Building Consensus for Change at D51

February 2, 2017 by
d51 school board for post about building consensus for change

D51 School Board

This article, the second in the Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51 series, is about how the district has built the consensus for change and is engaging their community. A reminder: D51 uses the phrase performance-based learning or P-BL.

One of the more challenging processes for medium to larger districts (as compared to the small ones that have led the way to competency-based education) is engaging the broader community in building the consensus for change. In general, when it comes to shifting course or introducing new reforms in larger districts, buy-in tends to be the most common strategy used; there is a single or big meeting with community members, presentation of the new idea, opportunity to react – and then it moves quickly into implementation. Engagement means that there are continued opportunities for community members to shape the “what” of competency education and that there are ongoing structures and processes for two-way dialogue. D51’s Superintendent Steve Schultz explains, “We want to move from a ‘decide and defend’ mentality to one in which we gather information to inform a decision before it is made.”

Below are highlights (and we know there is much more to the story than recounted here) of how D51 is building consensus and shaping community engagement.

A Bit of Background

Schultz had been guiding D51 toward personalization since 2006, when the school established three diploma pathways (normal, distinction, and individualized) with the district expanding the number of options and instructional pathways (IB, concurrent enrollment, STEM, Key Performance Program to demonstrate learning through capstones and presentations, and four alternative education programs). The emphasis was on helping students excel just as much as it was on increasing pathways for students who were having problems earning credits, were confronted with challenging life experiences, or had left school for a period of time to complete their diploma.

In 2013, when Schultz began to engage his team in learning about competency education, the communities within the Grand Valley were still challenged by the Great Recession. A region shaped by the boom and bust cycles of the oil industry, Grand Junction and the surrounding towns were having difficulty climbing out of the bust. Vast ideological differences had led to relationships becoming increasingly strained between the teachers’ association, administration, and the school board. Schultz remembers, “It became clear to us that we needed to focus on building relationships and finding common ground in order to move the district forward.”

Then two things happened. (more…)

Designing Performance-Based Learning at D51

January 26, 2017 by

national monumentThis is the first in a series on District 51’s transition to competency education. D51 uses the language of performance-based learning and uses PBL as an acronym. However, knowing that our readers are likely to read that as project-based learning, we are using P-BL to indicate performance-based learning.

D51, tucked away on the Western Slope in Colorado, is fashioning a new implementation roll-out strategy for performance-based learning. I spent a week in the fall visiting District 51 with school visits, meetings, interviews, and in-depth conversations with district leaders. The insights are plentiful but it should be understood that they were collected in the midst of the change process. Thus, there is less discussion in this series about the structure of their performance-based system and much more about the conditions that are needed to support it.

Highlights of D51’s Conversion to Performance-Based Learning

There is so much to be learned from the educators at D51. They are all at that stage of expert-novice – they can tell you about what they are learning, as it hasn’t become fully embedded as routine thinking or practices yet, and they can tell you about their areas of inquiry because they are becoming clear about what they don’t know…yet. Harvesting their bountiful insights was a delight. You can get a taste for their commitment and creativity by listening to Getting Smart’s interview with Superintendent Steve Shultz and Rebecca Midles, Director of Performance-Based Learning. Below are just a few of the highlights from this series:

  • D51’s story of deciding to move to P-BL and building the consensus for change is a fascinating one, as it emphasizes the critical role of school boards and how individual leaders can help move a district forward by engaging in dialogue and joint site visits.
  • D51’s roll-out strategies offer a new way of thinking about implementation. We have documented the implementation strategies used by many of the early innovators in Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders and strategies used by larger school districts such as Henry County, Lake County, and Charleston that have created scaling strategies. However, the early innovators were all very small and their approaches limited for medium-sized districts. And the larger school districts we have highlighted have often had funding through federal or large foundations to support their efforts. D51, with few additional funds, has developed a simultaneous and iterative approach based on carefully managing strands of work, including engaging the community in shaping a shared vision and graduate profile; designing a teaching and learning framework that defines the performance-based learning system; providing intensive capacity building for the first wave of demonstration schools; and re-designing professional development to support any teacher wanting to build their professional skills. They talk about phases of implementation but it doesn’t mean everyone will be in the same phase at the same time.

