of the five parts—students advance upon demonstrated mastery—and focusing on pace rather than helping every student successfully learn.

If you don’t understand that the traditional system of education is designed to rank and sort students, then it’s really hard to understand competency-based education. States, districts, and schools that are transitioning to competency education are redesigning the system to respond to each and every student so that they master the skills they need for higher level school work—and for their futures. Think about it as designing for success, rather than ranking and sorting.

Here are the three red flags that indicate to me a misunderstanding of the overarching goal and structure of competency education:

1. “Our school has flexible pacing. Students can go as fast or slow as they want.”

One, two, three red flags go up when I hear this.

Allowing students to keep working on things that they don’t quite understand or haven’t gained fluency in—rather than moving on to the next topic—is important. So is enabling students to advance above grade level. However, that’s not the reason that competency education is valuable.

The big difference is that in competency education, districts and schools are building internal accountability: Schools commit to providing instruction and support until the student masters skills and content. In the traditional system, schools don’t do much if students don’t learn what is required; most students are going to get promoted anyway.

The second red flag is the idea that teachers don’t have any role in helping students progress at a pace that is moving them toward graduation. I actually find the idea of self-pacing to be bordering on silly. Sure, some students are going to zip through the material. But there are plenty of students who are going to need help in thinking about timelines and progress benchmarks.

Students are also going to require opportunities to reflect with teachers or advisors on their pace of learning and what can be done if they aren’t making progress. They need opportunities for reflection as well as coaching in order to build on the lifelong learning skills they are going to need after graduation. These skills include understanding the power of a growth mindset, the habits of work and learning, and the ability to manage their emotions.

Remember: Advance upon mastery isn’t about pace, it’s about schools taking responsibility for making sure students are learning.

2. “Some of our students are faster learners and some are slower learners.”

(more…)

A Conversation with Teachers in Cleveland

July 24, 2017 by

Image from the JFK E3agle Academy Website

This is the last of a five-part series on competency-based schools in Cleveland Metropolitan Schools.

One of the highlights of the school visits in Cleveland was a conversation with teachers at PACT and E3agle High Schools. The conversation was wide reaching – here are a few of the highlights.

What it Takes to Meet Students Where They Are

When asked what was different in teaching in a mastery-based school as compared to a traditional one, it was nearly unanimous that mastery-based learning requires teachers to think ahead and design substantial scaffolding. Teachers described having to do unit planning for at least ten weeks (based on 10-week curriculum maps) ahead in case students started advancing quickly while also planning for scaffolding that would help students who might be four or five grade levels below to build up their skills. (See project-based learning planning template.)

Tim Hurt, a literature teacher from PACT, emphasized how much mastery-based education demands differentiation. “When you are managing twenty different learning plans, it totally pokes holes into what we thought teaching was about. In a traditional system we felt like we were rock stars. The only way to be successful in a personalized, mastery-based model is to work with students and stay focused on learning…both student learning and our own.”

Almad Allen, also an ELA teacher from PACT, added, “It took a while to get unplugged from the traditional model’s focus on right and wrong. Now my job is to identify when a student’s understanding is incomplete to focus on pacing, and I’ve had to learn to differentiate on the fly. I can’t create lessons the night before anymore. I think through units with the end in mind about how I’m going to make sure every student is successful. I have to anticipate where there are going to be misconceptions or difficulties. If students get lost, they can’t move on. My job is to think through the different places they might get lost and how I’m going to help them move forward. I’m the one who has to have the map in my head to respond to the day-to-day changes in students’ learning.”

Nicole Williams, a PACT intervention specialist, described that she is now thinking intentionally about how to teach and re-teach in her unit planning. “Before I present the lesson, I’ve already thought about the needs of specific students and where the lesson might go,” she said. “I’m thinking about what they know, what they don’t know, and possible misconceptions.” She also said that conferencing with students and goal setting is particularly helpful in addressing student gaps.

Hurt explained, “My grading has become more fluid. In the traditional model, you gave a D or F if students didn’t do well. There wasn’t any next step. Now we think about what it will take for a student to be successful. There are a lot more interventions on the part of general teachers. Quite honestly, we are delivering better instruction because we think beyond just delivering it. We think about whether students will actually learn.” (See English Competency Map.)

Anthony Carbone, an intervention specialist at E3agle, was enthusiastic, “The best part of competency-based education is the ability to meet students where they are in their learning. (more…)

E3agle and PACT: Insights from Two New Competency-Based Schools

July 17, 2017 by

This is the fourth of a five-part series on competency-based schools in Cleveland Metropolitan Schools.

John F. Kennedy High School in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) has been reorganized as two small schools: PACT Problem-Based Academy of Critical Thinking and E3agle Academy. These two schools were part of the effort to develop competency-based schools through the Opportunity by Design Initiative (funded by Carnegie Corporation and supported by Springpoint Schools). Positioned one above the other, PACT and E3agle offer a helpful perspective of how a common infrastructure of transparent competencies and standards provides different designs and mix of pedagogical strategies.

For example, they have different design themes. PACT is organized around developing critical thinking skills using the practice of problem-based learning. Real-world problems are used to engage students to develop and apply skills in ways that connect to their lives. E3agle Academy is organized around a theme of social justice. Principal Lennox Thompson pointed out that current events have proven to be an effective way to personalize the learning experience by connecting student concerns with justice issues in their community and the broader world. Students often feel passionately about the topics, and ELA teachers are using a number of ways to build skills and connections such as organizing debates, research, surveys, and inviting people from the community to speak on topics. Students are learning their rights as well as the laws that might land them in front of a judge.

