Category: How To

Communicating With Parents on the Transition to Competency Education

April 21, 2015 by
Brian Stack

Brian Stack

I am the Principal at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. Our district has used a competency education model for the past five years and is one of the districts that is part of the exciting PACE (Performance Assessment of Competency Education) pilot program for school accountability. I am often asked by administrators who are looking to transition their schools to this kind of a model what it is like to communicate it to parents and families. This is something our school tries to do on an ongoing basis. Just this week, my two assistant principals and I held an evening coffee hour sponsored by our Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) to discuss the topic in more detail. It was a very well-attended evening. Below is a summary of how that evening was structure. It was first written and shared on my Principal’s Blog for parents who were unable to attend, but I am also sharing it with all of you on CompetencyWorks in the event that it could help you structure a similar event in your own schools.

Last night’s PTO meeting agenda said that school administrators would be available to lead a discussion on competency-based grading, but really it was all about chocolate chip cookies. What makes for an exemplary cookie, the one that is over-fresh with a sweet, rich, buttery flavor? The one with a real chocolate taste in each bite that complements that rich and flavored dough? You can’t teach someone how to make such a cookie until you take the time to define the criteria that you would use to assess it. It was through the lens of this scenario that Sanborn Regional High School Principal, Brian Stack, and Assistant Principals, Ann Hadwen and Michael Turmelle, helped everyone in the room understand the big picture of competency education, grading, and assessment and how it is working to provide a more rigorous education for all students.

Competency Education – The Big Picture (more…)

3 Ways Parents Can Spot Student-Centered Learning

March 26, 2015 by

Kids ComputerThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on February 26, 2015.

Recently I had the opportunity to learn alongside my seven-year old daughter, as we used the occasion of yet another snowed-in February day to scratch the itch of one of her many curiosities. Driven partly by me and largely by a friend at school, she’s been talking a lot lately about computers and how they work so we sat down together to try the Hour of Code. It was fun for the two of us to share a learning experience that we were both coming to completely new.

So many of our experiences alongside our children often involve us teaching them things that we ourselves have already experienced or mastered. It didn’t take long, however, before I realized the greatest lessons for me in that hour wouldn’t be about coding. What I gained that snowy afternoon was a set of new insights into how my daughter learns, what motivates her, what frustrates her and how my interactions either supported or discouraged her learning. I was floored by how much she was able to learn in just one hour–the same hour that could’ve instead been spent watching half a movie or playing another spirited round of tag with her sister through the house.

So what was it about that learning experience that made it so powerful? (more…)

A Construction Kit for Personalized Assessment of Competency-Based Learning

December 18, 2014 by
mc2

From the MC2 Charter School Website

This post originally appeared December 15, 2014 at Q.E.D. Foundation.

“What Changes in the Learner Are You Trying to Cause?”

Our perspective at QED is that competency based learning is first and foremost performance based, which means assessments – and assessment literacy – are essential, even more essential than the curriculum. Years ago, (1990, long before it became a rallying cry for Common Core opponents), Grant Wiggins identified assessment as “the Trojan horse” of education restructuring, or the means to “adapt schools to meet the needs of learning.” (Ed Week, 10/10/90)

Citing Ralph Tyler’s Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction at a much more recent training (July, 2014, Lambertville, NJ), Wiggins exhorted educators to “honor the Ralph Tyler idea that you don’t design backward from the curriculum, but from the learner being different: what changes in the learner are you trying to cause?” (more…)

ReInventing Schools at the District Level

November 10, 2014 by
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Bill Zima

In 2012, Maine established policy for schools to award proficiency-based diplomas starting in 2018. As the years passed, it became clear that some districts, including mine, needed more time to get all the pieces in place. In April of 2014, The Maine Department of Education agreed to allow extensions for districts as long as they met specific criteria demonstrating the district was moving forward. There were six options ranging from no extension to taking a full three years.

