Category: Understanding Competency Education

Exploring a Four-Part Quality Framework for Competency Education

June 12, 2017 by

This is the seventh blog 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 In Search of Efficacy: Defining the Elements of Quality in a Competency-Based Education System. 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 how we might be able to advance the field.

Districts and schools are complex organizations with a complex goal helping students from diverse backgrounds and with diverse interests, aptitudes, and skills become prepared for the transition into adulthood, defined as readiness for college, careers, and life. In preparation for the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, CompetencyWorks (in collaboration with thirty-some leaders from the field) developed a four-part framework to guide discussions around ensuring quality in competency-based structures: structure, culture, pedagogy, and learning experiences. We found that we needed some way to be able to talk about all the elements that make up competency-based, personalized systems that allowed us to look carefully at each piece and allowed us to see and explore the intersections.

This framework is obviously not inclusive of all the parts that make-up a district or school; human resources, budgeting, and the other areas of an organization that we refer to as administration are actually powerful ways that shape schools and the experiences of students. At some point, we need to begin to gather together the changes and practices that are happening within these parts of schools and districts and how they influence quality. (more…)

Three Driving Questions for Developing High-Quality Competency-Based Systems

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This is the sixth blog 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. 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 how we might be able to advance the field.

One of my big a-ha moments in the process of the Technical Assistance Group on Quality (thanks to all of you!) is that we couldn’t define quality until we were able to explain what a competency-based structure was more precisely. Remember, we take the position that the traditional system is a barrier to both equity and excellence, as it is designed around a belief that some kids are just smarter than others and there isn’t much to do about it, so part of the job of schools is to rank and sort students. If we are going to identify the parts of the traditional system that are problematic, we are going to have to replace them with something else. That something else is competency-based education. Thus, the efforts to define quality started with the question of what a competency-based structure is.

Below is the introduction to the paper In Search of Efficacy: Defining the Elements of Quality in a Competency-Based Education System. Tomorrow’s article will begin to answer these questions. We are looking forward to your reaction.

Efficacy, the degree to which something is successful in producing a desired result, is at the heart of competency-based education. After centuries of educating America’s children in schools that are designed to sort students, we are shifting from the traditional one-size-fits-all system and replacing it with a system that personalizes learning within a competency-based structure to ensure that every student is making progress toward college and career readiness (academic, higher order, and lifelong learning skills). In other words, competency-based education seeks to create a system that effectively supports students to learn to high expectations not for some, but for every student.

In order to advance the field of competency education, it is important that educators and policymakers create a shared understanding of what a high quality competency-based system looks like. Beginning to define what quality means in a competency-based system based on practitioner knowledge can expedite the process of states, districts, and school adopting these new structures and approaches. This includes clarifying how the structures and approaches incorporate equity strategies to ensure historically underserved students will benefit and thrive.  More importantly, having a shared understanding of high quality competency-based schools will position us to better serve and educate students today and not postpone it until some future date. We simply cannot allow students to continue to be passed on year after year to the next grade without the skills they need to be successful.

Attendees at the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education will explore three questions related to defining what high quality means in a competency-based district or school:   (more…)

Charting the Course for Equity in Competency Education

June 11, 2017 by

This is the fifth blog 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 In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency-Based 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 how we might be able to advance the field.

By the end of the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, we hope to be able to provide guidance and/or recommendations for how we can ensure that equality is not just rhetorically at the heart of competency education, but actually producing greater achievement for historically underserved students and greater equity in terms of overall outcomes. Below are a few examples of actionable steps that are needed. It’s just a starting point – we know this needs to be strengthened.

We encourage you to share your reactions to the ideas below. What other steps can be taken? What is needed to turn them from ideas into action? Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

Design for Equity

  • Strengthen Equity Strategies in Models and Implementation:
    • School designers and technical assistance providers should be explicit about how their approach and model takes into consideration equity strategies.
    • Professional learning should provide an overview for designing personalized, competency-based structures that highlight embedding equity strategies into design. This can include school design, pedagogy, operations (scheduling and calendars), grading practices, and disciplinary policies.

