Category: Understanding Competency Education

Reflecting on The Field of Competency Education: Organizations and Literature

August 22, 2017 by

In the first part of this reflection, we focused on where we started and where we are now. One of the important areas we reflect upon each year is the strength of the field. Each year more organizations enter the field of competency education by adding it to the agendas of their meetings, investing in staff learning about it, and identifying leaders in their networks. Although the slide to the right is certainly missing organizations (and let us know if you want to be included as an organization building capacity around competency education), it gives you a good sense of the strength of the field’s capacity. The collaborative spirit, even with increased competition for resources, continues to be one of the strengths of the field.

One of the challenges in the field we all share in correcting is the lack of diversity in our networks and our leaders. We let a horrible thing happen when we allowed ourselves to have meetings that were all white – it was simply a pattern of white privilege that means we didn’t tap into our collective knowledge and failed to put equity, especially racial equity, front and center in our work. CompetencyWorks is dedicated to making a mid-course correction, but it is something that will require everyone to work together to make the necessary changes in our processes, values, and relationships.

One of the strengths of the field to date is that we have built a strong set of literature that allows people to learn about competency education from different perspectives. Our challenge going forward is to ensure that we refresh the knowledge as we learn more and that we focus in on the issues that are most challenging to ensure that we fill gaps in knowledge. The following slides are included for you in case you want to review the different reports and books that are available. Later this week I’ll continue the strategic reflection with a focus on policy, how our learning is deepening, and what we need to think about to advance competency education.

 

 

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Reflecting on The Field of Competency Education: Where We Started and Where We Are Now

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Every summer, the CompetencyWorks team and our advisors reflect on the progress that is being made and the emerging issues that we see developing. This helps us know where to focus our attention in our daily work, and it is a leadership opportunity for all of us to hear from others from around the country and different perspectives about how competency education is advancing.

This article highlights some of the areas of our reflection and will accompany today’s webinar Competency Education: A Reflection on the Field and Future Directions. For those of you completely new to competency education, you might want to glance at What is Competency Education? as a starting point.

Where We Started and Where We Are Now

There are different starting points for how we tell the story of where we started. Several valuable reports provide slightly different starting points and critical stepping stones, although almost everyone will recognize Benjamin Bloom’s contribution. It would actually be an interesting project to talk to leading innovators and find out the key advances in education they are building upon. For those of you interested, I suggest the following reports to learn more about the foundation for competency-based education:

At CompetencyWorks, our understanding of competency education is that it is a transformation of culture and structure. It is best approached as a district reform to enable students to have the fullest support no matter where they are on the learning continuum, from kindergarten on up to college level. The commitment to all students successfully learning the skills they will need for college, career, and life also requires a strong commitment from leadership – both school board and district level. However, there are many examples of schools within traditional districts being able to implement in a way that is highly meaningful even though there may be some limitations and work-arounds.

Thus, our starting point of competency education often begins in the mid-1990s, where, on one coast, innovators in Chugach School District were transforming their schools in response to Native Alaskan communities demanding that their children be educated. On the other side of the country, innovators were developing Diploma Plus and Boston Day and Evening Academy to re-engage students by focusing on learning and skill-building, not simply accruing credits.

Since then, there have been stages of development – of practice and of policy. The most important thing to remember is that, as a movement, competency education has been educator-developed and educator-driven. For example, the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, a collaboration of districts, helped to catalyze change in Maine. Lindsay Unified, one of our lighthouse districts that continues to develop and refine their model, launched their transformation in a state that has made no effort to create innovation space. In the past five years, investments have often been directed toward creating new models, including Next Generation Learning Challenges, Opportunity by Design, and XQ schools. Some of the grantees have been intentionally competency-based, while we are seeing some schools inch their way in that direction.

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Competency Education and the Complicated Task of Communicating

August 17, 2017 by

Did you see that competency education (the same as mastery-based education) was mentioned in the New York Times? In some ways it is a very helpful article to introduce people to the idea of competency education, highlighting students taking ownership, students engaging more, the opportunity for students to really learn or master the skills and content before moving on, and the focus on growth.

