Category: K-12 and Higher Education

Debunking a Myth – Competency-Based Transcripts Don’t Disadvantage High School Graduates in the Admissions Process

August 23, 2017 by

A transition to a competency-based education system brings with it many small and large changes. In order to serve their students better, districts, schools, and teachers change instructional practices, strategies, feedback, and, frequently, reporting. These changes are made in order to more accurately capture what a student knows and is able to do – how they are performing in relation to rigorous, common, shared expectations. While all of these changes should be made in consultation and collaboration with school communities, in response to the vision that they have for graduates, some of these changes are more visible to them than others. Transcripts represent one of the most visible – and public – of these changes.

The ultimate goal of our system is to graduate students who are college and career ready and prepared for the futures of their choosing. Admission to a college and university is a huge part of that future for many of our graduates, and it is only natural that students and parents will immediately think about the implications that the shift to competency-based education has on college admissions. These concerns can be particularly acute for parents who were served well by more traditional educational systems and those whose students have historically thrived in such conventional academic settings.

The Great Schools Partnership and the New England Secondary School Consortium (NESSC) have worked to address these concerns in a variety of ways. The engagement began by working, over the course of a year, with deans and directors of admission, high school guidance counselors, and principals to create a sample competency-based transcript that would serve as a model for secondary schools to use, change, and adapt to their local context with the assurance that it met the needs of a variety of admissions officials. At the conclusion of this process, the group of deans and directors of admissions requested to continue working together to create a sample school profile, knowing just how critical a clear, complete, brief, easily understandable school profile is in the admissions process. The school profile conveys important descriptive information about the school, its academic program, and its community, and they are customarily included in student applications to colleges and postsecondary programs. The school profile is especially important for admissions staff with fewer resources and limited internal capacity.

Following that process, the NESSC transitioned to gathering a repository of letters from public and private colleges and universities that unequivocally state that students from competency-based systems are not disadvantaged in the admissions process. To date, the NESSC has collected statements from seventy private and public institutions of higher education across New England (including Harvard, Dartmouth, MIT, Tufts, and Bowdoin). These efforts are ongoing and additional statements will be added and are available for download on the NESSC website.

Additional resources about engaging with your community around these questions (and an interview with Nancy David Griffin, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at the University of Southern Maine) can be found here.

Questions about competency-based learning and college admissions are not context specific. They are at least a consideration in every district implementing competency-based learning. In every community, there are students, parents, teachers, and community members who would like to better understand the ways in which this transition impacts the college admissions process. These questions recognize that there are serious flaws with traditional educational systems: the assumption that traditional grades are equivalent school to school and classroom-to-classroom is false. The assumption that earning a high school diploma means that a student is prepared for college coursework and experiences is false, proven wrong by the high rates of remedial course taking across the country. (more…)

New Metrics and Student Engagement System

August 4, 2017 by

It is definitely time for the competency education innovators in K-12 and higher education to be learning from each other.

One of the opportunities for learning from each other is in thinking about information management systems that support student learning and collect what students know and are able to do in some form of a transcript. For example, in skimming the case study on the University of Wisconsin Flexible Option, I found two ideas that can push our thinking forward in K-12.

Metrics on Pace

In the Metrics Framework, the University of Wisconsin identifies three elements of pace:

  • Measuring rate of assessment completion within each subscription period (time) to reach personal educational goals
  • Assessing rate against student’s planned rate
  • Measuring nature of student’s engagement with curriculum

For aggregated student level data, University of Wisconsin is “aggregating average (mean, mode, median) pace through a program. This aggregate should be measured from student matriculation to completion (or other reason student leaves program). Aggregate pace can also be measured yearly. Aggregate pace can also be analyzed by types of students including demographics, professional interests, etc.”

Student Engagement System

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Competency-Based Education Gains Momentum

March 8, 2017 by

This post first appeared in the EDUCAUSE Transforming Higher Ed blog on Febuary 6, 2017.

We’re examining competency-based education (CBE), an approach that has been celebrated for its customization and modularized structure, enabling students to demonstrate mastery and move at their own pace through academic programs. Beyond its timing advantages, CBE also has been cited as a means of supporting student equity, and encouraging knowledge transfer—in order to sufficiently educate kids as well as adults for roles that are currently evolving, or perhaps those which have yet to be created.

While CBE remains somewhat nascent across K-12 districts and postsecondary institutions, it has gained a foothold and interest in it continues to grow across the United States.

