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Empowering Youth to Chart their Course to Readiness

April 29, 2015 by

This post originally appeared at SparkAction, The Forum for Youth Investment, on February 12, 2015.

A post on the Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) Facebook page offers this student reflection: “At my old school: I was lost and confused and left behind. At BDEA: I get taught as an individual so I can get help with what I need.”

It is common for students talk about a “before BDEA” and an “after,” when describing their education. The school, which overlooks Dudley Square in Roxbury, Mass., is designed specifically for students aged 16 to 24 who are over-age for their grade level or have previously dropped out.

Students typically come to BDEA two or more years behind. Almost all have a spotty school history. Many have experienced deep trauma or personal crisis, and most have been told, directly or indirectly, that they were a lost cause.

By pushing the boundaries of traditional public education—holding some classes in the evening, grouping students by skill level rather than grade or age, replacing letter grades with a three-point proficiency scale—the school is able to support and graduate a population of students that other schools have failed to engage. A majority (85 percent) of students who enroll are still there six months later, according to the most recent assessment. 8 in 10 who complete five trimesters will graduate within three years. (more…)

Where to Meet Up with Competency Educators

February 5, 2015 by

AirplaneFor those of you ready to network with your colleagues, there are a few meetings that include competency education in the strands of sessions and speakers.

New England: Coming up soon is the New England Secondary Schools Consortium High School Redesign in Action conference on March 26-27 in Massachusetts. (Note: there are only about 100 spots left.)

Oregon: The Oregon Annual Proficiency Conference co-sponsored by BEC and COSA is scheduled for April 10, 2015. Jaime Robles, Principal at Lindsay High School, is a keynote speaker.

National: The 2015 iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium will take place on November 8-11 in Orlando, Florida at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. A request for breakout sessions and workshop proposals opened on February 4th if you would like to share your knowledge and lessons learned. Registration for the Symposium will open in March.   (more…)

Why Kids are Hiring Competency-Based Education

July 17, 2014 by
from bacademy.org

From bacademy.org

Originally published July 16, 2014 by The Christensen Institute.

This week I had the privilege of sitting in on the first day of Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA)’s Responsive Education Alternatives Lab (REAL) Institute. The school has run the REAL Institute for four years, after fielding numerous requests from educators and administrators around the country wanting to learn more about BDEA’s competency-based alternative high school model.

Discussions of competency-based education these days (my own included!) are often awash with descriptions of what competency-based means and its abstract benefits. These definitions and examples may prove valuable to adults running the education system. But sometimes we are tempted into technocratic language that loses sight of the ultimate end user of our schools: the students. The REAL Institute facilitators wisely reminded participants of this fact by starting off the four-day Institute with a panel of BDEA students. (more…)

What’s Homework Got to Do with It?

March 11, 2014 by
hramiec headshot

Alison Hramiec

At Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA), a student-centered, competency-based high school, we host as many as 20 educators every month who want to see for themselves how competency-based education (CBE) works in the classroom. After a few years of working with schools transitioning from traditional (Carnegie units and grade levels based on age) to competency-based education, what strikes me is the assumption by educators in both systems that CBE is radically different from traditional teaching. It’s not.

At the beginning of this school year, I sat in the back of a new BDEA teacher’s humanities class. As he reviewed with students the previous night’s homework, he explained, “If you complete the first two questions correctly you will be competent in this assignment; if you complete three questions you will be highly competent.” I looked through the series of papers he collected and discovered that very few students had even tried the third question, some had not done the assignment at all, and others had answered with very short responses.

A question that invariably is asked of us when we present our CB system to educators is “How do you get students to complete homework and classwork in a competency-based system, if those elements are no longer part of your grading equation?” BDEA’s “grading” system asks students to show competence in specific benchmarks, which are created in alignment to the Common Core to measure skill. Using rubrics, teachers set clear expectations about what it means to demonstrate competence according to our school’s definition: demonstrating a skill multiple times, independently and using the correct vocabulary. (more…)

The Envelope Please…And the Winners Are…

July 18, 2013 by
nextgenlearning.org

nextgenlearning.org

The Next Generation Learning Challenge announced the Wave IV Cycle 1 winners this week. (Disclaimer: I’m one of the reviewers for NGLC.) There are a number of grants that are going to offer valuable insights into competency education. One of the things we will need to pay attention to is the difference between those that have a full competency-based infrastructure that is similar to or expanded beyond our working definition, and those that may emphasize proficiency (or mastery) without the same level of formality. We really need to understand what are the key elements to which we need to have absolute fidelity.

