Category: District Exemplars

The Vision of Performance-Based Education at D51

February 6, 2017 by

This article is the third in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

Starting with the Four Questions

Guiding QuestionsIt’s feels a bit like a riddle. You see the four Guiding Questions in different places throughout Colorado’s District 51. Everyone knows the district isn’t anywhere close to being able to ensure that students can answer all four questions, but they remind you that this is what they are striving for. This technique sparks reflection and opens up minds to P-BL and the ultimate goal of personalized learning.

These questions go to the heart of what it means to have a transparent system that engages, motivates, and enables students to build lifelong learning skills. Yet, they start with the important question, Do our students feel valued, safe and supported? If that isn’t in place, students won’t take risks, they won’t ask for the help they need, and they won’t strive to do reach their personal best every day.

The Values Leading to the Vision

Transformation MapD51 thinks about their efforts toward building a personalized, performance-based system as a transformational journey – transformational in that it is being grounded in a set of very different values, understanding of learning, and capacity than the traditional education system. (If you are new to competency education and need more information on this topic, see What is Competency Education?) Let’s call these the features of the system they are building.They are also the features of the process by which the district is going to transform their system. In other words, D51 is walking the talk.

These features of the system and the process include a culture rooted in a growth mindset; a shared vision; transparency and alignment; data driven processes; personalized learning, and collective ownership. As you read this series about D51’s journey to date, consider how each of these features may be shaping their strategies and driving their decisions.

Observation and Insight: I came to believe during my site visit that safety, trust, and respect are also a feature of D51’s work and the design of the system. It comes up in conversations along the way, but in general I think it is an operating value (although not one that is explicit as the features listed here). Given that many districts have to overcome years and years of mistrust, specifically rooted in the institutional patterns that have resulted in much lower quality of education in communities of color, I recommend that safety, trust, and respect be considered as explicit features that drive design and implementation.

What Does it Mean to Be Performance-Based?

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Building Consensus for Change at D51

February 2, 2017 by
d51 school board for post about building consensus for change

D51 School Board

This article, the second in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series, is about how the district has built the consensus for change and is engaging their community. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

One of the more challenging processes for medium to larger districts (as compared to the small ones that have led the way to competency-based education) is engaging the broader community in building the consensus for change. In general, when it comes to shifting course or introducing new reforms in larger districts, buy-in tends to be the most common strategy used; there is a single or big meeting with community members, presentation of the new idea, opportunity to react – and then it moves quickly into implementation. Engagement means that there are continued opportunities for community members to shape the “what” of competency education and that there are ongoing structures and processes for two-way dialogue. D51’s Superintendent Steve Schultz explains, “We want to move from a ‘decide and defend’ mentality to one in which we gather information to inform a decision before it is made.”

Below are highlights (and we know there is much more to the story than recounted here) of how D51 is building consensus and shaping community engagement.

A Bit of Background

Schultz had been guiding D51 toward personalization since 2006, when the school established three diploma pathways (normal, distinction, and individualized) with the district expanding the number of options and instructional pathways (IB, concurrent enrollment, STEM, Key Performance Program to demonstrate learning through capstones and presentations, and four alternative education programs). The emphasis was on helping students excel just as much as it was on increasing pathways for students who were having problems earning credits, were confronted with challenging life experiences, or had left school for a period of time to complete their diploma.

In 2013, when Schultz began to engage his team in learning about competency education, the communities within the Grand Valley were still challenged by the Great Recession. A region shaped by the boom and bust cycles of the oil industry, Grand Junction and the surrounding towns were having difficulty climbing out of the bust. Vast ideological differences had led to relationships becoming increasingly strained between the teachers’ association, administration, and the school board. Schultz remembers, “It became clear to us that we needed to focus on building relationships and finding common ground in order to move the district forward.”

Then two things happened. (more…)

Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51

January 26, 2017 by

national monumentThis is the first in a series on District 51’s transition to competency education. D51 uses the language of performance-based learning and uses PBL as an acronym. However, knowing that our readers are likely to read that as project-based learning, we are using P-BL to indicate performance-based learning.

