Category: Analysis

It’s Not Just About Time

March 23, 2015 by

SedonaWhen asked if Arizona is moving to competency education, I’ve never been quite sure how to reply. It’s home to Carpe Diem, one of the earliest models of a school integrating personalized learning, a competency-based structure, and blended learning. In terms of state leadership, it developed the Grand Canyon diploma, a state policy designed for students to advance when they are ready based on passing an examination in secondary school. However, even though the Grand Canyon diploma does create a gateway by using an examination to determine proficiency, there is nothing that assumes that schools will actually be competency-based[1].

Something is brewing in Arizona to take the next step to supporting districts and schools to become competency-based. Although it appears there won’t be any more action by the state legislature this year, it is worth considering the elements of a bill that creates innovation space for schools. The bill requires the Board of Education to create a process to approve of competency-based innovation pilot programs if they have outlined their plans academically and financially to better meet students’ needs. Approved pilot programs are able to operate for an initial five years, after which a review process must occur. (more…)

When the Stars Align in Support of Learning . . .

December 22, 2014 by
Karla Phillips

Karla Phillips

This post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education on December 8, 2014.

There is one key area where K-12 and higher education policy intersect—teacher preparation. Higher education needs college and career ready graduates while K-12 turns around and asks for better equipped teachers.

I think it’s safe to say that there is broad agreement on the importance and impact a great teacher can make—a point confirmed by evidence and reiterated in Joel Klein’s new book. However, the debate continues over fundamental policies such as who should teach, how they should be trained, and how to ensure that graduates have the skills they need for the classroom. This debate is sure to be resurrected now that the U.S. Department of Education has released new proposed regulations on teacher preparation programs.

Maybe there is a common K-12 and higher education reform effort where the stars can align? I think it’s competency-based learning. (more…)

The Big Three Takeaways of the Magical Mastery Tour

December 3, 2014 by

ThreeAlthough there were many takeaways from my visits to schools in New York City (what Jeremy Kraushar of the Digital Ready team referred to as the Magical Mastery Tour), I’ve selected three to write about here, as they respond to questions we’ve received over the past six months.

Please note: I’m using mastery-based, the term used by NYC, and competency-based interchangeably.

Most of these findings are based on schools that are doing tremendous work in developing highly developed mastery-based models. Descriptions of Bronx International, EPIC North, Bronx Arena, Carroll Gardens School for Innovation, and Maker Academy will be published in the coming weeks. However, one insight discussed below came from a school that shared the difficulties it was having developing a prototype model. While it’s important to learn from challenges as well as successes, schools trying their best to innovate don’t need the light from the internet shined upon them, so we didn’t write up a case study in that particular case. (more…)

What is the Difference between Standards-Based Grading (or Reporting) and Competency-Based Education?

November 11, 2014 by
Matt Townsley

Matt Townsley

Here in Iowa, competency-based education is gaining traction at the state and grassroots level. In fact, the Iowa Department of Education has launched a multi-year CBE collaborative. Needless to say, it’s an exciting time to be an educator in the Hawkeye State!

Meanwhile, a core group of Iowa schools have started to implement a standards-based grading philosophy in middle and high schools. Because of these two movements in our state, standards-based grading and competency-based education are often times incorrectly presented as synonymous practices. As a member of Iowa’s CBE task force and through my work as a district administrator in a system that has embraced standards-based grading K-12, I’ve been in a position to think about and discuss these two topics extensively. When area schools hear about our grading and reporting practices, we are often asked how our system relates to those working towards competency-based educational models. While many of the ideas overlap, I felt compelled to tease out these two education terms in order to honor their similarities and differences.

What is standards-based grading? 

Standards-based grading “involves measuring students’ proficiency on well-defined course objectives.” (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006). (Note: Standards-based reporting involves reporting these course objectives rather than letter grades at the end of each grading/reporting period.)

The visual below compares traditional grading with standards-based grading practices. (more…)

Is There Enough Time for Learning?

November 4, 2014 by
Oliver Grenham

Oliver Grenham

Because of the growing number of mass-administered, required tests under state and/or federal law, there is an increasing and unsustainable demand being placed on student time in school. In recent years, these mandated test increases have affected students in Colorado at all grade levels, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

While student assessment is vital to learning, excessive testing is not, particularly in the way it is handled today. The quantity and quality of instructional time is what matters most for productive learning to occur.

Our experience in Adams County School District 50 has shown that a mass administration of the same test to students of the same age at the same time does not promote learning. In fact, it penalizes students, their teachers, and their schools. An overemphasis on testing significantly reduces the quantity and quality of time that could be better utilized in closing the achievement gap: something our data shows we are successfully doing.

The Teaching Learning Cycle in a Competency-Based System

We all know that teaching and learning take place in the classroom. As educators, we refer to this cyclic process as the Teaching Learning Cycle.

Teaching Learning Cycle (more…)

Data Integration? More Like Data Cooperation

October 30, 2014 by

Originally posed October 15, 2014 by the Christensen Institute.