I spoke with educators, academic experts and institutional leaders to learn more about the ways in which CBE is serving students of all ages, grades and skill levels, and to better understand existing collaborations or points of intersection between schools and academia.

The approach is currently bridging gaps between employers and aspiring college graduates; there appears to be significant potential for CBE to also positively impact younger students.

Embracing the Real World

Matthew Prineas, Vice Provost and Dean of The Undergraduate School at University of Maryland University College, agrees.

“The promise of competency-based methodology is its power to create new connections and seamless pathways between K12, higher education, and the workplace,” he said.

“At UMUC, we are developing competency-based learning experiences that connect the real-world skills employers are asking for with the intellectual abilities our students need for academic success. We believe that competency-based approaches are equally adaptable to the needs of our adult students, who are looking to connect their prior experience with a college credential and a profession, as they are for high school students, who need to develop the foundational skills and behaviors necessary for success in college and beyond.

The emphasis is, of course, on demonstrated mastery rather than rote memorization.

“By putting the focus on what students can do, not just what they know, competencies give us the means to construct learning experiences that are more relevant and engaging—and that is to the benefit of all students, wherever they are in their educational journey.” (more…)

Thinking about Design Elements and Quality Standards

January 31, 2017 by

designThis is the fourth article in our series on competency education in K12 and higher education institutes. Begin the series here.

It’s one thing to build consensus around a definition of competency-based education. The definition of competency education developed in higher education by C-BEN and the definition used by CompetencyWorks are comparable. Both have served as a helpful organizing tool around which to build the field and deepen our understanding of competency education. However, it’s an altogether different thing to agree to what high quality competency-based education looks like, not to mention the more difficult task of agreeing to what what low quality, the unacceptable kind, looks like.  

C-BEN has started down a path toward building agreement about quality. They started with ten design elements in the Shared Design Elements and Emerging Practices. They then narrowed this to eight in the Quality Standards for Competency-Based Educational Programs: transparency of student learning; intentionally designed and engaged student experiences; clear, measurable, meaningful and complete competencies; coherent, competency-driven program and curriculum design; credential-level assessment strategy with robust implementation; evidence-driven continuous improvement processes; collaborative engagement with external partners; and demonstrated institutional commitment to and capacity for CBE innovation.

They have created a structure of a design element, principle, and standards to dive deep into what quality means. Much of it applies directly to competency education in K12, although there are differences.

1) IHE tends to be programmatic and is likely to be thinking about meeting the needs of niche markets. Even in the colleges transforming their entire campuses, students are self-selecting the model. Districts, on the other hand, are responsible for all students in a geographic area (even when there is choice policy, there will always be a school open to everyone, including those who move into the community in 12th grade and those expelled from choice schools run by the district) and will need to think deeply about designing for the more vulnerable students, mobility, and a wide range of developmental, social-emotional, and academic needs. The K12-CBE model needs to work for everyone. (more…)

Streamlining the Transition between K12 and Higher Education

January 30, 2017 by

library-techThis article, the third in a series on competency education in K12 and higher education, seeks to outline, but certainly not resolve, a number of issues related to how students make the transition from K12 to college in a CBE world and how the educational institutions (districts, high schools, colleges, and universities) will need to relate to each other.

College Application Process

There is one question that will always arise in conversations with parents, guardians, and students, especially those with upper incomes and upper GPAs: How will competency-based education affect my ability to go to and compete for college? There are several parts to this answer, and we are making some progress on addressing them all.

1. Will Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) Accept Students: Thanks to the extraordinary leadership of the New England Secondary School Consortium (NESSC), we now have 68 colleges and universities, including several elite schools, that have signed the Collegiate Pledge to accept proficiency-based transcripts and to commit to students not being disadvantaged by them. The website lists all the institutions of higher education (IHE) that have signed on, and the pledge is available for other organizations to use if they want to catalyze their region. Certainly, all IHE with CBE programs should just sign the pledge and send it on over to NESSC.