Consistency and Reliability in Determining Proficiency

  • Calibration: Districts and schools should co-create mechanisms to calibrate proficiency on core academic skills and higher order skills.

Processes and Metrics (more…)

Building a Comprehensive Set of Equity Strategies

June 10, 2017 by

This is the fourth blog 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 In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency-Based 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 how we might be able to advance the field.

Districts and schools will need to design equity strategies based on their student population and data on student learning and achievement. However, there are a number of core strategies that can benefit all students and have been developed based on helping historically underserved students learn. We organized the ideas into four categories: data; instruction and assessment design; lifelong learning skills; and supports and opportunities.

The Power of Data

For competency-based schools and districts (and any school, for that matter) to take responsibility for students to be successful, educational leaders must use data within a short-term response to students who are struggling and a long-term continuous improvement cycle. The power of data cannot be underestimated in seeking out pockets of inequitable practices and spotlighting areas where educators, schools, and districts can learn and grow.

Within the traditional, top-down systems, data is often considered something that you send on to the next higher level of governance rather than something that can be acted upon. In competency-based education, data is also a tool to change practices, reduce bias, and test our equity strategies to discover which are the most effective. Seeking to uncover pockets of unmet need, unidentified talent, and bias (both personal and systemic) starts with asking questions such as:

  1. In what ways may we not be meeting the needs of groups of students?
  2. Are there trends or patterns that suggest that equity strategies are needed (from the perspective of state, districts, school, professional learning communities, or individual teacher)?
  3. What is preventing us from achieving greater equality?
  4. What equity strategies are needed (learner-based, belief-based, systemic) to improve the quality of education for students who appear to be under-achieving and/or underserved?

Multiple sources of data, including qualitative interviews and surveys, can help identify where inequity may be undermining programming and/or where stronger equity strategies are needed.

Instruction and Assessment Design

  • Creating learning environments using the principles of Universal Design for Learning.
  • Incorporating techniques of cultural responsiveness.
  • Providing transparency about student performance levels and progress.
  • Customizing additional instructional support and coaching in response to student needs.
  • Empowering students through individual or personal learning plans in which students set goals and make plans for accomplishing those goals, as well as reflections with educators, students, and parents on accomplishments and where there is need for greater attention.
  • Teaching literacy strategies across the entire curriculum.

(more…)

Potential Pitfalls for Ensuring Equity in Competency-Based Systems

June 9, 2017 by

This is the third blog 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 In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency-Based 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 how we might be able to advance the field.

Even with the best school design imaginable, there is always a concern that inequity will rear its ugly head. We have to be vigilant in identifying where this might occur if we want to ensure competency-based systems live up to their promise. In our discussions with the Technical Advisory Group participants, we identified nine potential issues that may arise in personalized, competency-based systems. By identifying these issues, states, districts, and schools can create mitigating strategies and preemptively use data to look for early trends.

It is important to remember that most, if not all, of the following nine issues are also problematic in the traditional system. The difference is that competency-based schools make them transparent and take responsibility for addressing them. Districts and schools simply can’t ignore these issues and still fully engage students in putting their best efforts forward, reaching mastery, and making progress.

1. Are Pace and Progress Closely Monitored? The primary equity concern related to competency education is the fear that variation in pacing will mean that some 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 while still allowing them to have a variety of tempos in how they learn and ensuring they demonstrate mastery. The most developed competency-based schools monitor growth of students based on their learning trajectory, not just their pace on grade-level standards. Competency-based schools help students to set goals and teachers to reflect with students to identify gaps in skills that need to be addressed.

2. Are There Adequate Supports for Students to Ensure They Reach Proficiency and Make Progress? States, districts, and schools need to be thinking strategically about the most effective instructional strategies to help students with skill gaps (i.e., performance levels two or more levels below their expected grade level) to accelerate learning. Educators should engage in action research to identify the most effective evidence-based practices. In addition, districts and schools need to become more responsive to students who need additional support, including providing supports before, during, and after the semester. This will require different structures and budgeting strategies.

