Category: District Redesign

A Decade On: Lindsay Unified’s Personalized Learning Journey

October 17, 2018 by

A young reader at Lindsay Unified’s Kennedy Elementary.

This post originally appeared at Education Week’s Next Gen Learning in Action blog on September 21, 2018. All images are courtesy of Lindsay Unified District. 

When educators tell the story of what galvanized them to embrace next gen learning, they often point to a watershed moment, a realization that so fundamentally shifted their thinking that it divided their career into “before” and “after.” (more…)

A Big District Strategy for Implementing Competency-Based Education

January 17, 2018 by

Commitment counts. It seems to make a difference when school boards and district/school leadership make a commitment to the vision of a more equitable education system where all students are successfully prepared for their next step (i.e., advancing based on mastery) before they begin the process of piloting or implementation.

However, that’s not always going to be possible especially for larger districts. It is much more difficult to engage the broader community and build the consensus needed for the commitment in larger communities. There are just too many people to bring together into one room or around one table. Furthermore, we don’t believe that competency-based education can be effectively implemented as a top-down, memo-driven approach. It requires building trust and engaging in dialogue for everyone to clarify values, understand how the traditional system reproduces inequity and low achievement, and understand the implications of research in the day to day operations of schools. (more…)

Evaluating Your School’s Competency Education Journey and Answering the Question: Are We There Yet?

March 30, 2016 by

Are We There Yet?I’m sure this is a story we can all relate to: Mom and Dad have packed up the gear and the kids into the family minivan (or station wagon, depending on your frame of reference) for a long trip. In less than an hour, one of the kids asks, “Are we there yet?” The trip continues with at least one kid asking this same question every half hour. With five kids under the age of ten and countless road trips, my wife Erica and I know this story all too well. We try to patiently answer them the first time they ask, but as the hours pass and the question keeps coming up, our patience begins to wear thin. We can’t fault them because they don’t know where we are going. This past summer on a ten hour car ride from Boston to Washington DC we finally found out how to appease the oldest of our children and silence the question once and for all – we gave them each a road map so they could chart our journey.

As the principal of a high school that started on a journey to transition from traditional to competency education six years ago, I am often asked if our school is “there” yet. Surprisingly, my response has two parts: It depends on who you ask, and it depends on where we are trying to go. Over time we have found that a competency-based structure has led us to several directions of improvement. For example, we learned that we could be more responsive to our ninth graders by creating accountability of our ninth grade teachers to prepare students for high school rigor. We realized that our assessments and instruction needed to be lifted up to meet the higher depths of knowledge. Now our district is on a new journey to create greater personalization. This is all happening because we started on the journey to competency-based education.

When we started our journey we lacked an important tool: a road map. Six years ago, we were one of the first public schools making the transition. Feeling a little like Lewis and Clark and with no one to help us chart our journey, our first few years felt very much like we were driving without a road map. Our Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Brian Blake, likes to refer to it like we were building a plane and flying it at the same time, and he shows people this video to make light of the situation. Best practice and research was our compass. It navigated us through our early work with assessment, grading, and instruction. As time passed, more and more schools began their own journeys. Researchers began to study this transition and pull together the experiences that schools like us were having with our journeys. Through this work, some of the earliest road maps for schools looking to transition to a competency education model have begun to emerge. (more…)

What We Can Learn from Chugach School District

March 8, 2016 by

AKIt’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? The first district to design a competency-based system was a relatively new one, located in the most northwestern corner of our country and serving remote villages of Native Alaskans. You can read all about it in the new report Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System.

Staying the course for over twenty years, Chugach has developed a personalized, performance-based system that places students at the center and deeply values teaching and teachers. As we know, competency-based education starts with the idea that we can actually design for success and eliminate the traditional practices that lead to sorting and inequity. It also positions districts to manage continuous improvement processes that are constantly helping to build the organizational and instructional capacity of schools.

What Chugach helped me to understand is how profoundly competency-based education positions teachers to be able to use (and develop) their instructional expertise, their assessment literacy, their creativity, and their relational skills in helping students become independent learners.

