Promoting Lifelong Learning Skills in the Classroom: New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices

July 25, 2019 by

Terry BolducAt the recent New Hampshire Learning Initiative conference, long-time teacher Terry Bolduc led a session about powerful strategies to help students develop lifelong learning skills and dispositions. This work is central to competency-based education. Bolduc’s presentation focused on New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices (WSPs), the state’s term for “behavioral qualities or habits of mind that students need to be successful in college, career, and life.” (Other common terms are personal success skills, 21st century skills, transferable skills, building blocks of learning, and non-cognitive skills.)

The four WSPs are collaboration, communication, creativity, and self-direction. Bolduc has developed strategies for promoting and assessing the WSPs in two New Hampshire elementary schools in the Sanborn and Timberlane regional school districts. She and other staff from Sanborn shared their WSP strategies in a series of CompetencyWorks posts in 2015. One insight was that students needed more help understanding what the WSPs looked like in practice. The 2015 posts describe a series of strategies to accomplish this, such as relating the WSPs to characters in books they were reading.

Bolduc uses graphic organizers that allow students to set goals for each WSP and then reflect on their progress at the end of each week. Over time, with input from her students, she has elaborated these organizers to include separate reflections for each academic subject, as shown in the figure below. In addition to academic subjects, she has used a similar organizer that includes recess, cafeteria, bus, classroom, and specials.

Terry Bolduc Graphic Organizer

The acronym “CARES” in the figure stands for Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-Regulation/Control. Sanborn was already using the CARES framework from the Responsive Classroom when the New Hampshire WSPs were rolled out, so they created a crosswalk between the two frameworks and kept using CARES. For each academic subject, students select one of the five elements of CARES and use it as their goal for that academic subject for the week. During morning meetings, students tell each other their goal, and at the end of the week they reflect on their progress out loud and written on the graphic organizers. (more…)

The New Hampshire Learning Initiative: A Model for Catalyzing State-Wide Transformation

July 18, 2019 by

First NHLI Promotional PosterThe New Hampshire Learning Initiative serves as a catalyst to oversee and support scaling of New Hampshire’s work toward an integrated, competency-based education system. I recently attended their annual Powerful Learning Conference, where hundreds of school and district personnel attended keynotes, sessions, workshops, and daily “team time” (with school teams or groups of individual attendees) to advance their practices related to competency-based education.

The annual conference is one of many initiatives that NHLI provides throughout the year to support transformation at the school, district, and state levels. Their work is closely tied to New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) Pathways Network. PACE provides an opportunity for districts to administer locally developed performance assessments that support deeper learning. These assessments are designed to be a meaningful and positive learning experience for students—a key component of competency-based education. The PACE system is approved by the U.S. Department of Education through its Innovative Assessment Pilot program, section 1204 of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

NHLI is explicit that both their work and PACE are not just about assessment and accountability, however. As shown in the figure below, PACE also emphasizes project-based learning, teacher leadership, competency design, student agency, student exhibitions, extended learning opportunities (NH’s term for out-of-school learning activities), and work study practices (NH’s term for lifelong learning skills such as collaboration and self-direction).

NH PACE Pathways GraphicNHLI leads a diverse set of initiatives that provide a series of “on-ramps” to deeper implementation of each of these elements of quality competency-based education. Just as CBE promotes meeting students where they are, NHLI’s on-ramps meet educators and administrators where they are. And sometimes “where they are” includes being unclear on what performance assessments are, fearful of starting because of obstacles to full implementation, or concerned that not all teachers or school committee members are on-board.

The different on-ramps enable any school to become part of the PACE network regardless of where they are. This fits well with New Hampshire’s status as a national leader and innovator in competency-based education. Three of NHLI’s many initiatives are described below, and could inform efforts in other states seeking to deepen their competency-based practices. (more…)

In Real Life: How Feedback Loops and Student Supports Help Ensure Learning Is Deep, Ongoing, and Integrated

February 6, 2019 by

Elizabeth Cardine, Lead Teacher and Advisor, MC2 Schools, NH

This article is the fifth in a nine-part “In Real Life” series based on the complex, fundamental questions that practitioners in competency-based systems grapple with “in real life.” Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Competency-based education (CBE) systems define competencies and learning progressions to make learning expectations more transparent and accessible to students; but such transparency can be prone to the unintended consequence of creating a “check the box” mentality that compromises depth and relevance.

