Category: Policy

How Idaho is Making Mastery Education a Reality

February 21, 2016 by

idahoThis post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s The EdFly Blog on January 25, 2016. Kelly Brady is the Director of Mastery Education for the Idaho State Department of Education. 

Idaho is taking an approach to Mastery Education that deeply recognizes the many stakeholders that must be involved to successfully shift from traditional education to Mastery Education.

Our shift dates back to a 2013 recommendation from Governor Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education that encouraged mastery-based education. Two years later, Idaho House Bill 110 passed unanimously with the support of The Idaho Education Association, Idaho School Boards Association and business/community leaders across the state.

The bill directed the Idaho Department of Education to develop a process for identifying 20 school districts or charter schools to serve as “incubators” for Mastery Education beginning in the 2016-17 school year. The bill also established a committee of teachers and leaders that met in the summer of 2015 to explore challenges and co-create solutions, as well as a statewide awareness campaign to really help people across the state understand what Mastery Education can do for Idaho students.

Currently, we are out talking to superintendents, principals and education leaders to share more about the network program. Interested schools/districts are encouraged to submit a letter of intent and take “The Mastery Education Readiness Survey” to self-assess direction, motivation, leadership, student focus, curriculum, instruction, technology, comprehensive data system, risk-taking, organizational structure, ownership and communication. To date, we have received more districts interested than we will be able to include in the initial cohort. We will soon release an official application and a committee will be formed to evaluate the applications and select our incubators. (more…)

Maine: At the Forefront of Proficiency-Based Learning

February 19, 2016 by

AutumnA few months ago, I had the opportunity to do a road trip through Maine to visit seven districts and one university (scroll to the bottom for links). Just as the leaves were bursting into reds and oranges (and I even saw what I might call magenta!), it felt as if district after district was bursting with new practices and ideas to improve student learning through proficiency-based systems. Here is a summary of the trip:

On the Forefront of Proficiency-Based Learning

Really and truly, I think Maine is going to become proficiency-based. They have a very strong foundation based on helping students be successful – not just focusing on flexible pacing. Most of the schools I visited had a schoolwide approach for students to be self-directed in the classroom. They are walking the talk at the state level. They are working collaboratively. They are trying to figure out how to help all of their students be fully prepared for lifelong learning. (Well, we have to see about this. The legislature is considering a bill to only have students demonstrate proficiency in math and ELA and two areas selected by students.)

In fact, I’d say that they might be leading the nation in terms of districts converting to personalized, proficiency-based learning (PBL). New Hampshire and Vermont are putting into place very strong systems of support and the policy infrastructure needed for competency-based education and learning to be sustainable. If Maine can stay steady through this period of rising tension to increase innovation and responsiveness to students, it is likely that they will see a rapidly expanding stream of high school graduates who have the self-directed lifelong learning skills that will change the course of their lives and the economic strength of the state. Eventually, Maine’s Department of Education will want to re-design the policies and structures to support and sustain PBL.

I’m sure there are districts in Maine that are not thrilled with the idea of a state-legislated proficiency-based diploma. For example, one of the districts I visited described their motivation as complying with state policy rather than doing what was best for kids. Yet, as we talked more, it was clear that they were finding substantial value in many of the transitional steps and were bringing on a strong team of people who already understood many of the elements of PBL. Generally, they thought PBL was a good idea, just not one they would have done on their own.

There are also growing concerns that districts are not going to innovate enough in time to help every student meet the graduation requirements in all eight domains by 2018. This has caused legislators to try to ease up on the expectations. It will be important for Maine to find solutions that continue to strengthen schools and motivate students and not fall under the wheel of the blanket statement that it is “practically impossible to get every student to become proficient.”

The Reasons Maine is Making Headway

What’s the reason Maine is making such headway? First, there was a convergence of three efforts that built upon each other to produce a strong shared vision: (more…)

Will Maine Stay the Course?

February 18, 2016 by

MaineAyyy! Maine legislature has a bill to reduce the expectations of high school graduation from meeting all standards in all eight domains to only meeting the standards in math and ELA + two domains selected by the student. As I discussed earlier, the original policy is creating tension in Maine; however, this is a swing way too far the other direction, as it allows students to not have any expectations in the other four domains. At least that’s how I understand it.

