Category: School Processes and Practice

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?

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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.”

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The Power of Deep Discussions around Student Work

October 21, 2014 by
Laurie Gagnon

Laurie Gagnon

Originally posted on September 15, 2014 for the Center for Assessment’s Reidy Interactive Lecture Series.

During the first week of August, thirteen educators from five states gathered for a three-day scoring institute as part of the Innovation Lab Network’s Performance Assessment project. The goals of the institute included attaining reliable scoring on the performance assessment the teachers had field tested in spring 2014 and informing the design of the emerging national task bank and accompanying resources to support implementation of tasks.

I had the privilege of co-facilitating the English Language Arts group. As we discussed the rubric and the annotated anchor work samples, and practiced scoring student work, the group gained a common understanding of the elements of the rubric and a level of confidence about how to apply them to student work. In the course of the three days several themes emerged that underscore some guiding principles for implementing performance assessment.

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Building a Body of Learning Evidence: English Language Development in Adams County School District 50

October 20, 2014 by
Alice Collins

Alice Collins

The following is based on an interview with Alice Collins, Director of English Language Development at Adams County School District 50, with a focus on their structures, approach, and insights for other schools, including a look at the challenges and opportunities.

Background

Building up a body of evidence of learning about your students is at the heart of Adams 50’s approach to English language development. Director of English Language Development Alice Collins explained, “Teachers have to understand where learners are in their language acquisition, their content skill development, and what they need. The only way to do this is draw together as much data as possible.”

As their schools underwent rapid and massive diversification, Adams 50 turned to competency education as they realized that the traditional approach to education wasn’t going to work. The district is now 18 percent White, with Hispanic, African American, and Native American students making up 82 percent of the student body. It has the second highest percentage of English Learners in the state, with 45 percent of learners in the ELD program (and they aren’t a very big district, with 10,000 students). Spanish is the dominant other language with an additional thirty-one other languages represented in the district.

Adams 50 is an English immersion district with one elementary school offering a transitional Spanish-English bilingual track. Collins explained, “In competency education, teachers are constantly building their skills. Given the higher percentage of our learners in the ELD program, teachers are building their skills to provide quality instruction to students as they acquire English and master content standards. It doesn’t happen overnight – its part of our constant attention to building our capacity to meet the needs of our learners.” It’s starting to pay off – ELD elementary school learners are improving their reading skills, as shown on the TCAP assessments.

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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…)

When Teachers are Experts

September 8, 2014 by

QPA Presentation-TeachersThis past August I had the opportunity to participate in an incredibly effective model of professional development hosted by our school district.  It consisted of workshops and presentations from national, state, and local experts focused on various topics related to assessment, including competency education, building Quality Performance Assessments, and the development of high-quality rubrics.

The varied roles, responsibilities, and experiences of the many presenters added to the uniqueness of our “Assessment Summit.”  Participants and presenters included Rose Colby, Competency Education Specialist, Rob Lukasiak, mathematics and assessment specialist, district and building-level administrators, and teachers from grades K-12.  This allowed for differentiated PD for the 100-plus participants, while supporting the professional development needs identified in our district related to competencies and Quality Performance Assessments.

Our district, the Sanborn Regional School District in New Hampshire, has continued to push forward in the world of competency education.  Despite the bumps we have experienced, we fully realize that this is an educational practice that truly captures each student’s ongoing growth and progression within their learning.  Teamed with instruction that is differentiated, personalized and based upon a solid understanding of the Core standards, students are engaged in learning that is focused, are provided with opportunities for support or extension as needed, and understand their role and responsibility in their learning. (more…)

Why Kids are Hiring Competency-Based Education

July 17, 2014 by
from bacademy.org

From bacademy.org

Originally published July 16, 2014 by The Christensen Institute.

This week I had the privilege of sitting in on the first day of Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA)’s Responsive Education Alternatives Lab (REAL) Institute. The school has run the REAL Institute for four years, after fielding numerous requests from educators and administrators around the country wanting to learn more about BDEA’s competency-based alternative high school model.

Discussions of competency-based education these days (my own included!) are often awash with descriptions of what competency-based means and its abstract benefits. These definitions and examples may prove valuable to adults running the education system. But sometimes we are tempted into technocratic language that loses sight of the ultimate end user of our schools: the students. The REAL Institute facilitators wisely reminded participants of this fact by starting off the four-day Institute with a panel of BDEA students. (more…)

Learners Rule

June 25, 2014 by

cover, learners ruleI took a few hours out from gardening yesterday to dive into Learners Rule by Bill Zima, principal at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham, Maine. Described as a work of tactical fiction, it’s a book about the power of personalized, proficiency-based systems (Bill is from Maine, so we’ll use the term proficiency-based in this blog).  What’s fascinating is that the term proficiency-based learning is not mentioned once in this book. It’s about learning and nurturing learners.

For educators who want to know what proficiency-based learning looks like and how to do it, I don’t think there is any better resource available than Learners Rule.  It is also probably the best resource we have right now available to help teachers identify the shift in thinking and practice that happens when we move from batch to personalized learning. There are even pictures of the different tools at the end.

I finished the book hungry for more, as it doesn’t touch on the school-wide changes that have to happen, nor on the way teachers begin to collaborate around students and their learning. We’ll just have to be patient – hopefully, Bill will write a sequel.

Below are three connections and insights that popped out for me (and there were many more) while reading Learners Rule. (more…)

Tying It Together with Performance Assessments

June 17, 2014 by
Jonathan Vander Els

Jonathan Vander Els

During the past year, Memorial Elementary School staff has focused our learning on how to develop high quality performance assessments. Along with colleagues from other schools in our districts, we have participated in the Center for Collaborative Education’s Quality Performance Assessments training, as well as focused our professional development throughout the year. As we built our capacity over the year, it became clear that performance assessments have tied together the significant amount of work we have been engaged in over the past five years in implementing competency education.

Background

Our district, Sanborn Regional School District in southern New Hampshire, has admittedly taken the plunge with a number of best practices designed to increase our understanding of curriculum and our ability to most effectively instruct students. This work included teachers developing “crosswalks” between the New Hampshire Grade Level Expectations and the Common Core about three years ago. This was done through professional release days and was led by our Director of Curriculum, Ellen Hume-Howard. We made the switch to assessing students’ performance only through the Common Core over the past two years. Teachers’ transition to these standards was seamless because of the support provided during the transition and the teachers’ understanding that the work we were engaged in together was helping them help our students. In fact, teachers requested that all other standards be dropped from their grade book because they understood the Core standards and the others weren’t needed for guidance any longer. (more…)

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