To better understand how competency-based systems balance the desire for transparency with the need for depth, I sat down with Elizabeth Cardine, Lead Teacher and Advisor at Making Community Connections (MC2) Charter Schools in New Hampshire.

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Competency-Based Education: The Break from Tradition that Our Schools Need

October 22, 2018 by

At this year’s iNACOL 2018 Symposium, I will have two opportunities to share my thoughts and experiences after spending a decade leading a New Hampshire high school through a transformation from a traditional to a competency-based system. The first will be in a Sunday morning pre-conference session entitled “Learning from School-Based Practitioners: Building a Successful Competency-Based Education System in your District/School.” There, my colleague Jonathan Vander Els and I will share resources and tools from our 2017 Solution Tree book entitled Breaking With Tradition, the Shift to Competency-Based Learning in PLCs at Work. On Tuesday morning, Jonathan and I will join our good friends: competency educational specialist Rose Colby and Ace Parsi of the National Center for Learning Disabilities for a breakout session entitled “Leveraging Competency Education to Promote Equity for ALL Students by Prioritizing Academic and Personal Competencies Supported by Effective Leadership, Personalization, and PLCs.” (more…)

How One New Hampshire District is Leveraging Success Skills in a Competency-Based System

May 17, 2018 by

Sarah Kiley

By Jonathan G. Vander Els, Director of Innovative Projects for the New Hampshire Learning Initiative and Sarah Kiley, Epping School District Teacher and Work Study Practices Coordinator.

New Hampshire Overview:

Over the past three years, a number of New Hampshire schools have been focusing on how the integration of success skills (or Work Study Practices, as they’re called in New Hampshire) can be levers for students’ success. The intent was to intentionally integrate these deeper learning competencies into instruction, assessment, and curriculum to increase student agency as a lever for equity. (more…)

What’s New: What’s Happening in State Policy

April 18, 2018 by

This article reviews some of the new state policy resources and highlights the types of discussion and initiatives taking place in the individual states. Nevada is joining the group of states that are supporting innovative districts, and Mississippi is supporting an innovation network. The most important thing to pay attention to is the discussion and debate in Maine as they decide whether they are going to continue to believe that their students and educators can learn to high standards and will keep learning how to support students in doing so…or if they modify expectations. Fingers crossed that the discussion moves from what’s wrong to what we need to make sure all of our students learn!

State Policy Resources

Across the country, state policymakers have been engaged in thinking through how they can strengthen their policies and infrastructures to better (more…)

Highlighting Deeper Learning Competencies in New Hampshire

March 12, 2018 by

It is hard to argue the importance that being a strong collaborator, an articulate communicator, a self-directed learner, and a creative problem solver has on a person’s success in today’s world. In fact, a recent analysis by Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post on an article written by Cathy Davidson highlighting how Google culled data to determine the most important qualities of its top employees and found that the top seven were non-academic cognitive competencies, or success skills. Coaching, communicating and listening, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections across complex ideas all came out on top.

In a competency-based system, we must hold both academic competencies AND these deeper learning competencies, or success skills, as integral in preparing our graduates to be successful in work, college, and life. (more…)

Our Quest to Personalize Competency-Based Learning in New Hampshire

February 27, 2018 by

This article was was originally posted on January 9, 2018 at Education Week in the Next Generation for Learning blog

Photo from Parker Varney Elementary School in Manchester School District.

New Hampshire’s Assessment for Learning Project (ALP) has been a quest to deepen and personalize competency-based learning for all students. During the 2016-2017 school year, we attempted to confront two significant barriers hindering the advancement of competency-based learning, namely age-based grade level configurations in schools and traditional assessment and grading practices that restrict students from “moving on when ready,” a key tenet of competency-based learning.

Our five pilot elementary schools intentionally implemented innovative practices that blurred the lines between grade levels by moving to multi-grade bands.  Teachers developed learning progressions that guided learning for individual students within these bands and helped to foster assessment practices as integral components of the learning process, rather than as strictly summative measures of learning. (more…)

Three Lessons Learned from PACE

September 6, 2017 by

Principal Amy Allen

Parker Varney Elementary School in Manchester, NH has been involved in the PACE initiative since 2015. (You can read more about Parker Varney here and here.) PACE, or the Performance Assessment for Competency Education, is an initiative designed to transform classroom practice to improve college and career readiness by building educator capacity and increasing student engagement through the design and use complex performance tasks. The initiative is also helping to build a shared understanding of proficiency for ELA (third and eighth grade) and math (fourth and eighth grade) across New Hampshire by using cohorts of districts that work together for a year.

