Author: Chris Sturgis

Reflecting on The Field of Competency Education: Organizations and Literature

August 22, 2017 by

In the first part of this reflection, we focused on where we started and where we are now. One of the important areas we reflect upon each year is the strength of the field. Each year more organizations enter the field of competency education by adding it to the agendas of their meetings, investing in staff learning about it, and identifying leaders in their networks. Although the slide to the right is certainly missing organizations (and let us know if you want to be included as an organization building capacity around competency education), it gives you a good sense of the strength of the field’s capacity. The collaborative spirit, even with increased competition for resources, continues to be one of the strengths of the field.

One of the challenges in the field we all share in correcting is the lack of diversity in our networks and our leaders. We let a horrible thing happen when we allowed ourselves to have meetings that were all white – it was simply a pattern of white privilege that means we didn’t tap into our collective knowledge and failed to put equity, especially racial equity, front and center in our work. CompetencyWorks is dedicated to making a mid-course correction, but it is something that will require everyone to work together to make the necessary changes in our processes, values, and relationships.

One of the strengths of the field to date is that we have built a strong set of literature that allows people to learn about competency education from different perspectives. Our challenge going forward is to ensure that we refresh the knowledge as we learn more and that we focus in on the issues that are most challenging to ensure that we fill gaps in knowledge. The following slides are included for you in case you want to review the different reports and books that are available. Later this week I’ll continue the strategic reflection with a focus on policy, how our learning is deepening, and what we need to think about to advance competency education.

 

 

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Reflecting on The Field of Competency Education: Where We Started and Where We Are Now

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Every summer, the CompetencyWorks team and our advisors reflect on the progress that is being made and the emerging issues that we see developing. This helps us know where to focus our attention in our daily work, and it is a leadership opportunity for all of us to hear from others from around the country and different perspectives about how competency education is advancing.

This article highlights some of the areas of our reflection and will accompany today’s webinar Competency Education: A Reflection on the Field and Future Directions. For those of you completely new to competency education, you might want to glance at What is Competency Education? as a starting point.

Where We Started and Where We Are Now

There are different starting points for how we tell the story of where we started. Several valuable reports provide slightly different starting points and critical stepping stones, although almost everyone will recognize Benjamin Bloom’s contribution. It would actually be an interesting project to talk to leading innovators and find out the key advances in education they are building upon. For those of you interested, I suggest the following reports to learn more about the foundation for competency-based education:

At CompetencyWorks, our understanding of competency education is that it is a transformation of culture and structure. It is best approached as a district reform to enable students to have the fullest support no matter where they are on the learning continuum, from kindergarten on up to college level. The commitment to all students successfully learning the skills they will need for college, career, and life also requires a strong commitment from leadership – both school board and district level. However, there are many examples of schools within traditional districts being able to implement in a way that is highly meaningful even though there may be some limitations and work-arounds.

Thus, our starting point of competency education often begins in the mid-1990s, where, on one coast, innovators in Chugach School District were transforming their schools in response to Native Alaskan communities demanding that their children be educated. On the other side of the country, innovators were developing Diploma Plus and Boston Day and Evening Academy to re-engage students by focusing on learning and skill-building, not simply accruing credits.

Since then, there have been stages of development – of practice and of policy. The most important thing to remember is that, as a movement, competency education has been educator-developed and educator-driven. For example, the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, a collaboration of districts, helped to catalyze change in Maine. Lindsay Unified, one of our lighthouse districts that continues to develop and refine their model, launched their transformation in a state that has made no effort to create innovation space. In the past five years, investments have often been directed toward creating new models, including Next Generation Learning Challenges, Opportunity by Design, and XQ schools. Some of the grantees have been intentionally competency-based, while we are seeing some schools inch their way in that direction.

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iNACOL Symposium Competency Education Strand Keeps Getting Better and Better

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Great conversations at iNACOL16.

I just received the list of the #inacol17 sessions and workshops within the Competency Education track and it looks outrageously good. (There are also a number of really great pre-conference sessions as well.)

Here are the highlights:

Equity and Competency Education

Performance Assessments

  • Are Performance Tasks Really For Everyone? Designing Rigorous Tasks for Equity and Engagement, Ensuring Every Student Crosses the Finish Line with Antonia Rudenstine, Dixie Bacallao and Sydney Schaef.
  • Performance Assessment as a Vehicle for Transformation with Christine Landwehrle and Bethany Bernasconi.

District and School Conversion

Getting Started

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Incredible Opportunities for Learning and Networking at the iNACOL2017 Pre-Conference

August 21, 2017 by

Each year the competency education strand expands at the iNACOL Symposium, and the sessions for iNACOL2017 are really incredible. I want to go to all of them. Here are the sessions scheduled for Monday October 23rd at the pre-conference. Remember, we’ll have a meet up on Monday evening at the opening reception so you all can meet each other and we can welcome newbies into our amazing network.

Building a Personalized Learning System: Transparency, Culture, and Courage

Rebecca Midles, Mesa County School District 51
Ken Haptonstall, Mesa County School District 51
Leigh Grasso, Mesa County School District 51

Join this interactive workshop to learn how to get started in building a personalized, competency-based education system. This session is designed for leaders of schools and districts in the planning or early implementation phases of personalized, competency-based education. Gain insights into how to build a transparent learning system designed for student success, develop and nurture a culture aimed at continuous improvement, and have the courage to lead systemic transformation of teaching and learning in your school. Access tools from Colorado’s District 51, such as their teaching and learning framework, personalized adult learning hubs, and their social and emotional learning framework, and learn how to modify and incorporate these resources as you begin transition to competency education in your own program.

Using Student Data to Drive Unit Design and Scheduling in a Personalized, Competency-Based System

Doug Finn III, Marzano Research
Bill Zima, Kennebec Intra-District Schools, RSU 2 (ME)

A primary design element of personalized, competency-based education is to get students more engaged in the learning process by challenging them at their appropriate academic level and pace. To effectively manage this outcome, we need to rethink how we use student data. This session will focus on how to better utilize student data in designing instructional units and creating competency-based systems. Participants will have opportunities to engage in discussions dealing with the many facets of unit design and scheduling and explore examples of units and school schedules based on student data.

Building Understanding of Competency Education and Changing Grading Practices

Thomas Gaffey, Building 21
Sandra Moumoutjis, Building 21
Sydney Schaef, reDesign

Are competencies and standards the same? How do you assess competencies? Why do we create rubrics and convert them to points? Should measurement of learning be punitive? In this session, we will dive deep into these questions by providing an alternative approach to traditional grading. Through a series of activities, participants will engage with the Learning What Matters competency model and leave the session with a fresh perspective on how three Pennsylvania urban district schools assess students.

  • Participants will engage in a series of activities to define and illustrate competency-based learning.
  • Participants will use rating tools called continua to rate student work.
  • Participants will be exposed to an alternative grading and assessment mindset that will push their school design efforts forward.

After a series of knowledge-building activities, participants will be exposed to a powerful new approach of using the learning progression as a rating and grading tool. These activities include: basketball dribbling activity, small group continua building, and continua norming. Each of these activities requires participants to engage with each other to understand, create and build consensus. This approach mirrors our on-boarding for new teachers. (more…)

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.

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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

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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…)

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