Highlights

Here are a few of the highlights from our conversations with Lennox Thompson, principal at E3agle; Richard Reynolds, principal at PACT; Darcel Williams, Program Manager for New School Model; Kristen Kelly, Mastery Learning Specialist; and students and teachers from both schools.

Start with Pedagogy Before Introducing Technology-Enabled Learning

When E3agle and PACT first started, they relied heavily on Edgenuity as the primary way to deliver instruction and for students to demonstrate their learning. They immediately realized this was a mistake – it wasn’t engaging for students, it didn’t help establish relationships for students, and it didn’t create opportunities for deeper learning. They did a mid-course correction and since then have been building out the range of learning experiences for students, although Edgenuity remains as an option. Edgenuity continues to play a role when students need more instruction and for addressing incompletes. The lesson learned is that it is important to clarify the pedagogical philosophy first. Then it becomes clear when and where technology-enabled products can be beneficial.

Reynolds, principal and founding member of PACT, explained, “When we began the design process, the concept was around blended learning and mastery-based learning. The ten principles were aspirational. But when the kids walked in the door, suddenly the rubber meets the road. We learned quickly what wasn’t working. There was a lot that didn’t work the way we had imagined it.” What they learned was that a 50/50 mix of online and face-to-face instruction didn’t work well. “We needed to invest in relationships,” Reynolds said. “The students wanted engaged teachers. We needed to develop an approach to instruction that emphasized and nurtured relationships.”

Once they introduced problem-based learning that emphasized critical thinking, everything started to work better. Through discussion, students and teachers began listening to each other and getting to know each other better. Reynolds continued, “When done right, problem-based learning can engage students and develop their critical thinking skills. They turn on to learning. The key to doing it right is planning – you have to be clear on what you want kids to know and be able to do. It is often much more than you expected. We’ve developed our ability to do backward design, starting with the targeted competencies and content and then building problems around it.” For example, an ELA teacher used the Sandra Bland case for students to build their argumentative writing skills. They brought in a lawyer to talk about what makes an effective opening statement and then they each wrote an opening argument. They learned about pathos, ethos, and logos and then demonstrated each in their arguments.

As always, students open doors to better understanding how schools operate and how they are changing. In speaking with students from PACT and E3agle, they raised up many of the issues related to the original focus on using computers to deliver instruction to the much more blended approach being used now. There was a strong feeling that the school gets better and better the less they have to use Edgenuity. (more…)

Getting to Know Students’ Business: A Conversation at Lincoln-West’s Schools of Global Studies and Science & Health

July 10, 2017 by

This is the third of a five-part series on competency-based schools in Cleveland Metropolitan Schools.

Lincoln-West is a large comprehensive school being redesigned into two smaller schools: the School of Global Studies and the School of Science & Health. These two schools are being designed as mastery-based schools. Both schools had only six months under their belt when we visited. They have used the same design principles and design process but have created cultures, learning experiences, and established community partnerships that reflect their themes. For example, students at Science & Health spend time learning in a hospital, and Global Studies offers an array of service learning opportunities. Below are conversations with principals and teachers at the two schools.

A Conversation with Principals

Christopher Thompson, principal at the School of Science & Health, said, “We’ve learned that it is important to be very intentional about onboarding veteran teachers. They’ve learned and worked in traditional schools all their lives. Resetting their orientation and mindset takes time.” Irene Javier, principal at the School of Global Studies, emphasized that the growth mindset is important for students and teachers. “We took advantage of the design process for all of us to reset our mindsets,” she said. “We used the process almost like a meditation so that each person was able to see their new roles and how they could contribute. It’s important to celebrate how much is being accomplished in such a short period of time.”

The process of hiring came up several times. The principals emphasized that attitude is equally important to skills. It’s important to make sure that teachers understand what they are signing up for. Thompson noted, “We found that we needed to look for a specific set of qualities. Teachers need to have a growth mindset for themselves, expertise in differentiation, a positive attitude toward learning and building relationships with students, and strong knowledge of instruction and assessment. Oh, and they need to know the standards.”

Javier expanded, “This looks daunting at first, until teachers understand that there are lots of supports to this structured way of teaching and learning. Essentially we are staging the learning curve. We are intentional about what we want students to learn with clear plans balanced with flexibility because students shape the learning process as well. What’s most important is to always celebrate what teachers bring to the learning process and their accomplishments in expanding their skills.”

Darcel Williams, Program Manager for New School Model, explained, “Principals play a critical role in instruction at any school. However, at a brand new school it is particularly important for principals to be engaged with teachers.” Javier continued, “We have 75 percent brand new teachers and 25 percent veterans. They have different issues. The older teachers struggle because they feel less confident than they have in the traditional system. But they are already saying that the change has been worth it to see students so engaged.” The district has also been helping with building the educator capacity by offering professional learning before the opening of the new schools, much of it introducing and role modeling the new practices.

One week of professional learning was offered in May for the staff of the new schools. During that time they worked together to create curricular maps with their peers. For example, a team might include one ELA teacher, two interventionists, and two bilingual paraprofessionals so that important strategies for serving students with disabilities and those learning English are embedded into the curriculum. Javier smiled in recalling this process, “Teachers can conquer the world when they collaborate.” The curricular maps went through two to three reviews to improve the quality, make connections with the themes of the schools (service learning for Global Studies and hospital internships at Science & Health), and ensure they were organized for students with different sets of skills to be able to make progress. Advisory also created its own ten-week map, including introducing students to learning within a competency-based structure. (more…)

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