Author: Jason Ellingson

The Right Work To Do

February 25, 2014 by
the boxes-jason ellingson

Jason Ellingson

The boxes arrived last week. Those boxes stacked high, full of Iowa Assessment test booklets, answer sheets, and directions for administration. They arrived and are sitting against the far wall of my office – not physically, but philosophically in the way. In two weeks, our students will take those tests. They will spend multiple hours over a course of a week filling in bubbles to demonstrate to the federal and state governments that they have grown academically in content areas like reading, math, science, and social studies. There will be no test on grit or perseverance – except their ability to complete the test without creating a pattern on the answer sheet. There will be no test on creativity – unless they do create a pattern on the answer sheet.

All of this will happen in the midst of a year where my district has truly pushed itself to know the learner better to grow the learner better. We have pushed hard to mold ourselves into what our students need, not mold the students into what we need. We have more teachers that ever using data to revise instruction, using standards-based learning, and thinking about competency-based education. We work toward a new goal of personalized learning in our district – and it is exciting, invigorating, daunting, and … the right work.

So, those boxes sit in my office while I have the pleasure of attending a convening hosted by the Nellie Mae Foundation and KnowledgeWork on the federal accountability framework in light of competency-based education. The convening was a great two days focused on assessment, core CBE principles, the role of the federal government in education, and the unintended consequences of building a new framework that is easy to understand (and which may do more harm to CBE than the current one).

The discussion on accountability traveled far and wide. Some of the main points and questions raised included:

  1. We do not want to see competency education mandated from the federal government. We want to have federal accountability policy be structured to enable competency education and its core principles. (more…)

Carnegie Unit Conundrum

July 25, 2012 by

How do you translate a measure of time into a measure of learning?

It seems to me to be the same dilemma as trying to convert a measure of length into a measure of weight.  They are fundamentally, conceptually different.  Across the country (including my state of Iowa), state Departments of Education and local school districts are struggling with converting our current Carnegie unit system into a system that measures learning competencies.

It seems impossible to me to be able to translate a Carnegie unit into a competency.

A Carnegie unit was designed to equal the amount of time in school districts across the nation.  It was a measurement that everyone could understand and use to standardize their educational offerings for comparison and accreditation.  Over time, it has become the defining unit for curriculum development, scheduling, and teacher master contracts (prep periods, anyone?). (more…)

Help or Hinder: The Impact of CBE for Students with Special Needs

July 2, 2012 by

As I continue to think about competency-based education and the structural changes that go along with fully supporting it, I am concerned about its impact on students with disabilities and  the current special educational system.  Theoretically, a competency education system should benefit students with special education needs as it enables greater customization for all students. However, the way the current special education system is designed and implemented may throw up some bureaucratic obstacles in our way.

For example, for students to receive special education services, they must have a disability – medical or learning.  If a student is to be designated as having a learning disability, then the student (more…)

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