Category: Assessment

Shifting the English Department to Competency-Based Assessment

June 20, 2019 by

This is the third post in a series about the Farmington Area Public Schools in Minnesota. Links to the rest of the series are provided at the end of this post.

Beginning Approaching Competent ExtendingThe English department at Farmington High School has made major shifts toward competency-based curriculum and instruction, as described in the previous post. This has required parallel shifts in assessment, with greater use of formative assessment and competency-based grading.

“Much of the assessment we do is formative, and we treat that more like practice and skill development,” explained one of the four English teachers who have been making this shift. “So what I’ve found in my classroom is that the kids who might not love English class, or might struggle with it—now instead of seeing a 3 out of 10 on a writing assignment, they see on their rubric that they’re ‘approaching’ the competent level. That has allowed us to have those authentic conversations when we’re doing our conferencing, like ‘Hey, if you just fix these one or two things on the rubric, you can move up into that competent level.’”

“It causes a complete mind-shift, where students don’t just shut down after a couple weeks. Now they understand, ‘there’s no tricks to this—at first we’ll be practicing new skills, and then we’ll assess where you are at the end of the unit.’ And that’s really freeing for a lot of kids. It has kept them in the game. They keep getting a little bit better, and then they’re ready to show how they’ve improved.”

Another teacher said that shifting to formative assessment and competency-based grading is great for the teachers too. “It’s awesome, because you see the lightbulb go off the first time the kid comes up and they think they’re going to get yelled at or told that they’re doomed—and instead they’re amazed that they have the opportunity to improve a few things we discussed and then move up to the next level on the rubric. That’s been pretty awesome.” (more…)

In Real Life: How can CBE systems ensure learning is deep, ongoing, and integrated?

January 30, 2019 by

This article is the fourth in a nine-part “In Real Life” series based on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.” Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Long before she had GPS on her mobile phone, my mother would navigate for our family road trips using turn-by-turn directions printed out from the American Automobile Association. While my father drove, she would call out the next set of turns so that he always knew where he was headed and what to do when he got there.

In much the same way, growing numbers of educators across the country are building competency-based systems designed to help students navigate the learning journey ahead. Such systems define learning targets or competencies that serve as guideposts for what students should know and be able to do as they progress through their learning. Many systems also sequence competencies (although not always linearly) into instructional learning progressions and utilize technology to display students’ progress in real time.

The goal is transparency: students need not wonder what is expected of them, but instead have a clear roadmap for the knowledge, skills, and mindsets they are expected to master next.

At the same time, some question whether such transparency has a downside of reducing learning to a shallow check-list of tasks that students race through to complete. After all, if we improve highway visibility, won’t cars be prone to speeding? (more…)

How Can States Transition to Student-Centered Learning?

October 22, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at ExcelinEd’s EdFly blog on August 14, 2018 and has been updated to include links to the first three briefs.

The proliferation of innovative, personalized and mastery-based models in schools, districts and states across the country demonstrates that completely prohibitive policy barriers, thankfully, do not exist. Our work has shown us that most states already have policies in place, (e.g., waivers) that can help schools implement new models—though we have also seen these opportunities remain largely underutilized or misunderstood. (more…)

AASA Explores Competency-Based Education Grading

March 6, 2018 by

The focus of the February AASA Administrator is on what they refer to on the cover as “performance-based grading” with articles on secondary school grading, standards-based grading and college admissions, and an overview of Lindsay Unified’s change process (a short piece for those who don’t have time to read the book Beyond Reform). Each article is worth reading, and the piece on standards-based grading and college admissions will certainly be helpful for engaging parents who are worried. See article at CompetencyWorks on Grades, College Admissions, and Competency-Based Education 

However, I’m very troubled by trying to package the changes to personalized, competency-based systems under changes in grading. It’s simply not a good idea to try to shrink a system-wide change down into a change in grading. As I’ve argued before, we need to make the changes to grading after the “why” has been clarified, the communities have been engaged, and the infrastructure is put into place to support the grading changes. (See part 1 on the different grading strategies and part 2 on what needs to be in place for standards-based grading.) Just moving from A-F to 1-4 is only going to get you into trouble.

What are the principles guiding your grading system? It makes sense to me that districts establish guiding principles and then build the grading system around them. In the article by Matt Townsley from Solon High School in Iowa, the three principles guiding their grading system are: (more…)

Redesigning Systems of Assessments for Student-Centered Learning

February 21, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on January 24, 2018.

