Update on Iowa: Multi-Stakeholder Leadership

August 1, 2018 by

Iowa was one of the states that charged out of the gates toward competency-based education in 2012 by establishing a state level Competency-Based Education Task Force and a five-year, ten-district pilot initiative. The resulting Iowa CBE Collaborative achievements were many: (more…)

Competency-Based Education Task Forces: A State Policy Mechanism to Foster Personalized Learning by Creating Dialog, Surfacing Barriers and Providing Solutions

April 4, 2016 by

Conference TableThis post originally appeared at iNACOL on March 23, 2016.

Transitioning from a traditional seat time based system to a competency-based learning system often requires changes at multiple layers in policies from the school level to the state-level. State policy makers can provide thought leadership in their states by creating a space for dialog between policy makers, stakeholders and communities across the state by establishing a formal statewide task force for competency-based education (CBE). A CBE task force brings together a group of experts and stakeholders to examine the issue in depth, to consider needs in policy and practice, and to provide recommendations and next steps in a state.

States (generally legislators through sponsoring legislation) establish task forces for the purpose of studying policy issues related to CBE. The needs and issues will vary state-to-state because of the differences in educational statutes, regulations and capacity, but CBE task forces offer a future-focused approach by providing a safe space to identify barriers, needs, and consider options to best enable competency-based pathways.

Why CBE Task Forces are Important

An education task force convenes to study a specific topic. During this time, a task force often engages with educators and experts on best practices and policies regarding the topic of the task force.

Establishing a CBE task force allows the members to study CBE policies and practices. CBE task forces enable CBE by encouraging state leaders to develop a deeper understanding on the need for and the benefits of creating competency-based pathways to ensure student success and the importance for educators to personalize learning to meet students’ needs. The CBE task force will interview educators from competency-based education systems, learn what policies are supportive and which are barriers, identify educator capacity needs, evaluate system capacity and provide recommendations for getting started with aligning systems to support CBE. (more…)

Update from Iowa

October 6, 2015 by
Sandra Dop

Sandra Dop

Thanks to Sandra Dop at the Department of Education for helping me understand how competency education is developing in Iowa. However, any errors are all mine. We’d love to hear from others involved in competency education in Iowa so that we gather different perspectives and insights into your efforts.

The Iowa state legislature opened the door to competency-based education three years ago when they eliminated the Carnegie unit as the only way to earn credit in Iowa high schools and instructed the Department of Education to establish the Iowa CBE Collaborative to investigate CBE and develop pathways for others to engage in the transformation. The Collaborative has five years to complete two goals: establish Iowa demonstration sites and develop a Framework for Transformation to a CBE System.

The first year or so was spent with the ten districts of the Collaborative exploring together what it means to be personalized and competency-based. They brought in speakers such as Susan Patrick, iNACOL; Rose Colby, New Hampshire; Laurie Gagon and Gary Chapin, the Center for Collaborative Education; Kim Carter, QED Foundation and founder of Making Community Connections Charter School; the Reinventing Schools Coalition, and yours truly. The state provided resources such as Delivering on the Promise, Community-Based Learning: Awakening the Mission of Public Schools, Make Just One Change, and Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools.

Districts developed a variety of pilots that emphasized different aspects of competency education: personalized, blended learning, and transparency of learning goals, rubrics, and progress. For example, Cedar Rapids moved well beyond the pilot stage when they developed Iowa BIG, which takes advantage of the competency-based structure to support students in taking on big, interesting projects while ensuring they are building their skills. Mason City started with one sixth grade math teacher engaging in blended learning and are slowly and purposefully expanding. Van Meter is investing in project-based learning, using twenty-first century skills as the framework to guide student learning, and is also remodeling their building to provide open space for peer and student/teacher collaboration. Spirit Lake started with a two-week project-based January term (J-Term) in secondary, and Franklin Elementary in Muscatine did a two-week intersession to connect their students to community mentors and real world projects. Each district is finding its own way into the transformation. (more…)

Going BIG in Cedar Rapids

September 30, 2015 by

iowa bigCedar Rapids is only twenty minutes down the road from Iowa City, a center of the educational curriculum and assessment industry (ACT and Pearson both have offices there), but feels like a journey twenty years into the future. I had a chance to meet with Cedar Rapids Associate Superintendent, Trace Pickering, and visit Iowa BIG thanks to an introduction from Sandra Dop, competency education guru at the Iowa Department of Education.

