Category: Uncategorized

Mastery-Based Making: The Urban Assembly Maker Academy

April 8, 2019 by

Maker Classroom Door SignThis is the third post in a series about the Mastery Collaborative in New York City. Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Urban Assembly Maker Academy is a New York City public high school with a well-developed mastery system, one of the model “Living Lab” schools for the Mastery Collaborative, an organization described in the first post in this series. The school has many well-developed elements of competency-based education that could serve as models for other schools.

Projects in the maker classroom this school year include students creating original designs in everything from skateboards to sneakers to mobile apps. The maker classroom teacher, Gerry Irizarry, whose former work was in the design field, says that the most important take-away is the design thinking students are learning, which can be applied to any industry—not the specifics of mobile apps or skateboards.

The school is based on the belief that “the world needs problem solvers who can find out and solve challenges to create positive change in a world where change is the only constant. We empower students to be successful, adaptive citizens of the future, who will create the future through design thinking and innovation. Our students are curious about the world around them and empathize with others to develop personalized solutions. Our students know that to innovate, they must take risks. They measure the impact of their actions. They overcome challenges with resilience.”

Photo of Urban Assembly Maker Academy StudentCTE Pathways in a Competency-Based System

The school has two approved career and technical education pathways: computer science and digital media. Students in the computer science pathway take courses including video game programming, physical computing, and Python programming. These courses connect with projects such as (more…)

Competency-Based Education in Rural Schools

March 29, 2019 by

CompetencyWorks has featured visits to rural schools, enabling us to examine how competency-based education has taken hold in rural districts. After reviewing past blog posts and reports, and obtaining updates from the websites of the schools or their state departments of education, we are highlighting the following districts:

  • Chugach, Alaska (blog series and report)
  • Eminence, Kentucky (blog post)
  • Deer Isle-Stonington, Maine (blog series)

Chugach School District, Alaska

School districts don’t get much more rural than Chugach. The central office is in Anchorage, but the schools are in small towns and villages across 20,000 square miles of Prince William Sound. The Whittier Community School, for example, served 33 students in the 2017–18 school year. The district also served 377 homeschoolers across the state with teachers who serve 40 to 60 students at a time.

Chugach was the first K–12 district in the United States to move from a time-based system to a performance-based system in which graduation was based on meeting performance targets rather than earning credits. Their first steps were in 1994, in response to concerns about low student achievement levels. This led to a district transformation that resulted in a performance-based learning and assessment system and dramatic improvements in student outcomes.

In 2001, Chugach was the first public school district to receive the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award , a presidential-level honor that recognizes (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

March 27, 2019 by

What's New ImagePersonalized Learning

  • In an article published on The 74, Personalized Learning on the Rise, iNACOL President and CEO Susan Patrick shares lessons learned from iNACOL’s national study of personalized learning and teachers and principals rethinking what’s possible in education.

Earning Credit for Anytime, Anywhere Learning

  • New Hampshire’s new Learn Everywhere program, recently passed by the state legislature, provides a mechanism for the State Board of Education to credential community educational programs to extend students’ learning for out-of-school activities and enable students to receive credit toward graduation.

Equity and Anti-Racism


Mixed Signals from Report Cards: Learning Heroes Report Highlights Why Competency-Based Grading Matters

March 13, 2019 by
Statistics on disconnect between parent perceptions and reality.

Source: Learning Heroes Report

A recent report from Learning Heroes provides a dramatic illustration of the need for schools to transition to more transparent grading practices, such as those in a competency-based education system. The report found that, for three years in a row, a very large percentage of parents in a nationally representative sample have overestimated how well their children were doing in reading and math.

The bar chart below illustrates this stark disconnect for reading. The math results were nearly identical. In 2018, for example, 91% of parents reported that their 4th grader was achieving at or above grade level in reading, whereas the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that only 36% of 4th graders nationwide were performing at that level.

Graph of parent perceptions versus findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress

Source: Learning Heroes Report


The Learning Heroes study attempted to understand the reason for this disconnect and how it could be remedied. “By having a more informed and holistic picture,” they said, “parents can find the best resources for their children at home and partner more effectively with teachers to keep their children on track for college and life success. They also can demand more of their schools.”

From interviews with parents, the study concluded that parents interpret good grades on report cards to mean that their child is performing at grade level academically. But two-thirds of the teachers interviewed said that grades on report cards reflect not only academic achievement but also effort, progress, and participation in class. In fact, nearly half of the teachers said that report card grades reflect effort more than academic achievement! Clearly, report cards as they are currently used in many schools are not a reliable indicator of mastery. (more…)

Global Best Practices – A Practical Tool for School Self-Assessment and Action Planning

March 11, 2019 by

Cover of Global Best Practices ToolGlobal Best Practices is an outstanding, free resource that offers a practical, step-by-step process for assessing your school or district to inform school improvement plans. It focuses on common characteristics of high-performing schools and districts, as documented in the accompanying Research Summary.

These common characteristics overlap considerably with descriptions of high-quality personalized, competency-based schools, such as those presented in iNACOL’s Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education.

The Global Best Practices tool can be used by a variety of school stakeholders, such as teachers, school and district administrators, school board members, and parents. It was developed by the Great Schools Partnership as part of their technical support of the New England Secondary School Consortium.

The tool focuses on four “strands” of school practice—teaching and learning, organizational design, school leadership, and school district—and each strand has multiple “dimensions.” For example, the dimensions of teaching and learning include equity, academic expectations, assessment practices, and others. Across the four strands, there are 22 dimensions of school practice.

