Category: School Processes and Practice

Implementing Competency Education with Resolute Leadership

December 11, 2014 by

Dufour and FullanI work for the Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire, a district that was an early adopter of a K-12 competency education model, one that is now in its fifth year of implementation. My fellow administrative team members and I regularly receive questions from educators around the country who are looking to implement a similar model in their schools. One of the most popular questions we receive is, “What kind of leadership is necessary from district and school-based administrators in order to effectively implement a competency education model?” When I am asked this question, I am reminded of a passage in Dufour and Fullan’s (2013) book on sustaining reform, known as Resolute Leadership:

“Ultimately, the most important factor in sustaining reform is the willingness of leaders at all levels to demonstrate resolute leadership in the face of adversity. Resolute leaders anticipate opposition and honor opponents rather than vilify them. They don’t quit in the face of resistance. They don’t become discouraged when things don’t go as planned. They don’t divert their attention to pursue the newest hot thing. They stay the course. They demonstrate determination and resilience. They maintain their focus on core goals and priorities, and they continue to work, year after year, on improving the system’s ability to achieve those goals, but they are also open to innovations that might enable them to go deeper. More than ever, our educational systems need leaders with the collective efficacy that enables them to persist in the face of problems, plateaus, and paradoxes.” (more…)

A Deeper Dive into the EPIC North Design (Part 2)

December 8, 2014 by
Mr. Dash

Mr. Dash’s Science Class

This article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. Read the entire EPIC North series with parts one, two, and three.

The EPIC North school design is best explained by the students themselves.

Teachers give us guidelines for our projects. We can learn in different ways, including learning from outside of school. We have to figure things ourselves and we have to learn how to do it ourselves. But we are never all by ourselves. Teachers are always there to help us.

Like most mastery-based schools, EPIC is founded on the idea of student ownership, transparency of learning expectations, and demonstrating proficiency before advancing to the next stage of learning. In this case, EPIC embeds the mastery-based structure within a tightly woven culture and programming based on youth development and future focus through CORE and Summer Bridge.

A Personalized, Mastery-Based Structure

Across the three EPIC high schools, staff and students use technology as a means to personalize learning. Students interact with the schools’ LMS (Educate) and relevant Google programs to receive, complete and submit assignments, collaborate, and track their learning progress. Currently the schools are implementing a one-to-one (student to device) program. In classes, teachers use both procured and teacher-generated digital content. In classes like targeted support, students use interactive software to practice and develop their skills towards mastery. As students access material and produce works, staff are available to provide direct support and guidance. However, it is important to note that at EPIC schools, teaching and learning is highly blended. In addition to technology use, students participate in class activities, discussions, and labs that require collaborating with peers and working with teachers. (more…)

EPIC Schools: Putting Young Men of Color in the Center of the Design (Part 1)

by
Harvey Chism

Harvey Chism

This article is part of a series of case studies of schools in New York City. Read the entire EPIC North series with parts one, two, and three.

I’ve visited a lot of schools. I’ve seen confident students before. But the students at EPIC North took me totally by surprise.

Even though they were only in their second month of school, twenty ninth-graders streamed into the library, surrounding me, shaking my hand, introducing themselves, and… networking?

The questions flew at me from all sides. Where are you from? Why are you interested in EPIC North? What company do you work for? Have you met any of the staff at EPIC before? You do, how did you meet Harvey? Then two students sat down next to me with the clear intent of continuing the conversation: Now that we’ve met, what can I tell you about EPIC North?

I wasn’t interviewing students – they were interviewing me! When ninth graders know that they have powerful voices and aren’t afraid to use them, it’s clear that something special is happening. (more…)

The Case for Performance Assessments in a Standards-Based Grading System

December 5, 2014 by
DeLoreto

Louis F. DeLoreto

If only measuring students meeting academic standards in the classroom was as easy as it is in the performing arts or athletics. Concerts and games are authentic performance assessments. They provide the opportunity for students to demonstrate their skill levels and grasp of the concepts before an audience. Observers can see and hear the results and make judgments on the level of performance using their knowledge of the criteria commonly used to determine proficiency levels. If only we, the audience, could see how well a student is performing on authentic challenges in the classroom like we do at an orchestra concert or a basketball game.

The principle of demonstrating performance on an academic standard is the same as in the performing arts and athletic arenas. The “audience” wants to see what the student is being asked to do and to be able to understand how they did. However, the traditional classroom performance assessment is not as readily identifiable as the complexity of a musical piece or the competitive level of an opposing team. Therefore, the degree to which the student grasps an academic standard in a classroom is difficult for counselors, administrators, and parents to see and understand in today’s traditional high school assessment systems. (more…)

Advice From Highland Tech Students

November 25, 2014 by

HTCThis is the second post on Highland Tech Charter School. Click here for Part 1.

During my visit to Highland Tech Charter School, which features a personalized, project-based, mastery-based design, I asked students how they might advise other students who were enrolling in HTC or a similar school. Here’s what they had to say:

On Learning, Growth and Progress

  • When you take the placement tests, take them seriously. You don’t have to get stuck doing things you’ve already learned. You may even be able to be placed at a level above your grade.
  • We are not held behind. We are able to get done what we want to do. Sometimes things are really hard so it takes longer. But other things are easier.
  • This type of schools makes you have a better sense of what you are learning. It’s important to know when you are learning the basics and when you are applying your learning.
  • When you get behind, don’t worry. It’s easier to catch up. You just have to demonstrate that you really know something. (more…)

Highland Tech Charter School – Putting it All Together

November 24, 2014 by

This is the first post in a series on Highland Tech. Part 2 is Advice From Highland Tech StudentsIMG_0293

Student ownership of learning. Standards-based framework. Personalization. Performance assessments. Standards-based grading aligned with Bloom’s taxonomy. Inquiry-based learning. Project-based learning. New roles for educators.

