Category: Understanding Competency Education

What Does It Mean to Meet Students Where They Are?

June 15, 2017 by

Sydney Schaef, Dixie Bacallao, and Antonia Rudenstine (left to right)

This is the twelfth 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 Meeting Students Where They Are. 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.

At the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, attendees will do an in-depth exploration of the relational, pedagogical, and structural dimensions of meeting students where they are. It is organized around three driving questions:

  • How do we know where students are?
  • What do we do, once we know?
  • Which strategies help us navigate systemic constraints?

As we move toward the design of second generation competency-based models, there is an opportunity to anchor student learning and achievement in expansive, adaptable, and developmentally ”appropriate” learning and development trajectories informed by the learning sciences. If we are to meet all students where they are, then our commitment must be not only to an uncompromising vision for high achievement – and in practical terms, this means college and career readiness – but also to the daily work of responding to students’ individual needs in a way that fosters optimal growth:

This work is not about meeting the demands of an efficiency-oriented accountability system for its own sake; it’s about ensuring all learners have equitable access to learning opportunities that foster agency and prepare them for life in the world. This is the orientation of learner-centered models, and it is indeed a radical departure from the industrial-age school model that dominates most schools today. (more…)

Charting the Course for High Quality Personalized, Competency Education

June 14, 2017 by

This is the eleventh 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.

At the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, we hope to advance ideas around quality in competency-based systems and lay the groundwork for what needs to happen to build high-quality personalized, competency-based systems every time. The purpose of this blog is to gather and recommend ideas for action steps to advance an understanding of high quality, personalized, competency-based systems and strategies to accelerate the design and implementation of high quality district systems and schools. We encourage you to brainstorm and prioritize recommendations for educators, school and district leaders, state and federal policymakers, funders, intermediary organizations, and technical assistance providers and any other key organizations. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

As you review the following, consider these questions:

  1. How might you change or strengthen these ideas offered below?
  2. What other projects, initiatives, or recommendations are needed to advance quality in competency-based systems and schools?
  3. Of all the projects listed here and discussed, which are the 3-5 most important ones to take on now?

A. Providing Exemplars in Each of the 4 Components of the Quality Framework (Structure, Culture, Pedagogical Philosophy, and Learning Experiences) to Support Early Stage Design and Implementation

Exemplars are essential in order to help people from across the field develop a vision of what CBE is, believe that it is viable by understanding key implementation steps, and build a sense of how competency-based education can reinforce student agency, personalized learning, and deeper learning. Even with the substantial documentation at CompetencyWorks about school models, there is a need for districts and schools to have a more close-up understanding of competency-based structures and their implications. This could include funding positions at districts with the most mature systems to coordinate site visits, funding travel for site visits, creating detailed documentation (written and video) of the models, and developing more detailed guidebooks. (more…)

How Could We Build a Shared Understanding of Quality in Competency Education?

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This is the tenth 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.

In the previous articles, we’ve shared our best thinking to date about the structure and features of what would make up a high quality competency-based structure. This is a good start but there are a range of strategies for defining quality and the processes that we as a field might develop to help districts and schools strengthen their competency-based structures. This blog will introduce four approaches to how initiatives could be structured to begin to build a formal understanding of quality. As you consider the approaches described below based on outcomes, design, processes, and quality reviews, consider how each approach will be most helpful in the following:

  • Does it Drive Equity? How valuable and viable are these approaches in helping districts and schools create equitable systems that effectively serve students, particularly those who have been historically underserved?
  • Does it Make the Case for Expanding Competency-Based Education? In what ways can these approaches demonstrate that competency-based education is a better option than continuing with the traditional structures? How do they also build capacity within districts and schools to implement effective competency-based education structures? Are there any other approaches that should be included in the approaches described below?
  • Does this Contribute Meaningfully to the Field? What is the the best strategy to advance our understanding of how high quality, personalized, competency-based districts and schools are designed and operated? How might the field move forward in defining high quality in the medium-term (2-10 years) or long-term (10 years or more)? Are some strategies more useful than others at building capacity within districts and schools to design competency-based structure with quality?