Although I think this report will be helpful to anyone interested in competency-based education, it will be particularly useful to those interested in teaching and learning within competency-based schools, those working in rural communities, those thinking about how to create the competency-based infrastructure, and those working with Native American, Native Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian communities.

If you want to learn more about Chugach, we highly recommend Delivering on the Promise. It’s a great read for anyone who is trying to understand what competency-based education is really about.

How is Personalized Learning Changing Lives? Ask Thomas Rooney.

January 16, 2016 by

This post originally appeared on the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Ed Fly Blog on December 9, 2015.

Nestled in Central California, Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) is meeting and exceeding expectations. And part of the district’s winning formula includes competency-based learning.

The Lindsay community certainly faces challenges. One hundred percent of all students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. More than 90 percent of students are Hispanic or Latino, 50 percent are English Language Learners and 13 percent meet federal standards for homelessness.

Despite these incredibly difficult circumstances, LUSD is transforming education to a personalized system where all learners are met at their own level. These students are guaranteed success, challenged, and are pushed to leave LUSD ready to choose college or their career. (more…)

Kids in the Pipeline During Transition to Proficiency-Based Systems

January 12, 2016 by

PipelineI have made the case for “turning the switch” to a proficiency-based model versus “phasing in” a new approach to educating our youth. I have discussed the preparations that I believe are necessary to successfully implement a proficiency-based system. How could I have missed this!? I expected our proficiency-based model to be so much better for our students than the traditional approach, yet many of our learners are struggling. What’s going on and why? What can be done? With hindsight being 20/20, what should we have done differently with our implementation?

What’s Going On and Why?

The jump to expecting students to demonstrate proficiency on clearly identified targets based on national standards is a step up for all, perhaps a bigger step for others. The expectation that students demonstrate proficiency on all standards assigned to a course is a significant change from a traditional system where a student need only score 70 percent (or less) to achieve credit and move on. Of course, we can look at this issue from a different view and state that students have been allowed to move on without 30 to 40 percent of the knowledge, concepts, and skills necessary for success at the next level. Many of us refer to this as the “Swiss Cheese Effect” of what our traditional high school model has allowed for…generations.

Now that we have made the transition to our proficiency-based model, we have students in high school whose clock is ticking toward graduating with their class. They are the kids in the pipeline without the foundational skills required to be able to demonstrate proficiency in required topics. We need to remember that students come to the system with eight to eleven years of “Swiss cheese.” The pressure on learners and our learning facilitators to fill holes in learning and complete graduation requirements is extraordinary. This, to use Chris Sturgis’ analogy, is one of the “elephants in the room” that needs our attention…in a hurry.

What Can be Done?

(more…)

Milestones and Benchmarks On the Way to a Proficiency-Based System

December 3, 2015 by

RSU2On numerous occasions, I have been asked, “On your journey to a proficiency-based system, what were the milestones and benchmarks that were critical to a successful transition?” In taking the time to reflect over the past few years, there are certainly points along the way that have proven to be vital as we’ve moved forward toward a solid proficiency-based learning system. (more…)

Preparing to “Turn the Switch” to a Proficiency-Based Learning System

November 3, 2015 by

SwitchIn an earlier blog, I discussed the implementation of a Proficiency Based Learning System via a “phase in” approach and the unintended consequences of such a plan. Although I referred to the alternative approach as “overnight,” clearly much work happens prior to turning the switch from a traditional to a proficiency-based system. However, it does avoid the pitfalls of a phasing in approach. When you turn the switch:

  • There are no guinea pigs. All stakeholders transition at the same time; no one group is left facing change year after year.
  • The this will go away syndrome disappears because the change is here, now. It’s not going away. Our work then turns to a cycle of continuous improvement of the system.
  • The pilot doesn’t exist. By making the change across the board, the message is sent that “we are confident this is the direction to take” and it will succeed.
  • Apples to oranges, the comparing of proficiency-based and traditional grades, is a natural part of the transition. However, it does not happen via the structure of the implementation.