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What a Summer Prototype Taught Us about Measuring Quality in an Unbundled Education System

December 26, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at the Christensen Institute on December 15, 2016 and EdSurge on November 29, 2016.

In the summer of 2016, a community of educators, research design partners, and over 150 teens and young adults in Colorado engaged in a bold experiment to rethink how quality and impact might be measured in a modernized system of learning. In this relatively small, short-cycle prototype, the lessons we learned were significant. They are informing a set of expanded pilots taking place in 2017. We also hope that the early ideas generated through our summer prototype will spark policymakers to get creative and reimagine quality assurance at a system level, as society shifts to more learner-centered systems of education. Here’s our summer pilot story:

ReSchool Colorado, a multi-year initiative of the Donnell-Kay Foundation to design and launch a new education system, has been testing emerging concepts with willing partners in safe spaces and at safe times, like the summer, where learning is occurring outside the regular school day.

Why focus outside of formal learning time for our design work? Because creating breakthrough, systematic innovations in education is challenging. High among these reasons is justified concern about testing new ideas that could have negative repercussions on students in the United States’ fully developed education system. As a result, finding safe spaces outside of the mainstream system to try out new educational concepts is critical to advancing bold new ideas.

Never were the advantages of this approach more apparent than this past summer when ReSchool partnered with Entangled Solutions and educational providers serving teens and young adults. Our collective goal was to begin to rethink quality assurance in an educational system with an array of learning providers.

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Framework for the Future of Learning (Source: ReSchool)

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Developing a Competency-Based ELA Classroom

June 8, 2016 by
Stephanie Price

Language Arts Lead Teacher Stephanie Price (right) and Dean of Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Simms (left) collaborate on DSISD’s around competency-based approach.

This post originally appeared at Springpoint on June 1, 2016.

When I started my journey at Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD) in spring 2015, I was excited. After nine years of teaching in a traditional model of education, the new possibilities at my disposal sparked my creativity. Little did I know how much I would feel like a first year educator all over again once school started in the fall. I was embarking on uncharted territory, and no amount of summer planning could have prepared me for what was next. Now, a year in, I’m able to reflect on what I’ve learned, and offer a bit of advice to teachers and school leaders who might be interested in this model.

Discovering Pacing for my Students

As I learned what competency based education meant, it was my understanding that students could and should move through acquiring content and skills asynchronously, or at their own pace. Our learning management system, Summit Public School’s Personalized Learning Platform (PLP), allowed for students to access content, assessments, and projects on their own.

My initial approach prioritized the pace of the learning over the personal needs of each student. Students could move as quickly or slowly as they wished through their work, choosing supports and enrichments as they went along. This student-led approach didn’t account for the fact that students weren’t ready to identify their own needs without my guidance. Many of them lacked the self-directed learning skills and agency. It became messy, and it started to feel like each student was isolated. I missed the collaboration I was so used to in a traditional model. I also realized that about a third of my students were ready for the rigor of Advanced Placement coursework while about one tenth of them were struggling to keep up at an appropriate pace, even with the scaffolds provided for them to choose from. This was all useful learning for me, and at the end of the first trimester, I developed and implemented a differentiated grouping system that I called a “cohort model” in response to these challenges, and influenced heavily by student voice.

Implementing the Cohort Model

The cohort model simply allows students to choose their own adventure in the language arts classroom. Although all students work in small groups at their own levels, they are connected through common themes, tasks, and texts. My class has three cohorts: Introduction to Literature, AP Language Cohort, and AP Language Veterans. An example of a typical day would include the Intro to Lit students reading leveled versions of Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. in preparation for writing a short response on figurative language in the text while the AP Cohort analyzes the whole letter for a rhetorical analysis essay. Meanwhile, the AP Veterans read Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau alongside Letter to Birmingham Jail to write a full compare contrast analysis on the figurative language each author used to support his argument. (more…)

Moving from Theory to Practice: Designing a New Competency-Based High School

June 6, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at Springpoint on May 31, 2016.Screenshot 2016-06-07 08.53.23

