Competency-Based Education in Rural Schools

March 29, 2019 by

CompetencyWorks has featured visits to rural schools, enabling us to examine how competency-based education has taken hold in rural districts. After reviewing past blog posts and reports, and obtaining updates from the websites of the schools or their state departments of education, we are highlighting the following districts:

  • Chugach, Alaska (blog series and report)
  • Eminence, Kentucky (blog post)
  • Deer Isle-Stonington, Maine (blog series)

Chugach School District, Alaska

School districts don’t get much more rural than Chugach. The central office is in Anchorage, but the schools are in small towns and villages across 20,000 square miles of Prince William Sound. The Whittier Community School, for example, served 33 students in the 2017–18 school year. The district also served 377 homeschoolers across the state with teachers who serve 40 to 60 students at a time.

Chugach was the first K–12 district in the United States to move from a time-based system to a performance-based system in which graduation was based on meeting performance targets rather than earning credits. Their first steps were in 1994, in response to concerns about low student achievement levels. This led to a district transformation that resulted in a performance-based learning and assessment system and dramatic improvements in student outcomes.

In 2001, Chugach was the first public school district to receive the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award , a presidential-level honor that recognizes (more…)

A Conversation with Buddy Berry in Eminence Kentucky

September 21, 2015 by

eminenceI had a chance to visit Kentucky last month when I participated in a meeting of the Kentucky Valley Education Cooperative/University of Kentucky Next Generation Leaders Academy. Before I headed south to Hazard, I veered north to visit Eminence School District, one of the ten innovation districts.

Eminence is a small, rural district of about 850 students located forty miles east of Louisville. Superintendent Buddy Berry is a fourth generation alumni of Eminence. Five years ago, Eminence was facing declining enrollment and funding. Since they have started down this path to personalization, the tide has turned and enrollment has nearly doubled.

Eminence is taking a different path toward competency education than other districts I have visited, so for us to have a meaningful conversation, Berry and I first had to spend a bit of time unpacking the language of personalization, standards-based, competency-based, mastery, and proficiency, as they can easily become buzz words that lose their distinct meaning. Once we got ourselves comfortable with the language each of us was using, we had a tremendous conversation. Here are a few of the highlights.

Starting with Students: Berry explained that to launch their effort, they wanted to create a culture where staff listened to students and students had a sense of agency that they could shape the world around them. They organized focus groups of fifteen students and interviewed every student in the district, asking them to share what they didn’t like about school and what they wanted it to be. Based on the specific feedback they received—such as limited choice, no opportunity to feel really challenged, and lack of technology—the district made a number of changes: expanded electives, additional AP and honors courses, and laptops students could check out in the library.

Berry identified two important lessons learned through this process. First, student agency isn’t just about listening to students. After students realized they were being given a voice, they brought out every complaint, expecting the adults in the system to fix it. Thus they jumped from empowerment to entitlement. Eminence took a step back and set the expectation that everyone is part of the solution. Students could still bring forth problems, but they also had to bring ideas for how to solve them. (more…)

Performance-Based Assessment in Action

May 20, 2014 by

Originally posted May 16, 2014 at  For more on Danville’s overall approach see District Transformation in Danville.Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 7.09.43 AM

Close your eyes and imagine an innovative school, a next-generation school that excels at preparing students to thrive in college and career. Picture a school that engages students in rigorous and authentic project-based learning opportunities, a school that has developed ways to get technology into the hands of students in a way that connects to its goals around next-gen teaching and learning. You’re probably imagining a flashy high-tech building situated in well-resourced district with dollars to spare. You’re probably thinking “Sounds good, but my district can’t do this because of [insert your reason here].”

My guess is that you’re not picturing a traditional school district in the middle of Kentucky. My guess is you’re probably not picturing a building that was built in 1912. My guess is you’re probably not picturing Bate Middle School in Danville; but you should be. (more…)

How a District Ended Student Dropouts with Personalized Learning

April 22, 2014 by

This post originally published on EdSurge. Author Roger Cook is the Superintendent of the Taylor County School District in Campbellsville, Kentucky.

1(1)Imagine, if you can, a school where students do not have specific teachers assigned to them, nor do teachers have specific students on their roster.

Imagine a school where students come each day with a list of standards to work on and accomplish–right when they walk in the door. They can go to the teacher of their choice in order to accomplish the completion of these standards. Or, they can do them on their own in any setting they wish, as long as they maintain accomplishing the minimum amount of standards in a minimum amount of time. Some students, for example, may work individually in the media center not having to go to any classroom.

And last but not least, imagine a district at large where the dropout rate is at zero percent.

In this type of environment, students would come and go as they please, but would be required to prove the successful completion of work and pass assessments to demonstrate understanding.

Sound crazy? Not to educators in the Taylor County School District in Campbellsville, Kentucky. In fact, that is our district’s ten-year plan. (more…)

Design Thinking

July 2, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 12.26.07 PMI think about design a lot. I can’t help it when two siblings are designers (transportation and landscape). It’s the common language of our family.

Design thinking is definitely making it’s way into the world of education.  I love this 2Revs video where Design is the third way between Dreaming and Dreading.  Many of the new design principles that are being developed to guide school development include reference to mastery-based or competency-based approaches.   (Note: We aren’t seeing as much discussion about redesigning districts yet – I’m sure we’ll get there soon).

There is much more transparency about design principles and much stronger emphasis on co-design than we’ve seen in the past.  It’s really helpful when you can see the values or principles that are driving a company up front – 2Revolutions put their design principles out front.  So does the Kentucky P20 Innovation Lab based at the College of Education, University of Kentucky (they are partners in CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network). Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how a traditional district or school would describe their design principles?

Summer time is planning time for educators…so I thought I’d put together a few of the school design resources for you:

  • A new resource is the RETHINK: Planning and Designing for K-12 Next Generation Learning tool kit produced by Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) for K-12 district, charter, and school leaders to use in the very early stages of conceptualizing and designing a next generation learning program, initiative, or whole school.  (more…)

Site Visit Takeaways

May 22, 2013 by

logoAs you may know, ACHIEVE has established a Competency-Based Pathways Work Group to examine how competency education may impact assessment, accountability, graduation requirements, and other state policies.  Working with leaders from ten states, Cory Curl and Anne Bowles are providing tools, research, and analysis so that state policymakers can assess opportunities to support competency education.

Cory and Anne have just completed site visits to Maine, Kentucky, Illinois, and Colorado, and shared their findings during a webinar (inspiring me to think about sharing insights that way rather than the blog….Hmm, what do you think?) Given that others had visited as well, we shared our insights. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Danville, Kentucky has been getting attention for their project-based learning  (See the show on PBS.) They see the ACT as a meaningful metric for determining college and career readiness and are moving toward improving ACT scores based on the college ready benchmarks.  Their website explains, “Students are considered to be college-ready by meeting specific benchmark scores for each content-area tested by the ACT. EXPLORE and PLAN also provide benchmark scores that tell us whether or not students are on track to meet those important ACT readiness scores. Scores from these assessments are also included in a school and district’s overall score.” They are now in the process of beginning to weave competency education into their work, keeping a strong focus on equity. (more…)
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