Preparing to ‘Turn the Switch”

So what are steps that experience teaches us need to be taken prior to making such a significant change? Make no mistake about it, this is second order change. It is not the “band aid” approach to school reform that has been happening for decades. Well-meaning tweaks to a failed system can only take us so far. This change goes well beyond what has been happening within our schools. (more…)

Biddeford School District: Never Unpack Alone

October 27, 2015 by

Maine Road TripThis post is part of the series Road Trip to Maine.

Dan Joseph, Reinventing Schools Coalition/Marzano Research Lab, suggested I visit with Jeremy Ray, Superintendent of Biddeford School Department, to learn about how they were progressing toward proficiency-based diplomas. The conversation included Margaret Pitts, Principal, Biddeford Primary School; Lindsey Nadeau, Early Childhood Coordinator, JFK Memorial School (kindergarten); Kyle Keenan, Principal, Biddeford Middle School; Mary Bellavance, Instructional Coach at the Middle School and a contributor to CompetencyWorks; Deb Kenney, Principal, Biddeford Intermediate School ; and Paulette Bonneau, Principal, Biddeford Regional Center of Technology. Thanks so much to all of you!

Biddeford is a small district serving a town of 21,000. The student enrollment is approximately 2,600 with about 60 percent FRL. Ray described that although they aspire to higher student achievement, “those kids who go to college tend to stay.” Thus, driving their focus is a strong emphasis on improving achievement and expanding the numbers of students going to college. Already there are signs they are moving in the right direction – Pitts mentioned that the proficiency-based instruction along with strong RTI has resulted in a decrease of third graders who will need intervention next year. Biddeford is already seeing signs of an upward trajectory.

Ramping Up

Ray explained they didn’t jump to the RISC model. He believes that change starts with people. He wanted to make sure that principals would trust the RISC staff. Dan Joseph joined two leadership team meetings before a contract with RISC was established and he began working with teachers.

Biddeford made a decision to focus the community engagement at the school level rather than district. It was a strategic choice for Biddeford. The state policy requires districts to create proficiency-based diplomas, so there is less demand for community-wide engagement to move forward. Yet, community engagement is important for building a shared vision and embracing the new values. Given that Maine takes local control very seriously, it made sense to use an even more decentralized strategy. Keenan explained that they started with having schools engage their parent communities about what is best for our kids.

Ray also believes that “the quickest thing to get a thing killed is to name it.” With the support of the Biddeford School Board, he made sure the message was clear that proficiency-based learning is not an initiative or a fad. This is based on what is best for children.

Starting with K-8

It made sense for Biddeford to start with K-8, as it was already comfortable with standards-based education. Furthermore, high schools add a layer of complexity to change: Maine state policy starts the clock ticking when a student enters ninth grade by only calculating a four-year graduation cohort and counting students who need a fifth year as a drop-out. Thus, they are often the most intransigent to change. (more…)

Phase In or Overnight Your Implementation?

October 20, 2015 by

Guinea Pig Reading a BookWhen implementing a Proficiency Based Learning system, many schools need to choose between a “phased in” approach or an “overnight” approach. Typically, a phased in approach identifies a specific group of students for which change happens over a prolonged period of time. Conversely, an overnight approach involves developing a program from philosophy through logistics (such as scheduling, assessments, reporting, transcripts, etc.) and making the transition for an entire school or district to happen at the same time.

Having experienced both, I offer a discussion of unintended consequences to one of these choices. In one school, implementation was scheduled for a freshman class with a four-year phase in process through which the entire school would transition to a new system. In another, a decision was made to transition an entire school together at one time, given the thinking that ultimately “we’re going that way” anyway, why not do it together approach.

We’re the Guinea Pigs

Stakeholders may or may not embrace a change to a proficiency-based system. When deciding to implement this change, a single group of students (in this case, a freshman class) and their families experience the change over a period of multiple years. While it is a fact of life that schools are “building the plane while flying it,” it has a dramatic effect upon the “guinea pig” class. Not having answers is natural when transitioning to a whole new philosophy and approach to educating our youth. It is natural not to anticipate some of the issues that arise within transition; however, the guinea pig class certainly had their fill of “I don’t know” responses from teachers and administrators. (more…)

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