We are also starting to see 2.0 versions from the leading innovators, including New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy, Boston Day and Evening Academy, and Florida Virtual School.  They are exploring moving to fully competency-based learning progressions rather than using courses to organize units of learning. They are also moving toward new information systems and integration of what we are learning from experiential learning, mind-body connections, and social-emotional learning.

A few of the winners are described below:

 

Launch Grants

VIRTUAL LEARNING ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL (NH), the statewide online charter school is redefining “school” to mean wherever learning occurs, whether in a classroom, online, or in the community through VLACS Aspire, a 100% self-paced competency-based approach (rather than a course-based curriculum), that harnesses the face-to-face learning potential of internships, service-learning, and distributed learning team-based projects. (more…)

Performing To Our Potential

June 19, 2013 by
Jesse Moyer

Jesse Moyer

This week, I had the pleasure of meeting with the folks at the Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) in Roxbury, MA.  I always enjoy visiting with practitioners and students, as they offer great insights into what’s working and what isn’t, something I don’t always get in my own day-to-day activities.

Two things struck me about my visit and I want to write about both of them.  The first thing that became very obvious early in the visit is how wonderfully simplistic their model is.  They begin with the standards — once the Massachusetts state standards, and now the Common Core State Standards — and unpack the set of standards into more accessible competencies that are easily understood by students, parents, and teachers.  From those competencies, they create course-specific benchmarks that students must meet in order to earn the distinction of being competent or highly competent in a given course.  Students are assessed upon enrollment in BDEA to determine “where they are,” an individual education plan is created for each student, and each student is given the time, resources, and support they need to become competent in the material.  I don’t mean to suggest that the work of unpacking standards and creating competencies is simple…to be sure, it isn’t.  But the model itself is simple and completely logical; something I think we can all agree is sometimes missing from our education system today. (more…)

Rethinking Teacher Evaluation for the Competency-Based Grading & Reporting Environment

April 17, 2013 by
Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 12.39.22 PM

from Making Mastery Work

Introduction:  Rethinking the Effectiveness of the Dog & Pony Show Model
During my first three years as a high school math teacher in Massachusetts back in the early 2000s, I had grown accustomed to having an administrator in my classroom observe as I taught a math lesson. As a new teacher I was required by district policy to be observed at least three times per year. Both my administrator and I knew how the drill worked:  We would pick a date and a class for me to be observed. We would meet in advance to talk about what I was planning to teach. During my observation I would make sure to use innovative teaching strategies or cooperative learning activities with my students. We would meet after the lesson to talk about what went well and where I could improve. The administrator would write up a narrative, I would sign it, and it would be filed away. The process would then repeat, and repeat, and repeat. Over my first three years I had nine observations. Once I reached my fourth year, I was considered tenured and thus my observations went down to one every other year. This means it would have taken me an additional eighteen years of teaching before I would have completed another nine observation cycles.

I don’t think my experience in this regard is unique, as many school districts used and still use a model very similar to this one. As I reflect back on that experience as a new teacher, years later, I don’t think I ever remember actually using anything that came from my evaluations as a way to improve my own teaching. Don’t get me wrong, my pre- and post-conferences always yielded great advice. My administrator and I always had great discussions about my lessons. We never really talked about my teaching. What I did on a day-to-day basis as a teaching professional to impact the lives of my students wasn’t easily observable during the dog and pony show, the name I had given for the act of preparing an observable lesson that would showcase all the innovative teaching strategies I could cram into a ninety-minute block. (more…)

Let’s Get REAL

March 7, 2013 by

As we all know, there is nothing better than learning from other practitioners. So Boston Day and Evening Academy’s Responsive Education Alternatives Lab (REAL) is a great opportunity. Registration has just opened for the July 8-11 training in Boston.

The objectives of REAL include:

•    Learn the process for creating competencies that both align to the Common Core and meet the needs of your students;
•    Build benchmarks and competencies and scaffold them into a scope and sequence;
•    Work in content teams and by program;
•    Leave with a work plan that allows you to fully implement competency-based learning and assessment;
•    Become part of a national peer-learning network.

