Category: Reflection

6 Ways to Eliminate Attribution Error on the Path to Equity in Competency-Based Systems

June 15, 2016 by

Post 5In order to create an equitable education system, we need to reduce the predictive value of race, gender, class, and disability in the classroom. In the blaming culture of the traditional educational system, we point to children or their families as the problem when students aren’t successfully learning, rather than revisit our educational designs and structures. In competency education, students who are struggling are identified quickly and receive additional supports. In addition, the continuous improvement cycle can identify and address patterns of inequity in resources, learning experiences or access to highly qualified teachers.

Given that high quality competency education rests on having respectful relationships between students and teachers, eliminating attribution error is a critical step. Attribution error is when we assume a deficit to explain behavior. For example, believing that a student who is always late doesn’t care about her education, when in fact she cares so deeply about education she drops her siblings at school and then takes three different buses to get to class each morning. We need to begin with the assumption that we are all at risk of making the wrong assumptions about students. The following are suggestions gathered during a convening on how to rid your school of attribution error. ž

1. Cleaning Up the Language of Learning: The language of learning in a traditional system is limited to smart, fast, or ahead. Students are racing ahead, falling behind, or on different tracks (even though we don’t like to admit that these descriptions still exist). In order to eliminate attribution errors, we need to let go of the adjectives and create a data-driven language of learning that indicates what level students are at on a learning progression, the pace of learning, their growth, and the depth of their learning. ž

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Tackling Issues of Equity in Personalized Learning

June 14, 2016 by

Personalized learningPost 4 has become a critical element of most next generation learning models, as we are faced with the challenge of ensuring all students get what they need to be successful in their transition to college and careers. We know we can’t reach that goal by delivering one-size-fits-all instruction. The only way we can do it is through personalizing education.

Students differ in so many ways — personality, life experiences, physical and emotional maturity, learning styles and challenges, opportunities to explore the world, responsibilities, habits for study and work, and academic skills. Thus, the overall concept of personalization and the specific approach of personalized learning is designed to improve educational outcomes of underserved populations by responding directly to individual student needs, strengths, and interests. Instead of moving students through one curriculum and the same instruction in the same set of time, personalized learning seeks to be responsive to students.

Personalized learning raises concerns about equity in two ways. First, there is a worry that personalized pathways could result in different expectations. Second, if educational experiences vary, they may also create or exacerbate/increase patterns of inequity unless careful attention is given to monitoring student progress and outcomes and providing the necessary supports for all students to achieve mastery. We know that using the same textbook and sitting in class the same amount of time has not resulted in economic or racial equity. With a focus on equity and setting the same high levels of competencies and standards for all students, many innovators see personalization and competency education as complementary approaches to better serve students and provide a more transparent structure around performance to ensure equity while still offering a more student-centered approach to learning. For more information on issues of equity in personalized learning, competency education and blended learning, see this CompetencyWorks report.

As Susan Patrick mentions in this blog, “Standards, world-class knowledge, and skills are critical as the floor (not the ceiling) of expectations for each and every student.” It is important to set high academic standards and raise learning expectations, arming students with the critical problem-solving skills to succeed in today’s globally competitive economy. (more…)

Show You Know it: Scenes from a Performance-Based High School

June 13, 2016 by
Janaisa Walker

Janaisa Walker

This post originally appeared at SparkAction on May 11, 2016.

Many students switch to a new building for high school. In my case, I also had to switch to a totally new approach to learning.

My public high school, the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies (BCS), is a New York City Outward Bound expeditionary learning school. Outward Bound schools focus on teaching students how to think critically and creatively and to apply their learning to real world situations. That means that instead of multiple choice exams and standardized tests, BCS is a competency–based school that uses Performance-Based Assessment Tests (PBAT) to determine when a student has mastered a skill or subject. We call them “p-bats.” These PBATs approved by the Board of Education as an alternative to the Regents, the state test required for graduation.

PBATs are like thesis papers. Students do independent research and write a long, original paper that we then present and defend before a panel of teachers, students and others who are familiar with the subject area.

When I started as a freshmen at BCS, I was shocked to learn about this approach. It seemed like extra work to me—why couldn’t we just focus on the Regents? Was it even possible to write papers that long?

This was the mindset I had coming from middle school, and I was not a lazy student: I spent Saturdays in classes to prep for Regents.  Many of my peers had the same initial reactionsto PBATs.  Some, preferring a more traditional approach, decided to leave the school.  I decided to stay at BCS; I was up to the challenge, and the teachers seemed supportive. (more…)

How Misconceptions About Competency Education Could Undermine Equity

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EducationFor several years, the fields of personalized learning, competency-based education, and blended learning were having definitional issues with the terms often being used either synonymously or to describe very discrete practices that neglected to capture the overall concepts in each. iNACOL and its project CompetencyWorks have taken leadership in helping the field understand these concepts as different and relational to build knowledge in communicating these topics.