I’ve received a number of emails regarding this reconsideration of the graduation requirements. It certainly feels like we need more conversation about how we can make sense of proficiency-based graduation requirements that will create meaningful diplomas, provide students with the skills they need for their transitions into their adult lives, and not penalize those students who might be bumped around by the transition. I think what is needed is a facilitated dialogue with people from different perspectives and who are creative (as in can unlock themselves from assumptions and build off each other’s ideas) to talk through what meaningful policy regarding proficiency-based diplomas might look like.

In the meantime, I’ll share what is zipping around in my head regarding this issue. These are just initial ideas and certainly do not take into consideration all of the work that it takes to move ideas and legislation within a state.

We Need to Believe that Our Children and Our Educators Can Learn, and Fully Support Them in This. No matter what, we always need to believe in ourselves and that we can learn with the right supports and with extra effort (that’s the growth mindset, right?). It’s important to frame any policy question so that we ask, What would it take to get all of our students proficient in all domains? rather than start with the disabling position that “it’s practically impossible” to get all students to proficiency. We can’t give up before we even get started.

Tension is Not Always Bad. When Tension Leads to Creative Tension and Innovation, it is a Very Good Thing. I was trained as a policy wonk, and tension makes me crazy. I always want to fix it. And then, while at the Mott Foundation, I had the good fortune to meet incredibly skilled community organizers such as Ernie Cortez, Scott Reed, Steve Kest, Mary Dailey, and so many others who explained to me, over and over, that creating tension can lead to creative tension, which brings new faces to the table, and that a sense of urgency produces new solutions.

Maine’s graduation expectations are creating tension. High schools are still time-based – as one educator told me in Maine, “the clock starts ticking the minute students enter ninth grade.” Of course, the urge is to release it and to make it go away. However, I’d say keep that tension for right now because you want to hear the best innovative ideas about what could be done differently. Are there any schools not scared about the new requirements because they have been putting into place strategies that are working? Who has been the best at getting their low-income, special education, and ELL students ready for a proficiency-based graduation? What are they doing differently? What would superintendents and principals like to do if they could? (more…)

3 Smart State Approaches to Competency-Based Education

February 10, 2016 by

SuppliesThis post originally appeared on the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s Ed Fly Blog on December 30, 2015.

There is a growing chorus of excitement and interest in competency-based education (CBE). One of the biggest draws is the potential for competency-based education to better meet individual student needs and eliminate learning gaps that traditional time-based systems have not been able to close.
In a competency-based system, each individual student progresses as learning expectations are met, rather than moving through a predetermined curriculum schedule dictated by fixed, age-based grade levels or seat-time requirements (sometimes expressed as Carnegie Units or credit hours).

Although the idea of time becoming the variable and learning the constant is attractive, making that a reality sometimes leaves the strongest of advocates scratching their heads. Many policymakers are committed to next generation reforms and have a sense of urgency, yet at the same time they have seen enough failed reform efforts to know that fidelity in implementation is paramount.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways states can create the conditions in which CBE can thrive and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) is committed to supporting states in these efforts.

Our principal recommendation is for states to authorize the creation of innovation districts or schools to pilot a competency-based system and identify the pathway for statewide policy adoption. (For more, see our model policy.) This strategy paves the road for innovative leaders to request flexibility from the rules or regulations that hinder innovation while committing to transition to competency-based education. (more…)

iNACOL Submits Recommendations to ED In Open Comment Period for ESSA Request for Information

January 26, 2016 by

Image from Wikipedia Commons

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on January 22, 2106.

ESSA’s Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority pilot program represents a significant opportunity for states to design student-centered education systems that improve equity by personalizing education for all students. We hope the Department considers these recommendations as it designs a pilot program that encourages innovation and quality implementation.

In recent years, we have witnessed an increasing number of states interested in the development of new, student-centered systems of assessments designed to support competency-based learning. But despite their potential to produce meaningful, real-time feedback on student learning, federal assessment requirements have made it challenging for states to design and implement new approaches to academic assessment.

