Category: Analysis

Must Read: From Policy to Practice in New Hampshire

May 9, 2014 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

The Christenensen Institute just released “From policy to practice: How competency-based education is evolving in New Hampshire”. It is a fantastic paper, providing a comprehensive look at how New Hampshire is leading the way in competency education.

One of the things I loved in this paper is the opening section that recounts Steven Spears’ experience at one of the US’s big three car companies, highlighting that assessment can either be used as part of the learning process or as inspection. What goes unsaid in this story is that cars that don’t pass inspection in the traditional factory model still requires another step—they get fixed. In today’s top-down accountability model in education, we inspect—and then still pass kids on without getting them what they need.

The author, Julia Freeland, uses the working definition of competency education developed by innovators in the field (and the one we use here at CompetencyWorks) as an organizing structure for her interviews with 13 schools. This is helpful both in understanding how schools are implementing competency education as well as an overview competency education for newbies who are trying to get their head wrapped around redesigning district systems and schooling to focus on students and their learning, not the delivery of instruction. (more…)

The Oregon Shuffle

May 1, 2014 by

oregon-danceThe Oregon legislature is doing only what I can call a policy shuffle – a few steps forward, a few steps back. The recently passed House Bill 4150 has a number of fascinating pieces that are weaving together Oregon’s proficiency-based system.  Let’s start with the its step back:

Revisiting Grading: One of the big lessons learned for districts and schools in competency education is do not lead with grading. It may be also be a lesson learned for states, as well.

Oregon had taken a giant step forward last year with HB 2220, which required a form of standards-based grading report cards. Districts and schools were required to tell parents exactly how their children were progressing, based on standards and separating behavior from academic progress.

It seems to be a case of too much, too soon. Now they’ve taken a baby step backwards with this year’s  HB 4150, modifying HB 2220 to allow for but not require standards-based grading.  The Oregon Department of Education’s guidance states: (more…)

Counted or Not, Doing What Counts in Competency-Based Education

April 29, 2014 by
Eduardo Briceño

Eduardo Briceño

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
– William Bruce Cameron (and on a sign hanging in Albert Einstein’s office)

Competency-based education comes with the risk that we focus only on those competencies that can easily be measured and overlook other competencies that are also critical for success in today’s and tomorrow’s world. If we’re mindful of what students need and design our competency-based systems accordingly, however, we can make competency-based education all it can be.

How we can get into trouble

In a competency-based system, each learner focuses on knowledge and skills at the right challenge level, just beyond what is known, and progresses to the next level upon mastery rather than based on age or time. This makes a lot of sense. It’s how people learn. (more…)

Building a Bridge Between Blended Learning and Competency Education

April 25, 2014 by

A big light went on during a conversation with Anthony Kim of Education Elements:bridge

WHAT IF… The process used by districts that already use blended learning to transition to competency education is different from the process used by districts with little ed-tech that start with competency-based in their journey to personalization?

Blended-first districts that have infused their curriculum, instruction and assessment with all that technology can do, are turning to competency education as a natural progression from the self-paced nature of adaptive software and online learning. There are specific aspects that competency education can provide – empowering students to own their education through transparent expectations, ensuring students can apply academic skills, focusing attention on habits or lifelong learning competencies, and strengthening college and career readiness by building the capacity among teachers to assess competencies/skills. And most importantly, creating the structure to support students  — students that are not yet proficient, students that are performing at academic levels 2+ years behind their grade levels and students ready to leap forward in their studies. (more…)

Who Should Determine What Proficiency Is?

April 22, 2014 by
idaho

map data (c) 2014 Google

Governor’s Task Force on Improving Education in Idaho has been considering mastery-based education (Connecticut also uses this term). No recommendations to the state legislature were forthcoming, because, according to the news story, “they haven’t settled how to measure ‘mastery,’ or even who will make that decision. Some urged local control, while others argued if Idaho is providing funding to these schools, the state should be entitled to set forth some expectations.”

Fascinating that they saw it as an either-or decision rather than something that they might be able to construct together. New Hampshire started out with an emphasis on local control in designing the competency frameworks, but superintendents and school boards soon realized that resources can be better used in ways other than recreating the wheel in each of their districts.  So the state department of education led a process of co-designing to create statewide competencies that capture the big ideas we want students to be able to achieve in math and English language arts. (more…)

A Tale of Two States

April 9, 2014 by

taleoftwostates-mapI had a quick conversation with Sal Khan last month that really highlighted the importance of the questions, What do we think competency is? and How do we measure it?