2. Will Students in CBE Schools Be as Competitive?: This is such a complicated question that it deserves an entire article (or two) on its own. At this point, I believe that students will be as competitive or more so had their school continued to be based on a traditional, time-based model. Of course, if the entire state or country is competency-based, then any advantage to students is lost, but much is gained for communities, as the bar is raised from getting an “A” to demonstrating you can apply the skills. Below is a bit of my thinking on this issue.

a. There is no data so far (and I watch for it carefully) that students at CBE schools are doing worse based on current assessments and measures than when the school was traditional. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that they will be less competitive.

b. When I visit high schools, there is always a trickle and sometimes a stream of commentary from high-achieving students saying that the competency-based model is harder because they actually have to master everything and be able to apply it. Most will say that memorizing for tests is much easier. (There is a great line in a trailer for Most Likely to Succeed where a teacher asks a student, “Would you rather learn or take the test?” And she, with more than a bit of attitude, replies “Take the test.”) That suggests to me that students in competency-based school will be more competitive than they might have been otherwise. This should show up in the college tests, their personal essays, and a richer résumé of extended learning,  internships, projects, or capstones.

However, as the focus moves from being smart to being a good learner, we also need to be prepared for emotional pushback if students become afraid that they might not be one of the “smartest.” Intervening to help previously high-achieving students understand the growth mindset is going to be an important step as part of their identity as the “smart kid” might unravel. However, based on my discussions with high GPA students, as long as the rules of the game are fair, transparent, and consistent, this group of kids, highly extrinsically motivated, will adjust to any set of rules.

c. Most districts and schools have not yet opened up the ceiling. Students should be able to advance beyond grade level in a CBE model, yet we want to guard against “faster is better,” so it is important to have opportunities along the way for students to go deeper or faster. There are a few examples of districts allowing students to advance to the next grade level even if it is in another school (e.g., from eighth to ninth grade), but it has not become routine yet. From what I can tell, it works best if the units of courses have been placed online so that students can simply keep working. Teachers will have to be familiar with the discipline and curriculum in the higher levels and/or students have to have access to teachers who do. Within a school, it is possible to simply have students participate in the more advanced class. The topic of advancing into college level is discussed below.  

d. If we follow the logic of CBE, more students will be more ready for college. If we are teaching habits of work, emphasizing higher order skills, and making sure students have developed the prerequisite skills needed to do the grade level skills, they simply have to build a stronger foundation for lifelong learning. These are three big “ifs,” and not all CBE schools are doing all three. (For example, I’m not convinced at all that scaffolding is the same as building prerequisite skills. It seems to serve an entirely different purpose.) So far, we are only seeing evidence that students are doing better in those models that are very intentional about their strategy to “meet students where they are.”

The point is, competition may actually increase if we are able to make progress toward greater equity. We should never, ever be afraid of that. With pressure for more types of post-secondary options, we should see more innovations in higher education, more products, more programs. Our communities and countries can only benefit in better education even if it is just going to make it harder for fake news to tear away at our democracy.

Calibrating Proficiency-Based Diploma with College Entrance

There are an entirely different set of questions related to the intersection of competency education between K12 and IHE that we have barely started to explore – alignment and calibration. The issues raised in the section are above all based on CBE high schools within the current policies, practices, and dynamics of institutions of higher education that serve graduating high school graduates. But what happens if we start to expect that all IHE be clear about performance levels, at least in the freshmen year or Level 13, even if they aren’t competency-based? (more…)

The Field of CBE in Higher Education and K12

January 24, 2017 by

In this second article about exploring the world of CBE in higher education and K12, I focus in how the fields are developing. 

Beginnings: In K12, the beginning of CBE usually starts with the innovations developed in the 1990s in Chugach, Alaska and in Boston with the launching of Diploma Plus and Boston Day and Evening Academy. (See the timeline of CBE in New England on page 12 of this report). In higher education, the roots of today’s CBE start earlier in the 1970s (although I’ve seen the 1950s identified as a starting point).

Expansion: CBE in both sectors is expanding rapidly. There are currently 600 IHE providing or seeking to establish CBE programs. In 2015, approximately 200,500 students enrolled in CBE programs.  

In K12-CBE, the landscape is changing. At the state level, every year finds more states establishing some type of initiative, and most of the states with seat-time policies that acted as barriers have found some way of allowing CBE. Our conservative estimates are that of the 135,000 districts in the United States, it is likely that 6 percent of them are implementing CBE at least in one school. However, no formal studies have been done to determine the numbers of schools and districts or their stage of implementation.

cbe-growth

Red states are advanced, green states are developing, and yellow states are emerging.

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Some of These Things are Not Like the Others: CBE in Higher Ed and K12

January 23, 2017 by

differentThis is the beginning of a four-part reflection on the relationship between competency-based education in institutions of higher education and K12. To distinguish between the two sectors, IHE-CBE and K12-CBE will be used. In this first article, I highlight how competency-based education in K12 and in IHE is the same and how it is different (while humming the Sesame Street song One of These Things is Not Like the Others).  