Data Cooperation

Are new software platforms revving the engine of competency-based blended learning? This week, Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) released a comprehensive summary of Spark, a new platform built by the team at Matchbook Learning to help one of the schools it operates, Merit Prep, realize its goal of supporting blended and competency-based learning. The report looks at how Spark came about and where it may be headed in the coming years. The new tool is certainly exciting in and of itself, but it also reflects broader activity in the still relatively slim overlap of blended and competency-based approaches on the ground.

As I wrote about nearly a year ago, technology tools still lag some of the aspirations of competency-based and blended school systems. Yet Spark now joins a small but growing set of software programs designed to help competency-based schools that are using a variety of online learning programs to deliver blended instruction. Products like Project Foundry, Empower (by Educate), JumpRope, Engrade, and Buzz (powered by Agilix) orchestrate tasks like content delivery, assessment, and data dashboards in schools pursuing blended learning and competency-based education in various capacities. Other school systems are even turning to Salesforce for Education, which doesn’t offer the same real-time assessment data or online learning content delivery as those mentioned above, but does allow for individual scheduling and tracking of student information in a more competency-based manner.

All of these platforms are trying to tackle new challenges that educators face as they wade into the blended and competency-based spaces. Not only do blended learning educators want students to enjoy a seamless online learning experience, but they also want up-to-date information on how students are performing in online work to inform what they teach offline. And to make these blended learning experiences fit into a competency-based progression, educators also want to be able to track student mastery on an individual basis, and advance students to new or more challenging material when they prove ready. This means that a platform may need to deliver online assessment on an on-demand basis and to track individual student progress across standards and competencies. (more…)

When Teachers Can Implement At Their Own Pace

October 15, 2014 by

bull dog for van meterI recently had the opportunity to visit Van Meter School in Van Meter, Iowa with Sandra Dop, Consultant for 21st Century Skills at the Iowa Department of Education and facilitator of the Iowa Competency-based Education (CBE) Collaborative. Two faculty members accompanied us from Drake University’s School of Education, Dr. Randy Peters and Dr. Laura Kieran. They are members of the CBE Collaborative, bringing vision, curiosity and dedication to scoping out the future of competency education in Iowa.

Van Meter Community School District is a small district located 15 miles outside of Des Moines. It has one school building comprising K-12. Total attendance is 677 students, of whom 158 chose to open enroll into the district (students in Iowa can enroll in another district of their choice). The Mission of Van Meter Community School District is “to personalize learning for each student’s success, today and tomorrow.”

Van Meter is transitioning to full-school competency education, but has been doing standards-based grading school-wide in K-12 for three years. Elementary Principal and Director of Teaching and Learning Jen Sigrist explained the evolution: “We had a few teachers trying it before (five and six years ago), which led to each secondary teacher trying it for at least one class four years ago. After that, we made the move district wide. The last team to come on board was 5th grade mostly because they were not included in the secondary conversations and were preparing kids for the secondary by giving traditional letter grades in the past. They were happy to jump on board with the entire district three years ago.” (more…)

Ten Ways that Competency-Based Education is the same in K-12 & Higher Education

October 14, 2014 by
Charla Long

Charla Long

Last June, I had the chance to co-present on competency-based education (CBE) with Charla Long, dean of Lipscomb University. Lipscomb is nationally recognized for its pioneering work in competency-based higher education, and Charla has been the star of that work. In our presentation, we each shared about the opportunities and challenges that we have faced building and running competency-based programs – her in higher education and me in K-12.

Charla and I did not talk about our presentation with each other beforehand. So, we were both amazed when almost 50 similarities emerged between her experience and my own.

Here are just 10 of the nearly 50 ways that we found our CBE experiences in K-12 and higher education to be the same:

Opportunities

  1. We find that CBE permits us to focus on student learning and outcomes and operate from the belief that CBE is the best way to equip students with the skills they need personally and professionally.
  2. We find that the CBE experience works best when it is customized and personalized around student needs, interests and future plans.
  3. We have seen key technologies (like blended and online learning programs) help actualize and enhance CBE, but we do think that CBE can exist without these technologies.
  4. We have come to believe that CBE is a better way to organize schooling and learning and that it addresses both “excellence” and “equity” issues, in part by providing a quality education to all students, even those who struggle in traditional schools. (more…)

Fulton County Schools: A Big District Approach to Competency Education

October 9, 2014 by
Dr. Scott Muri

Dr. Scott Muri

I had the opportunity to talk last week with Dr. Scott Muri, Deputy Superintendent of Academics for Fulton County Schools (FCS) in Atlanta, Georgia. I knew that FCS was moving aggressively towards personalization, but I had never been quite sure how they saw competency education fitting into their strategy. (Although one definition of personalization includes competency-based progressions, in my opinion schools can be highly personalized without being competency-based: They can focus on completion rather than proficiency, they can pass students on with Cs and Ds, and they can personalize within age-based cohorts without opportunity to move beyond their grade level.)

When I asked Dr. Muri about their approach to competency education, he replied, “How can one  think about personalization without looking at competency education?  One is embedded in the other. If you don’t have a competency-based infrastructure, there is no way of knowing if your personalized approach is resulting in students learning.”

(more…)

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