Yet the article also includes examples of the difficulty we are facing in communicating what competency education is about, what it means to have a high quality competency-based school, and the noise from some of the critics. Below is a sample of the conversation I had with the author (in my mind, of course) while reading the article.

Instruction

One of the issues we are facing is that although competency education is primarily a cultural and structural shift, it also has implications for instruction. We know that instruction matters – it matters a lot. You can have strong instructional practices or weak instructional practices in a school. You can have some teachers with strong professional knowledge or some with weak professional knowledge in a school.

What competency education does is creates a structure by which teachers are talking with each other about what it means to have a student become proficient, aligning their assessments and instructional strategies, and exploring what is working and what isn’t working to help each and every student reach proficiency. Competency education, when well implemented, should be igniting the professional learning of the educators.

Competency education does introduce a few important implications for instruction and assessment:

  • Students need to be active learners with opportunity to apply their learning to new contexts (this is what makes it about competencies and not just standards). This means there also need to be assessment strategies that assess students at higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (i.e., performance-based assessment).
  • Instructional strategies need to meet students where they are. Yes, we want to think about grade level standards AND we want to think about where students’ performance levels are and where they have gaps. Then using their professional knowledge and taking into consideration the needs of other students and resources, educators work with students to develop strategies that will help them progress.
  • To the degree possible, summative assessments should be aligned with the depth of knowledge and the learning goals of the students. This may mean organizing assessments to be “just-in-time” with students bringing forward evidence of their learning. A student who has completed a unit at the beginning of the week and believes they have fully learned the material shouldn’t have to wait until the end of the month to move on to higher level work. In other learning experiences, there is going to be value in students working on a large project all with the same due date. But when the curriculum can be organized into more modular units, it opens the door to more flexibility for students.

When I see something like “students work at their own pace through worksheets, online lessons and in small group discussions with teachers” I get worried that either the school isn’t offering enough applied learning opportunities or we aren’t communicating what is happening instructionally in the classroom. First of all, students should know where they are on their own learning paths. Second, teachers are offering instruction through several methods, including individual and small groups, online videos they have made, or perhaps online instruction. In most, most but not all, of the classrooms I have visited, students talk about the use of online adaptive programs as how they practice. Most will say they prefer to learn about new material from their teacher or from a video their teacher made. Third, there will often be choices about how students practice and then demonstrate their learning. Worksheets might be one of them, and I’ve seen students playing games to practice and build math and vocabulary fluency, working on projects, writing essays, and engaging in large, inquiry-based projects that will wrap-up with a presentation. (more…)

Welcome to Mastery Communications Week!

August 14, 2017 by

Educators implementing mastery-based learning can enumerate a list of priorities to conquer. But all too often the strategy for communicating what mastery means for students, families, and community partners can be left until the end, or ignored all together. Mastery-based learning — also known as competency-based education (CBE) — has the potential to transform how students learn content and acquire skills. Messaging this fundamental truth is key to building understanding, garnering buy in, and implementing a successful mastery-based system.

That’s why Springpoint has joined forces with national partners and schools to present Mastery Communications Week — five days devoted to exploring how to communicate about mastery that starts today.

We’ve partnered with Great Schools Partnership, Mastery Collaborative, Next Generation Learning Challenges, KnowledgeWorks, iNACOL, and CompetencyWorks to share expertise around some of the most common questions about mastery communications. Throughout this week, principals, teachers, students, district leaders, community partners, and parents will share their experiences with mastery and their role in ensuring that it supports and accelerates student learning. We hope this compilation of best practices, tools, tips, ideas, and open questions can spark an insightful conversation and prove useful for educators and school leaders as they prepare to engage key stakeholders on all things mastery in the coming school year.

Defining Mastery-Based Education

To communicate effectively about mastery, educators first must get clear on their own working definition. While mastery can mean many things to different people, we generally cite CompetencyWorks’ five elements:

  1. Students advance upon demonstrated mastery.
  2. Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.
  3. Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.
  4. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  5. Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.

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Mastery Communications Week Launches on Monday #masteryweek

August 11, 2017 by

What is competency education? To answer this question, we need to have strong communication strategies and messages.