The different ways we think about competency and what we want for our students is one of the underlying issues causing confusion in the field. It also has powerful implications for whether we are going to help students develop higher order/deeper learning skills.

If you think that competency education is completing a course of study on adaptive software (FYI – this doesn’t meet the field’s working definition) or getting a certain score on the SAT, you will make different design choices than if you think competency is being able to apply skills in new contexts.  Another way to think about this is using the knowledge taxonomies: If you think competency is at Level 2 Comprehension, the way you design your schools is really different than if you set it in general at Level 3 Analysis or Level 4 Knowledge Utilization. So if we are talking about proficiency-based diplomas and competency-based credits — How do we know when a student is competent?

This issue jumped out when I saw that New Mexico is implementing an Alternative Demonstration of Competency for students who can’t pass the high school exit exam. New Mexico is on a slow road (think snail) to personalized, blended, and competency education, so I was curious to know how the State was thinking about competency (click here for overview of policies).  Usually, I wouldn’t refer to exit exams within the realm of competency education because they have nothing to do with transparency of learning progressions, empowering students to own their own education, providing adequate supports and time, and making sure students reach proficiency each step of the way. My personal analysis is that high school graduation exit exams are policy hammers used by state government to get schools to do better by kids, but in fact, they knock kids down as they try to enter adulthood without a diploma.  In reading the details of the Alternative Demonstration of Competency, however, it sounded so much like Colorado’s new proficiency-based diploma policy and its emphasis on cut scores that I thought it best to highlight it here. Perhaps New Mexico is backing its way into competency education? (more…)

Listening to Our Critics: Offering Multiple Assessments on the Path to Proficiency

March 28, 2014 by

listening-thumbsup-downI read an article today about a company that scours through comments and complaints from customers on Amazon to find out what product details consumers are searching for, to then create those products. And it got me to thinking about conversations with students.

During site visits, conversations with students let you know how the school is doing in terms of embracing the spirit of competency education. When students talk about what they are learning, what they need to be successful and want to hear from other, quieter students, you know things are going in the right direction. If students lead off with the grading system and continue on with a string of complaints, you know that some pieces are missing. We need to listen to those concerns because listening to our “consumers” will help us create better schools.

I visited a high school that was experiencing a lot of implementation challenges.  It was the second year of implementation and most students seemed to value competency education. One student’s comment seemed to capture the overall value of competency education: “I value competency education because I like having to pass every piece of the course. I feel more prepared and the teachers act as if they care that I pass.” Students and teachers, however, also were frustrated, sometimes for the same reasons, but not ready to give up at all. Three issues emerged from their critique that I’ve put together in three different posts.

1)  “I don’t like the reassessment policy.  Too many students, especially the honor students, don’t even study any more. They just wing it on the quizzes and then if they don’t pass, they ask for a reassessment. It’s not fair. “

Other students who struggled with some subjects had a different point of view. “Some of the teachers only know how to teach you one way. They don’t seem to really understand the material with any depth. So it’s hard to get the help I need. So I end up just taking the reassessments over and over. “

  • Listening? Teachers complained about reassessments, as well. At this school, competency education had developed a quality of “testing out,” and teachers were spending a lot of time on reassessments rather than helping students to be successful in the learning cycle the first time through. In my discussion with teachers, the focus was more on aligning standards and assessments and much less on instruction.
  • What’s Missing? Three questions were raised for me during this discussion. First, the school was only using the habits of work or lifelong learning competencies in a perfunctory way. Students said they were inconsistently used and inconsistently applied.If they had meaning, those honor students would not want to have “inconsistent demonstration of professionalism” or “emerging proficiency in quality of work” at the top of their report card.  Second, the school did not offer flex time for students to get support during the day. Teachers and students were left scrambling to find time after school or during lunch. No wonder there were a lot of students needing reassessments. Save time and resources by helping kids get it right the first time. Third, there was little in the conversation that suggested that the students had a shared vision of a community of learners where they committed to learning and supporting each other. Although the district is a strong partner in the transition to competency education, turnover in school leadership was having an impact.  I know that many of the districts we would consider successfully implementing competency education invested heavily in the beginning to create a shared vision among teachers, parents, community members, and students. Fairness was about making sure everyone has the support they need to learn, not who gets to take a quiz when. Corrective action: I haven’t talked to anyone who got to this spot and then corrected it. We would love to hear from you.
  • Rethinking the System? Something feels off to me about emphasizing reassessment so heavily. Reassessment is often discussed as if it is a product of student behavior, when in fact I think there are three contributing factors for students needing reassessment.