D51, tucked away on the Western Slope in Colorado, is fashioning a new implementation roll-out strategy for performance-based learning. I spent a week in the fall visiting District 51 with school visits, meetings, interviews, and in-depth conversations with district leaders. The insights are plentiful but it should be understood that they were collected in the midst of the change process. Thus, there is less discussion in this series about the structure of their performance-based system and much more about the conditions that are needed to support it.

Highlights of D51’s Conversion to Performance-Based Learning

There is so much to be learned from the educators at D51. They are all at that stage of expert-novice – they can tell you about what they are learning, as it hasn’t become fully embedded as routine thinking or practices yet, and they can tell you about their areas of inquiry because they are becoming clear about what they don’t know…yet. Harvesting their bountiful insights was a delight. You can get a taste for their commitment and creativity by listening to Getting Smart’s interview with Superintendent Steve Shultz and Rebecca Midles, Director of Performance-Based Learning. Below are just a few of the highlights from this series:

  • D51’s story of deciding to move to P-BL and building the consensus for change is a fascinating one, as it emphasizes the critical role of school boards and how individual leaders can help move a district forward by engaging in dialogue and joint site visits.
  • D51’s roll-out strategies offer a new way of thinking about implementation. We have documented the implementation strategies used by many of the early innovators in Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders and strategies used by larger school districts such as Henry County, Lake County, and Charleston that have created scaling strategies. However, the early innovators were all very small and their approaches limited for medium-sized districts. And the larger school districts we have highlighted have often had funding through federal or large foundations to support their efforts. D51, with few additional funds, has developed a simultaneous and iterative approach based on carefully managing strands of work, including engaging the community in shaping a shared vision and graduate profile; designing a teaching and learning framework that defines the performance-based learning system; providing intensive capacity building for the first wave of demonstration schools; and re-designing professional development to support any teacher wanting to build their professional skills. They talk about phases of implementation but it doesn’t mean everyone will be in the same phase at the same time.

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Moving from Islands of Innovation to a District of Distinction in Personalized Learning (Part Two)

November 30, 2016 by

carverThis is the second post in a two-part series from Eastern Carver County Schools. Read the first here.

Simplifying and expanding
The strategic planning process from 2012 to 2014 laid the foundation for the development in 2015 of Eastern Carver County’s five-point personalized learning star. This addressed the uncertainty and variability we experienced in the earlier planning process. The visual aid tied together all of the pieces of work. The star includes key questions for school teams to answer.

  • Purposeful Learning: How do learners find relevancy and make connections between themselves and their learning?
  • Engagement with Learning Tools: How do learners purposefully select tools to support their learning?
  • Collaborative Environment: How do learners leverage their environment to maximize their learning?
  • Learner Voice and Choice: How do learners design and take ownership of their learning?
  • Purposeful Instruction, Assessment and Feedback: How do learners leverage relevant learning targets and authentic learning opportunities that meet their needs? How do learners use evidence and feedback to further their learning?

The district developed a website, wearepersonalizedlearning.org to provide resources and support to teachers, parents, and the community.

Using these five points, questions were posed to building level administrators at a monthly district leadership meeting. It was the last question — how do learners leverage relevant learning targets and authentic learning opportunities that meet their needs? — that was the most tantalizing and seemed to be the lever that propelled buildings toward full-scale implementation of personalized learning. The change in culture encourage educators to think differently about our work motivated many buildings to deepen their engagement in this work. Buildings sought out their pioneers and met this innovation mindset challenge by asking these same questions of staff. In one building, staff collaborated to integrate curriculum and standards around learning themes and tie their curriculum to these themes. Language around content changed to language around learning. By linking the learning together, teachers became facilitators of learning rather than teachers of content. Classrooms and hallways were transformed to create learning spaces with specific purposes and learners were consulted on what environment they needed for different learning opportunities. Bell schedules were tossed out in favor of student-driven schedules based on their needs. Teacher desks were moved to storage so classrooms could be transformed into learning environments each with unique purposes to support student learning. Time became more flexible with opportunities for learners to flex their time where they need for their learning. Teachers embraced informal learning time for student support and conferencing. Every nook and cranny in buildings became prime learning real estate. Is a student done with her learning in math, great! Now, flex out to open space to collaborate with other learners on science, or flex into a lesson with your world language teacher for more guidance. In one high school, teachers needing to be absent could opt out of a substitute teacher and use that time for tutoring, independent learning or group work. Bottom line: do what you need to do for your learning. (more…)

