Category: Insights into Implementation

In Real Life: Who Gets to Decide Which Student Outcomes Matter?

January 21, 2019 by

Dianne Kelly, Superintendent, Revere Public Schools

This article is the second in an eight-part “In Real Life” series based on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.” Read the series introduction here.

One tell-tale feature that sets a competency-based education (CBE) system apart from a traditional school system is the naming of competencies – specific sets of knowledge, skills, and abilities – that each and every student must master in order to move from one stage to the next. Inherently, this feature can also be one of the most controversial.

At first glance, the idea may not appear unique. Every school system in America has education standards, adopted in part by states and added to by districts and schools, to help ensure consistency in what students are learning. Standards shape lessons and tests, and students must do well enough to pass their classes and receive a diploma. We are all familiar with this traditional notion of standards.

In CBE systems, competencies often represent bigger-picture ideas when compared to traditional standards, and they often differ in one other important way: every student is required to master all of them. Because the competencies are designed to represent sets of knowledge and skills that are essential for postsecondary and lifelong success, insisting on mastery is one way CBE systems ensure that every student graduates ready for the next phase.

It is this insistence on mastery that has tremendous implications for how the competencies themselves are defined, and in particular, for the process through which the competencies are decided. Who gets to say what knowledge and skills are so important that every single kid must master them? Whose opinions are consulted? Are these decisions being made by parents and local communities through democratic processes, or are the competencies determined by outsiders with little input from local communities?

To better understand how competency-based school systems reckon with these fundamental issues, I sat down with several practitioners including Dr. Dianne Kelly, Superintendent of Revere Public Schools in Massachusetts.

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3 Tools to Engage Ownership in Your Classroom

November 19, 2018 by

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

It’s easy to say teachers should give students more ownership of their learning. It’s easy to say students have to be motivated to learn. It’s easy to say teachers need to give up more control of the teaching and facilitate more of the learning. It’s easy to say but they are definitely NOT easy to do.

When students are drivers of the learning and not just passive recipients, it turns a dormant classroom into a thriving incubator of innovation. Many educators want to do all of these things but are too often left to figure out how to do it. (more…)

What to Do When the Field Goes “Mustard”

November 15, 2018 by

This is the seventh in a series on problems of practice. (Check out the articles on gradingattendancepace, individualized learning, granularity, and late work.) We are interested in hearing from readers about other problems of practice they’ve seen or are struggling with in implementation.

What do we call the stage of field development when the so-called “experts” and expert organizations are providing inadequate, weak, or even bad advice? Several Google searches didn’t come up with an answer, so I’m going to call it the “mustard” stage… As in, we aren’t performing at the level needed to fully support districts and schools – in other words, we “aren’t cutting the mustard.” (more…)

Starting the Competency-Based Education Journey…Again

November 13, 2018 by

I spent 10 years of my career working in a high school that successfully transitioned from being very traditional to one that is now competency-based. Although in reality the work is never really complete, it’s still satisfying to look back and celebrate just how far you’ve come. For those of us in the competency-based education (CBE) trenches, we know that changing the way people think about teaching and learning isn’t easy. It’s difficult to let go of long held beliefs about how schools should operate and how classrooms should be run. The transition to a CBE model also takes time. Educators must commit to years of hard work in order to make CBE a reality.

Not long ago I hit the professional reset button and accepted a position in a district that was just beginning to develop a CBE system. I knew that going back to the “old way of doing school” would be difficult, but like a true CBE educator I was eager to apply what I had learned in my previous setting to a new one. However, no two schools are alike and no transformational journey is the same. (For school leaders who are looking for a prescriptive path or a step-by-step manual to CBE, you’re out of luck, those don’t exist.) Instead of creating a CBE “to do” list, I spent a considerable amount of time observing current practices and gaining an understanding of what was already working. Three themes emerged from my observations that could be universally applied to any school embarking on the path to CBE. (more…)

Providing Flexible Pathways and Personalized Learning Options for All Students

November 1, 2018 by

This is the third in a three-part series from Andrew Jones, director of curriculum at Mill River Unified Union School District in Vermont.

A central feature of Vermont’s Act 77 and the Educational Quality Standards is that students have access to personalized learning opportunities and flexible pathways to graduation. In many traditional schools, there are only a few avenues for students to follow. Without credits, meeting graduation requirements through non-traditional formats is actually easier, as long as those opportunities are tied to certain proficiencies. Through flexible pathways, students are not hamstrung to take specific courses or follow a predetermined course. At Mill River Unified Union School District, we looked for ways to completely rethink what it means to learn and go to school. (more…)

Supporting Teachers with Making Sense of Proficiency-Based Learning

October 31, 2018 by

This is the second in a three-part series from Andrew Jones, director of curriculum at Mill River Unified Union School District in Vermont.

