Category: Policy

A Tale of Two States

April 9, 2014 by

taleoftwostates-mapI had a quick conversation with Sal Khan last month that really highlighted the importance of the questions, What do we think competency is? and How do we measure it?

The different ways we think about competency and what we want for our students is one of the underlying issues causing confusion in the field. It also has powerful implications for whether we are going to help students develop higher order/deeper learning skills.

If you think that competency education is completing a course of study on adaptive software (FYI – this doesn’t meet the field’s working definition) or getting a certain score on the SAT, you will make different design choices than if you think competency is being able to apply skills in new contexts.  Another way to think about this is using the knowledge taxonomies: If you think competency is at Level 2 Comprehension, the way you design your schools is really different than if you set it in general at Level 3 Analysis or Level 4 Knowledge Utilization. So if we are talking about proficiency-based diplomas and competency-based credits — How do we know when a student is competent?

This issue jumped out when I saw that New Mexico is implementing an Alternative Demonstration of Competency for students who can’t pass the high school exit exam. New Mexico is on a slow road (think snail) to personalized, blended, and competency education, so I was curious to know how the State was thinking about competency (click here for overview of policies).  Usually, I wouldn’t refer to exit exams within the realm of competency education because they have nothing to do with transparency of learning progressions, empowering students to own their own education, providing adequate supports and time, and making sure students reach proficiency each step of the way. My personal analysis is that high school graduation exit exams are policy hammers used by state government to get schools to do better by kids, but in fact, they knock kids down as they try to enter adulthood without a diploma.  In reading the details of the Alternative Demonstration of Competency, however, it sounded so much like Colorado’s new proficiency-based diploma policy and its emphasis on cut scores that I thought it best to highlight it here. Perhaps New Mexico is backing its way into competency education? (more…)

More on Implementation in Maine

March 14, 2014 by

ME dept of edThanks to the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Maine Department of Education was able to conduct a number of case studies on district implementation. The studies are great reading and raise a number of issues about principal leadership, community engagement, continuous improvement, and implementation planning. However, it’s hard to find the hour or so it takes to nestle in with each of the case studies and do the necessary reflection needed to learn from them.

So that’s why its so great that the Maine DOE Center for Best Practices did the work for us with the Threads of Implementation: A Thematic Review of Six Case Studies of Maine School Districts Implementing Proficiency-Based Systems.

It will only take you 15 minutes or so to read this summary, which includes sections on vision and framework, policy, leadership, teacher engagement, finance and professional development, technology, pacing, communications, and cultural change. The review is even more valuable as a discussion tool for district teams thinking about converting to competency education. Use each of the segments to help you devise your strategies and implementation plan, learning from the successes and stumbles of these districts.

 

Thanks to the state leadership in Maine – they are walking the walk when it comes to creating a learning culture.

 

Shaking Up the Classroom — Wall Street Journal Covers Competency Education

March 11, 2014 by
LUSD website

LUSD website

In case you missed it, the Wall Street Journal had a story yesterday on competency education. In Shaking Up the Classroom – Some Schools Scrap Age-Based Grade Levels, Focusing on Mastery of Material, Stephanie Banchero reports on her visit to Lindsay Unified School District.  I talked with Stephanie at one point because she couldn’t find any critics of competency education — you can see in the article the best she could find is that there is a strong emphasis on those deeper learning skills and fears that traditionally underserved students may not benefit.  I do think we need to know our critics and listen to them so that they can help us spot implementation issues quickly.

The article is below — and if you want to know more about Lindsay, check out the blog posting on my site visit.

Shaking Up the Classroom
Some Schools Scrap Age-Based Grade Levels, Focusing on Mastery of Material

By STEPHANIE BANCHERO

March 10, 2014

LINDSAY, Calif.—There are no seventh-graders in the Lindsay Unified School District.

Instead, in the “Content Level 7” room at Washington Elementary, 10 students, ages 11 to 14, gather around teacher Nelly Lopez for help in writing essays. Eight sit at computers, plowing through a lesson on sentence structure, while a dozen advanced students work on assignments in pairs. (more…)

The Right Work To Do

February 25, 2014 by
the boxes-jason ellingson

Jason Ellingson

The boxes arrived last week. Those boxes stacked high, full of Iowa Assessment test booklets, answer sheets, and directions for administration. They arrived and are sitting against the far wall of my office – not physically, but philosophically in the way. In two weeks, our students will take those tests. They will spend multiple hours over a course of a week filling in bubbles to demonstrate to the federal and state governments that they have grown academically in content areas like reading, math, science, and social studies. There will be no test on grit or perseverance – except their ability to complete the test without creating a pattern on the answer sheet. There will be no test on creativity – unless they do create a pattern on the answer sheet.