In 2008, a devastating flood destroyed Cedar Rapids’ downtown and many residential areas. Community members came together and realized that rebuilding the city provided an opportunity to completely rethink how they did things, including redesigning education. As part of the planning process, community leaders conducted what they affectionately, but unofficially, called the “Billy Madison Project.” Adult community leaders attended high school to see how they would experience it with the hindsight of their own education, life experience, and knowledge of the skills actually needed to be successful in a career. They realized how ridiculous it seemed to ask students to sit through lectures, with bell schedules and silos between subjects. They agreed that the following key elements would be necessary in a new school model:

  • Focus on kids’ passions: because most successful adults have passion for what they’re doing;
  • Get kids out doing real work: the community has more problems and opportunities than the adults can address on their own. The Cedar Rapids area has 7000 high school students—an untapped resource for the community;
  • Make sure kids are learning content in an integrated way: academic rigor is essential, but it must be relevant.

Iowa BIG was founded as a result of these findings and the superintendent agreed to include it in the district’s portfolio of educational opportunities. (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

(more…)

When Teachers Can Implement At Their Own Pace

October 15, 2014 by

bull dog for van meterI recently had the opportunity to visit Van Meter School in Van Meter, Iowa with Sandra Dop, Consultant for 21st Century Skills at the Iowa Department of Education and facilitator of the Iowa Competency-based Education (CBE) Collaborative. Two faculty members accompanied us from Drake University’s School of Education, Dr. Randy Peters and Dr. Laura Kieran. They are members of the CBE Collaborative, bringing vision, curiosity and dedication to scoping out the future of competency education in Iowa.

Van Meter Community School District is a small district located 15 miles outside of Des Moines. It has one school building comprising K-12. Total attendance is 677 students, of whom 158 chose to open enroll into the district (students in Iowa can enroll in another district of their choice). The Mission of Van Meter Community School District is “to personalize learning for each student’s success, today and tomorrow.”

Van Meter is transitioning to full-school competency education, but has been doing standards-based grading school-wide in K-12 for three years. Elementary Principal and Director of Teaching and Learning Jen Sigrist explained the evolution: “We had a few teachers trying it before (five and six years ago), which led to each secondary teacher trying it for at least one class four years ago. After that, we made the move district wide. The last team to come on board was 5th grade mostly because they were not included in the secondary conversations and were preparing kids for the secondary by giving traditional letter grades in the past. They were happy to jump on board with the entire district three years ago.” (more…)

What’s New in Competency Education in K12 and Higher Education

August 26, 2014 by

K12 ResourcesScreen Shot 2014-06-23 at 5.46.08 PM and Events

In the News

  • The Des Moines Register’s article Five Trends to Look for This School Year includes student-led conferences and student setting the pace. Shawn Cornally from Iowa Big is quoted, “”Some students move much faster, and some students move much slower, but they learn it a lot better.”

Iowa Goes BIG: Next-level learning

May 22, 2014 by

This blog was originally posed May 20, 2014 at the Iowa Department of Education with the sidebar, below. Be sure to watch the video about BIG — it’s really fun and interesting.

Some say they learn best by reading. Others say they learn best by doing.iowa big logo

For students who prefer the latter, the Cedar Rapids and College Community districts have joined forces to offer a non-traditional setting where the classroom has no walls, the coursework has no textbooks, and the grade level is not a consideration. Be assured this is no cakewalk: The students master skills and content consistent with their classroom counterparts. But they do so through projects that go beyond the school yard and solidly into the community.

The districts call the school Iowa BIG – big for its concepts, even bigger for its impact. (more…)

Iowa Goes BIG: From Reservations to Success

by

This blog was originally posted May 20, 2014 at the Iowa Department of Education. Be sure to watch the video about BIG — it’s really fun and iowa_de-150x150interesting.

There is no particular formula for successful competency-based education (CBE). Programs vary from in-school coursework where the student learns at his or her own pace to internships and project-oriented work.

Ideally, students could choose which path to take since they have different preferences in the way they learn, said Iowa Department of Education Consultant Sandra Dop.

“Some students might choose one type of learning over another,” she said. “For instance, a student might want a specific learning environment for gaining proficiency in a particular subject, but another learning environment to demonstrate proficiency in another area.  All of this is negotiated with the teacher.  Kim Carter of QED Foundation calls it, ‘negotiated pace with gradual release,’ meaning that the students are not completely on their own to set a pace, and they slowly take over their learning as they develop the skills to do so. ” (more…)

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