Category: Understanding Competency Education

Six Fixes for Proficiency-Based Learning

August 28, 2018 by
david ruff

David Ruff

Two realities almost always arise when we engage in systemic change. First, while the change is framed as universally beneficial, it’s almost always disruptive and frequently gives rise to new and additional concerns. Second, implementation never goes as smoothly as planned. This certainly has happened in Maine as the state has embarked on a courageous journey to shift from an unfair and inadequate learning system to one that is equitable and just.

It is very good news that as this shift has been underway, Maine teachers have remained steadfast in their commitment to better learning for students. Early indications from this change are all good as four-year high school graduation rates in Maine have increased from 80% to 87% over the past seven years, college enrollment rates have increased from 60% to 64%, and college persistence rates have increased from 75% to 77%.[1]

Having noted this, we have to face a reality of the current K-12 public education system in America—it is unfair and designed to inequitably rank and sort students. The US public education system inequitably favors students who start better prepared, who have additional external support, and who are not impinged by non-school demands on their time. In the face of these and other significant obstacles, teachers make heroic efforts every day to treat students fairly and provide myriad learning opportunities to overcome these concerns. While many student success stories result from these significant efforts, these daily acts of heroism fall short of what is needed to close our pernicious equity gaps and ensure each and every high school graduate is well-prepared for the rigors of college and work, and the privileges and opportunities of civic life. (more…)

Summer Reading on Competency-Based Education

July 11, 2018 by

Is it summer yet? It feels like the rate of districts turning to competency-based education is increasing (I just returned from a meeting in Michigan where I learned of at least eight districts advancing toward a competency-based system), and certainly our rate of learning is. Although I actually hope that everyone disconnect for a few weeks during the summer and not think about competency education, I did promise to provide an updated summer reading list. I’ve organized the list into categories: learning sciences; for newbies seeking to understand what competency education is; building commitment; preparing for implementation; and thinking ahead on the issues and challenges in the field of competency-based education. (more…)

Webinar on Equity in Competency Education

July 9, 2018 by

We are facing a substantial challenge in ensuring that we are implementing effective competency-based strategies. Join CompetencyWorks on July 18 2-3 ET for a discussion about Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed. Learn about design principles to pay attention to and red flags that there may be a problem in implementation. Register here.

Ten Distinguishing Features of Competency-Based Education

June 13, 2018 by

Many of you have told us that we needed a stronger explanation of competency-based education beyond the working definition developed in 2011 to help create a shared understanding. In the paper Levers and Logic Models, we introduce ten distinguishing features of competency-based education from traditional systems based on the incredible insights from the people participating in the Technical Advisory Group on defining competency-based education (you are all recognized in the paper – we are forever grateful for your generosity of time and expertise).

From talking to district and school leaders, I think it is helpful to think about the flaws of the traditional system, which produce variability and reproduce inequity, as well as how the distinguishing features work together to create a system that motivates students and adults and also produces consistency and greater equity.

Please feel free to use the distinguishing features and the icons in your own communities. Just give credit based on Creative Commons attribution. These ten features can be easily converted into a self-assessment tool for you to use to use with your colleagues in your district and schools.

Ten Distinguishing Features of Competency-Based Education

Purpose and Culture

1. Student success outcomes are designed around preparation for college, career and lifelong learning. Traditional systems narrowly prioritize and measure academic skills, often at the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Competency-based systems emphasize ensuring that students can apply academic knowledge and skills to new contexts and become adept problem-solvers and independent learners. Thus, competency-based districts and schools align around academic knowledge, transferable skills and the ability of students to become lifelong learners. Culture, pedagogy, and structures are designed to develop student agency, build foundational academic knowledge and engage students in deeper learning that provide opportunities to engage in real-world problems.

(more…)

What Will Students Experience in a Competency-Based School?

March 27, 2018 by

As you might know, CompetencyWorks has been using virtual collaborative processes, fondly known as a Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs), to build knowledge that draws from local, state, and national leaders. In a TAG that was aimed at creating a way of defining and explaining competency-based education, an unexpected set of ideas was developed: What should students expect to experience in a competency-based school? We hadn’t planned to build this out, but now we have it.

Districts and schools, after adapting for their own approach based on their student outcomes and the mediating factors of who their student population is as well as the local context, should be able to turn this into a rubric or survey to provide feedback on how deep and broad their implementation is. However, I’d like to ask you: How might you change or add to this list of the expected student experience in a personalized, competency-based school?

What will students experience in a competency-based school?

Below are examples of experiences that every student should have in a well-developed personalized, competency-based system.

1. I will be fully supported in developing academic knowledge and skills, the ability to apply what I have learned to solve real-world problems, and the capacities I need to become an independent and lifelong learner. (more…)

What Beliefs are the Bedrock of Your Competency-Based System?

March 9, 2018 by

We believe…Students need to learn academic knowledge, the skills to apply it, and the lifelong learning skills to be able to use it.

As you may know, iNACOL/CompetencyWorks has been using a collaborative process to build knowledge and ideals called the TAG. It’s short for Technical Advisory Group, but there isn’t much that feels technical at all – its just one giant swirl of learning going on for five days. The TAG that was working on developing a shared understanding of competency-based education and an updated working definition (stay tuned – the work continues and should be released by end of 2018) created a number of unanticipated products.