In the paper In Search of Efficacy: Defining the Elements of Quality in a Competency-Based Education System, we delve into these approaches in greater detail, examining the opportunities and challenges each presents, as well as examples. (more…)

Nine Structural Domains of Competency Education, Part II

June 13, 2017 by

This is the ninth 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.

In this article, we describe the nine domains of a competency-based structure (remember: this is a draft and we want ideas about what is missing and what shouldn’t belong) and key questions that could open the door to discussions about quality. In the paper, you can also find exemplars and ‘look-fors’ – and we want to collect the best examples we can find over the next month.

WHAT IS THE WORK?

Structural Domain 1. Mission-Driven Districts and Schools Dedicated to Preparing Each and Every Student for Life, College, and Careers

Description of Structures – Beliefs, Policies, Operational Processes

One of the most powerful leverage points that states, districts, and schools have to transform their schools is the opportunity to expand expectation of student success. Success in college and careers takes much more than comprehension of the core academic subjects. Students need to become self-directed, lifelong learners with critical thinking and problem-solving skills to address challenges and take advantage of opportunities. They will also need skills such as communication, collaboration, and cultural competence to help them work in ever-changing, diverse workplaces. In order for students to develop these skills, they need to be actively learning, with opportunities to apply their skills in new contexts.  

Key Questions to Ask in Self-Assessment or District/School Reviews

  • What is the definition of school success or graduation outcomes that shapes the school mission and guiding principles?
  • What role have the community, parents, and students had in shaping the vision and mission?
  • How is the the mission actively referenced as a guide to make key decisions?
  • In what way is the district and school designed to help students develop all the skills identified in their graduate profiles or graduation expectations, including lifelong learning skills, higher order skills, and academic skills?
  • How will the community know if the district and school are achieving outcome goals for students? How will they know if the outcomes are equitable?  
  • How is the use of resources (facilities, money, staffing, and time) aligned with the mission and learning goals?

WHAT IS THE STRATEGY OR THEORY OF CHANGE? (more…)

Nine Structural Domains of Competency Education, Part I

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This is the eighth 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.

The contribution of the participants of the Technical Advisory Group on quality was so powerful that we ended up moving far beyond our expectations in terms of the development of defining competency-based structures and what high quality would look like. In this article we explore a a way to think about what structure in schools and districts mean. This afternoon’s article will then highlight the features of quality we might look for.  As always, we really want your feedback on these ideas. We are particularly interested in ways that we might integrate the ideas introduced in the paper In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency-Based Education into the quality framework.

Developed by 100 innovators in 2011, the working definition of a high-quality competency-based education was designed to build a shared understanding of how a competency-based system functions. However, it does not precisely describe what the competency-based structure (beliefs, policies, and operational mechanisms) is that would replace the traditional structure. In this section, we hope to outline the specific structures that districts and schools should have in place while still highlighting the innovations and variations developed by districts and schools. At times, structures that are considered “must-haves” or “non-negotiables” are identified.

What are the Structures that Make Up a Competency-Based District and School?

Think of the structure as the architecture of a house. It’s the foundation, frame, and load-bearing walls. This paper organizes the structure of a district and school into nine domains, with each domain made up of the beliefs, policies, and processes that support learning and teaching. The way that the structure operates is likely to be shaped by policies and funding established by outside entities, including state or federal government, as well and the broader education system, including accreditation bodies and vendors.

Making the transition from the time-based system to a competency-based one requires the process of deconstructing the traditional structure and constructing a new one with great intentionality to ensure that it works effectively. To understand a structure, it is helpful to think about them as a mix of beliefs, policies, and operational processes.

Beliefs

The beliefs that people bring to their work will have a powerful impact on the entire organization. There will be a formal set of policies and processes based on espoused beliefs and an informal one based on the actual beliefs brought to bear. Thus, understanding the beliefs underlying each domain of the structure is important in identifying strengths and weaknesses in the competency-based structure. There are two beliefs that are absolutely essential to a quality structure for competency-based education: 1) that all students can and should learn to high standards and 2) the role of the growth mindset, with adults developing it within themselves as well as supporting it in students. These two beliefs demand that adults in the system challenge assumptions and unlearn habits and practices built upon sorting students and the fixed mindset. (more…)

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…)

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