Fortunately, the newly-enacted ESSA law includes a number of key provisions to help states interested in building next generation assessment systems. These provisions include a new Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority and provisions that will permit 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 that can measure students where they are in their learning. These improvements will help states design more useful assessments that guide improvements in teaching and learning to ensure all students master the academic knowledge, skills, and competencies necessary for success in college and career.

While we strongly support all of these improvements to the law, the following recommendations address clarifications of intent within the Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority authorized in Sec. 1204 of ESSA. We provide details for these recommendations below in the formal comment letter to ED.

Recommendations include: (more…)

Georgia’s Education Reform Commission Recommends Moving to Competency Education

January 8, 2016 by

GA Education Reform CommissionAt the end of the 2015, the Georgia Education Reform Commission released its recommendations for Governor Deal. The Commission established five committees to look at a number of issues, including competency-based education, early childhood education, expanding educational opportunities, teacher recruitment and retention, and funding formulas.

The report on Move on When Ready is worth looking at. Although I’ve included all their recommendations, take a peek at recommendations 1, 2, and 4. The Commission calls for the state to “develop a pilot program of competency-based education prior to statewide implementation, incorporate the model as a priority in Georgia’s existing Innovation Fund, and explore possibilities of integration into various school governance models.” They also call for much more flexibility in Georgia’s Milestone testing so that it is available every nine weeks instead of once a year, moving toward a “just in time assessment” philosophy.

Coming up soon on CompetencyWorks is an in-depth look at the efforts of Georgia’s Henry County Schools to introduce a comprehensive system of personalized learning with competency education as the cornerstone. In the meantime, here are links to posts on Fulton County’s efforts and their back room infrastructure.

MOVE ON WHEN READY SUBCOMMITTEE

As each year passes, more and more jobs in Georgia require credentials beyond a high school diploma. To be college and career ready, a student must obtain the skills necessary to survive and thrive in a 21st century workforce. For many, traditional models of instruction simply are not enough to maximize their potential academic achievement. To educate a generation that faces an increasingly globalized world with new challenges appearing daily, Georgia must be innovative and forward-thinking.

The phrase “Move On When Ready” is more than a dual enrollment opportunity for students; it represents an entirely new way of thinking about education. Why hold a child back when he is ready to tackle the next subject? Why push a child forward when additional time and instruction could help prevent future struggles? Why restrict a teacher when she knows how best to motivate and accelerate her students’ learning? These questions, among others, were discussed by the commission during its deliberations. Opportunities such as blended learning, middle/high school partnerships, competency-based learning, computer-based learning, flipped classrooms, new pathways for graduation, project-based learning and test-out options, in addition to traditional modes of instruction, were considered in terms of not “Can Georgia do this?” but rather, “How Georgia can do this?” The recommendations below, listed in priority order, represent feasible and necessary actions for the state of Georgia in order to fully cultivate a student population ready for life beyond the classroom.

Recommendation 1: Develop and implement multiple formative assessments in literacy and numeracy for students in grades K-3, which would serve the function of Student Learning Objectives in those grades, and extend these assessments to grades 4 and 5 numerical fluency once K-3 is in place.

(more…)

Nellie Mae Education Foundation Statement on ESSA

December 19, 2015 by

Nellie MaeThis statement was released by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation on December 11, 2015.

President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act(ESSA) into law yesterday. This response to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – the 2002 rendition of the historic Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which first passed in the civil rights-rich 60’s, was long overdue. Our experience with NCLB made it clear that a rewrite was needed based on what we have learned about the limits of an approach to school improvement driven by high standards, measured by narrow assessments and provoked by mostly uninteresting, remedial consequences.

From our perspective at The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the new law holds great promise for advancing public education, as one of its explicit aims is to grow, spread and improve innovative, evidence-based, student-centered approaches to learning – where learning is personalized, competency-based, dependent on strong student ownership, and not limited to traditional classrooms or classrooms at all. This is good news.

We also believe that there are aspects of this new direction that demand vigilant attention. As we open up opportunities for creativity in terms of educational design, we must make sure that we organize for universal attainment of deeper learning outcomes and do not unintentionally leave more learners behind in the process.