In competency-based education, students who are at or above grade level are also expected to progress even if it is to standards above their grade level. Thus, systems of supports in districts and schools need to take into consideration strategies to support 100 percent of the students. (more…)

Introducing an Equity Framework for Competency Education

June 8, 2017 by

This is the second blog 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 In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency-Based 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 how we might be able to advance the field.

One of our challenges at the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education is to explore, clarify, and develop recommendations on how to approach and improve equity within a competency-based system. In a competency-based system we assume that there is some level of personalization and differentiation in order to meet students where they are, to build lifelong learning skills, and to engage and motivate students. In the participatory Technical Advisory Group we looked at several driving questions, including:

  • How should we define equity to be meaningful in a personalized, competency-based system?
  • How can competency-based learning systems and schools make outcomes more transparent and take responsibility for addressing equity issues?
  • What do we know about improving equity? What elements should be integrated into competency-based structures? What practices should be integrated into any classroom?
  • How can we work together as a field to ensure that competency-based systems take full advantage of what we know about equity strategies to benefit all students, especially those who have been historically underserved?

The first step was to clarify what we meant by equity. With a reflection on how the concept of fairness or equality has developed in American education, we came to an understanding that equity refers to the strategies – equity strategies if you will – that are used to ensure that all students succeed. After looking at many definitions, we are building upon the definition of equity advanced by the National Equity Project.

Educational equity means that each child receives what he or she needs to develop to his or her full academic and social potential. Working toward equity in schools involves:

  • Ensuring equally high outcomes for all participants in our educational system; removing the predictability of success or failures that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor;
  • Interrupting inequitable practices, examining biases, and creating inclusive multicultural school environments for adults and children; and
  • Discovering and cultivating the unique gifts, talents and interests that every human possesses.

(more…)

CompetencyWorks Releases New Reports on Key Issues in Competency Education

June 7, 2017 by

In advance of the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, CompetencyWorks released new draft reports exploring key issues challenging the field of competency education:

Competency education is expanding nationally – sometimes led by educators at the school and district level, and sometimes introduced by leadership at the state level – to effect change in the purpose of education from sorting students to ensuring that students learn to the levels of college and career readiness. This is an enormous leap with enormous consequences.

To make sure that we were understanding as many of these consequences as possible, CompetencyWorks designed a participatory process leading up to the Summit where practitioners could contribute their knowledge through Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs). Through the TAG process, organizations, schools, and leaders engaged in deep conversations around these issues and shared their collective insights, which we incorporated into these reports. Thank you to the 100+ people who participated in the Technical Advisory Groups to develop the ideas in the paper.  

During the Summit, attendees will discuss these key issues, collaborate on the field’s challenges, and brainstorm solutions and best practices to advance K-12 competency-based education, using these reports to guide discussions. After the Summit, we will revise these reports based on the attendees’ input.

If you didn’t get a chance to participate in a TAG and would like to chime in, please leave comments either here or in one of the blogs based on the papers. It is just as helpful to us at this point to know what you find really helpful or powerful as it is to know what isn’t or what is missing.

Four Emerging Issues in Competency Education

(more…)

When Reinventing Schools, Don’t Relegate Relationships

May 29, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on May 12, 2017.

In an effort to modernize school systems, communities around the country are beginning to revisit what graduating high school should really mean. Some are doing so by creating an ideal “profile of a graduate,” articulating the range of skills and habits a successful high school graduate ought to possess. The organization EdLeader21 has begun to curate a gallery of emerging profiles from around the country and provide tools to school systems hoping to create their own. A great synthesis of these initiatives lives on its new site, Profile of a Graduate. If you haven’t already, it’s worth a look.

These new visions mark a promising first step to updating our century-old school system. Innovations grow along the metrics by which we hold them to account. And the emergence of multi-dimensional graduate profiles hint that schools are evolving beyond using average test scores as the sole metric guiding K–12 school reform. But skimming through these new and expanded definitions of success had me at once excited and worried. Amidst a number of bold metrics that profiles depict, a crucial ingredient remains missing from most emerging profiles of what makes for a successful graduate: his network.

