Category: Policy

Illinois Launches Competency Education Pilot Program

December 8, 2016 by
tony-smith

Tony Smith, State Superintendent, Illinois

Illinois keeps surprising me. First, in July they passed the Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act, which included a competency-based pilot (innovation space without any additional funding) as well as an effort to begin the calibration process between graduation expectations in mathematics and freshman-year mathematics in higher education. Then a second surprise. Within five months of the new legislation, they have launched the Competency-Based High School Graduation Requirements Pilot Program for twelve districts to “replace high school graduation course requirements with a competency-based learning system.”

The pilot only focuses on grades 9-12, although districts will quickly learn that they are going to want a full district system – otherwise there is a constant flow of students with big gaps in their learning as students in the earlier years are passed on without ensuring they are mastering the fundamentals.

The competency-based learning systems must have the following elements:

  • Demonstrate mastery of all required competencies to earn credit.
  • Demonstrate mastery of adaptive competencies (foundational skills needed for success in college, careers, and life, such as, but not limited to, work ethic, professionalism, communication, collaboration and interpersonal skills, and problem-solving) defined by the school district, in addition to academic competencies.
  • Advance once they have demonstrated mastery.
  • Receive more time and personalized instruction, if needed, to demonstrate mastery.
  • Have the ability to attain advanced postsecondary education and career-related competencies beyond those needed for graduation.
  • Be assessed using multiple measures to determine mastery, usually requiring application of knowledge.
  • Be able to earn credit toward graduation requirements in ways other than traditional coursework, including learning opportunities outside the traditional classroom setting, such as supervised career development experiences.

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Treat or Treat? Competency-Based Learning Under ESSA

November 16, 2016 by
jennifer-brown-lerner

Jennifer Brown Lerner

This post originally appeared at American Youth Policy Forum on October 31, 2016.

As my own children are feverishly planning which houses to visit tonight, based upon who has given the best Halloween candy in the past, I’ve been thinking a lot about tricks and treats. We don’t often evaluate education policy through this lens, but I think it might be useful, considering the support (or lack of) for competency-based learning under ESSA, the recently passed federal law governing K-12 education. In this post, I will explore two aspects of ESSA, assessment (including the assessment innovation pilot) and accountability, which have been touted as supportive of competency-based learning, but perhaps more like the neighbor who hands out boxes of yogurt-covered raisins, a treat that tricks us into thinking it is healthy.

Assessment

Under ESSA, states can move away from single, end-of-year exams to assessments which measure demonstration of mastery and integrate many points of learning evidence that produce an annual summative score. I’d file this change squarely in the category of treats in support of competency-based learning.

Yet, it also feels like there are some tricks associated with this one.  Pivoting an assessment system from the current model of annual tests is going to be a heavy lift for state agencies, districts, and educators. While end-of-course exams might not be the best mechanism to measure mastery, for better or worse, they are what we know and what we know how to do.

The trick of this treat is the limited investment under ESSA to support educators and school leaders in developing and transitioning to a more robust assessment system. Before you take issue with my point, I recognize there is SOME funding, which is better than nothing. There are still grants to states for the development of assessments with new uses for these funds, but it does not specifically include professional development. Note that under Title II Part A, states can utilize up to 3% of their funds for developing and supporting principals and school leaders with the transition to personalized, student-centered (which could be, but don’t necessarily have to be a competency-based) learning environment. But, in my opinion, this is like getting a single Tootsie Roll that might even fall out of your candy bag.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the Innovative Assessment Pilot, a demonstration program authorized under ESSA to allow a select group of states or consortiums of states (no more than 7) to pilot high-quality, rigorous assessments.  Modeled after PACE which New Hampshire received authority to introduce through their NCLB waiver, states would develop and utilize assessments which validate mastery of academic knowledge and competencies through performance tasks.

This might sound like a delectable treat in support of competency-based learning, but hold off on your salivating until after you understand the fine print. States have five years to develop their systems, demonstrate comparability to the current state assessment, and scale the assessment system statewide.  Given our track record and attention span in K-12 education for pilots and innovations, I question whether or not this pilot will propel us towards performance-based assessment systems. (more…)

ESSA’s Opportunities to Rethink Accountability for Student-Centered Learning

October 12, 2016 by

ESSAThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on September 29, 2016. 

For the first time in decades, states have the opportunity to engage communities in redefining student success and reimagining the future of education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens up flexibility for states to design next generation accountability systems that support student learning. States now have a historic opportunity to rethink the purpose, role and design of their accountability systems, reframing them for continuous improvement of student learning toward new, more meaningful definitions of success through data-rich learning environments.

A New Definition of Student Success

State leaders should start by engaging and listening to diverse stakeholders from across the state, including teachers, students, parents, families, school leaders, community leaders, civil rights groups, philanthropic groups and business groups to chart a new vision for K-12 education. They should answer the question: “What do students need to be able to know and do to be successful beyond high school?”

In crafting a new state plan for ESSA, states can start by rethinking what success means for the whole child, for the future of their communities, for meaningful participation in the economy and in a global context.