To help us improve our communication strategies, Springpoint Schools (along with Great Schools Partnership, New York City’s Mastery Collaborative, Next Generation Learning Challenges, KnowledgeWorks, Getting Smart, reDesign, CompetencyWorks, and iNACOL) has organized Mastery Week. Throughout this week, we will be shining the spotlight on insights and best practices on communications regarding competency education. (See the flyer on Mastery Week for more information)

There will be digital sharing and online collaboration that can help schools and districts develop their communications plans. Each day during Mastery Week, our Mastery Week site will feature an article from one organization on a specific area of mastery communications. You’ll also find stories and resources from practitioners that illuminate successful approaches. We encourage everyone to share useful content and join the conversation on social media and other platforms.

Here is the schedule:

Monday’s Focus is on Resources: The welcome post on the Mastery Week website will explain the mechanics of the week, discussing resources that can help schools communicate with diverse stakeholders. There will also be five questions for engaging teachers and students.

Tuesday’s Focus is on Post-Secondary Institutions: The Great Schools Partnership will discuss communicating with postsecondary institutions and engaging with parents around what mastery means for their students’ postsecondary opportunities with five questions to engage college admissions experts.

Wednesday’s Focus is on Equity: The Mastery Collaborative will explain how a clear mission with an equity lens can drive a communications strategy. You will also find five questions for Border Crossers and NYC students to underscore these themes. There will be a Twitter chat at 3 pm ET.

Thursday’s Focus is on Teachers: Next Generation Learning Challenges will share best practices, tools, and resources that highlight how to support teachers as critical ambassadors for mastery learning. You can find five questions for teachers and school leaders.

Friday’s Focus is on Multi-Media Communications: KnowledgeWorks will provide an overview on the ways in which multi-media communication creates deep engagement around mastery education. You will also find a podcast from Getting Smart and resources from reDesign.

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CBE Across America: What’s New in 2017

July 27, 2017 by

Snapshot

This is an updated version of the original list, published here. All new case studies in 2017 have been highlighted in yellow. 

We recently updated the map of competency education because so many states – including Idaho, Florida, Ohio, and Utah – have taken steps forward for state policies to enable and invest in competency-based education. In reflecting upon how competency-based education is developing, we pulled together all the “case studies” we have done based on site visits and interviews in seventeen states. As soon as we can, we want to visit Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, Wisconsin, and we just heard about a district in Mississippi.

For those of you trying to learn more abut competency education, we are hearing that some districts are using the case studies as discussion tools. Everyone reads about one school and then talks about what is challenging, how their understanding of the traditional system is changing, and what ideas they think might be valuable. It’s just a warm-up to embracing the values and assumptions that are the roots of competency education.

Alaska

Chugach School District (2015)

Chugach School District: A Personalized, Performance-Based System

Part 1 – Explorations in Competency Education

Part 2 – Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District

Part 3 – Chugach School District’s Performance-Based Infrastructure

Part 4 – Chugach Teachers Talk about Teaching

Part 5 – Ownership, Not Buy-In: An Interview with Bob Crumley, Superintendent Chugach School District

Part 6 – Chugach School District: Performance-Based Education in a One-Room School House

Part 7 – Teaching through the Culture: Native Education in a Performance-Based System

Part 8 – Performance-Based Home Schooling

Highland Tech Charter School, Alaska (2014)

Part 1 – Highland Tech Charter School – Putting it All Together

Part 2 – Advice From Highland Tech Students

Arkansas

Springdale School District (2015)

Innovation Springing Up in Springdale

Student-Focused Learning in Springdale (2017)

Part 1 – Springdale, Arkansas: A Tradition of Innovation and Future of Opportunity

Part 2 – Building Learning Momentum at Springdale’s School of Innovation

Part 3 – Finding Time and Providing Support for Student-Driven Learning

Part 4 – Encouraging Learning Risks and Growth

California

Lindsay Unified High School  (2015)

Part 1 – Six Trends at Lindsay Unified School District

Part 2 – Preparing Students for Life….Not Just College and Careers

Part 3 – An Interview with Principal Jaime Robles, Lindsay High School

Part 4 – An Interview with Brett Grimm: How Lindsay Unified Serves ELL Students

Part 5 – It Starts with Pedagogy: How Lindsay Unified is Integrating Blended Learning

Colorado

District 51 (2017)