Every school leader wants to create their dream school. They want the kind of opportunity that would allow a passionate team and community of learners to cast a shared vision, to side step the bureaucratic elements of schooling, and to create an atmosphere and experiences that educators and students long for. However, when the opportunity of a blank canvas for school design arrives, there are a number of unspoken challenges in moving from theory to practice. In December of 2014 we embarked on this leadership journey with Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD). As we look back on our first year, there are many lessons that contributed to the success of our first year and our goals moving forward. Most importantly, our strong foundational systems and goals allowed our leadership to steer DSISD through the uncertain waters between theory and practice.

North Star: DSISD Vision

Our theory from the start was that a competency-based approach would make our school truly student-centered from startup to launch. Moving from theory to practice inherently means that an organization will need to navigate uncertainty and change. Many of the daily structures that ensure confidence and coherence in an established school or organization do not exist in a startup situation. What does exist in a startup situation is enthusiasm and excitement about new possibilities. However, enthusiasm is a finite resource that can be whittled away as challenges, which are sure to come, arise. To navigate uncertainty at DSISD, we built a compelling vision to anchor decisions in and test designs against.

The DSISD vision is “To empower ALL students to OWN their learning, SHAPE their dreams, and CREATE a better world.” This simple statement paints the picture of what we hope to instill in all of our students. It is also the first test for all of our decisions and school design elements. From identifying staff dispositions, to curricula choices, to student experiences—if the choice doesn’t align to the vision, then we don’t do it. This simple stake in the ground creates unity and confidence among the staff and provides consistency in the midst of uncertainty and change.

Map and Compass: Year One Goals

But vision alone is not enough—leaders also need to provide concrete criteria to know whether the group is heading in the right direction. Having clear benchmarks and goals helps generate momentum and secure early wins. This positive momentum is critical for counteracting the challenges of change and uncertainty. To secure these wins, the DSISD leadership team set three core goals for a strong first year: (more…)

How Might We Ensure Quality and Value Across a Larger Landscape of Learning?

May 6, 2016 by

Design Thinking

For those of you interested in out-of-the-box innovations using elements of competency education, you’ll be interested in this update on Donnell-Kay’s ReSchool Colorado initiative. See Thinking Way, Way, Way Outside the Box at the Donnell-Kay Foundation and Insights from ReSchool Colorado: Ensuring Quality and Equity

We know that Colorado kids and young adults are already learning in many places and in many ways beyond the formal school environment. We also know that often these experiences are not coordinated or valued in the same way as school-based programs. This summer we want to get smarter about how we can determine quality and value to the learner across a larger landscape of learning and how we might be able to capture a cohesive learning journey that ensures every learner is prepared to engage in a dynamic future.

This first stage of working with a larger landscape of learning opportunity for 15-21-year olds is currently in the research phase. Our work has typically followed a design process that begins with investigating assets and gaps that exist currently with partners that find the opportunity to learn together as mutually beneficial.

The main goals of this phase include:

  • Goal One: Gain greater insight towards the needs and interest of learners from ages 15-21 and how those needs are currently being met
  • Goal Two: Begin to understand how learning providers define and ensure success
  • Goal Three: To identify the attributes of a quality learning provider based on alignment towards a set of outcomes that include learning goals, satisfaction of the learner and the culture of the learning environment
  • Goal Four: Advance our understanding of the role the ReSchool Framework for the Future of Learning plays in supporting a shared commitment to student learning and preparation for success

(more…)

Blast Off with the Assessment for Learning Grantees

April 19, 2016 by

AfLWith ESSA upon us, we are all hurrying to get our heads wrapped around what is possible in terms of how we think about ensuring that our districts and schools are meeting needs of children and what state policy might look like to create the conditions, systems of supports, and appropriate expectations to drive dynamic, active learning experiences for students while improving services to historically underserved populations of students. It’s a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.

