Category: District Exemplars

Competency-Based Education Across America

October 17, 2019 by

2019 Snapshot of CBE State PolicyUpdated: October 2019.

iNACOL’s 2019 map shows the many states that have taken steps forward in enabling and investing in competency-based education. To highlight this progress, all of the CompetencyWorks blog posts from our site visits and interviews in 26 states are listed below. Schools, districts, and support organizations have used these inspirational accounts of local reforms to inform deeper competency-based learning and systems change in their own settings.

Alaska

Chugach School District (2019)

Part 1 – Rethinking Grade Levels and Age Groupings at the Whittier Community School

Part 2 – Bringing Parents Into Competency-Based Schools

Part 3 – Pathways, Pacing, and Agency Are Intertwined

Part 4 – Sustaining and Sharing Cultural Heritage at the Tatitlek Community School

Chugach School District (2015)

Report – Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System

Part 1 – Explorations in Competency Education

Part 2 – Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District

Part 3 – Chugach School District’s Performance-Based Infrastructure

Part 4 – Chugach Teachers Talk about Teaching

Part 5 – Ownership, Not Buy-In: An Interview with Bob Crumley, Superintendent Chugach School District

Part 6 – Chugach School District: Performance-Based Education in a One-Room School House

Part 7 – Teaching through the Culture: Native Education in a Performance-Based System

Part 8 – Performance-Based Home Schooling

Highland Tech Charter School (2014)

Part 1 – Highland Tech Charter School – Putting it All Together

Part 2 – Advice From Highland Tech Students

Arkansas

Springdale School District (2015)

Innovation Springing Up in Springdale

Student-Focused Learning in Springdale (2017)

Part 1 – Springdale, Arkansas: A Tradition of Innovation and Future of Opportunity

Part 2 – Building Learning Momentum at Springdale’s School of Innovation

Part 3 – Finding Time and Providing Support for Student-Driven Learning

Part 4 – Encouraging Learning Risks and Growth

California

Da Vinci Schools (2018)

Part 1 – Innovation in the Air at Da Vinci Schools

Part 2 – Conversations about Learning at Da Vinci

Part 3 – RISE (Revolutionary Individualized Student Experience)

Barack Obama Charter School (2013)

Ingenium Schools: A Big City Competency-Based School

Lindsay Unified High School  (2015)

Part 1 – Six Trends at Lindsay Unified School District

Part 2 – Preparing Students for Life….Not Just College and Careers

Part 3 – An Interview with Principal Jaime Robles, Lindsay High School

Part 4 – An Interview with Brett Grimm: How Lindsay Unified Serves ELL Students

Part 5 – It Starts with Pedagogy: How Lindsay Unified is Integrating Blended Learning (more…)

Rethinking Grade Levels and Age Groupings at the Whittier Community School

September 30, 2019 by

This is the first post in a series about the Chugach School District in Alaska. Links to the other posts are provided at the end of this article.

Whittier Playground

Whittier’s Schoolyard with Glacier Views

The Chugach School District in Alaska is one of the longest-implementing competency-based education districts in the USA, and it offers valuable lessons for schools and districts across the country. This blog series will share some of those lessons from my recent visits to the Whittier, Tatitlek, and Voyage schools in the Chugach district. This first article on the Whittier Community School focuses on Chugach’s approaches to grade levels and age groupings.

Despite its small student population, Chugach is huge geographically. My three-day loop began at the Voyage School in Anchorage. A 45-minute bush plane ride over mountains and glaciers brought us to the Tatitlek Community School, in a 200-person Native Alaskan village with no road access. From there it was a five-hour trip to Whittier on a once-per-month ferry across spectacular Prince William Sound. On the hour drive back to Anchorage, we left Whittier through North America’s second longest tunnel, drilled 2 ½ miles through a mountain for a secret World War Two military base.

Levels—But Not Grade Levels

To understand Whittier and Chugach, it helps to understand the basics of their standards and levels. Their standards span 10 content and process areas – Career Development, Culture and Communication, Math, Personal/Social/Service, Physical Education and Health, Reading, Science, Social Studies, Technology, and Writing. Each set of standards has 8 to 10 levels that students move through during their journey from kindergarten to graduation. Each standard has several learning targets that increase in complexity as students advance to higher levels. Their progress on each learning target is tracked through the district’s online learning management system, which also tracks a variety of student work such as individual projects and career transition plans.