Redefining student success—determining what we want students to know and be able to do upon graduating—should be the starting point for creating a coherent education system. Only after states build this broad consensus of what constitutes student success, should they determine what to measure for accountability.

Driving a new definition of success is crucial to developing coherent system improvements that are built around learning—including instructional shifts, systems of assessments, expanded pathways and better learning environments connected to communities and to the real world. Collaboration and community engagement needs to be sustained and ongoing rather than a one-time activity. (more…)

Laying the Groundwork for Proficiency-Based Learning in Rhode Island

September 30, 2016 by

RI Strategic Plan

This post was previously released and has been updated as Rhode Island moves towards a revised set of state policies to guide their Diploma System. 

Thanks to Lori McEwen, Chief of Instruction, Leadership and Equity at Providence Public Schools and Dana Borrelli-Murray, Executive Director, Highlander Institute for talking with me about how personalized learning, blended learning, and proficiency-based learning are advancing in Rhode Island.

There is a lot happening in Rhode Island regarding education. The communities in Rhode Island seem to be bustling with discussions about how to improve their schools, with much of it focused on personalized learning and blended learning catalyzed by the Highlander Institute. Much less so on how to create proficiency-based systems.

Rhode Island is an interesting case study as it has a thick policy foundation for a proficiency-based diploma and secondary school practices to support personalization, yet I couldn’t find any districts that were committed to creating a K12 proficiency-based system. There are certainly sparks of proficiency-based innovation in Rhode Island. For example, the Met, one of the early models of highly personalized competency-based learning, started in Providence. Blackstone Academy and Blackstone Valley Prep are both proficiency-based, from what I understand. Cumberland High School has made incredible progress by starting with the goal of creating a standards-based grading reporting system and then using it to put all the important pieces in place to ensure consistency and transparency. There are also efforts of after-school programs to use competency-based models to create credit-bearing opportunities outside of school as well as Big Picture Learning’s College Unbound. (It’s possible I just didn’t tap into the right networks. Please, if you are a school in RI converting to a proficiency-based system, let us know.) From what I can tell, this suggests that those districts and schools that want to become proficiency-based can within the state policy context.

Certainly, over the past twenty years, the state has been a leader in establishing a set of policies that support a proficiency-based system. These policies have now been re-organized into a set of regulations called the Diploma System, which emphasizes proficiency and personalization. However, few districts are taking advantage of this…yet. My guess is that we are on the verge of seeing districts in RI begin to realize that they can’t get all their students to graduation-levels of proficiency without increasing the personalization of their schools (focusing on what students need to succeed, not just digitalized content) and converting to a proficiency-based system that helps them monitor proficiency, progress, and pace of their students. (See the story of Connecticut, in which superintendents are the leaders in the effort to introduce personalized, competency-based systems of education.) (more…)

9 Ways States Can Support Personalized, Competency-Based Education Systems

August 22, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on August 11, 2016. 

Creating an education system that prepares every student to succeed requires systemic transformation to high-quality, personalized, competency-based education.

Today, the prevailing traditional, one-size-fits-all K-12 education model, is not meeting the unique needs of learners. Too many students are falling through the cracks, not graduating or  graduating unprepared for success after high school.

School districts across the country are making incremental shifts to student-centered learning without state supports and policy flexibility. However, transformation at scale will require alignment of both policy and practice.

Before the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state leaders had the authority to make room for districts to shift to a competency-based approach in significant ways. However, by removing federal policy barriers to aligning accountability, assessment, and teacher and leader development to student-centered learning, ESSA makes it possible for states to pursue a more comprehensive policy approach to supporting personalization at scale.

The graphic below shows the many different entry points for policymakers wishing to catalyze the shift to a personalized K-12 system.

iNACOL

States that do not yet have any enabling policies can get started by studying policy barriers and creating room for local innovation, while states that have already made progress may want to consider more comprehensive steps towards transformation.

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Department of Education Proposes New Rules for ESSA’s Innovative Assessment Pilot

July 6, 2016 by

essaThis post also appeared at iNACOL

This morning, the US Department of Education (ED) released proposed draft rules for state assessments as part of the continuing implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The December 2015 law allows states the flexibility to redesign their systems of assessments around student-centered learning.

In announcing the draft regulations, Secretary of Education John King said, “Our proposed regulations build on President [Barack] Obama’s plan to strike a balance around testing, providing additional support for states and districts to develop and use better, less burdensome assessments that give a more well-rounded picture of how students and schools are doing, while providing parents, teachers, and communities with critical information about students’ learning.”

When the law goes into effect, all states will be able to measure individual student growth, combine interim assessments to produce summative scores, and use adaptive assessments. ESSA also includes an Innovative Assessment Pilot that will allow up to seven states (initially) to pilot innovative systems of assessments with a subset of districts, or to provide local flexibility around the items and tasks they can use from the state system. The draft rules address both the general provisions on assessment and the pilot. (more…)

From Compliance to Continuous Improvement: Accountability, Assessments and Next Generation Workforce with ESSA

June 30, 2016 by

KidsThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on June 7, 2016.