Part 1 – Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51

Part 2 – Building Consensus for Change at D51

Part 3 – The Vision of Performance-Based Education at D51

Part 4 – Holacracy: Organizing for Change at D51

Part 5 – Growing into the Framework: D51’s Implementation Strategy

Part 6 – Laying the Foundation with Culture and Climate

Part 7 – Supporting Teachers at D51: A Conversation with the Professional Learning Facilitators

Part 8 – Creating a Transparent Performance-Based System at D51

Part 9 – New Emerson: Learning the Effective Practices of the Learner-Centered Classroom

Part 10 – Transparency and Trust

Part 11 – Lincoln Orchard Mesa: What Did You Notice?

Part 12 – Performance-Based Learning in a Dual Immersion School

Part 13 – R5 High School: Abuzz with Learning

Part 14 – The Teacher Association Perspective on Performance-Based Learning

Part 15 – A Journey of Discovery at Broadway Elementary

Connecticut

Overview

Superintendents Leading the Way in Connecticut

New Haven (2016)

Creating Meaningful Instruction through Mastery-Based Learning in New Haven, CT

New Haven Academy: Pedagogy Comes First

Windsor Locks Public Schools (2016) (more…)

These Red Flags Signal Competency Education’s Three Biggest Misconceptions

July 26, 2017 by

This post was first published at EdSurge on June 13, 2017. It has been slightly revised from the original version. 

I’ve continued to go back to Tony Wan’s piece, Why There’s Little Consistency in Defining Competency-Based Education. I’m thrilled he wrote it, as I think it holds up a mirror to all of us working in the world of competency-based education about where we can do better. However, I think the title may be a bit misleading.

I actually find that there is a medium amount of consistency: It could certainly be better, but there is much more consistency about competency education than about other ideas that have been introduced into the world of education. (After the 21st Century Community Schools were created, for example, I was traumatized as a program officer at the Mott Foundation by the hours and hours of cross-talk about the similarities and differences between a community school, an after-school program, and a youth program in the community.)

I do agree wholeheartedly that there are a few places where misconceptions are getting in our way. We’ve discovered that the five-part working definition of competency education developed by 100 innovators six years ago hasn’t protected us from misunderstandings. People are quite comfortable picking the first of the five parts—students advance upon demonstrated mastery—and focusing on pace rather than helping every student successfully learn.

If you don’t understand that the traditional system of education is designed to rank and sort students, then it’s really hard to understand competency-based education. States, districts, and schools that are transitioning to competency education are redesigning the system to respond to each and every student so that they master the skills they need for higher level school work—and for their futures. Think about it as designing for success, rather than ranking and sorting.

Here are the three red flags that indicate to me a misunderstanding of the overarching goal and structure of competency education:

1. “Our school has flexible pacing. Students can go as fast or slow as they want.”

One, two, three red flags go up when I hear this.

Allowing students to keep working on things that they don’t quite understand or haven’t gained fluency in—rather than moving on to the next topic—is important. So is enabling students to advance above grade level. However, that’s not the reason that competency education is valuable.

The big difference is that in competency education, districts and schools are building internal accountability: Schools commit to providing instruction and support until the student masters skills and content. In the traditional system, schools don’t do much if students don’t learn what is required; most students are going to get promoted anyway.

The second red flag is the idea that teachers don’t have any role in helping students progress at a pace that is moving them toward graduation. I actually find the idea of self-pacing to be bordering on silly. Sure, some students are going to zip through the material. But there are plenty of students who are going to need help in thinking about timelines and progress benchmarks.

Students are also going to require opportunities to reflect with teachers or advisors on their pace of learning and what can be done if they aren’t making progress. They need opportunities for reflection as well as coaching in order to build on the lifelong learning skills they are going to need after graduation. These skills include understanding the power of a growth mindset, the habits of work and learning, and the ability to manage their emotions.

Remember: Advance upon mastery isn’t about pace, it’s about schools taking responsibility for making sure students are learning.

2. “Some of our students are faster learners and some are slower learners.”