This understanding of terms and what they mean might seem minor, but has significant implications on outcomes – it affects both the quality of personalized learning models and how to approach and address systemic reforms toward competency-based education systems. How we understand these terms and the intersection between them could make the difference between creating a system that produces equity and one that continues to have zip code and color of skin determine educational achievement.

By generating a universal lexicon and addressing misconceptions and misunderstandings that arise, we can help drive the field toward blended learning and competency education with greater ease.

Miscommunications such as the ones described below can derail important conversations and add to the complexity of where blended learning and competency education overlap. They can also lead to poor implementation, lower achievement, and inequitable practices. (more…)

How Competency Education Drives Equity

June 10, 2016 by

Post 2Equity is at the heart of competency education. It developed in response to the time-based A-F graded system, which allows students to advance without prerequisite skills and results in harmful variation of proficiency across districts, schools, and teachers. When fully implemented, competency education provides a structure in which proficiency is calibrated to maintain consistency in expectations and students receive adequate instructional supports to progress. Competency education strengthens personalized learning with a transparent structure that enables greater systemic and personal accountability, as well as continuous improvement.

The most frequent concern related about equity to competency education is that some believe variation in pacing will mean a percentage of students get left behind. However, the reality is that in traditional environments, gaps for students who lack core knowledge and skills already exist, and the time-based structure means these gaps only grow over time. What competency education requires is that we focus on students every day, giving them supports to stay on pace and acting to ensure they demonstrate mastery. Students can’t fail an entire course when the unit of correction is each learning target.

In order to ensure that inequitable patterns are not re-created in competency-based schools, leaders will need to attend to several issues. They will need to monitor progress to keep students on pace. They need to hold all students to high levels of rigor. There needs to be a vigilant focus on fighting inequity through a culture of looking for and challenging bias. Schools need to be structured so that struggling students receive rapid, high quality instructional support using the standards to target support.

Most importantly, schools need to develop strategies to meet students where they are so that students reach proficiency in grade level standards by building proficiency in all the pre-requisite skills.  Schools must know where every student is in their learning trajectory upon entry and also develop meaningful approaches for students who start off significantly behind grade level. These approaches will recognize that students may have to address social-emotional issues, fill gaps, and, when appropriate, plan for an accelerated trajectory of learning. An additional concern is that students who require more time to learn or are on an accelerated path (i.e., covering a longer segment of the learning progression in the same amount of time) still have the opportunity to develop higher-level skills through deeper learning. (more…)

Addressing Equity Issues in Personalized, Competency-Based Learning

June 9, 2016 by

Post 1Innovators and early adopters of competency education want to do right by kids. This means being empowered to make decisions that are based on the educational and developmental needs of students – not responding to policies created at the federal, state, or district level. The vision of personalized education is that every student will be able to engage in meaningful and highly engaging learning experiences – with the right mix of instructional supports when they need it – so that everyone is successful. Failure is not an option; it’s just part of the learning process.

However, my stomach turns when I hear these very same incredible education leaders dismiss equity because “every student is getting what they need.” We need to have the courage to confront equity issues head-on in new learning models, and we need to intentionally guard against implementation strategies that create or reinforce barriers for students.

To address this need, we are kicking off a blog series that tackles the equity issues that often arise in personalized, competency-based and blended learning. The series will include the following topics:

  • How competency education drives equity;
  • How misconceptions about competency education could undermine equity;
  • Tackling issues of equity in personalized learning;
  • Tackling issues of equity in blended learning;
  • Ways to eliminate attribution error on the path to equity in competency-based systems;
  • How blended districts can implement a competency-based structure; and
  • Using flexible time to design higher and deeper learning.

Are there other issues or perspectives that we need to consider in thinking about equity? We’d love to hear your thoughts to make sure that we are comprehensive. (more…)

How I Learned What Proficiency-Based Teaching and Learning Really Means

May 9, 2016 by
Tony B and Wife

Tony Beaumier and Wife

It was bedtime on a winter evening in 2015. I was saying goodnight to my son Jay, a sixth-grader, when he asked me a startling question.

“Mom,” Jay said, “you give lots of presentations for your job, right?”

“Yes,” I answered.

Jay had a follow-up. “When you give presentations at work, what kind of feedback do you usually get?” It was not the kind of question I expected from an eleven-year-old. Although it reflected Jay’s thoughtfulness, it also reflected the journey that his middle school had been on for several years.

In the autumn of that year, after months of preparatory work, York Middle School had adopted a proficiency-based system. The teachers had worked together to identify a set of power standards and learning targets for each class, and a new reporting system had been adopted that would show each student’s progress towards these targets. The letter grades that had been used to describe student achievement were abandoned in favor of a new language – “Progressing,” “Meets,” and “Exceeds.” The school also instituted a new schedule which included a Targeted Learning Time every day, a block that students could use to seek extra help or make up work in areas where they were “Progressing” or where they had produced “Insufficient Evidence.”