Assessment is essential for understanding what students know and for providing transparency and fairness when it comes to certifying mastery of knowledge and skills. Assessment can provide timely feedback to educators on where students are in their learning and to inform the supports that they need to succeed. It also plays an important role for educational leaders to evaluate the effectiveness of learning models, on achievement and for policymakers to understand the effectiveness of policies and use of public funding. In redesigning systems of assessments, state policymakers should consider what is needed to make assessment more meaningful and integrally-linked to student learning.

The challenge ahead for policymakers is to rethink assessment policies to enable student-centered teaching and learning. This will require creating balanced systems of assessments to: (more…)

Sign on to the 10 Principles of Building a High Quality System of Assessments

February 16, 2018 by

Today, Jobs for the Future, iNACOL, and other national organizations released the report 10 Principles of Building a High Quality System of Assessments. The report lays out “a vision for systems focused on continuous improvement and the full array of knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed for each student to succeed beyond high school, in the workplace, and throughout life.”

Please note: This isn’t just any old report. It’s also a call for action. If you agree with the 10 principles highlighted to the right, think about adding your organization to the vision outlined in this report.

5 Things I Learned While Scoring Micro-credentials

November 14, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on October 18, 2017.

How can we create learning experiences that respect adults as learners and support teacher driven professional development? That was the question educators in Rhode Island set out to answer as part of the Assessment for Learning Project. At the heart of the project was a set of performance assessment micro-credentials designed by teachers. I had the task of reviewing many of the 100 submissions we received and two things are now clear to me. First, writing a performance assessment micro-credential is a performance assessment in and of itself. Second, adults are not much different from younger students when it comes to assessment. I found being a reviewer to be fascinating! Here are some of the things I learned while scoring micro-credentials.


(more…)

School Consortium Proposes a Better Transcript

October 2, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on September 14, 2017.

For 125 years we’ve recorded the high school experience as a series of courses and grades. It’s a record of activity but not a very good measure of knowledge, skills and dispositions; it doesn’t capture experiences or work products that provide evidence of growth and accomplishment.

Scott Looney, head at the Hawken School in Cleveland since 2006, is an advocate for advanced student-centered and authentic learning. He knew there was a better way to signal student success but realized it was both a supply and demand problem–high schools needed to update the transcript and colleges needed to agree to accept the new evidence of learning.

Looney launched the Mastery Transcript Consortium (@MastTranscript) in 2017. The new nonprofit started by defining the problem: current transcripts mark time not learning–they value information regurgitation over making meaning, disciplines over integration, extrinsic over intrinsic rewards, and encourage grade inflation. The whole charade is based on the premise that grades are replicable, validated and meaningful.

Looney quickly assembled 17 co-founding schools excited about building a common transcript and selling the idea to HigherEd. Since its launch, 120 more non-profit independent schools have joined the Consortium. (more…)

PACE Sees Early Evidence of Student Achievement Gains

September 5, 2017 by

Susan Lyons

Please note: This article was corrected on September 6th to accurately reflect the findings on PACE.

According to the presentation by Susan Lyons of the Center for Assessment to the New Hampshire State Board of Education, early evidence is showing improvements in the PACE districts in the Smarter Balanced assessments over the past two years. The mean of students demonstrating proficiency in PACE districts has increased from 48 to 63 on the 8th grade ELA and from 35 to 48 on the 8th grade math. The PACE districts are inching above the state mean. Another researcher, Carla Evans, is seeing significant improvement for students with disabilities in PACE districts compared with non-PACE districts. Evans’s research, based on early results, is showing that students with IEPs in PACE districts are significantly outperforming their peers with IEPs in non-PACE districts on the SBAC assessment in both math and ELA. Despite these gains, achievement gaps between students with IEPs and students without IEPs are still apparent in the PACE districts.

Lyons believes that two elements of the PACE theory of action are driving the changes:

  • implementing the performance assessments as intended enhances and extends desired instructional practices; and,
  • student engagement and student learning increases/deepens when performance assessments are implemented as intended.

Notice the language of implementing performance assessments as intended: PACE is focused on ensuring high quality implementation of performance assessments. It is a partnership of the state and local districts to commit to high quality instruction and assessments for the children of New Hampshire.

We’ve all become so accustomed to state systems of assessments that are designed to compare apples with apples and make student outcomes transparent (with the idea that by making them transparent, school performance will improve). The problem is that those state assessments have been used to blame and shame schools, and are not actually designed to directly help improve student learning. Thus, we’ve gotten used to assessments being something other than part of the cycle of learning. (more…)

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…)

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