For many teachers, proficiency-based learning (PBL) is a significant shift from past practice. Though certain aspects of PBL are familiar to some teachers, putting proficiency into consistent practice can be a heavy lift. This shift requires new knowledge and skills, while simultaneously jettisoning numerous past practices. Building teacher capacity is a central requirement for ensuring the successful implementation of PBL. Without time to make sense of the shift and opportunities for new learning, teachers will not be sufficiently prepared to make substantive changes to pedagogy.

At Mill River Unified Union School District (MRUUSD), intentional educational infrastructure is leveraged to build teacher understanding of proficiency-based learning so as to ensure equitable outcomes for students. A district-wide teacher learning system supports our ongoing effort to implement PBL practices K-12. Making up this “educational infrastructure” are several key elements, including: instructional coaches, collaborative work time, and curriculum tools.   (more…)

Transparency: Operating with a Clear Instructional Vision to Put Policy into Practice

October 30, 2018 by

Andrew Jones

This is the first in a three-part series from Andrew Jones, director of curriculum at Mill River Unified Union School District in Vermont.

Mill River Unified Union School District (MRUUSD) is a small, rural district located in southwest Vermont. Made up of four K-6 schools and one 7-12 union middle/high school, MRUUSD, like most districts in Vermont, is actively engaged in the implementation of proficiency and personalized learning practices. Act 77 and the Educational Quality Standards (EQS), enacted in 2013 and 2014 respectively, are state policies that require elements of personalized learning and proficiency-based learning, including the provision that high school students earn their diplomas based on proficiency and not credits starting with the graduating class of 2020. Mill River School District has embraced these policies as an opportunity to improve student outcomes while simultaneously providing more equitable experiences for all students. Framing our work toward proficiency is a district instructional vision. (more…)

CBE Problems of Practice: Late Work

October 29, 2018 by

This is the sixth in a series on problems of practice. (Check out the articles on gradingattendancepace, individualized learning, and granularity.) We are interested in hearing from readers about other problems of practice they’ve seen or are struggling with in implementation.

6. Removing all consequences for late work. Much like the issue of attendance, learning what level and amount of effort is required to complete something and time management are important aspects of learning. Some schools have jumped to removing all consequences for late work, thereby supporting the idea that it isn’t important to be timely. This is a misstep in implementation that has placed unacceptable levels of burden on teachers who receive all assignments at the end of the year. Again, as schools separate out behaviors from grading academic progress, it is important to replace it with something else. Habits of success such as time management and lifelong learning skills such as self-regulation are critically important for academic success. These need to be emphasized and reflected upon in terms of their impact on student progress. (more…)

Customizing a System for Us by Us

October 24, 2018 by

Image from the Ridgewood High School website.

We came to Nashville on Sunday, invited by Chris Sturgis to participate in the iNACOL pre-conference Competency Education Leadership Forum. We came to get the answers to questions. These were questions that we had yet to find the answers to despite our best efforts.

Using the 16 Quality Principles as our framework, we connected with educational leaders from all over the country and learned that our remaining questions are their remaining questions. During the Leadership Forum, our collaborative efforts to answer our shared questions revealed that our questions had not been answered because we are the designers and the pioneers driving the transformation of learning. That is the message. These aren’t questions to be discovered and created, not simply answered. (more…)

Competency-Based Education: The Break from Tradition that Our Schools Need

October 22, 2018 by

At this year’s iNACOL 2018 Symposium, I will have two opportunities to share my thoughts and experiences after spending a decade leading a New Hampshire high school through a transformation from a traditional to a competency-based system. The first will be in a Sunday morning pre-conference session entitled “Learning from School-Based Practitioners: Building a Successful Competency-Based Education System in your District/School.” There, my colleague Jonathan Vander Els and I will share resources and tools from our 2017 Solution Tree book entitled Breaking With Tradition, the Shift to Competency-Based Learning in PLCs at Work. On Tuesday morning, Jonathan and I will join our good friends: competency educational specialist Rose Colby and Ace Parsi of the National Center for Learning Disabilities for a breakout session entitled “Leveraging Competency Education to Promote Equity for ALL Students by Prioritizing Academic and Personal Competencies Supported by Effective Leadership, Personalization, and PLCs.” (more…)

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