As we moved to personalized, competency-education, there could have been many missteps. However, the strong network of district leaders, principal, and teacher leaders proved invaluable. With a powerful network supporting us, what might have been missteps instead became powerful lessons learned.

#1 Making the transition to personalized, competency-based education with performance assessments is paying off.

Our students are more engaged in learning than ever before. The result has been deeper, more authentic learning opportunities and greater student engagement. At Parker Varney Elementary, students in a multi-age 2/3-grade classroom exhibited significant progress in reading achievement. At the start of the 2016 school year, 29% of Grade 2 students and 75% of Grade 3 students were proficient in reading as measured by the district’s benchmark assessment. By March 2017, 77% of Grade 2 students and 85% of Grade 3 students were proficient in reading as measured by the district’s benchmark assessment.

From September 2016 to April 2017, special education referrals declined by 21%. At the start of the 2016 school year, our Grade 2 and Grade 3 English Language Learners were 54% proficient in reading as measured by the district’s benchmark assessment. By June 2017, 85% of those students were proficient and making at least one year’s growth as measured by the district’s benchmark assessment.

In the student exhibitions, you see students shining as they take on the role of experts. During a tour, I brought two national visitors to our innovation-learning lab. Eighty-nine students were showcasing their Jr. Steam projects in which they had designed robotics to solve environmental problems. With 100% of the class participating, the room was filled with students excited to share their ideas, learning, and success. These deeper learning opportunities removed the barriers encountered by students in special education, English Language Learners, and poverty.

One of our parents called me after the presentation and told me that they had to move across town and would have to enroll in a different elementary school. She said she was concerned that her student would not have the same experience at the other school as she did at Parker-Varney. I asked her to clarify and she said, “My child has never been so excited for learning. He has always felt that he was not as smart as his classmates. We moved a lot and he has always been catching up. I saw him today and he was glowing. He was so proud to show off his robot and how it would improve pollination. He loved talking to every visitor and answering questions. He used words that I have never heard but more importantly, he knew his information and he has never felt so smart.” Every parent wants their child to love to learn and feel good about themselves; competency-based personalized learning has opened that door for our students.

#2 Meeting students where they are is a whole school commitment.

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PACE Sees Early Evidence of Student Achievement Gains

September 5, 2017 by

Susan Lyons

Please note: This article was corrected on September 6th to accurately reflect the findings on PACE.

According to the presentation by Susan Lyons of the Center for Assessment to the New Hampshire State Board of Education, early evidence is showing improvements in the PACE districts in the Smarter Balanced assessments over the past two years. The mean of students demonstrating proficiency in PACE districts has increased from 48 to 63 on the 8th grade ELA and from 35 to 48 on the 8th grade math. The PACE districts are inching above the state mean. Another researcher, Carla Evans, is seeing significant improvement for students with disabilities in PACE districts compared with non-PACE districts. Evans’s research, based on early results, is showing that students with IEPs in PACE districts are significantly outperforming their peers with IEPs in non-PACE districts on the SBAC assessment in both math and ELA. Despite these gains, achievement gaps between students with IEPs and students without IEPs are still apparent in the PACE districts.

Lyons believes that two elements of the PACE theory of action are driving the changes:

  • implementing the performance assessments as intended enhances and extends desired instructional practices; and,
  • student engagement and student learning increases/deepens when performance assessments are implemented as intended.

Notice the language of implementing performance assessments as intended: PACE is focused on ensuring high quality implementation of performance assessments. It is a partnership of the state and local districts to commit to high quality instruction and assessments for the children of New Hampshire.

We’ve all become so accustomed to state systems of assessments that are designed to compare apples with apples and make student outcomes transparent (with the idea that by making them transparent, school performance will improve). The problem is that those state assessments have been used to blame and shame schools, and are not actually designed to directly help improve student learning. Thus, we’ve gotten used to assessments being something other than part of the cycle of learning. (more…)

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