Using the Global Best Practices Tool

The tool can be used very flexibly and includes a helpful Facilitators Guide. Here’s a quick overview of their basic approach, followed by some examples. First, users select which strands and/or dimensions to address. Then they take the following four steps for each dimension: (more…)

Social-Emotional Learning and the Cost Effectiveness of Educating the Whole Child

March 7, 2019 by

Source: Aspen Institute

Early in the recent Aspen Institute report on Social-Emotional Learning is the statement that SEL interventions “can be undertaken by schools at a reasonable cost relative to benefits.” That’s good news, considering the importance of SEL in effective education.

When discussing how to spend finite school budgets, we should note that our current investments are leaving far too many students graduating without the skills needed to succeed in college, careers, and civic life—or not graduating at all. A realignment of those investments is clearly needed to achieve greater equity and effectiveness. Those are the core purposes of competency-based education, which recognizes that students learn more effectively when their social and emotional needs are taken into account.

Evidence of Cost Effectiveness

How does the Aspen Institute know that SEL is cost effective? The study they cite is entitled “The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning,” published in 2015 by Clive Belfield and colleagues at the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

The study’s authors begin by estimating the costs and benefits of six SEL programs. They include costs such as instructional materials and personnel time. Then they take into account benefits such as (more…)

Aspen Institute Report Provides Powerful Support for Developing Social-Emotional Learning

March 5, 2019 by

Advocacy for social-emotional learning (SEL) in schools is growing, and making the case is not difficult on moral and rational grounds alone. After all, who doesn’t think that helping students become motivated, responsible, compassionate, and focused is a good idea? Who doesn’t want to improve equity in schools and provide nurturing relationships for the youth in their communities?

But deeply influencing educational policy often requires empirical evidence in addition to moral and rational arguments, and the new Aspen Institute report provides all three. The report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope, summarizes findings and recommendations from an extensive study by the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development.

Their central argument is that “Since all education involves social, emotional, and academic learning, we have but two choices: We can either ignore that fact and accept disappointing results, or address these needs intentionally and well. The promotion of social, emotional, and academic learning is not a shifting educational fad; it is the substance of education itself. It is not a distraction from the ‘real work’ of math and English instruction; it is how instruction can succeed.”

Accompanying the main report, the Commission released a Practice Agenda, a Research Agenda, and a Policy Agenda. Together, these resources provide solid support for why we need social-emotional learning, plus extensive recommendations for advancing the work. (more…)

SXSW EDU Sessions for Competency-Based Education

March 2, 2019 by

There are probably hundreds of sessions of great relevance to CompetencyWorks readers, and we all arrive with different needs and interests – but here is a small selection of sessions that touch on big issues in our field. We look forward to seeing you there!

iNACOL Sessions – We had a longer post on these last week, but here they are again, in brief:


  • From Equity to Anti-Racism in Education – Marco Davis, Christopher Emdin, Kate Gerson, and Jeff Livingston discuss what it will take to change the inherently racist educational system.
  • Personalized Learning Toward Equity – Evan Gutierrez, Carolyn Jones, Frances Messano, and Jim Shelton on how diversity and equity help leaders shift beyond one-size-fits-all education.

Personalized Learning


Moving Toward Mastery Blog Series Conclusion

March 1, 2019 by

This is the final post in a series that aims to make concepts, themes, and strategies described in Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing, and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education accessible and transferable. Links to the other articles in the series are at the end of this post.

Over the past six weeks this site has shared nine posts about Moving Toward Mastery, a report focused on growing, developing, and sustaining educators for competency-based education. (See the bottom of this post for links to all posts in the series.) Each post has expanded upon a theme from the report and worked to translate ideas into practical actions for leaders. As the blog series comes to a close with this tenth and final post, I am compelled to share my own reflections on the vision, the process, and the possibilities ahead.

I have been working on Moving Toward Mastery for almost a year. From the outset it has been a profoundly collaborative effort—over one hundred people participated on the technical advisory group, I have interviewed over two dozen leaders, and I have connected with many people working in the field to turn the report’s ideas into practice. Before I write anything else, I need to write this: thank you to the community of passionate people who tuned in and turned out to make this project possible.



February 27, 2019 by

If you’re headed to Austin next week, iNACOL is offering two sessions, and it would be great to see you.

Our iNACOL and CompetencyWorks Meet Up will be on Wednesday, March 6, from 11 a.m. – noon at the Hilton Austin Downtown, Room 602. I will join our President and CEO, Susan Patrick, in facilitating an informal gathering to meet each other and discuss everyone’s work, plans, resources, challenges, and promising practices for creating powerful, personalized learning experiences for students. Newcomers to this work are strongly encouraged to join us!

The CEO State of Play in Personalized Learning session will be on Wednesday, March 6, from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. at the Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon H on the 6th floor. Susan Patrick will join the CEOs of three other personalized learning organizations—Dana Borrelli-Murray of the Highlander Institute, Beth Rabbitt of the Learning Accelerator, and Elisabeth Stock of PowerMyLearning. Hear from them to make sense of this moment of opportunity for personalized learning and the future of the field.

Also, in my new role as iNACOL’s Research Director, which includes leading CompetencyWorks, I’m eager to get to know more of the people, schools, districts, and organizations who are advancing personalized, competency-based education. If you want to have coffee, walk and talk, or chat some other way in Austin, please email me at

We hope to see you in Austin!

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