Students Building Floating ObjectsA student can be at Level 4 in Reading, Level 5 in Personal/Social/Service, and Level 6 in Science. In fact, being at different levels in different standards is common, since the school doesn’t have grade levels. This leads to multi-age groupings in all classes. One student told me that she was in math class with high school students before she had formally entered middle school. She said it was hard to be in classes with much older kids, but it was good to be able to receive instruction targeted to her ability level.

(An earlier draft of the previous sentence ended with “it was good to be able to progress at her own pace.” Chugach principal Doug Penn’s comment on that wording contained just the type of valuable insight I was on the lookout for while visiting a mature CBE district: “We have been trying to dispel the idea that competency-based education is ‘learn at your own pace.’ Even though that’s true, those words often make people think it’s a passive method of working with students, when in fact we believe it’s a much more intentional model of instruction. What we have begun to say instead is that ‘students are receiving instruction targeted at their own ability levels.’” I don’t remember the student’s exact words, but Penn’s suggestion seemed important to act on and share.)

Multi-Age Grouping Benefits and Strategies

Multi-age groupings are essential at Whittier, because the whole K-12 school has four teachers and 51 students, but larger schools also use multi-age groupings productively to facilitate competency-based learning strategies such as varied pacing and pathways. More generally, multi-age groupings are an efficient way to use teacher time in a competency-based school. They allow teachers to support small groups of students who are working on the same competencies regardless of age or grade level. That reduces each teacher’s preparation demands, because not every teacher needs to be ready to support every competency. (more…)

Eastern Carver’s Framework for Lifelong Learning Skills

August 26, 2019 by

This is the sixth and final post in a series about the Eastern Carver County Public Schools in Minnesota. Links to the other posts are provided at the end of this article.

Graphic Showing Two Behaviors That Support LearningEssential learning outcomes in competency-based education include not only academic knowledge but also important skills and dispositions. Many schools, districts, and states have done outstanding work on developing frameworks for these dispositions and implementing them with students. For districts looking to develop or improve their work in this area, it’s helpful to see a variety of examples, such as recent ones on CompetencyWorks from New Hampshire and South Dakota.

Eastern Carver’s framework is called the Behaviors that Support Learning. They have developed a helpful handout that includes the six behaviors, descriptions of each (with some differences for elementary versus secondary levels), and two brief paragraphs explaining it all. One of the many strengths of Eastern Carver’s framework is that all of this information can fit on one side of one page in a non-tiny font, which is so helpful for communication with students and parents.

The six Behaviors that Support Learning are:

  • Strives for personal best
  • Shows respectful behavior
  • Interacts collaboratively with peers
  • Engages in learning
  • Exhibits responsibility
  • Demonstrates accountability

Descriptors are provided for each of the six behaviors. For example, “interacts collaboratively with peers” includes the following for elementary students:

  • Contributes ideas,
  • Asks for and respects others’ opinions, and
  • Flexible, willing to adjust to others’ ideas.

Additional expectations for secondary students include:

  • Challenges the group to do their best, and
  • Helps group to achieve shared learning goals.
Dr Seuss Quotation

From The Walls of Pioneer Ridge

Teachers at Pioneer Ridge Middle School said that they often reference the Behaviors that Support Learning with students, asking “What does it look like? Sound like? Feel like? We are constantly reinforcing, modeling, redirecting, modeling again.” During the daily morning meeting, specific student behaviors are held up as positive examples. During student-led parent conferences, students reflect on how they’re doing in relation to the behaviors. Students at Chaska Middle School East have taught and reinforced the behaviors by using them as themes for lessons during advisory.

(more…)

District-wide Transformation to Personalized Learning in Eastern Carver County, Minnesota

August 1, 2019 by

This is the first post in a series about the Eastern Carver County Public Schools. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

The Eastern Carver County district in Minnesota has worked intensively since 2011 to transition to more personalized, competency-based learning. Located about 25 miles southwest of Minneapolis, the district has 16 schools and almost 10,000 students in four communities that span a region of 88 square miles.

