Category: Analysis

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…)

Is Competency-Based Education Feasible Without a Guaranteed Viable Curriculum?

October 1, 2014 by

guaranteed and viableCompetency-based education has gathered much energy and momentum across the nation during the past year, evidenced by the increase in the research and policy forums addressing the subject. Accompanying the interest is a dawning realization that organizations cannot fully implement an authentic competency-based system under the auspices of the flawed paradigm that preceded it. Policy wonks are left scratching their heads, wondering how best to negotiate a middle ground between defects of the traditional model and the promise of a competency-based system (CBS). Unfortunately, there is no middle ground; just as there was no middle ground in moving from VHS to DVD, you just need to convert. (more…)

Preparing for Conversations with Parents

September 29, 2014 by
Sajan George

Sajan George

Sajan George, founder of Matchbook Learning, kicked off a rapid fire email exchange that produced some incredibly helpful ideas about how to tell parents for the first time that their child is on a different academic level than their grade level.

Sajan’s original quest was to learn from other education leaders who had successfully explained to parents the Two Big Whys:

  • Why is my child not at grade level?
  • Why are you starting them on an academic performance level rather than on grade level?

If the student is substantially behind, teachers will have to be ready to answer a third Why:

  • Why is my child’s target for growth an academic level or two rather than their grade level? (Listen between the lines, they are really asking, Will they ever catch up?) (more…)

Three Insights on “Self-Directed Learning”—and How to Aim for Equity

September 4, 2014 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

Originally posted Sept. 3, 2014 by the Christensen Institute

Last week, FSG Consulting’s Matt Wilka and Jeff Cohen released a case study, “Self-Directed Learning at Summit Public Schools,” as part of a Dell Foundation-sponsored effort to catalogue Summit Public Schools’ model. It’s a good up-to-date look at some of the new efforts afoot in the Bay Area-based charter management organization. The authors do an excellent job showing how shifting from a teacher-driven to a student-directed model impacts students, teachers, parents, and administrators respectively.

Given its overlap with blended, personalized, and competency-based education, I personally am still trying to understand exactly how we should define “self-directed learning” in a manner that will be useful to the field. I worry that deployed irresponsibly, a “self-directed” approach could suffer some of the same pitfalls in terms of equity that online and competency-based education may suffer: that is, students who can take advantage of greater flexibility or ownership can sail ahead, leaving other students in the dust. Luckily Summit Public Schools maintains an unwavering commitment to closing the achievement gap, so if anyone can square self-directed learning and equity, it’s them. With that in mind, here are three of my takeaways from the new case study: (more…)

Performance Assessment for Competency Education

August 25, 2014 by
Paul Leather

Paul Leather

On Monday August 11, 2014, leaders from our four NH PACE-implementing school districts gathered, along with our partners, Dan French and staff from the Center for Collaborative Education and Scott Marion of the Center for Assessment. PACE stands for Performance Assessment for Competency Education.  We are moving forward this year with a demonstration project, to prove that we can advance the transformation of our public education system, in part, by changing our accountability model. We would like to lessen the importance of taking simply the summative Smarter Balanced in the spring of 2015 by establishing a richer array of assessments designed to help us with measuring learning and growth for students, teachers, and schools. We would rather see an assessment system include SBAC at grade spans, as well as complex performance assessments.

We believe that this kind of system will allow us to measure a more complete range of knowledge, skills, and practices, necessary for CCR.  Linda Darling-Hammond, Gene Wilhoit, and Linda Pittinger[1] have pictured this range of learning in a recent paper:

knowledgeskillsworkstudy (more…)

Why is Competency-Based Education So Hard to Study?

August 15, 2014 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

Originally posted August 13, 2014 by the Christensen Institute.

A few research pitfalls seem to be creeping into the still nascent world of K-12 competency-based education: first, the challenge of moving from discussing high-level theory to describing precisely competency-based practices. And second, going from identifying specific practices to designing sufficiently specific, appropriate evaluation to measure the effects of those practices.

Both of these tensions can make conversations about competency-based education feel speculative. The term “competency-based” often describes a wide range of classroom practices, but schools that call themselves competency-based may not subscribe to all such practices. And even when these practices are spelled out, we have yet to study them in isolation, to understand which—if any—drive student growth and in what circumstances. In order to really study competency-based models, the field may need more specific categories than “competency-based” to translate the theory into practice; and we likely need new research paradigms to evaluate these specific practices. (more…)

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