All of this will happen in the midst of a year where my district has truly pushed itself to know the learner better to grow the learner better. We have pushed hard to mold ourselves into what our students need, not mold the students into what we need. We have more teachers that ever using data to revise instruction, using standards-based learning, and thinking about competency-based education. We work toward a new goal of personalized learning in our district – and it is exciting, invigorating, daunting, and … the right work.

So, those boxes sit in my office while I have the pleasure of attending a convening hosted by the Nellie Mae Foundation and KnowledgeWork on the federal accountability framework in light of competency-based education. The convening was a great two days focused on assessment, core CBE principles, the role of the federal government in education, and the unintended consequences of building a new framework that is easy to understand (and which may do more harm to CBE than the current one).

The discussion on accountability traveled far and wide. Some of the main points and questions raised included:

  1. We do not want to see competency education mandated from the federal government. We want to have federal accountability policy be structured to enable competency education and its core principles. (more…)

Learner Goal Setting and Monitoring: The Science of “Leading their Learning”

February 24, 2014 by

This article was originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition January newsletter.

LearnerGoal1 Research shows that engagement in learning motivates and deepens understanding. To help students begin to “own their learning,” they will require clarity, feedback, and an association with the targeted content or skill. As effective teachers and leaders, we begin the learning process with students by ensuring clarity as to what they need to know (informational domain) and be able to do (mental and psychomotor procedures).

Using the “new taxonomy” helps make meaning of this, as it looks at how the information is being used or processed by the learner. The taxonomy is broken down into six levels (diagram at left). The lower four levels of mental processing are cognitive levels. Each refers to how the information is being used or how learning might be demonstrated with deepening understanding or rigor. Using the taxonomy clarifies what a learner needs to do with the information to succeed at the next levels.

Clarification of learning outcomes, by itself, does not guarantee student success. Combining the taxonomic roadmap with specific formative feedback and providing the information in a context that each student can connect with leads toward personal mastery of that learning. In other words, we want students to not only process information cognitively, but also metacognitively, which then influences self-esteem (refer to top two levels of diagram). (more…)

Five Quick Thoughts About Accountability

February 13, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 2.23.47 PMThere is a flurry of conversations about federal accountability policy and assessment going on around the country. You may have heard about it described as accountability 3.0. I had the opportunity to participate in one of the conversations last week and just finished listening to the conversation led by Maria Worthen, iNACOL and Lillian Pace, KnowledgeWorks held today based on their report  A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change. And I’m feeling inspired to jot down a couple of my thoughts:

1. Federal policy must NOT mandate competency education.  We want it to enable competency education and eliminate any elements that inhibit it.  Federal policy can even catalyze it.  But at this point in time, federal policy should not expect everyone to do it. There are several reasons for this. First, any top down, bureaucratic approaches are just inconsistent with the student-centered, do what it takes, spirit of continuous improvement that is essential to personalized, competency-based schools. Second, we don’t have enough research and evaluation to tell us about quality implementation or what we need to ensure that special populations and struggling students benefit.  We just aren’t ready yet.

2. Assessment comes before accountability.  It’s almost impossible to untangle accountability from assessment in today’s policy context.  That’s because the accountability system has required states to have a specific type of assessment system.  This is a huge problem because assessment should be focused on helping students to learn.  Instead we see it as part of the accountability system. I know this is too simple… and all the accountability and assessment experts out there might dismiss this. But I just don’t think we can go where we want to go if we start with the requirements of today’s accountability system driving learning. So I think we need to define what is really important for systems of assessments and then draw from that what might be valuable for any type of accountability system.  Let’s keep our priorities straight by focusing on assessment and accountability not accountability and assessment. (more…)

A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education

February 3, 2014 by

CompetencyWorks - A K-12 Policy Framework for Competency Education - February 2014Although there are few barriers to competency education caused from federal policy, there is certainly a lot it can do to enable and catalyze it. In A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change, Maria Worthen, iNACOL‘s Vice President for Federal and State Policy and Lillian Pace, ‎KnowledgeWorks’ Senior Director of National Policy, explore the ways that federal policymakers can become partners in the effort to redesign our education system around making sure students reach proficiency every step of the way towards college and career readiness.

