Category: School Processes and Practice

Competency Education Supports Both Traditional and CTE Learning

March 26, 2014 by
Sanborn Regional High Principal Brian Stack

Sanborn Regional High Principal Brian Stack

Amanda is a typical high school student who loves spending time with her friends, participating in a variety of clubs and activities, and doing well in school. Since a very young age, she has wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become an emergency room nurse. My school is preparing her for that demanding career with a competency-based model that has been designed to help her master a series of academic competencies, academic behaviors, and college and career-ready skills. Our competency-based model engages Amanda in her learning in ways that traditional high school models never could.

Five years ago, the administrative team in my school district and I began suggesting that our school make the move to a competency-based grading and reporting system. We knew that was going to be a monumental shift for some of our elementary and secondary teachers, but that it wouldn’t be such a bold move for others. The career and technical education (CTE) teachers and administrators who work at our regional CTE center, for example, applauded our efforts to move the school district to the model that they had always used to define their work. (more…)

Raising the Bar at Sanborn Regional High School

March 19, 2014 by

srhs

This is the third of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

“We weren’t getting traction in any of our academic improvement initiatives. Competency-based education helped us to get traction. Parents saw the value of the model. Students value the transparency – they no longer have to guess at what teachers want. It’s allowed us to focus in on the most important things to do to support our students.”

Sanborn Regional High School Principal Brian Stack explained that the most important change has been in the nature of the relationships. PLCs have more meaning as they focus on student progress. Students are taking more responsibility, even holding teachers more accountable by asking, “Am I passing all my competencies? What do I need to do to make sure I meet the expectations for proficiency?”

SRHS is a work in progress, as are all competency-based schools. However, it stands out as one of the few places that I have visited that has taken the time to draw on best practices of highly effective high schools, taking into consideration what students need to keep them in school as well as prepare them for college and careers. Below are just a few of the highlights of structures for learning Sanborn has put into place, as well as insights gathered during the visit.  (more…)

Addressing Root Causes at Memorial Elementary School

March 18, 2014 by
Writing Continuum, 2012-2013-Tri. 1

The Wall at Memorial Elementary School

This is the second of three blogs about Sanborn Regional School District. See Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

Sanborn Regional School District had already embraced standards in their elementary, middle and high schools before the state policies calling for competency-based high school credits were introduced. Now that Sanborn Regional High School is well on its way to converting to competency education, other schools in SRSD are exploring what it means to take the step from standards-referenced to competency-based.

Creating a competency-based culture has already brought about changes, Memorial Elementary School Principal Jon Vander Els said, including ensuring that teachers have adequate time together for planning, a greater emphasis on differentiation in all grades, and the introduction of the concept of re-teaching when students don’t master the material in the first learning cycle.

Charting Student Progress on ‘The Wall’

If schools are going to ensure that all students become proficient in the standards, teachers have to share an understanding of what proficiency looks like. This is often referred to as calibration or tuning. Memorial has created two techniques to support this in writing. First is the Writing Continuum, which breaks down by developmental level the expectations for the types of texts, content and traits, process, mechanics and conventions, and attitudes. (more…)

How Competency-Based Grading Has NOT Changed Our School’s Transcript

December 13, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 7.49.30 AMMy school district implemented a K-12 competency-based grading and reporting system four years ago. The implementation included the adoption of a set of common competency-based grading practices that all teachers use in their classrooms and competency-based report cards that measure student progress toward mastery of course-based competencies. As the building principal, one of the most common questions that I am asked by students, parents, and even administrators from other schools who are considering this model for their school, is how our transcript has changed. They are surprised to learn, in fact, that little has changed about our transcript.

The purpose of our high school transcript, just like any other high school transcript, is to provide a final record of a student’s performance at our school. Our transcript lists each course a student took, their final course grade, and how many credits the student earned. Other information, such as:  Class Rank; Grade Point Average (weighted or non-weighted); Attendance Information, and Diploma Type are optional features that can also be printed on a transcript as needed.

Our transcript explains to the reader what the final grades of E (Exceeding), M (Meeting), IP (In-Progress), and LP (Limited Progress) mean. It also explains what it means for a student to get a code of NYC (Not Yet Competent) or IWS (Insufficient Work Shown), both of which result in no credit awarded for the course.

