Category: Policy

A Victory for Competency-Based Education

January 23, 2015 by
LamarAlexander

Senator Alexander

To all of the competency education visionaries working in state governments, districts, and classrooms around the country, last week was an important week for you. After years of running up against federal time-based policy barriers, the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander (R–TN), released a discussion draft for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that put your work front and center.

Competency education finally has a place at the negotiating table of Congress.

Senator Alexander’s discussion draft proposes two policy changes that would advance the K-12 competency education movement.

The draft proposes two assessment options:

  1. Maintain the current law by requiring statewide testing annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.
  2. Establish a state-defined option where states could develop an assessment system that may include any combination of annual statewide summative assessments, grade span assessments, and competency-based performance assessments. (more…)

Helping HELP: Paul Leather’s Testimony on Assessments and Accountability

January 21, 2015 by
Paul Leather

Paul Leather

Earlier today, Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner at NH’s Department of Education, testified at the Senate HELP Committee Full Committee Hearing on “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability” about improving assessments and accountability systems. His testimony is provided below or you can watch here. Additional resources on ESEA include:

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Chairman Alexander, Senator Murray, and Members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify about testing and accountability in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

I am Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner of Education of the NH Department of Education.

In NH, we are working to explore what the next generation of assessments might look like, beyond an end-of-the-year test.

We have coordinated with the Council of Chief State School Officers on its Priorities for ESEA Reauthorization. These Priorities contain three important ingredients that are in line with the work we are doing:

  • First, it would continue to support annual assessments of student performance to ensure every parent receives the information they need on how their child is performing, at least once a year.
  • Second, it would allow states to base students’ annual determinations on a single standardized test, or the combined results from a coherent system of assessments.
  • Third, it gives states the space to continue to innovate on assessment and accountability systems, so important when the periods of authorization can last 10 years or longer. (more…)

Supporting Competency Education in ESEA Reauthorization

January 10, 2015 by
Maria Worthen

Maria Worthen

A new Congress brings new hopes for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA reauthorization provides an important window of opportunity to realign federal policy to support and enable the transition to competency education.

Background

The new Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander, has indicated his intention to consider an ESEA reauthorization bill in that committee by February. House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman, Representative John Kline, has said it will be a top priority. Both have announced plans to hold hearings in the next month.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the state education chiefs last fall that the new Congress gives new potential to work on a bipartisan basis and that he will be pushing very hard to reauthorize ESEA.

With positive signals coming from House, Senate, and the Education Department leaders about reauthorization, could 2015 be ESEA’s year? Maybe, maybe not—but if you care about the outcome, it’s still essential to weigh in. (more…)

Policy Implications in Competency Education: An Interview with Don Siviski

November 14, 2014 by

CSSRThis interview originally appeared in the CSSR October 2014 Newsletter.

Don Siviski is a career educator who began his career as a middle school teacher, formerly served as the Maine Department of Education’s Superintendent of Instruction, and now works as a school change coach with CSSR. He was closely involved in the comprehensive policy work that resulted in Maine legislation requiring graduates to demonstrate mastery of competencies in order to graduate. Siviski is now working closely with CSSR’s i3 NETWORK schools, as well as with CSSR in Springdale (AR) Public Schools-the first competency education pilot in Arkansas, the most recent state to grant a seat time waiver. We sat down with him recently as he reflected on the policy work that resulted in competency education for the state of Maine, specifically-the intersection between belief and practice; establishing proof points and zealots for your work; and building collective capacity.

The intersection of belief and practice

Siviski’s work to impact comprehensive reform in Maine began by facing the discrepancy between what the community professes to believe about education, and the reality of their practice. Specifically most folks articulate the belief that all kids should go to school, get an education and succeed. However, in practice our educational system sorts and tracks students, formulates grades based on completion and compliance, and ensures that students have unequal outcomes. To effect policy change, communities throughout Maine had to get in agreement on tough culture change traditions-adults had to ‘unlearn’ the system they had all experienced in order to put new learning in place. For Siviski the emphasis was always student-focused, not adult-centered. The competency-based value structure prevailed when the focus was on students and the critical need to produce graduates prepared to compete globally. Siviski noticed over and over that once teachers and community members saw students becoming agents of their own learning, they ethically could not go back to the old system as belief and practice were now aligned.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Is Competency-Based Education Feasible Without a Guaranteed Viable Curriculum?

October 1, 2014 by

guaranteed and viableCompetency-based education has gathered much energy and momentum across the nation during the past year, evidenced by the increase in the research and policy forums addressing the subject. Accompanying the interest is a dawning realization that organizations cannot fully implement an authentic competency-based system under the auspices of the flawed paradigm that preceded it. Policy wonks are left scratching their heads, wondering how best to negotiate a middle ground between defects of the traditional model and the promise of a competency-based system (CBS). Unfortunately, there is no middle ground; just as there was no middle ground in moving from VHS to DVD, you just need to convert. (more…)

Why is Competency-Based Education So Hard to Study?

August 15, 2014 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

Originally posted August 13, 2014 by the Christensen Institute.

A few research pitfalls seem to be creeping into the still nascent world of K-12 competency-based education: first, the challenge of moving from discussing high-level theory to describing precisely competency-based practices. And second, going from identifying specific practices to designing sufficiently specific, appropriate evaluation to measure the effects of those practices.

Both of these tensions can make conversations about competency-based education feel speculative. The term “competency-based” often describes a wide range of classroom practices, but schools that call themselves competency-based may not subscribe to all such practices. And even when these practices are spelled out, we have yet to study them in isolation, to understand which—if any—drive student growth and in what circumstances. In order to really study competency-based models, the field may need more specific categories than “competency-based” to translate the theory into practice; and we likely need new research paradigms to evaluate these specific practices. (more…)

7 Ways State Policy Can Promote Competence

August 12, 2014 by

Originally posted Aug. 8, 2014 at Getting Smart.

Boys studying

From Getting Smart

Since Horace borrowed the idea from the Prussians, we’ve been batch-processing kids based on birthdays through a print curriculum. This batch-print system was moderately efficient until we tried to retrofit it to work for all kids. It just created a mess of tacked on services and a crazy patchwork quilt of courses. As educational demands of society increase, it becomes increasingly obvious that the batch-print system doesn’t work well for at least two thirds of our kids.

Many of us believe that personalized learning environments where students progress as they demonstrate mastery hold the promise to boost achievement and completion rates for struggling students while speeding accelerated students through the K-16 system several years faster than is common today. However, the transition to a competency-based system is pedagogically, politically, and technically challenging. Despite policy barriers there are thousands of schools creating these next generation blended and competency-based environments. To accelerate the shift and improve outcomes, states should address these 7 things now.

1. Standards. Embrace a broad view of college and career readiness expressed in standards and graduation requirements. Maine went a step further and adopted a requirement for a proficiency-based graduation (discussed on CompetencyWorks). (more…)

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