1)    Students may not have a strong understanding of efficacy (how hard do I need to work to succeed).

2)    Adequate school resources haven’t been dedicated to ensure that supports and interventions are in place. This may be as much as an organizational issue as a resource issue.

3)    Teachers’ may not have adequate knowledge of learning trajectories to allow them to identify where students are likely to trip up. If there isn’t a strong PLC, teachers may not be able to draw from the collective knowledge of their colleagues, so are dependent on their own knowledge base. (I’m still learning about learning trajectories and how they are different than learning progressions.  Learning trajectories are how students learn and the most likely places they will stumble because of misconceptions. Learning progressions are our best guess at how students should learn, for example, Common Core State Standards. And individual learning progressions are how students actually learn.)

I know reassessment becomes a real problem at schools that create grading systems where students who have demonstrated proficiency can request reassessment to get higher points. That is different from a grading system that hopes students will demonstrate learning at Level 3 (analysis) and then return later to demonstrate Level 4 (knowledge utilization). In addition, in personalized systems, students and teachers know when it is time for a student to take summative assessments, as they have already demonstrated proficiency. We need to get stronger at articulating the change in emphasis, otherwise schools like this one will continue to have time-based assessments that then require resources for reassessments.

 

Next Stop, Level 4

March 24, 2014 by

elevator buttonsDepending on which knowledge taxonomy you use, the highest level with the deepest learning is either Level 4 or Level 6. As we think about equity in a personalized, competency-based world, how do we ensure that all students – even those who entered school at an earlier point on the learning progression than their peers and are on a steeper trajectory – have the chance to deeply engage in learning? How do we make sure that students who want extra challenges but want to stay with their peers can continue to grow without advancing to the next level of studies?

The granularity of standards may be too fine to have students trying to do Level 4 for each one. Learning progressions organized around anchor (power) standards and essential understandings will lend themselves more easily to knowledge utilization. Still, we know that incorporating projects, designed by teachers, students or together, takes time, planning, resources and flexibility. So how are schools managing to create Level 4 opportunities and ensuring that all students have a chance to dive deep into their learning?

Schools are using a variety of techniques: (more…)

More on Implementation in Maine

March 14, 2014 by

ME dept of edThanks to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Maine Department of Education was able to conduct a number of case studies on district implementation. The studies are great reading and raise a number of issues about principal leadership, community engagement, continuous improvement, and implementation planning. However, it’s hard to find the hour or so it takes to nestle in with each of the case studies and do the necessary reflection needed to learn from them.

So that’s why its so great that the Maine DOE Center for Best Practices did the work for us with the Threads of Implementation: A Thematic Review of Six Case Studies of Maine School Districts Implementing Proficiency-Based Systems.

It will only take you 15 minutes or so to read this summary, which includes sections on vision and framework, policy, leadership, teacher engagement, finance and professional development, technology, pacing, communications, and cultural change. The review is even more valuable as a discussion tool for district teams thinking about converting to competency education. Use each of the segments to help you devise your strategies and implementation plan, learning from the successes and stumbles of these districts.

 

Thanks to the state leadership in Maine – they are walking the walk when it comes to creating a learning culture.

 

Voices from the Field: Owning the LEARNING!

February 17, 2014 by
Heather Bross

Heather Bross

This article was originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition January newsletter. The RISC newsletter is designed to give you practices and opportunities to move students from compliance into engagement, an essential element for building a personal mastery system.

As with each New Year, new hope for success and happiness formulates in all of us. Which makes this an ideal time to begin goal setting and the practice of self-monitoring with students.

As a coach and an avid Detroit Lions fan, I had many mixed feelings over the weekend. My beloved Detroit Lions were out of the playoffs, so my family watched as the Packers lost to a team led by someone who, I must admit, struck a chord deep in my educator heart. You may have already heard the tale of 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s letter to himself at age 9 predicting that he would someday play pro football. Funny thing, he was very detailed in writing that he would play for either the 49er’s or the Pack-ers…. The irony of that brings a smile to any sports fan’s face.

In the letter, Colin prophesizes the future: “I’m 5 ft. 2 inches 91 pounds. Good athlete. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 ft — to 6 ft 4 inches 140 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football Then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren’t good in seven years. My friend are Jason, Kyler, Leo, Spencer, Mark and Jacob.

Sincerely, Colin (more…)

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