Our school has identified six school-wide 21st century learning expectations. These include a student’s ability to effectively communicate, creatively solve problems, responsibly use information, self-manage their learning, produce quality work, and contribute to their community. Since each teacher in each course at my school assesses students on these expectations, the transcript provides a summary of these grades so the reader can see a student’s progress in mastering them over the course of their high school career. (more…)

Reassessments and Retakes: A Necessary Part of a School-Wide Grading Policy

October 21, 2013 by

“Lawyers who finally pass the bar exam on their second or third attempt are not limited to practicing law only on Tuesdays” – Wormeli, 2011

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 11.53.00 AM

Rick Wormeli

We allow people to retake their driver’s license exam as many times as they need to in order to demonstrate competency. The same is true of other professionals such as teachers, lawyers, doctors, and electricians who are required to pass a certification/licensure exam. Reassessment is a part of our real world. I find it ironic, then, that, as educators, we cringe at the thought of allowing reassessments in the classroom in an effort to “prepare kids for the real world!” I held this belief until a few years ago when O’Connor and Stiggins (2009) and Wormeli (2011) helped set me straight. Reflecting back, I now cringe at the harsh reality that, from 2001 to 2006, I sent hundreds and hundreds of students into the real world without the opportunity to reassess to solidify their learning.

At my school, Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, New Hampshire, we believe in the concept of reassessments so much that we actually have a school-wide common procedure that supports its use in all classes. In fact, we have a number of school-wide common grading procedures that are designed to support our competency-based grading and reporting system, one that is now in its third year of implementation K-12 in our district.

In a competency-based system, reassessments are a necessary part of the learning process. “True competence that stands the test of time comes with reiterative learning. We carry forward concepts and skills we encounter repeatedly, and we get better at retrieving them the more we experience them.” (Wormeli, 2011). Making reassessments a school-wide practice changes the learning culture for students from one where they are trying to earn enough points to pass to one in which they are held accountable for everything they need to know and be able to do. Reeves (2000) describes the cultural shift that will happen over time as schools implement such a policy. “The consequence for a student who fails to meet a standard is not a low grade, but rather an opportunity – indeed, the requirement – to resubmit his or her work.” Indeed, that cultural shift is happening today at my school. (more…)

Competency Moves Beyond Courses

September 16, 2013 by
Sarah Luchs

Sarah Luchs

As a recipient of Next Generation Learning Challenge’s (NGLC) most recent wave of investment, New Hampshire-based Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) is getting some much-deserved buzz (most recently in Forbes and Ed Week). VLACS will redesign its current online model to move beyond course-based competency measures and toward an entirely competency-based design for learning.

The new model, called Aspire, is free of all the conventional dictates. Learning is not confined to a class, a building, a set block of time, or a subject-bound course. In the journey to personalizing education, this is a giant step forward, in my opinion. Up to this point, course structures (and the content that defines them) have disproportionately shaped the competency discussion and available options. I’m not opposed to learning in a course per se and the course experience itself is being revolutionized by new technologies–  also good. I just think the Aspire model creates some new possibilities that are long overdue and fundamentally exciting. Let me tell you what I mean.

Competency Reflections: Past and Present

I spent over a decade of my career prior to joining NGLC working for the Ohio Department of Education and state level policymakers. In Ohio, we created a provision known as Credit Flexibility that afforded students the option to earn credit for demonstration of previously learned knowledge and skills and/or to determine the means of their learning for any graduation requirement. Long story short, it didn’t benefit as many students as intended, in part because the system wasn’t built to implement this kind of flexibility, and schools, districts, and states still lacked the tools to enable it. It’s been my hope that NGLC—which funds innovative school models like VLACS-Aspire as proof points to demonstrate what’s possible, and shares knowledge in order to accelerate the adoption of new practice—will help position education systems to embrace and support innovative provisions like Credit Flexibility and benefit many more students. (more…)

Performing To Our Potential

June 19, 2013 by
Jesse Moyer

Jesse Moyer

This week, I had the pleasure of meeting with the folks at the Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) in Roxbury, MA.  I always enjoy visiting with practitioners and students, as they offer great insights into what’s working and what isn’t, something I don’t always get in my own day-to-day activities.

Two things struck me about my visit and I want to write about both of them.  The first thing that became very obvious early in the visit is how wonderfully simplistic their model is.  They begin with the standards — once the Massachusetts state standards, and now the Common Core State Standards — and unpack the set of standards into more accessible competencies that are easily understood by students, parents, and teachers.  From those competencies, they create course-specific benchmarks that students must meet in order to earn the distinction of being competent or highly competent in a given course.  Students are assessed upon enrollment in BDEA to determine “where they are,” an individual education plan is created for each student, and each student is given the time, resources, and support they need to become competent in the material.  I don’t mean to suggest that the work of unpacking standards and creating competencies is simple…to be sure, it isn’t.  But the model itself is simple and completely logical; something I think we can all agree is sometimes missing from our education system today. (more…)

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