One of these products is a set of beliefs shared by the 30+ people in the TAG (see below). They worked hard at trying to create what you could call a set of guiding principles. Beliefs and guiding principles aren’t just something you co-create with a community. They can be used in multiple ways: to design surveys to find out if the culture in fact is embracing these beliefs; opportunity for discourse and reflection; and decision-making. (more…)

Progressions? Trajectories? Continuum? Oh My!

February 20, 2018 by

Does anyone else get mixed up by the use of the phrases learning progressions, personalized pathways, learning objectives, trajectories, and learning continuum? I do.

They are all terms that try to convey in one way or another that learning is a continuous process that builds on prior knowledge, skills, and experiences. And they are used in all different ways throughout our field. As best I can tell, there are three concepts at play:

  1. The expectations for learning. (What do we want students to learn, and how are these organized over levels?)
  2. The research on how students move from one concept to another that can inform instruction.
  3. The actual way any one student learns and progresses, which is of course very important when trying to meet students where they are.

(more…)

What if We Started Looking at STEM-Education Differently?

October 10, 2017 by

STEM is all the rage these days, and with an ever-growing gap in filling jobs that are tied to science, technology, engineering, and math, employers are at a loss with finding well-rounded, educated, and professional employees to hire. What if STEM-Education began to be viewed as more than just science, technology, engineering, and math, though? What if the STEM programs which are slowly emerging in schools across our country started working with our youth at a young age and became something greater, something that helped develop successful, collaborative, creative, and innovative thinkers who could actually apply their knowledge? What could this possibly look like, and what might the benefits be for our workforce and, more importantly, our future?

A concept that has resonated with me for years has been one of students wanting to advance through “curriculum” as quickly as possible. Mastery never seemed to be the goal for these students and sometimes parents, but really, how fast the student could advance through a program, or ace a test… just to show that they knew how to solve the problems and get some high school credits. The issue, however, was when you asked them what the answers actually meant… as in, “What are you actually telling me?” Blank stares and a response of, “Well, the answer is 22.5432432….” were quite often the conversations hastily exchanged across the table. Were we really helping our students grow as learners and, more importantly, as college and career citizens who were ready to be sprung out into our ever-changing world? It was at this point that the shift from masters of content began to transition into helping to foster experts in context.

What if we flipped the script and started to look at STEM differently? What if instead of simply thinking that students needed to master concepts, they became experts in context in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math, and actually began to embrace STEM as “Strategies That Engage Minds” or even better yet “Solving Today’s Everyday Mysteries.” Students were now becoming real-life, rational problem-solvers instead of solving a problem solely to show the answer. When asked how something worked or why it didn’t work, a student could now articulate the Why, instead of just defend the What.   (more…)

15 Dimensions of Personalized Learning

September 29, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on September 12, 2017.

Tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests–including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn–to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.

~ iNACOL definition of personalized learning

As the dominant meme of U.S. education, personalized learning is frequently discussed and debated. We’ve each developed a mental model of what it is aspirationally and how that’s different from what we used to do. While there is value in drilling down on aspects of personalization, it’s also useful to zoom out and consider all the ways we can support personalized learning journeys.

The subject of personalization deserves a preamble of sorts that recognizes what we’re beginning to understand about the art and science of learning and development:

  • Learning begins with the individual learner and their journey; each learner brings their unique history and context to each experience;
  • Learning is frequently motivated by relationship and activated in community;
  • Learning occurs most fully when it engages all of a student’s senses, emotions and intentions; and
  • Learners bring unique interests, motivations and ways of learning.

It is easy to think of personalization simply as differentiated instruction but a full commitment to supporting individual learning journeys has many dimensions. We identified 15: (more…)

Strategic Reflection on the Field of Competency Education: Future Action

September 25, 2017 by

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

In this fifth post on our annual strategic reflection. Click here for the discussion on our progress, the growing number of organizations and literature in the field, and our lessons learned. You can hear the entire webinar on this topic here.

We use the term charting the course to discuss what needs to happen to develop the most effective competency-based systems possible, support its expansion, and shape the context that will make it sustainable. It’s pretty easy to list all the problems and issues that need to be worked through, but it’s a lot harder to think about how to do that in a way that is consistent with the values of competency education, builds the capacity and leadership of the field, leverages current organizations and infrastructure so that more than one piece of the puzzle is put into place at a time – and does all of this with limited resources.

Below are a number of the things we think are high priority to tackle – and hope it will catalyze conversation about how we do that so that several can be addressed or reinforced by initiatives.

1. Strengthen diversity in the field.

2. Strengthen the working definition and create logic model.

3. Improve communication strategies targeted to different stakeholders

4. Build shared understanding of quality. Tools to support learning across schools and communities of practice.

5. Engaging higher education and colleges of education to:

  • Prepare leaders and educators for personalized, competency-based systems.
  • Build bridges across K-12 and higher education to address college admissions issues including ranking by GPA.
  • Build aligned understanding of credentialing learning with proficiency-based diplomas and multiple pathways.

6. Shift district top-down policies to more bottom-up or co-design in order to support greater school autonomy.

7. Generate demand for the information management systems for CBE models and student-centered learning.

There are also a number of things we need to pay attention to in order to improve teaching and learning within CBE schools: (more…)

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