At the highest level, the definitions of IHE-CBE and K12-CBE are essentially the same.

From Competency-Based Education Network: Competency-based education combines an intentional and transparent approach to curricular design with an academic model in which the time it takes to demonstrate competencies varies and the expectations about learning are held constant. Students acquire and demonstrate their knowledge and skills by engaging in learning exercises, activities, and experiences that align with clearly defined programmatic outcomes. Students receive proactive guidance and support from faculty and staff. Learners earn credentials by demonstrating mastery through multiple forms of assessment, often at a personalized pace.

From CompetencyWorks: Developed by 100 innovators in 2011, we use a five-part working definition to guide efforts to implement competency education:

  • Students advance upon demonstrated mastery;
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students;
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students;
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs; and
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

However, as one looks at the purpose, driving forces, targeted population, and organizational scale, significant differences start to appear. Although I may be in the minority, I believe that the differences are so important that they need to be understood as more different than the same. With discernment comes knowledge and knowledge-building. Over time, concepts and terminology will hopefully develop that allow us to talk about the differences as variation. Without language to discern, we risk confusion when everything is lumped into sameness.   (more…)

How Competency-Based Education Can Transform K-12 and Connect with Higher Education

November 28, 2016 by

The growing interest in competency-based education was clearly on display at this year’s INACOL Symposium, and we had the privilege of facilitating a conversation of how competency-based education is developing in K-12 and where it intersects with higher education.

The number of competency-based programs are growing quickly in both K-12 system and higher education. Both allow students to advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of key concepts and skills regardless of time, place, or pace. And both recognize that diplomas and credits based on seat-time and barely passing grades have been sending students and families mixed messages.

inacol16

We described the similarities and differences of K-12 and higher education competency-based programs but honed in on the many common policy challenges. (more…)

Creating a Seamless P-20 System in Illinois

September 6, 2016 by

IllinoisWe do our best to stay on top of which districts are converting and what is going on in the states regarding competency education. But we were totally surprised when we heard about the Illinois legislature unanimously passing HB5729 Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act, which includes a K12 pilot for competency-based education.

Luckily, I got to meet a few members of the incredible team in Illinois, all of whom worked closely together around HB5729, at an Achieve Competency-Based Pathways meeting. Thanks to Ben Boer from Advance Illinois for his presentation.

Here are some of the highlights of what I learned about Illinois’ effort. The emphasis on creating a calibrated, transparent and accountable transition in mathematics is opening a door to much needed conversations between higher education and K12.

Overarching Goal: HB 5729 was created to address the goal of the state’s P20 Council to have 60 percent of Illinoisans have a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025. An earlier piece of legislation, HR477, established four advisory committees that built consensus around the ideas introduced in HB5729. Through this process, a framework for college and career readiness was developed that introduced ideas of personalization and alternative methods of credit acquisition (i.e., competency education). The framework explicitly identifies the concrete steps of career development, college awareness, and financial literacy. The goal is to create a more aligned system that includes K12, institutions of higher education (IHE), and employers. (more…)

Organizing Around Competencies, Not Courses

July 20, 2016 by

LFCCLord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) a member of the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), released HigherEd.org this week. It’s a free resource to create personalized learning plans. According to LFCC’s press release, The portal lets learners document competencies they already have and monitor progress toward new ones. Once users set up their profile of preferences, a custom dashboard is provided called MyHigherEd where they can create a personalized learning plan. Learners can identify and track new educational activities to gain competencies and work towards a nationally-recognized occupational credential. Learner notes, saved searches, and preferred resources are stored and new materials of interest are highlighted.

Although I’m not familiar with all the tools being developed for personalized learning plans in higher education, I found this to be a great example of how the educational experience can be organized differently around a competency-based structure. The competencies for each certificate are pre-loaded (and others can be added), with options for different courses that will allow students to build those skills. This allows us to create exciting interdisciplinary courses and modules while still being very clear about which skills will be taught.

I also appreciate LFCC’s willingness to share the competencies that they consider as important to eight certificates, such as AAS in Health Information Management and Information Systems Technology with Cyber Security. It’s helpful for high schools to think about how the foundational skills in the academic disciplines can begin to align with specific career competencies.

Background From the Press Release

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