If our nation is going to advance, we must be sure that creative learning designs are effective ones, including in our poorest communities. We must ensure that we are elevating the learning and readiness of graduates of all colors in all zip codes to combat the growing economic inequalities that are so pervasive across our country. While the move to state-owned responsibility and district-based accountability may be the way forward, as advocates of equity it leaves us uneasy, even as it replaces the untenable approaches to securing equity in NCLB.

ESSA mandates a big shift toward balancing shared responsibility, as the law moves significant decision-making about responses to low performance to the district level guided by state authority. However, the distribution of authority to the local level will demand capacity-building so that local communities can meet those responsibilities. Today most districts do not have the capacity to do so, as so much energy has been directed to a compliance-based framework. This is an issue any advocates of dramatic, equitable change and improvement will care about. It is one thing to open up opportunity. It is another to be able to fully, expertly and responsibly take advantage of the opportunity. Wealthy districts may be able to meet the challenge even if they do not need to, while those who must cannot without support.

On the positive side for student-centered learning advocates, the law includes opportunities for more states to follow the lead of what many in New England have been pursuing for years – personalized, competency-based approaches. It also allows for research supported approaches. This is no accident. One can see echoes of good, innovative work from Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and particularly New Hampshire in many passages of ESSA. New England should be proud. (more…)

In Support of ESEA and the Innovative Assessment Pilot

December 1, 2015 by

SenateThe following letter regarding support of reauthorizing the ESEA with its Innovative Assessment Pilot has been sent to Senator Lamar Alexander, Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Labor, and Pensions; Senator Patty Murray, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Congressman John Kline, Chairman, House Committee on Education and the Workforce; and Bobby Scott, Ranking Member, House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Here is a link to the final bill language. Maria Worthen, iNACOL’s Vice President for Federal and State Policy, provided a quick summary of the importance of this bill to our work in advancing competency education: (more…)

iNACOL Applauds U.S. Congress ESEA Conference Committee Vote to Reauthorize Federal K-12 Education Law

November 23, 2015 by

inacolThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on November 19, 2015. 

Today, the United States House of Representatives and Senate Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Conference Committee voted overwhelmingly (39-1) in favor of advancing an agreement to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which would replace No Child Left Behind. (more…)

Update from Iowa

October 6, 2015 by
Sandra Dop

Sandra Dop

Thanks to Sandra Dop at the Department of Education for helping me understand how competency education is developing in Iowa. However, any errors are all mine. We’d love to hear from others involved in competency education in Iowa so that we gather different perspectives and insights into your efforts.

The Iowa state legislature opened the door to competency-based education three years ago when they eliminated the Carnegie unit as the only way to earn credit in Iowa high schools and instructed the Department of Education to establish the Iowa CBE Collaborative to investigate CBE and develop pathways for others to engage in the transformation. The Collaborative has five years to complete two goals: establish Iowa demonstration sites and develop a Framework for Transformation to a CBE System.

The first year or so was spent with the ten districts of the Collaborative exploring together what it means to be personalized and competency-based. They brought in speakers such as Susan Patrick, iNACOL; Rose Colby, New Hampshire; Laurie Gagon and Gary Chapin, the Center for Collaborative Education; Kim Carter, QED Foundation and founder of Making Community Connections Charter School; the Reinventing Schools Coalition, and yours truly. The state provided resources such as Delivering on the Promise, Community-Based Learning: Awakening the Mission of Public Schools, Make Just One Change, and Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools.

Districts developed a variety of pilots that emphasized different aspects of competency education: personalized, blended learning, and transparency of learning goals, rubrics, and progress. For example, Cedar Rapids moved well beyond the pilot stage when they developed Iowa BIG, which takes advantage of the competency-based structure to support students in taking on big, interesting projects while ensuring they are building their skills. Mason City started with one sixth grade math teacher engaging in blended learning and are slowly and purposefully expanding. Van Meter is investing in project-based learning, using twenty-first century skills as the framework to guide student learning, and is also remodeling their building to provide open space for peer and student/teacher collaboration. Spirit Lake started with a two-week project-based January term (J-Term) in secondary, and Franklin Elementary in Muscatine did a two-week intersession to connect their students to community mentors and real world projects. Each district is finding its own way into the transformation. (more…)

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