During a recent visit to two Eastern Carver schools, I spoke with students, school staff, and district officials. Superintendent Clint Christopher, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Amy LaDue, and Leader of Personalized Learning and Innovation Brian Beresford provided valuable reflections on the strategies, challenges, and rewards of district-wide transformation.

A key strategy has been creating a district-wide definition of personalized learning but then allowing it to take shape differently in different schools.  Personalized learning can take many forms, so the district strives to be clear about what they mean. The focal point of their definition is “the Star,” illustrated in the graphic above, which provides a compelling way to communicate the district’s approach to learning. The star is accompanied by powerful language on the district’s website, explaining the rationale for personalized learning. Some samples include:

  • Purposeful Learning – “In the past, teachers stood in front of the class for each lesson, expecting all students to learn in the same way and at the same pace. This is becoming a thing of the past. Teachers in Eastern Carver County Schools not only lead instruction but also facilitate learning for each student. They teach by guiding students toward mastery of content and instilling 21st century skills. Students have access to a variety of resources and tools, and teachers connect students to learning beyond the classroom.”
  • Collaborative Environment – “Design of spaces and their furnishings reflect purpose: how we live, how we work, and how we learn. We are redefining learning spaces with a variety of furniture, layouts, and technology that facilitate collaboration, creativity, comfort, and safety. They also convey a sense of belonging and purpose. School should be a place where students feel welcomed and empowered to learn.”
  • Learner Voice and Choice – “Students have the freedom to design the way they showcase their learning based on individual styles, experiences, passions, and needs…Treated as co-designers, students take greater pride in their success and ultimately find meaning in their work.”
  • Purposeful Instruction, Assessment, and Feedback – “Learning is continuous in our schools. This means that students are not limited by their age or grade. They are able to work at the level that is right for them. Students are consistently challenged…With teachers as facilitators, students effectively communicate their learning journey and progress. They then work with their teacher to determine their next steps for learning.”

Christopher is clear that they plan to transform the entire district, but says “it’s not going to happen overnight. We know it’s a long journey.” He emphasizes that Eastern Carver has 16 buildings with 16 leaders, faculties, student groups, cultures, and parent communities. The district has a document for each building that identifies where it is with personalized learning and the next steps to move forward.

Three Elementary Students from Eastern Carver“We need gentle pressure, relentlessly applied,” he said. “We need that constant focus on this, moving forward, adjusting, identifying what’s working. And what our board pushes back on, rightly so, is that we have pockets of excellence throughout the district, so how do we identify that and bring it to scale? This is also an equity measure, so the experience you’ll get in this district doesn’t depend on where you live. It may look different in different schools, but student outcomes need to be the same. We allow buildings to have some flexibility in that journey but are clear on what the parameters are around that.” (more…)

Innovative Scheduling: Digital e-Learning Days and Academic Support Periods

July 1, 2019 by

This is the fifth and final post in a series about the Farmington Area Public Schools in Minnesota. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Farmington Tigers MascotInnovations in school scheduling are key elements in shifting to competency-based education. They can enable “anytime, anywhere” learning, ensure that students receive frequent personalized support, and support deeper learning such as high-quality, project-based work. Innovative scheduling is an essential component of increasing organizational flexibility, one of the competency-based education quality principles. Two scheduling innovations in the Farmington school district are Flexible Learning Days and Academic Support Periods.

Working from Anywhere But the School Building

Farmington implemented flexible learning days or “flex days” several years ago. On these days, students don’t come to school but are expected to work via the school’s digital platform. Teachers are available and provide online “office hours.”

One advantage is that school days that in the past would have been cancelled due to inclement weather can now be productive learning days that don’t result in disrupted schedules and extended school years. The district also believes that it’s a great way to learn. Executive Director of Educational Services Jason Berg explained, “Students need to learn how to manage their own time, so we have to set up some experiences to let them learn that—to see that they don’t have to be in school to do learning.”

Flex days aren’t just to prevent school cancellations, however. The district also has two scheduled flex days each year with activities that teachers set up and post online for students to complete on their own schedule. Students can reach teachers digitally during school hours, although they’re also free to complete the work on their own schedules. Some students do group work electronically, and some classes that require out-of-school work, such as a photography class, schedule special activities on flex days. If students have several different activities that they need to get done that day, it is up to them to develop a plan to get it done, with teacher support as needed.