A student’s network—both his access to strong- and weak-tie relationships and his ability to mobilize those relationships—can drive his access to opportunity in postsecondary and beyond. Indeed, an estimated 50 percent of jobs come through personal connections. Not to mention, access to networks has been shown to shape everything from health outcomes to investment prospects over the course of adults’ lives. In the shorter term, access to formal and informal mentors can have real impact on students’ engagement in school and success in postsecondary pursuits.

These assets are particularly crucial for schools worried about equitable outcomes among their graduates: like the skills gaps plaguing our education system, there are likewise network gaps. Given external forces like increasing residential segregation and disparate enrichment spending, much as some students’ find themselves on the wrong side of stubborn achievement gaps, many find themselves on the wrong side of mentor gaps as well. (more…)

Beware of AnythingGoes-Ness and Bandwagonitis

May 25, 2017 by

It’s very clear to me that we, the field of competency education, are at a turning point in many ways. First, we have reached a place where there are lots of different organizations with enough knowledge about competency education that we are seeing very valuable reports and articles with important insights. (Just in the past week, three reports/articles were released that are worth taking the time to read, as they give a sense of some of the expansion and challenges: Competency-Based Education: Staying Shallow or Going Deep?; Policy, Pilots and the Path to Competency-Based Education: A National Landscape; and Why There’s Little Consistency in Defining Competency-Based Education.) There are other organizations – other than CompetencyWorks, that is – that are identifying and lifting up new innovators and new practices. We’ve worked hard over the past five years to support organizations and our colleagues so that whatever knowledge we were building was being transferred and embedded into other organizations. And I can really feel that it is paying off because I’m finding that I need to put time aside now to read, not just skim, many of the things being published because they are enhancing my understanding.

Second, the field is expanding at a steady pace, and with that comes a variety of new challenges. For a while, competency education was under the radar. The folks who knew about it were all leaders who had come to the same conclusion that we weren’t going to move forward if we were handcuffed to the ranking and sorting of the traditional system. Then there was growing attention as states began to introduce the idea in their innovation zones and to take the concept of college and career readiness a step further with the idea that credits and diplomas actually had to have meaning (i.e., proficiency-based diplomas). However, we are now nearing what I used to call the “fad” stage when I was a foundation program officer: People are hearing about competency education from different organizations and feel that they may want, should, or need to get on the bandwagon. In some ways, of course, this is great news but it also carries a number of new problems: (more…)

What’s the Difference Between Blended and Personalized Learning?

May 15, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on April 25, 2017. 

Earlier this month, after two exhilarating and exhausting days at the Blended and Personalized Learning Conference in Providence, R.I., (which we cohosted with our partners at Highlander Institute and The Learning Accelerator), I boarded an evening flight back to D.C. Just after takeoff, a school principal from Virginia seated in the row just ahead of me poked his head through the seat to ask:

“So, what’s the difference between blended and personalized learning?”

First off, I want to say kudos to this school leader, who had also attended the conference. Over 48 hours of sharing practices, research, and challenges had me running on fumes. But he was tireless and eager to push the conversation forward.

Second, this moment felt distinctly like a healthy dose of karma given the title we had used for the conference. Not wanting to box ourselves too narrowly into one approach or model, we had taken the route of dubbing the conference theme “blended and personalized learning.” That phrase has become so common in the education lexicon that it’s almost like a single, deeply unfortunate compound noun—blendedandpersonalizedlearning. It’s a mouthful. Not to mention, it hardly lends itself to a pithy hashtag.

I particularly don’t recommend overusing the phrase because collapsing these two terms—blended and personalized—risks diluting the clarity of each and confusing the leaders and educators expected to do the hard work of educating real students in real schools.

So here’s the gist of what I discussed with that school principal, and how we at the Christensen Institute try to make a clear distinction between these related but distinct terms.

Blended learning is a modality of instruction. As we at the Christensen Institute define it, blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns: (more…)

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