There is an incredible window of opportunity for state policymakers with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). States now have the flexibility to engage in conversations with local communities to reimagine the future of education and redefine what student success looks like.  What do we want our students to know and be able to do in the 21st century? How can we rethink preparation programs to ensure our educators have the skills and competencies for next generation learning models?

How do we create policy alignment and support for student-centered learning? Student-centered, personalized learning requires assessments for learning that are meaningful to students and educators alike in providing real-time feedback on a student’s progress toward mastery of learning goals.  Educators assess evidence of student work for demonstrating knowledge, skills and competency is key to competency-based pathways.  Summative assessments now can be broken into smaller units and offered as interim assessments to validate student learning and provide a quality control.  Combinations of performance assessments, computer adaptive testing, formative assessment and these interim assessments will help frame new systems of assessments to support building capacity in sync with educators’ and students’ needs.

With ESSA passage, states and localities are rethinking how accountability can ensure quality, equity and excellence — and examining how systems of assessments will support continuous improvement.  This includes a new role of states for building capacity and creating space for innovation through more student-centered aligned accountability with multiple measures and exploring new designs for certification and licensure through different models of teacher prep (such as with stacked micro-credentials) to equip the next generation of educators. (more…)

Turning Practice into Policy

June 23, 2016 by

SchoolEvery time I get my head wrapped around ESSA, I learn a little bit more. Partially this is because US Department of Education is also getting its head wrapped around it so they can issue the regulations to guide states in implementing it. There are a lot of people talking about ESSA, and I’ve been hearing some feedback that there is different and sometimes incorrect advice being given.

The team of folks I turn to for my guidance include Maria Worthen at iNACOL and Lillian Pace at KnowledgeWorks, as well as the folks at Center for Innovation Education and Center for Assessment. Truly, they are the ones who are turning all that we are learning about implementation and practice that is shared here on CompetencyWorks into policy. And I always feel better when there are great minds working together.

It’s important to remember that ESSA is an opportunity – a HUGE opportunity. ESSA’s Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority and improvements to Section 1111 enables “states to design assessment systems that incorporate individual student growth, use multiple measures of student learning from multiple points in time to determine summative scores, and use adaptive assessments to measure where students are in their learning.” Read that again slowly and let yourself imagine what’s possible. Adaptive assessments? Could we let students demonstrate their learning based on their performance levels and just be upfront that they haven’t met grade level standards…yet?

iNACOL shared the most recent letter to the US Department of Education, and I think it is worth reprinting. For example, they encourage clarifying “competency-based assessments” to communicate that it is an assessment that supports competency based determinations, rather than a type of assessment. “Competency-based” refers to the grain-size of the content being assessed and the expected level of performance (demonstration) of that content—or more often, a particular system of learning—rather than the type of assessment. That is an important point for all of us building systems, creating new policies and implementing competency-based schools to remember. (more…)

ESSA: From Compliance to Opportunity

May 31, 2016 by

ESSA Compliance to OpportunityThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on May 25, 2016. 

As mentioned in our previous post, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) not only challenges states with the task of navigating a diminished federal role in education, but provides them with new opportunities to use federal funds to support state innovations.

States can capitalize on the provisions outlined in ESSA to develop and implement strategies that encourage personalization, rigor and excellence. Over the next 13 months, states should work to identify priorities and establish which provisions within the new federal law they can leverage to accomplish their goals.

So, what is in this law for YOUR state?

While there are numerous provisions within ESSA to meet a variety of state priorities, we chose to focus on two big levers: the Direct Student Services provision and the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants.

Direct Student Services

The Direct Student Services provision provides states with an opportunity to use choice and other student services to spur improvement in districts with the lowest performing schools. States may choose to reserve up to 3% of their Title I funds to award competitive grants to districts for the purpose of (you guessed it!) providing Direct Student Services.

To receive funds, districts must apply to the state. Ninety-nine percent of these funds must be distributed to districts, and awards must go to districts serving the highest number of schools identified for comprehensive and targeted support and improvement. But, the state can use the application process to create incentives to use Direct Student Services funds on certain priorities, and the state need not award funds to every applicant. (more…)

Promising State Policies

May 25, 2016 by

iNACOLThere are those who say we shouldn’t be trying to define personalization because it will inhibit innovation or that state policymakers will only muck things up if they try to regulate or legislate our way toward next generation models before we have established a better understanding of effective models and quality indicators. Certainly there is some truth to both of those positions.

There is also another truth.

We are asking teachers to go to work every day and do things that do not make instructional sense for children. We are sending our children to school every day knowing that they are going to be asked to do things because it is covered on the state exams at the end of the year even though they may not have the pre-requisite skills or they already know all of the material. This has to stop.

We need to do our very best, even if we make some mistakes along the way, to create the conditions for our teachers to use and build their professional knowledge to help our children learn. iNACOL’s recently released paper Promising State Policies for Personalized Learning, outlining three phases of state policy that can be used as a tool to catalyze conversation. (more…)

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