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Threshold Concept: Meeting Kids Where They Are

June 23, 2017 by

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This is the twentieth-first article in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

David Hood’s “Paradigm of One” describes how the current model focuses on “one teacher, teaching one subject, to one class of one age, using one [textbook], at one pace, in one classroom, for one hour,” and describes this rut in which the traditional system is stuck.1 In a time-based factory-model education system, students move through grade levels with varying amounts of learning with recorded grades of A-F without ensuring mastery. This all but guarantees that students will have significant gaps in core knowledge when they move from one grade level to the next. These disparities grow over time. When different levels of expectations are held for different students, the disparities grow larger, wider and deeper.

New personalized learning environments that are competency-based and student-centered help teachers identify the strengths of individual students and help meet kids where they are. They include assessments for learning with structured feedback to pupils, setting individual learning targets, planning to support individual needs, using data to dialog and diagnose each student’s learning needs every day.

In our current, traditional educational system, there is a significant focus on old pedagogical models for delivering a one-size-fits-all lesson of grade-level content each day. The retrograde effects of accountability systems are perhaps most apparent in the challenges educators face across the United States to truly try to meet students where they are.

The research on how students learn examines how important it is to meet a student within their zone of proximal development, allow for productive struggle and design progressions effectively where learning hinges on successful prior learning. A student’s zone of proximal development is defined as the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help.2 We know that when students are able to address prior gaps in their learning, they can accelerate their learning dramatically. As such, educators need to be able to scaffold instruction at the appropriate level as well as offering the supports and resources depending on student needs when delivering instruction. If our old pedagogical approaches force content to be traditionally delivered through one-size-fits-all approaches within age-based grade levels, we are not truly meeting students where they are. How do we advance equity in a system that approaches it with sameness in pedagogy? Is it fundamental to create equity through a foundation that is competency-based to ensure every student reaches mastery?

Meeting students where they are requires a true fundamental shift of the learning environment to become learner-centered and to be organized around mastery-based learning progressions across a continuum over time with opportunities for in-depth teaching and learning based on each student’s goals and needs and providing extended learning opportunities and supports with flexibility. And, most importantly, competency-based systems require knowing where every student is academically and holistically and then making sure each student receives the instruction and support they need to build confidence, lifelong learning habits, knowledge, skills and competencies to be successful.

Advancing competency-based systems means meeting students where they are every day and engaging in a cycle of supporting learning academically, socially, emotionally and holistically. There are major challenges when students have moved through a time-based system with decent grades to find out when entering a competency-based educational model that they are several grade levels behind. How do we address these issues in the traditional system that leave students with major gaps in knowledge, skills and abilities, and a lack of preparedness based on the system’s focus on drilling students forward with time-based (not learning-based) progressions? (more…)

Threshold Concept: Pedagogical Innovations Based on Learning Sciences

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This is the twentieth article in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

Learning models should be rooted in the research about how students learn best (the learning sciences), with any redesign putting student success at the center. One way to to design a system based on learning sciences research is to consider how educators are engaged in teaching as inquiry where “inquiry is the state of identifying student learning problems, hypothesizing on causes, investigating and testing causal links, and acting on the findings to improve outcomes,” according to Dr. Linda Bendikson.1

Using research and evidence as a foundation for ‘inquiry’ allows all levels of the system to engage in deep conversations around what is working in student learning and how educators are central to systemic improvement. It is important for educators to question how they are using an inquiry approach to improve culturally responsive teaching, as well.

In competency-based systems, we must engage in tough conversations around outdated pedagogical approaches. It is time to critically analyze how the current time-based models may be barriers to addressing learner needs. We should examine how we assess and determine whether our assessment strategies are consistent with the learning sciences research on how students learn best. In addition, we need to determine if our pedagogical approaches align with research on student motivation and meeting kids where they are at the appropriate level of readiness, whether the learning strategies employed are truly fit for purpose. We must ensure we are designing for equity using research on how students learn best, youth development theory, and evidence-based approaches. (more…)

Threshold Concept: Assessment Literacy

June 22, 2017 by

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This is the nineteenth article in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and what might be missing.