To help caregivers plan for the two pre-scheduled annual flex days, the district announces the dates at the beginning of the school year. The community has also set up some child care opportunities for those days for families who need it, and some of the older students go to the community centers and serve as tutors. Students are not permitted to go to the elementary or middle schools on the planned flex days, but high school students who have work that they can only do in the building are permitted to come if they have their own transporation. (Buses are cancelled on flex days.) The Farmington website provides more information about their flexible learning days. (more…)

“Radical Trust” and Teacher Agency Drive Deeper Change in Farmington

June 13, 2019 by

This is the first post in a series about the Farmington Area Public Schools in Minnesota. Links to the other posts are provided at the end of this article.

Jay Haugen, Farmington

Jay Haugen

Jay Haugen is Minnesota’s 2019 Superintendent of the Year, and his leadership has helped the Farmington Area Public Schools make great strides in advancing competency-based education. After 30 years in administration, Haugen has adopted a philosophy of “radical trust” in his staff, based on his experience that top-down initiatives fail to bring deep and lasting change.

During visits to Farmington High School and Boeckman Middle School, about 20 miles south of Minneapolis, I spoke with Haugen and Jason Berg, Farmington’s Executive Director of Educational Services. This post focuses on their philosophy and experiences with moving toward more personalized learning. Other posts in the series will explore specific changes in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and scheduling.

Jason Berg, Farmington

Jason Berg

Promoting Agency, Not Compliance

Jay Haugen: I’ve tried to make big change my whole career, but for decades I’ve watched all the right stuff come to nothing. So we don’t talk about “rolling out” changes anymore. That hasn’t been our language for the past seven years. We don’t “run initiatives.” The central office doesn’t decide what people should do and then schedule staff development for everyone on those topics. It’s very organic. We invite people to innovate, we get them inspired about our direction, and we unleash our staff and provide the supports they need. This has led to many types of competency-based innovations in our different schools, disciplines, and grade levels.

One of our top words is “agency,” and that’s for both students and staff. We do not tell staff what to do and how to do it. I think that’s what been wrong forever. Everything emanates from our strategic plan, and our purpose—to ‘ensure that every student reaches their highest aspirations while embracing responsibility to community.’ As long as staff are connecting to our purpose, we’re going to honor their agency and their ability to bring about that result.

We need to go slow to go fast. District offices tend to wish that people would all just get on board with mandates, but what you get is compliance. Then five years later you wonder what happened to your initiative. So the issue is how you go about it. You need to realize that you can’t tell a human what to do and how to do it. You just can’t! We won’t accept it! We will pretend. We will comply. Compliance is the 10% solution, because it makes your big initiatives become tiny increments that don’t keep pace at all with our world. So we need to do something different. The leap is radical trust—preserve people’s agency, and let them self-organize.

(more…)

District-wide Transformation in Harrisburg, South Dakota

May 22, 2019 by

Harrisburg Girls WorkingThis is the first post in a series about the Harrisburg School District. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

The Harrisburg School District has made major shifts toward competency-based education in several schools in recent years. With 2,000 visitors from 10 states over the past two years, it’s clear that their successful implementation has made them a model for districts around the country that want to observe and discuss strong competency-based practices.

The district’s goal is to deepen personalized learning (their name for the initiative) over time across the high school, two middle schools, and six elementary schools in the district, which is located in Sioux Falls and Harrisburg. This article focuses on district-wide implementation; a subsequent post will focus on how personalized learning is carried out within individual schools.

Launching Personalized Learning in Multiple Schools

The transformation to personalized learning was driven by school and district personnel who saw the need for change, but parent choice has also played a key role. Harrisburg’s first elementary school to make the shift, Freedom Elementary, kept one cohort of students in a traditional model while phasing in two personalized cohorts in two years. The district kept a traditional cohort to accommodate parents who didn’t want their children to switch to personalized learning. In the third year, the district surveyed the remaining parents, and 94% wanted their child to join the personalized model, so the school eliminated the traditional cohort. Two other schools in the district, Journey Elementary School and South Middle School, are using a similar approach—starting with both personalized and traditional cohorts.