Moving from Islands of Innovation to a District of Distinction in Personalized Learning (Part One)

November 29, 2016 by
eastern-carver-collage

Brian Beresford, Clint Christopher, Dana Kauzlarich Miller, and Brenda Vogds

This is the first post in a two-part series from the educators at Eastern Carver County Schools. It was written by Brian Beresford, Clint Christopher, Dana Kauzlarich Miller, and Brenda Vogds. See the second part of the article here. Visit them at www.district112.org.

Eastern Carver County Schools’ plan to personalize learning in every classroom of the 9,500-student school district challenges leaders, students, teachers and the district’s stakeholders. Consider how entrenched the so-called “factory” model is in our educational systems: lesson plans as discrete pieces of information, the organization of students by age, the design of schools and classrooms based on efficiency rather than efficacy. Most importantly, in the traditional model of learning, students have been passive participants, recipients of the teacher’s knowledge instead of having the opportunity to co-create their learning. We have reevaluated the classroom from the student’s perspective and it is driving many changes in order to deliver on the promise of exceptional, personalized learning. Eastern Carver County Schools’ commitment is to full-scale personalization districtwide. It is built on building-level planning and initiatives, moving from great ideas implemented in one classroom to schools where personalized learning is simply how they operate.

For nearly a decade Eastern Carver County Schools, a suburban school district in Minneapolis, Minnesota, of 9,500 students, has been reimagining public education. When voters approved a referendum for a second high school in 2006, it came with a commitment from district leadership to redesign secondary curriculum and better align courses on the 6-12 continuum. The focus was greater rigor, relevance, and preparation the demands of 21st century life and work. Elementary schools followed suit a few years later. Many program improvements were made to grades K-5. The most significant in our personalized learning journey was implementation of a continuous progress model to move students into appropriate math and reading based on learning level, not age or grade. There were two outcomes of this work. One was culture-building. The extensive changes to course sequences, bell schedules, student groupings, grade configurations, and attendance boundaries set the stage for larger systemic changes. This started a cycle of continuous improvement and promotion of a growth mindset among district educators. Second, the continuous progress model created a cohort of elementary students who were challenged based on what they knew, not their age. They would need more in the years to come. (more…)

Laying the Groundwork for Proficiency-Based Learning in Rhode Island

September 30, 2016 by

RI Strategic Plan

This post was previously released and has been updated as Rhode Island moves towards a revised set of state policies to guide their Diploma System. 

Thanks to Lori McEwen, Chief of Instruction, Leadership and Equity at Providence Public Schools and Dana Borrelli-Murray, Executive Director, Highlander Institute for talking with me about how personalized learning, blended learning, and proficiency-based learning are advancing in Rhode Island.

There is a lot happening in Rhode Island regarding education. The communities in Rhode Island seem to be bustling with discussions about how to improve their schools, with much of it focused on personalized learning and blended learning catalyzed by the Highlander Institute. Much less so on how to create proficiency-based systems.

Rhode Island is an interesting case study as it has a thick policy foundation for a proficiency-based diploma and secondary school practices to support personalization, yet I couldn’t find any districts that were committed to creating a K12 proficiency-based system. There are certainly sparks of proficiency-based innovation in Rhode Island. For example, the Met, one of the early models of highly personalized competency-based learning, started in Providence. Blackstone Academy and Blackstone Valley Prep are both proficiency-based, from what I understand. Cumberland High School has made incredible progress by starting with the goal of creating a standards-based grading reporting system and then using it to put all the important pieces in place to ensure consistency and transparency. There are also efforts of after-school programs to use competency-based models to create credit-bearing opportunities outside of school as well as Big Picture Learning’s College Unbound. (It’s possible I just didn’t tap into the right networks. Please, if you are a school in RI converting to a proficiency-based system, let us know.) From what I can tell, this suggests that those districts and schools that want to become proficiency-based can within the state policy context.