There are scholarships available to all registrants by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

If you want to know more about Boston Day and Evening Academy, check out Making Mastery Work, Aligning Competencies to Rigorous Standards for Off-track Youth: A Case Study of Boston Day and Evening Academy
and the wiki.

Naming the Elephant

November 28, 2012 by

It’s the elephant in the room. How are we going to help our most struggling students, those more than two years “behind” their expected grade level skills or with significant gaps meet the college- and career-ready standards in the Common Core?

A new report helps us get a grip on the important challenge we are facing in our country. Aligning Competencies to Rigorous Standards for Off-Track Youth: A Case Study of Boston Day and Evening Academy by Jobs for the Future can be used in two different ways to generate meaningful dialogue among state policymakers, districts and schools.

First, it outlines the process Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) used for aligning their competencies with the Common Core, taking into account the academic needs of their student population. The tools and resources that are shared can definitely help everyone expedite their own alignment processes.

Second, it offers a section on Lessons for Educators that can be used as a discussion tool.  BDEA and JFF have the courage to name the elephant.  As you read this section, remember the issue isn’t just about over-age and under-credited students in alternative schools. Most middle school and high schools have students that have entered without “grade-level skills”. So it is a challenge we all share:

Schools serving over-age, under-credited students need to include the mastery of some middle and even elementary school competencies, particularly in mathematics. Of all the lessons learned, the most challenging and concerning for BDEA has been the significant gaps in students’ mathematics knowledge and how to best handle those gaps.

This issue is not unique to BDEA, nor can BDEA solve it in isolation. As districts move toward adopting the Common Core, they will confront the challenge o f how to support schools serving over-age, undercredited students, where students at a fifth-grade mathematics level may sit next to students at the tenth- or eleventh-grade level. Competency-based models enable the kind of differentiation these students need, but the approach is not a panacea. It takes a concerted, coordinated effort on the part of school leaders and teachers to implement.

I am getting calls almost every week now about how to structure accountability systems that account for the elephant. Recently a school called me to talk about how to revise highly qualified teacher policies because their high school teachers either didn’t know how to or wouldn’t effectively teach their students how to do elementary school math. (more…)

Making Mastery Work

November 13, 2012 by

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF) is releasing Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education today. You can find the report here. The report, authored by Nora PriestAntonia Rudenstine, and Ephraim Weisstein, examines several issues through the collected experiences of the ten schools that participated in the Proficiency-based Pathways Project (PBP)  with co-funding from NMEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The PBP grantees are Big Picture Learning, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Diploma Plus, Expeditionary Learning, MSAD #15 otherwise known as Gray -New Gloucester District in Maine, National Center for the Education and the Economy, and Vergennes School District.

Making Mastery Work provides insights into how the schools, all of which have different approaches and are at different stages of development as a competency-based model, are aligning their schools around learning. Topics include the creation of a transparent mastery and assessment system, time flexibility, curriculum and instruction, leadership for competency education development, and the role of data and information technology in a competency-based education model. We’ll be offering webinars in January – March 2013 on these topics so you can hear from the innovators directly. Or check out the wiki to see examples of the tools they use. Stay tuned!

In Making Mastery Work, the authors provide the key characteristics of competency education.  This is an important addition to our understanding as it helps us to better comprehend the nature of competency education and guide us in implementation.

Key Characteristics of Competency Education

1) Students progress at own pace

  • Transparent system for tracking and reporting progress;
  • Flexible, learner-centric use of time, often beyond standard school day and year; and
  • Explicit methods for providing additional support or opportunities for learning

2) Graduation upon demonstration of mastery of a comprehensive list of competencies

  • Courses designed around set of competencies aligned with Common Core State Standards;
  • “Credit” awarded upon mastery of competencies associated with course or smaller module, based on summative assessments; and
  • Transparent system for tracking and reporting progress

3) Teachers skilled at facilitating differentiated learning environments

  • Frequent formative assessments provide real-time feedback to students and teachers on progress toward competencies and help guide instruction; and
  • Development of robust approaches to supporting students as they move through competencies, especially those who progress slowly

What do you think?  Are these the key characteristics that you think about? Are there others you think should be included?

 

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