Harrisburg Work ChartWhen Harrisburg began its transformation, seven years ago, they started with the high school. The district’s Innovative Programs Director, Travis Lape, says “We had a group of educators and building leaders at the high school willing to be bold and think differently. Along their journey, we learned a lot, but we know without them being bold we would not be where we are today.”

One of the lessons they learned in that first year is that “after eight years of being told what to do all the time, the learners needed more scaffolding. They weren’t prepared enough for getting organized and managing their time, and they started falling behind.” In subsequent years, the schools have provided more scaffolding. (more…)

The Mastery Collaborative: Dozens of NYC Schools Support Each Other’s Reforms

April 1, 2019 by

Mastery Collaborative LogoThe Mastery Collaborative (MC) is a network of public middle and high schools in New York City that are shifting and working together toward greater implementation of mastery/competency-based and culturally responsive education practices. The network is led by the New York City Department of Education, currently with two full-time staff members and two part-time consultants, who support the work of dozens of member schools. Detailed background information about the Mastery Collaborative is available in past CompetencyWorks posts (see links below).

This is the first in a series of posts based on iNACOL’s recent visit to two MC member schools, participation in a roundtable discussion with faculty and students from several schools, and attendance at a professional development workshop on culturally responsive education.

Shifting to Mastery-Based and Culturally Responsive Education Takes Time

Map of Mastery Collaborative Schools

Mastery Collaborative Schools

The Mastery Collaborative’s structure makes explicit an essential aspect of shifting to mastery-based and culturally responsive education (CRE)—that schools transform at different paces and to varying degrees. The 37 member schools span three tiers with different levels of implementation:

  1. Living Lab Schools have “effective schoolwide mastery systems with exemplary aspects to share with others.”
  2. Active Member Schools are “engaged in strengthening and spreading mastery/CRE practices, with a goal of ever-more-effective schoolwide implementation.”
  3. Incubator Schools are “in early stages of shifting to the MC’s mastery/CRE model.”

A fourth group, called the Friends of Mastery Collaborative (FOMC), contains hundreds of educators from 80 additional New York City schools, plus other states and countries, that are invited to participate in (more…)

The Sharp Ones: A Few Takeaways from Idaho

September 5, 2018 by

Click Image to Enlarge

This is the tenth article in the series on Mastery Education in Idaho. Links to the other articles can be found below.

Oh, there is so much to learn in Idaho. Where to start?

1) Learning from others and making it your own.

Too often we recreate the wheel. It’s fun to be so creative and to think it through. It’s also a lot of work to investigate what others have done and try to make sense of it. However, the cost is huge to start from scratch. You’ll make mistakes. The designs will most likely only represent the limits of your own knowledge and imagination at that point in time. Usually, we can only design around a few strands or concepts – it’s hard to create robust models straight out of the gate. Reiteration takes time, and there is a risk that there will be pushback on the big idea if early models are too limited or shallow.

Idaho seems to have mastered being “a sharp one” in the language of the “pencil metaphor.” In other words, they saw what early adopters had done, grabbed the best of it, and learned from the mistakes of others to do the best they can for their students. At every stop, people would refer to other schools and resources, describing which parts they were using and which parts they have modified. In Kuna Middle School, the teachers at Synergy had taken the Summit platform and pillars as the foundation for a fully interdisciplinary, project-based approach. At Central Academy, they had drawn from Building 21 and Bronx Arena in terms of approaches and information systems. Columbia High School has been pulling pieces from Marzano Research Lab, Summit, and Buck Institute. The team from reDesign has been a strong partner throughout the development of the Idaho Mastery Education Network. (more…)

Mastery-Based Learning in Idaho

July 16, 2018 by

This is the first post in a series on Mastery Education in Idaho. 

In April 2018, I went on a whirlwind tour of seven schools in four districts in Idaho in an effort to understand how mastery-based learning was advancing there. Idaho is a big, beautiful state with several different geographical regions. My site visits were all within the large river valley extending from Boise, land that was originally of the Shoshone and Bannock people. The districts we visited were all transforming their schools to mastery-based learning while their communities were shifting from an agricultural area into an extended metropolitan area. (more…)

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