One resource that hopefully will help us along the way is the Assessment for Learning project developed by Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) at the University of Kentucky in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) at EDUCAUSE. The AfL project has been designed to explore:

  • How can assessment support a broader definition of student success?
  • What assessment practices most effectively empower students to own and advance their learning?
  • How can we most effectively build educator capacity to gather, interpret, and use evidence of student learning to enhance instruction?
  • How does assessment for learning inform broader contexts of accountability, policy, and system design?
  • How can we pursue equity through assessment for learning?

AfL has announced their twelve grantees, and I thought I’d bring to your attention a couple of the projects that are positioned well to help us understand what a personalized, competency-based system of assessments might look like. They are tackling issues such as grades (letter and age), habits of success, performance-based assessment, micro-credentialing, competency-based approaches to helping teachers learn about performance-based assessments, and student agency. We are about to lift off on a huge new wave of learning! (more…)

State Policy: Resources for Getting Started

July 15, 2015 by
susan_patrick

Susan Patrick

Looking for a few resources to send state policy makers to get started on competency education? Here are some suggestions.

How Are States Advancing Competency Education?

The report Necessary for Success: A State Policymakers Guide to Competency Education (iNACOL CompetencyWorks) provides an overview and recommendations for state policy.

There is also a short briefing paper on Aligning K-12 State Policy with Competency Education that you can use and adapt for your state.

This article provides an overview on Iowa’s initiative.

New Hampshire’s efforts have been well-documented, including NH’s Story of Transformation and From policy to practice: How competency-based education is evolving in New Hampshire.

Maine also has been documenting their efforts. You can find resources here.

Background: Overview of Competency-Based Education

States considering policies to support competency-based education are on the rise. Policy levers that support competency education and personalized learning include creating innovation zones, supporting school finance changes, planning grants, implementing new assessment frameworks, and starting pilot programs.

Five approaches in state policy to enable competency-based education:

  1. Competency-Based Education Pilot Programs
  2. Innovation Zones
  3. Competency-Based Diplomas
  4. Competency-Based Task Forces
  5. Flexibility for Competency-Based Assessments

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A School’s Journey to Promote Student Achievement and Ownership of Learning

May 5, 2015 by

Roger Vadeen

Our journey to a true competency-based system has been a long yet rewarding one.

It began with the stark realization that the status quo wasn’t working for our students and far too many of our kids were either not graduating from high school or receiving diplomas and finding themselves ill prepared for the twenty-first century workforce or for college. As you will find, there have been a lot of steps along the way and it has been hard work.

In 2006, a group of principals, teachers, and Adams County School District 50 leaders took a plane north headed for Anchorage, Alaska. Our destination was a small school district near Anchorage called Chugach School District. We had heard about the work of the Chugach District from the Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC) and we were intrigued by the possibilities. I was especially interested to learn more about how students were being authentically engaged in goal setting and making decisions on what they needed and wanted to learn. I heard that students in Chugach were highly engaged in their learning and were taking responsibility for their own learning at levels that surprised even the Chugach teachers. I traveled a long way see this approach to education in action and I was not disappointed.

Following our week-long visit to schools and workshops with the Chugach School District leaders, teachers, and students, we were convinced this approach made sense and we were determined to figure out how we could reinvigorate learning in our district and in our schools. (more…)

Is There Enough Time for Learning?

November 4, 2014 by
Oliver Grenham

Oliver Grenham

Because of the growing number of mass-administered, required tests under state and/or federal law, there is an increasing and unsustainable demand being placed on student time in school. In recent years, these mandated test increases have affected students in Colorado at all grade levels, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

While student assessment is vital to learning, excessive testing is not, particularly in the way it is handled today. The quantity and quality of instructional time is what matters most for productive learning to occur.

Our experience in Adams County School District 50 has shown that a mass administration of the same test to students of the same age at the same time does not promote learning. In fact, it penalizes students, their teachers, and their schools. An overemphasis on testing significantly reduces the quantity and quality of time that could be better utilized in closing the achievement gap: something our data shows we are successfully doing.

The Teaching Learning Cycle in a Competency-Based System

We all know that teaching and learning take place in the classroom. As educators, we refer to this cyclic process as the Teaching Learning Cycle.

Teaching Learning Cycle (more…)

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