Certainly, over the past twenty years, the state has been a leader in establishing a set of policies that support a proficiency-based system. These policies have now been re-organized into a set of regulations called the Diploma System, which emphasizes proficiency and personalization. However, few districts are taking advantage of this…yet. My guess is that we are on the verge of seeing districts in RI begin to realize that they can’t get all their students to graduation-levels of proficiency without increasing the personalization of their schools (focusing on what students need to succeed, not just digitalized content) and converting to a proficiency-based system that helps them monitor proficiency, progress, and pace of their students. (See the story of Connecticut, in which superintendents are the leaders in the effort to introduce personalized, competency-based systems of education.) (more…)

Talking Equity with John Duval

August 11, 2016 by
john_duval

John Duval

This is the ninth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, Flushing International, KAPPA International, North Queens Community High School, EPIC North, and New Classrooms

“Mastery-based learning can reopen a conversation about equity.”

With just these few words, John Duval launched us into a dynamic conversation. Duval leads the Model Redesign Team in the Office of Postsecondary Readiness, which houses a number of initiatives related to high school innovation around areas of whole school design, competency-based education (including the Mastery Collaborative), culturally relevant pedagogy, and effective uses of school time. Previously, Duval led the launch of the New York City Department of Education’s Expanding Success Initiative (ESI). This initiative, dedicated to improving education for African-American and Latino young men, launched the EPIC model, which will have four schools in both district and charter variations this coming September. Here are a few highlights of the conversation:

The Intersection of Culturally Responsive Education and Competency-Based Education

ESI designed the EPIC model with four core concepts, including competency-based education (CBE) and culturally responsive education (CRE), or the belief that “achievement is anchored not just in building from one’s existing strengths but in full engagement of one’s self and lived experience.” (See the EPIC Playbook for more information.) Duval explained how the intersection of these two concepts transforms the classroom and school dynamics. “Let’s start with the idea that mastery-based learning is a better way to do school,” he said. “When you focus on competencies, you are focusing on the ability to transfer skills and you are focusing on the important higher orders skills. In CBE, this is real shift for the teaching force in two ways. First, from a design perspective, it requires creating more complex learning arcs for young people. This is very difficult, especially if you’ve never been trained this way. Second, it creates more transparency and accountability for everyone involved. Once a student – especially an African American or Latino one – knows what skills he or she is supposed to develop, he or she can pinpoint what a teacher is or is not doing to help them.”

He continued, “Just knowing that grading is more objective based on progress toward standards rather than the highly variable, subjective conventional grading can bring a huge change in the student experience. Then when the practices are in place for students to have more agency and responsibility for their education, there can be a tremendous cultural shift in the school. There is more respect for students. And there is the expectation that when there is tension or conflict between a student and teacher, listening to each other and understanding each other’s perspective is the avenue for resolving it, not taking the student out of the classroom or the school. The practice of exclusion inhibits learning on the part of students and adults.” (more…)

Can Melrose Go Deeper with Competency-Based Education?

June 1, 2016 by

Melrose Public SchoolsMassachusetts is often recognized as a leader in education – although that is not so in the case of competency-based education. Even though it is home to two of the early competency-based innovators – Diploma Plus and Boston Day and Evening Academy – Massachusetts to date has been slow to engage in making the transition to competency-based education.

That may be changing.

While I was in New England, I had the chance to talk with Melrose Public School Superintendent Cyndy Taymore and twenty or so others – teachers, principals, parents, union leaders, school board members, and special education specialists – involved in their exploration of what a competency-based system might look like. It was a wonderful experience for me, as I rarely get a chance to talk to districts in the early exploration stage.

It was also eye-opening, as they helped me understand that higher income and higher achieving districts might be interested in competency-based education as a means to introduce greater rigor and greater personalization into their system.

Why is Melrose Interested in Competency-Based Education?