For many parents, these changes were a disconcerting entry into unfamiliar territory; I, however, considered myself to have a strong understanding of proficiency-based practices. I had spent the previous few years as a teacher in a public high school that was implementing the same strategies, and I was currently employed as a school coach helping schools with various reform efforts, including the transition to proficiency-based and student-centered practices. So I figured I had mastered the change in worldview that proficiency-based education demands. It took my son to help me see how much I still had to learn. (more…)

Meeting Students Where They Are: Academic Domains (Part 2)

May 5, 2016 by

Part 1 on this topicArrows focuses on accountability policies. This post looks at instructional strategies to meet students where they are.

Do Academic Domains Make a Difference in Strategies to Meet Students Where They Are?

Teachers have to make hundreds of instructional decisions each day. Based on conversations with practitioners, we have found that it is worth starting the discussion with how to best meet the needs of students who have gaps in skills within each discipline. We’ve been focusing the initial inquiry on math, ELA, and social sciences, but it would be just as important to consider this issue within the sciences, arts, health/physical education, and CTE as well.

Below are some of the insights from educators about how to meet students where they are without falling back into tracking or marching through the standards in a linear manner. Each of the strategies raised by educators to respond to students whose skills are at performance levels below their grade level take more time and more instruction. In a world where learning is monitored over a semester, some might call this students taking longer or learning at a slower pace. That is not the situation at all; if they need to loop back or do close reading, they are actually doing more learning. In fact, the rate of their learning measured by performance levels will likely be at a faster rate than those students with grade level skills. (more…)

Meeting Students Where They Are: Accountability Paradox (Part 1)

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ArrowsPart 2 on this topic focuses on instructional strategies to meet students where they are. This post looks at accountability policies.

Across the country, educators are courageously recognizing that the only way they can help all students meet college and career readiness is to move beyond the traditional time-based system to create personalized, competency-based systems. Personalizing education starts with recognizing that every student has a unique educational pathway, entering school at different academic performance levels, at a different steps in their development, and with ever-changing interests and understandings of the world around them.

Yet many competency-based schools are continuing to teach students at their grade level with one-size fits all curricula because they feel it is only fair to “cover the standards” before students take exams for accountability purposes. Many educators have said that they would like to be able deliver instruction where students are but feel that they must “cover the standards.” Standards of course are a good thing. They bring an intentionality to instruction and clarity to assessment that our education system was lacking. Yet, covering them without also ensuring students are mastering them leaves us with the same problem of the traditional system — some students learn while others are left behind.

CompetencyWorks is delving into the issue of what it would take to meet students where they are so we can better meet the needs of students including those whose performance level is below grade level. In this two part-series, I’ll share some of the take-aways from conversations with educators and thought leaders. As always, I’m trying to understand so retain the right to learn more and change my mind.

Empowering Teachers

Every day teachers face the challenge of trying to teach students the grade level curriculum even though they know their students do not have the pre-requisite skills. The practice of always providing grade level curriculum means that some students with gaps in foundational knowledge go to school every day feeling stupid, some are bored because they aren’t allowed to move on to more challenging work, and teachers must carry the burden of knowing they aren’t meeting students’ needs.

Curriculum coordinator Patrice Glancey describes her district’s first steps of the transition to competency-based education. She empowered teachers to develop the instructional strategies and curriculum resources based on their professional judgment would be the most effective for students. The first grade teachers rejected the idea of an assigned reading program to try a more personalized approach. (more…)

Building a Movement from Within

April 26, 2016 by
Patrice Picture

Patrice Glancey

Within a system of standardized testing and teaching accountability based on student results, it’s understandable that teachers feel like they’re running an obstacle course instead of a classroom. And why wouldn’t they? Federal, state, and local standards are asking them to jump, dodge, and climb all while trying to cram years of content into 180 days. Add to that the paperwork and you get the burnout that we are seeing within our experienced teachers across the country.

It’s no surprise that when competency-education was introduced, veteran teachers rolled their collective eyes, closed the door, and continued on as usual: “This too shall pass.” However, it’s been seven years since New Hampshire included competency education in the Minimum Standards for Public School Approval. This change, which mandates students be evaluated on mastery of competencies, implies that this practice isn’t going away anytime soon. And to be brutally honest, we can’t go back to a one size fits all model; our test scores prove that it doesn’t work.

If I have learned anything about the implementation of competency-based learning over the past few years, it’s that the fire must start from within. Teachers are already feeling overwhelmed by top-down initiatives and they are beyond the point of being able to take in “another great idea.” Derek Sivers (2013) explains during his inspiring Ted Talk How to Start a Movement that every movement needs a leader to get it started. This leader can’t be administration, this leader needs to come from within. Further, Sivers explains that “a leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed,” which not an easy task for most teachers. However, the best schools run on strong teacher leaders who have found success through working in environments that encourage them to take risks and promote “standing out.”

When I arrived at Newport School District this past summer, it resembled what I like to refer to as the “perfect storm”: a new set of administrators, a culture of teachers ready for change, and a budget requiring us to think outside the box. The competency framework had already been developed at various stages K-12 and the previous curriculum director had worked with the teachers to move in that direction. My job was to get the teachers back on track and build off of momentum that had already fizzled out. (more…)

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