My district chose option five, which required us to partner with a coach to help with the transition to a learner-centered, proficiency-based system. We decided to partner with the ReInventing Schools Coalition. This decision was made based on their affiliation with Marzano Research Labs and their proven record of supporting schools through the transition. Also, the middle school, of which I am the principal, already had a working relationship with them. We have found them to be tireless in their commitment to support us through the process of meeting our vision.

With our limited funds, the decision was made to begin the district work with leadership teams from each of the schools in the district. The groups met for a single day over the summer to talk about the ReInventing Schools framework. While it was nice to only spend a single day on this topic, I would not recommend it as the norm for the introduction. Since the ReInventing Schools Coalition is well-known in Maine, having worked with many school districts in the past six years, their framework is familiar to many educators. Add to this the catalyst of the proficiency-based diploma law, and it gave our coach the ability to move quickly, leaving only a few of the school leaders needing support in the days that followed. (more…)

The Role of Assessment Instruments in a Competency-Based System

November 5, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 7.01.11 AMNo matter how you approach it, you cannot mitigate the massive change agent that is competency-based education. It does not leave much room for “old school” notions of teaching and learning. It does not tolerate anything less than a committed belief that all students can achieve at high levels.

It certainly demands a philosophical and ideological shift in thinking about “best practice” in education.

When I had first embarked on this journey, I had prepared myself for these shifts as they pertained to my practice. How can I become more student-centered? What does that look like? How will I know if my students are ready?

The question I never asked: How will I assess it and grade it? (more…)

Competency Education: Frequently Asked Parent Questions

October 28, 2014 by

FAQI worked for a school district and high school that made the transition from a traditional to a competency-based grading and reporting system about five years ago. As one of the early adopters of what has now become a national educational reform movement, my fellow administrators and I often get inquiries from colleagues around the nation who are looking for advice as they make a similar transition in their own school or district. One of the biggest categories of questions we field from other administrators is on communication with parents about the competency education model. In this article, I will share with you some of the most frequently asked questions that we get from our parents and how we typically respond.

How is a competency education model different from a traditional one?

Competency education is based on the principle that the grades a student receives measure what the student knows and is able to do. Courses are organized into competencies that measure a student’s ability to transfer content and skills in and across content areas. Students are assessed on these competencies through performance assessments—multistep assignments with clear criteria, expectations, and processes that measure how well a student transfers knowledge and applies complex skills to create or refine an original product. Teachers use rubrics to measure student learning on these assessments and report that learning on report cards and transcripts by skill or competency.

Competency education diverges powerfully from the traditional “one size fits all” approach. In the best examples, students are given many opportunities and many pathways to demonstrate that they have reached competency. They are able to progress at their own pace. Their teachers provide individualized instruction and coach them through their learning progression. Teachers collaboratively develop the assessments that will measure how well students have performed. The result is a more rigorous education that identifies exactly what students know, are able to do, and to what degree.

(more…)

Considering Competency-Based Education? Reconsider How You Assess

October 16, 2014 by

This blog originally appeared here on The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) ed.review’s edudebate series on assessment titled “What Alternatives to Standardized Testing?”and reposted at Christensen Institute.

 

From Next Charter School website

From Next Charter School website

Testing reimagined: How and when we should be assessing competency

 

We can all remember the cycle of emotions involved in taking tests: trying to cram as much into our heads, sitting the test, and eventually receiving a grade, weeks later, already immersed in new subject matter. Our grades may have clearly communicated what we knew on the day of that test. But opportunities to go back and learn what we’d missed rarely presented themselves.

 

Competency-based education presents an alternative philosophy of when and on what terms students take tests and move on to new material. In competency-based models, students advance upon mastery. A different spirit of assessment sits at the fulcrum of competency-based approaches: students only move on to new or more challenging material once they can show that they’ve mastered more basic skills and concepts. This means that students will often advance at different paces, and sometimes along different pathways. This also means that a competency-based system requires paradigm shifts in both how and when we assess students’ mastery.

 

How are students assessed for mastery?