Many districts come to competency-based education because of demographic changes that are bringing more low-income families into their communities and their realization that they need a better way to respond to greater diversity. Melrose is experiencing the opposite trend – it has been increasingly becoming more affluent, and parents are becoming more demanding that the schools provide high levels of rigor and more opportunities for their children. Melrose is considering competency-based education as a strategy that can benefit the traditionally high achieving student while opening the door for traditionally lower achieving students to thrive. (more…)

Naugatuck Public Schools: Making Meaning for Teachers with Mastery-Based Learning

May 10, 2016 by

NPS

This is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

Scroll to the bottom to see an example of Naugatuck’s curriculum framework for math.

“As a teacher, I couldn’t get traction. If mastery-based learning isn’t the district’s vision, how much can a teacher accomplish?”

I like to stay in touch with competency education leaders as they move from one position to another, from one organization to another. One might think of a bumble bee pollinating ideas – each idea become a richer hue as it interacts with other ideas, other people, and new applications.

Thus, during my trip to Connecticut, I visited Caroline Messenger, Curriculum Director, Naugatuck Public Schools, who had previously been a teacher at the high school. (Messenger has also been a writer at CompetencyWorks. See Learning My Lesson and How Do You Measure Competency? Curriculum Can Help Guide the Way.) I was interested to find out how her perspective had changed from being a teacher to being part of the leadership team. The conversation was quickly focused on instructional strategies, proving to me once again that mastery-based learning can create the conditions for lifting up the teaching profession from the narrow role of delivering curriculum as structured in the factory model to the astoundingly challenging and meaningful role of teaching children to learn.

“Mastery-based learning operates on a different set of assumptions,” Messenger reflected. “Even if you have two or three colleagues working together, it is difficult to bring mastery-based learning to life in the classroom without a district vision. As a teacher, you can focus on standards and develop your units around them, but there is no way to create a greater understanding of how the standards fit together to create a sense of purpose for learning if you are working in isolation. Teachers can organize their classrooms around standards, but we want so much more for kids. It takes a much broader vision. The vision of the district and the philosophy of the school shape how people relate to each other, determine what is important and where attention is directed, and sets the values.” (more…)

Windsor Locks: Starting with Pedagogy

May 5, 2016 by
Susan Bell

Susan Bell

This is part of a series on mastery-based learning in Connecticut. See posts on New Haven Public Schools,Windsor Locks Public Schools, Naugatuck Public SchoolsSuperintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut, and New Haven Academy. Connecticut uses the term mastery-based learning, so that will be used instead of competency education within the series.

“The real shift is in what is happening with our kids. ” – Susan Bell

Windsor Locks, located a bit outside of Hartford, Connecticut, didn’t have to make the move to mastery-based learning. As Superintendent of Windsor Locks Public Schools Susan Bell put it, “We did it because it makes sense to us. A D-minus and twenty-four credits is just not good enough. We drew the line in the sand. We are done working in ways that don’t make sense for our students.” (See Windsor Locks’ description of their mastery-based learning system.)

Why Mastery-Based Learning?

Connecticut has created innovation space for high schools to move to mastery-based learning. Windsor Locks decided it was an idea that is good for all students. In 2013, they set a deadline to have the fifth graders in that year graduate with a mastery-based diploma in 2020.

Bell explained, “We are focused on improving the quality of instruction by building a common belief system of what is good instruction and creating the instructional culture to support collaborative dialogue. The structure of mastery-based learning allows us to focus more closely on how students are progressing, allowing us to use instructional models that will work for students and provide more opportunity for them to be active learners.”

We all know there isn’t one perfect system of mastery-based learning…yet. Bell pointed out, “It seems we’re all waiting for the first successful model to be developed. But waiting meant we were delaying what we knew was good for students. So we took the bull by the horns and began the transition ourselves.”

The Path to Mastery-Based Learning

In 2011, the Windsor Locks School Board hired Wayne Sweeney as Superintendent, who Bell described as “a visionary leader who got us focused on the right things.” With Bell as Assistant Superintendent, the district began the journey with an extensive process engaging 400 stakeholders to create a vision of the system. They developed a long-range plan built upon the Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools. (more…)

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