“Student assessment is essential to measure the progress and performance of individual students, plan further steps for the improvement of teaching and learning, and share information with relevant stakeholders.” – OECD, 2013

Assessment literacy is important for practitioners but it is also important for policymakers and stakeholders throughout the system to understand the roles that different types of assessment play in student learning, how assessment and moderation are used to comparatively and fairly judge student mastery, and how the information generated by assessments can be used toward a cycle of continuous improvement in teaching and learning. The lack of assessment literacy across the system is a major blind spot. Thus, building significant capacity for assessment literacy is needed to advance new competency-based approaches and address tough issues in our current system.

An important concept in assessment today is related to the concept of comparability. Comparability is defined as the degree to which the results of assessments intended to measure the same learning targets produce the same or similar results. This involves documenting the reliability of judgments and not assuming that comparability is stable over time or invariant across multiple subgroups such as English language learners and special education students.1

There are unique circumstances in the U.S. education system that have driven the need for much greater degrees of comparability than is true in most other nations. When the federal government became involved in K-12 education with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, it was in direct response to deep inequities that remained even after school segregation. Because of the history of inequities in education offerings among student groups, concerns for equity are much greater than in many other countries, which drives, to a significant extent, the degree to which we need to take greater care that measures are fair and have common meaning among students, schools, and districts.2 This drives the prevalence of standardized tests in our country, causing the concept of assessment to often be conflated with the end-of-year, statewide, summative accountability tests.

Practitioners working deeply in competency-based learning models realize quickly how our K-12 education systems lack systems for calibrating the quality of student work, so we know that fundamentally there is significant consistency across schools and systems. As much of a systems challenge as this would appear across the states in the U.S. today, building professional educator capacity and policymakers’ understanding of assessment literacy is fundamental to shifting to personalized, competency-based systems at scale and focusing on equity.

A common misconception about assessment literacy is that it is only about how to interpret standardized test results. In contrast, assessment literacy is a much broader and more significant concept. The New Zealand Ministry of Education defines assessment literacy as:

“the possession of knowledge about the basic principles of sound assessment practice, including its terminology, the development and use of assessment methodologies and techniques, and familiarity with standards of quality in assessment. The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning, as both student and teacher respond to the information that it provides. Information is needed about what knowledge, understanding, or skills students need. By finding out what students currently know, understand, and can do, any gap between the two can be made apparent. Assessment is the process of gaining information about the gap, and learning is about attempts to reduce the gap.”

Personalized, competency based learning requires us to reorganize systems around doing what it takes to ensure every student is attaining mastery, rather than the ranking and sorting them into high achievers and low achievers that is created through variable A-F grading practices. Redesigned systems will need to build capacity for clear evaluation criteria to make valid and reliable comparisons of students’ progress against outcomes (commonly understood outcomes) using evidence and common rubrics.

Thus, progress isn’t measured by ranking and sorting kids against each other, or through grading “curves,” but instead for each student to measure their evidence against articulated, high-level, common expectations of success and with clear depictions for what success looks like. This process of developing clear expectations for common proficiency levels is a key part of a “calibration.” Calibration is a process that allows two or more things to be compared via a common standard (e.g., a weight in the physical sciences or commonly scored papers in an education system). The purpose of common performance tasks given to students by different schools and districts is to serve as a “calibration weight;” a way to compare the way one school or district scores students on the common task, with the way other schools and districts score those same students’ work. In order to use the common performance tasks as calibration weights, districts need to re-score other districts’ common performance tasks. Calibrating expectations as well as grading and scoring processes for learning goals, is very important in competency-based learning systems. Calibration may involve groups of educators who collaborate and develop consensus around rubrics for scoring student work. The calibration process makes scoring student work consistent and more aligned to the standards upon which rubrics and scoring criteria are based, as well as creating reflective processes focused on improving student learning.

In addition to calibration processes for consistently and accurately evaluating student work, assessment literacy also includes knowing which assessments are appropriate for what purpose (e.g., formative, progress monitoring, or summative). This idea of common expectations, and evaluating evidence against common standards and rubrics to build and evaluate comparability across schools and systems, requires careful  moderation of assessment practices across the system and perhaps across the state level. Professional development of educators to assess student evidence using calibration processes and developing rubrics with scales for evaluating performance tasks against criteria, is central to building the capacity needed in a competency-based education system. A competency-based learning system that offers personalized pathways for students to meet learning goals and learning targets must rely on multiple forms of evidence against common standards and expectations.   (more…)

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