Highland Tech Charter School (6-12) in Anchorage, AK is putting all these pieces together, but the process is not without its bumps. One staff person wondered, “Is HTC having an identity crisis?”

The pieces don’t all fit together smoothly…yet. The team at HTC is continuing to fine-tune a cohesive, personalized, mastery-based approach, where the size of the school (with 200 students and eleven teachers) is both an advantage and a limitation. They are easily able to work together collaboratively as a school, yet there are limitations in deploying resources to students with a wide range of academic and developmental needs (not to mention a wide range of educational expertise).

It didn’t feel to me like HTC was having an identity crisis. Instead, the different elements of the school are so well-developed they are pushing up against each other, requiring the staff to think strategically about how to integrate the elements as well as keep them in balance. (more…)

What is the Difference between Standards-Based Grading (or Reporting) and Competency-Based Education?

November 11, 2014 by
Matt Townsley

Matt Townsley

Here in Iowa, competency-based education is gaining traction at the state and grassroots level. In fact, the Iowa Department of Education has launched a multi-year CBE collaborative. Needless to say, it’s an exciting time to be an educator in the Hawkeye State!

Meanwhile, a core group of Iowa schools have started to implement a standards-based grading philosophy in middle and high schools. Because of these two movements in our state, standards-based grading and competency-based education are often times incorrectly presented as synonymous practices. As a member of Iowa’s CBE task force and through my work as a district administrator in a system that has embraced standards-based grading K-12, I’ve been in a position to think about and discuss these two topics extensively. When area schools hear about our grading and reporting practices, we are often asked how our system relates to those working towards competency-based educational models. While many of the ideas overlap, I felt compelled to tease out these two education terms in order to honor their similarities and differences.

What is standards-based grading? 

Standards-based grading “involves measuring students’ proficiency on well-defined course objectives.” (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006). (Note: Standards-based reporting involves reporting these course objectives rather than letter grades at the end of each grading/reporting period.)

The visual below compares traditional grading with standards-based grading practices. (more…)

Is There Enough Time for Learning?

November 4, 2014 by
Oliver Grenham

Oliver Grenham

Because of the growing number of mass-administered, required tests under state and/or federal law, there is an increasing and unsustainable demand being placed on student time in school. In recent years, these mandated test increases have affected students in Colorado at all grade levels, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

While student assessment is vital to learning, excessive testing is not, particularly in the way it is handled today. The quantity and quality of instructional time is what matters most for productive learning to occur.

Our experience in Adams County School District 50 has shown that a mass administration of the same test to students of the same age at the same time does not promote learning. In fact, it penalizes students, their teachers, and their schools. An overemphasis on testing significantly reduces the quantity and quality of time that could be better utilized in closing the achievement gap: something our data shows we are successfully doing.

The Teaching Learning Cycle in a Competency-Based System

We all know that teaching and learning take place in the classroom. As educators, we refer to this cyclic process as the Teaching Learning Cycle.

Teaching Learning Cycle (more…)

Social Learning & CBE – Competency Education is a Team Sport

October 27, 2014 by

This blog was written with the help of Michelle Allman, Andrew Skarzynski, Kristine Kirkaldy, Matt DeBlois, Sung-Joon Pai, Kippy Smith, Allison Hramiec, and Leslie Appelbaum.

Looking back, my whole school experience feels like a big group adventure. I know I did things alone – strong memories of this at home for sure – but learning was mostly one big, interactive social scene. And I was on the shy end of the human personality spectrum.

I say this because I think competency-based education with its emphasis on personalization, viewed from the outside, is often seen as an individual pursuit that surely must compromise the social aspects of learning that we know are important for – and to – students (especially teens!). Off I go, following my own personalized path, which is different from your path; my solo quest to master what I must master… which must look like this in practice:

Loneliness of the long distance competency-based ed student?

Loneliness of the long distance competency-based ed student?

(more…)

Reflections after Two Years of Performance Assessment Cohorts in New Hampshire

October 22, 2014 by

Originally posted on September 22, 2014 for the Center for Assessment’s Reidy Interactive Lecture Series.

Let’s now return to the question posed in an earlier post: what have we learned about the possibility of sparking systemic implementation of performance assessment? These reflections come from the NH Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) districts, as well as recent check-ins with team leads who participated in 2012 and 2013 Performance Assessment Network Cohorts. Half of these team leads reported that the work has been brought back to the rest of the school, and teachers outside of the group that attended the institutes are using performance assessments, while in other schools, QPA implementation has been more limited to the teachers who attended the institutes.

A strong, coherent vision helps people see the big picture

Administrators need to understand the big picture first and then set up the enabling conditions for the implementation to happen and the work to be sustainable. Participating in the 5-day training helps administrators develop their own instructional leadership and understanding of performance assessment. As one team leader noted, “[we] need administration to attend sessions, to show the seriousness and importance of this work, and get a solid team of committed individuals.” A recent post by a PACE district elementary principal illustrates how one district has integrated the training into their vision.

It takes time and effective structures to create a collaborative professional culture

A collaborative culture enables educators to use QPA protocols to engage in quality design, analysis, and instructional decision-making. PACE districts and 11 of the other administrators reported having Common Planning Time (CPT) built into their schedules. About half of those administrators said that the CPT was being used to specifically develop the QPA work. Two other schools that didn’t have CPT had time for the QPA group to meet to advance the work on their own. Structures provide the space, but the CPT must be used effectively. As one teacher at a PACE district school noted, “If we hadn’t done all work in the past becoming PLCs [professional learning communities], setting goals for our teams and norms, having expectations of our teammates then we wouldn’t be where we are. We couldn’t sit at a table and talk about what happens here.”

(more…)

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