 

Competency-based high schools in the US use a variety of modalities to assess students. A number of these approaches are being used in the state of New Hampshire, which has mandated that all high schools measure credit in terms of competency rather than time. Some schools like Sanborn Regional High School still use many traditional pen and paper exams, but with one key difference: they offer “reassessment without penalty” for students scoring below an 80%. Therefore students do not fail, but rather revisit material until they are able to retake tests to demonstrate mastery. (more…)

Leave Retention Behind in Favor of Promotion on Mastery

October 10, 2014 by
Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 2.24.48 PM

Getting Smart website

Originally posted on October 3, 2014 at Getting Smart.

 

The pastor was livid, he was so mad he could hardly talk (and he’s really good at talking). He had just come from a second day of school meeting that didn’t go well. The day before, his son came home and told him that all of his friends were in a different math class and his class was using the same book as last year. When he investigated, the teacher told him that in order to “promote college readiness” for his son, he was going to repeat 7th grade math. He had passed the class with high marks and the pastor and his son had attended three parent teacher conferences the prior year. With no notice, teachers had decided that 30 students, including the preacher’s kid, were going to repeat a math class.

 

When retention means repeating a grade, it is outdated and ineffective. It presumes that we don’t have any information about what the student struggled with and it wastes a year–for a student and a school system–repeating everything rather than pinpointing assistance. “No independent academic study suggests it works,” said former NYC Chancellor Harold Levy in a WSJ post. Retention without communication is malpractice (and when it comes to the son of town’s biggest public education supporter, well that’s just dumb).

 

The movement to end “social promotion” was part of state standards-based reform in the late 90s. Promoting kids based on birthdays ran counter to the goal of helping all kids reach high standards. But the decision to link No Child Left Behind accountability to grade level proficiency rather than harder to measure growth rates help solidify the old age cohort system. Schools become preoccupied with figuring out which kids they can get to pass the proficiency test at the end of the year and forget about kids that are two or more years behind because they don’t have a chance of passing. (more…)

Preparing for Conversations with Parents

September 29, 2014 by
Sajan George

Sajan George

Sajan George, founder of Matchbook Learning, kicked off a rapid fire email exchange that produced some incredibly helpful ideas about how to tell parents for the first time that their child is on a different academic level than their grade level.

Sajan’s original quest was to learn from other education leaders who had successfully explained to parents the Two Big Whys:

  • Why is my child not at grade level?
  • Why are you starting them on an academic performance level rather than on grade level?

If the student is substantially behind, teachers will have to be ready to answer a third Why:

  • Why is my child’s target for growth an academic level or two rather than their grade level? (Listen between the lines, they are really asking, Will they ever catch up?) (more…)

Flexible Learning Time Provides System Approach to Differentiation in a Competency Education School

September 18, 2014 by

KINGSTONOne of the keys to the early success of our competency education model at Sanborn Regional High School has been the inclusion of a flexible grouping period that is built into our daily bell schedule. For the past four years, our Freshman Learning Community teachers have benefited from having this flexible time to personalize instruction and provide students with support for intervention, extension, and enrichment as needed throughout the school year. Three years ago, we added this flexible time to our Sophomore Learning Community structure. Now as we enter the 2014-2015 school year, this flexible time model has been expanded to include all four grade levels in our high school.

Our flexible grouping period is known as the Focused Learning Period at Sanborn Regional High School, and it operates in a forty-minute time period each day. The Focused Learning Period is time for our students to engage in the following activities:

  • Intervention: Small groups of students work with the teacher on content support, remediation, or proactive support.
  • Extensions: Whole class groups in which the teacher extends the current curriculum beyond what is able to be completed during a class period.
  • Enrichments: Above-and-beyond activities that go outside of the curriculum to expand the experiences of our students.

The Focused Learning Period is not optional at our school. All students are expected to participate. Since the time is built into the school day, all teachers are available to students at the same time. Students are scheduled into a Focused Learning Period with approximately fifteen other students in the same grade level and/or career interest. A teacher is assigned to each group of students as an adviser. (more…)

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