Category: School Models

Gateways, Not Grades

April 2, 2014 by

This is the second of a two-part series on Making Community Connections Charter School. Click here for Part 1.

 In our traditional system, students progress in age-based cohorts, with most students progressing regardless of what they know and somej curve being retained to repeat a year.  Competency education expects students to get the support they need so that they are proficient, offering flexibility as needed, such as allowing students to continue to focus on gaps or areas where they are not yet proficient (i.e. competency recovery) in the summer or the coming school year.  The challenge for the school is to keep students on track AND provide flexibility to ensure they become proficient, which means rapid response when students struggle and more intensive interventions as needed.

Making Community Connections Charter School (MC2) has a different understanding of what it means to be on track. It’s not just an arrow, angling up at 45 degrees. It’s the J curve, which predicts that as students become more mature, with the habits to be successful learners, they will take off and learn on a much steeper trajectory. Under this theory of learning, how does MC2 make sure students are on track and progressing?  (more…)

Raising the Bar at Sanborn Regional High School

March 19, 2014 by

srhs

This is the third of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

“We weren’t getting traction in any of our academic improvement initiatives. Competency-based education helped us to get traction. Parents saw the value of the model. Students value the transparency – they no longer have to guess at what teachers want. It’s allowed us to focus in on the most important things to do to support our students.”

Sanborn Regional High School Principal Brian Stack explained that the most important change has been in the nature of the relationships. PLCs have more meaning as they focus on student progress. Students are taking more responsibility, even holding teachers more accountable by asking, “Am I passing all my competencies? What do I need to do to make sure I meet the expectations for proficiency?”

SRHS is a work in progress, as are all competency-based schools. However, it stands out as one of the few places that I have visited that has taken the time to draw on best practices of highly effective high schools, taking into consideration what students need to keep them in school as well as prepare them for college and careers. Below are just a few of the highlights of structures for learning Sanborn has put into place, as well as insights gathered during the visit.  (more…)

Competency Moves Beyond Courses

September 16, 2013 by
Sarah Luchs

Sarah Luchs

As a recipient of Next Generation Learning Challenge’s (NGLC) most recent wave of investment, New Hampshire-based Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) is getting some much-deserved buzz (most recently in Forbes and Ed Week). VLACS will redesign its current online model to move beyond course-based competency measures and toward an entirely competency-based design for learning.

The new model, called Aspire, is free of all the conventional dictates. Learning is not confined to a class, a building, a set block of time, or a subject-bound course. In the journey to personalizing education, this is a giant step forward, in my opinion. Up to this point, course structures (and the content that defines them) have disproportionately shaped the competency discussion and available options. I’m not opposed to learning in a course per se and the course experience itself is being revolutionized by new technologies–  also good. I just think the Aspire model creates some new possibilities that are long overdue and fundamentally exciting. Let me tell you what I mean.

Competency Reflections: Past and Present

I spent over a decade of my career prior to joining NGLC working for the Ohio Department of Education and state level policymakers. In Ohio, we created a provision known as Credit Flexibility that afforded students the option to earn credit for demonstration of previously learned knowledge and skills and/or to determine the means of their learning for any graduation requirement. Long story short, it didn’t benefit as many students as intended, in part because the system wasn’t built to implement this kind of flexibility, and schools, districts, and states still lacked the tools to enable it. It’s been my hope that NGLC—which funds innovative school models like VLACS-Aspire as proof points to demonstrate what’s possible, and shares knowledge in order to accelerate the adoption of new practice—will help position education systems to embrace and support innovative provisions like Credit Flexibility and benefit many more students. (more…)

Ingenium Schools: A Big City Competency-Based School

June 13, 2013 by
Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 2.59.23 PM

Ingenium Schools website

Is competency education a reform better suited for rural and outer ring suburbs than urban districts? That’s one of the questions I get asked a lot in the back of the room at meetings. No one ever asks that question during the regular sessions, leading me to think that the question goes beyond the size of the districts, and that the question is actually asking will competency education work in areas of concentrated poverty? Or perhaps, in our racially segregated country, people are using the code word “urban” to mean will it work for African-American students?

It is true that many of the district-wide reforms, supported by the work of the Reinventing Schools Coalition, started in rural districts and have taken hold in rural and suburban districts.  However, we now have a proof point that the very same model is taking root in south Los Angeles at Barack Obama Charter School (BOCS). And they are getting results – last year they had a 150 point gain in one year based on the California Standards Tests.   (more…)

Boston Day and Evening Academy: A Learning Organization

June 22, 2012 by

This is the third post in the Boston Day and Evening Academy series. Continue reading the first and second posts.

This final post on Boston Day and Evening Academy(BDEA) offers some of the big takeaways and lessons learned from my site visit.

Beatriz Zapater & BDEA student

Process for Designing Competencies: Beatriz Zapater, Head of BDEA, explained that “We always start with the curriculum frameworks. In Massachusetts, the standards feel like a telephone book with long lists of what we expect students to know. We can’t teach a phone book—we don’t have time. So we go in search of the most important ones. Common Core offers anchor standards so that makes it easier.” Alison Hramiec, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, continued by saying, “We ask ourselves three questions: 1) What is essential for all students to know and be able to do in each section of the Common Core?  2) What are the essential components of those skills and knowledge we are asking students to demonstrate?, and, 3) How can we scaffold this learning through the scope and sequence?

Zapater further suggested that “Schools develop a framework of common language around the language used in rubrics (BDEA uses not yet competent, competent, and highly competent), scope and sequence, and extra support. Otherwise it becomes a Tower of Babel, and you risk focusing on things other than student learning.” (See definitions used at BDEA on the wiki.)

(more…)

Boston Day and Evening Academy: Where Competency Education is Good Teaching Practice

June 21, 2012 by

This is the second post in the Boston Day and Evening Academy series. Continue reading the first and third posts.

During my site visit to BDEA, Alison Hramiec, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, explained that at BDEA “competency is synonymous with good teaching practice, with clear rubrics and discussion around student work. Competency education instills a sense of ownership in the learning process for teachers and for students. Learning comes alive.” Below are a few highlights of the BDEA competency education model.

Competencies, Benchmarks, and Assessments: BDEA defines competency as “able to demonstrate understanding and application of specific skills and content independently, multiple times, and using the correct vocabulary.” BDEA uses three levels: basic competent, competent, and highly competent.

BDEA uses benchmarks to organize learning and monitor progress. They do not use traditional grades or traditional grade levels. Their students earn benchmarks; each benchmark has a rubric. The Individual Learning Plans with the benchmarks for math, science, and humanities can be found on the wiki. (more…)

Reading the Pulse of Students at Boston Day and Evening Academy

June 20, 2012 by

This is the first post in the Boston Day and Evening Academy series. Continue reading the second and third posts.

Reading the pulse of students. That’s what Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) does exceptionally well—read the pulse of their students. They know them, they respect them, and they’ve got their backs. That’s where personalization always starts—by having respectful relationships between educators and students.

BDEA has been fine-tuning competency education for fifteen years, and they have a lot of insights to offer to schools that are transforming from a time-based system to a learning-based system. They now offer a Responsive Education Alternatives Lab (REAL) summer institute for interested educators. (more…)

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