Maria and Lillian emphasize that federal policymakers need to think about themselves as partners in this work as they consider ways to remove barriers to competency education, provide funding incentives, and support the development of learning infrastructure. As a starting point, federal policymakers can support state and local innovators by establishing a student-centered federal policy framework that supports competency education, with four guiding principles in mind:

Greater rigor and relevance — Measurement of student learning should be based on ensuring that students are on track and held to high, rigorous standards and aligned competencies — from cradle to career — to be successful in college and the workforce. (more…)

Oklahoma Considering Proficiency-Based Promotion

January 20, 2014 by

 

270px-Oklahoma_in_United_States.svgWe knew once Robert Sommers became head of Oklahoma’s  Secretary of Education and Workforce Development that it wouldn’t be long until we started to see Oklahoma move towards competency education.  Here are a few of the highlights of the proposed changes in administrative policy that are open for public comment until February 5th.  Please note that Oklahoma – along with Maine, Colorado, and Oregon – uses the language of proficiency-based.

1)   Allowance for Time-based or Competency-based Credits

Oklahoma is upgrading its graduation requirements specifically stating the expectations for academic skills rather than how many units. For example, the proposed policy lists acceptable math courses including  Algebra, Trigonometry and Statistics rather than just describing three units of math. The proposed policy for college preparatory/work ready curriculum requires states: “ In order to graduate with a standard diploma from a public high school accredited by the State Board of Education, students shall complete the following college preparatory/work ready curriculum units or sets of competencies at the secondary level”.  Sets of competencies are defined as “instruction in those skills and competencies that are specified skills and competencies adopted by the State Board of Education without regard to specified instructional time”.  From what I can tell this opens the door to districts and schools that want to convert to proficiency-based models.

2)   Enabling Proficiency-based Promotion

There is specific language that allows students to be placed in courses and to advance based on proficiency-based assessments. It’s an interesting policy to lead with as it does allow students to “advance upon mastery” without having to “do their time” based on the Carnegie unit. This policy will certainly benefit “gifted” students, students who want to speed through their high school experience – which includes kids who just hate high school, who are clear on what they want to do in life, who need to work to support their family, and those who want to get away from their community or family – and students who are over-age, under-credited, and about to age out of the K-12 system.

(more…)

Only Ten States Require Districts to Use Time-based Credit

August 6, 2013 by
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Taylor White

Yep, only 10. That’s what the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and learning found out in their scan of state policies regarding credits as part of their reevaluation of the Carnegie Unit’s role in education. Taylor White from CFAT writes: Though many other states have offered such flexibility for more than a decade, the recent trend is clear: Mandatory use of seat-time is becoming a thing of the past.

After reviewing all 50 states and DC, CFAT organized states into five categories (below). You can find out where your state is by downloading the full report here.

  • Category 1) Carnegie Unit abolished as primary measure of student learning. Credits must be awarded based on students’ mastery of content and skills rather than on seat-time. (1 state)
  • Category 2) Districts define credits and may use seat-time OR another measure (e.g. proficiency or competency) to award credit in core courses. (29 states)
  • Category 3) Districts may apply for special-status or waivers to use measures other than seat-time to award credit for core courses. (4 states)
  • Category 4) Districts do not have any flexibility and must use time-based credits. (11 states)
  • Category 5) Districts have some flexibility, but it is limited to special circumstances, such as credit-recovery programs or out-of-school learning, and may require approval from the state. (6 states)

Robert Sommers Announced New Secretery of Ed for Oklahoma

August 5, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 12.23.33 PMThis week Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin announced Robert Sommers to be the new secretary of education.  This is very exciting new as Sommers was previously the CEO and managing director of Carpe Diem Learning Systems (CDLS), a program that was developing competency-based blended learning models.  CDLS has been involved with replicating the Carpe Diem model in Indianapolis.

Bob has been sharing his expertise and insights in the power of competency-based blended learning with the ACHIEVE workgroup on competency education.  He brings an incredibly strong commitment to equity and the incredible things that can happen when the expectations are clear and the right supports are in place.  This is a great position for him to guide OK as well as engage with other states.

Stay tuned for more.

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