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Parker-Varney Elementary: Keepers of the Bar

March 16, 2016 by
Parker Varney

From the Parker Varney Website

What do you do when the student population in your school reverses the RTI triangle so more kids need intervention than core construction?

Amy Allen, principal at Parker-Varney Elementary School in Manchester, NH, raised this question early on in our conversation. What do you do when you might have over six different reading levels in one class of twenty-five students? She explained that in a kindergarten class, 60 percent of kindergarteners won’t know the letter A, while others are reading at a second grade level.

Allen explained that they are trying to make the shift to meet students where they are. They are using learning progressions so that even if students are organized into grade levels, they are teaching students at their performance levels within the learning progressions. (Please note: In New Hampshire, the term learning progression has a specific meaning. They are research-based maps of how students learn key concepts. One way to understand the difference between standards and learning progressions is to think of standards as what we want students to achieve and learning progressions as the way to help them get there.)

How Parker-Varney is Moving Toward Competency-Based Education

A year and a half ago, Parker-Varney began to partner with 2 Revolutions (2Revs) to revision what they wanted for students in the school and how they wanted to design learning to meet that goal. Allen explained, “When I arrived at Parker-Varney three years ago, we were program driven. We depended heavily on curriculum programs to drive our instruction. The problem is that when you use products like Every Day Math or America’s Choice curriculum, you are completely tied to that curriculum. There is no flexibility or strategy to meet the needs of students who are at a different level.”

Background: Parker-Varney serves 640 students K-5 with 70 percent FRL and 20 percent special education. Many families are in transition, often depending on shelters as they seek more affordable housing. Between 5 percent and 10 percent of students are, at any time, facing major upheaval such as moving to find more affordable housing, having to turn to shelters, having a parent incarcerated, or being placed within the child welfare system. By January 20th there were already fifteen new students.

There was another problem – there was too much focus on assessment and not enough on instruction. When one month they had more assessment days than instruction, they knew they needed to find another way. Allen noted, “We want to make sure that assessments are for learning.” They defined their problem of practice around student engagement, authentic learning, and ensuring that assessment was supportive of the cycle of learning.

Although not sequential, Parker-Varney has taken four big steps toward transitioning their school to competency-based education. (more…)

Collecting a “Body of Evidence”

January 28, 2016 by

StudyThis is the second in a series of articles specific to the developing understanding of skills and dispositions of educators working with students in a competency-based educational system. There has been increased recognition nationally of the importance of skills and dispositions and how these are entwined within the overall growth and College and Career Readiness of learners. The skills and dispositions are referred to in a number of ways (Non-cognitive skills, Habits of Learners, Work Habits, General Learning Outcomes, “soft skills,” etc.). Our school has been delving into skills and dispositions for the past few years, but we have found that there are limited resources to support our work, and at times, this has caused frustration. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with the recently released Essential Skills and Dispositions Frameworks (Lench, S., Fukuda, E., & Anderson, R. (2015)) this upcoming school year to support our continued learning in this area. For the purposes of this series of articles, we will be using the term the State of New Hampshire recognizes, Work Study Practices. Locally, we have aligned the Responsive Classroom’s CARES to our State of New Hampshire’s Work Study Practices, which are referenced in this series of articles.

The first article in this series, Our School’s Developing Understanding of Skills and Dispositions, may be found here.

During our school’s transition to a competency-based educational system, our understanding of the importance of Work Study Practices has evolved significantly. One of the major shifts in our understanding has been relative to the importance of building a body of evidence specific to a child’s demonstration of Work Study Practices. During the initial stages of this transition, teachers may have only put one grade per marking period related to skills and dispositions. This began to change as teachers began to question why we wouldn’t be assessing work study practices on a more formative, ongoing basis as we did with our academic competencies. The resulting grade would be far less subjective than a “one-time” assessment at the end of the marking period.

Teachers also began to question how the resulting information was reported. Traditionally, it had not mattered that there was only one grade in a system because that was all that would be reported anyway. But now, with a body of evidence for each child, the information was averaging. We knew from our experience that this wasn’t a fair or accurate indicator of reporting either. We had moved away from “averaging” as part of our transition to a competency-based system. We knew that the most recent, consistent data was most relevant. It gave us information on where a student was on that DAY, not a compilation of the data over the course of six, ten, or even twelve weeks. This resulted in our district turning on the “trend-line” to report Work Study Practices, as we were doing for our academic competencies.

Building a body of evidence for our students’ CARES (Work Study Practices) has allowed us to truly follow a child’s growth, help them progress in specific areas, and provide the child and his/her parents with relevant and timely information related to where he/she currently is in his/her progression.

The insight of two of our teachers below describes their growth in understanding as we began the shift to a competency-based educational system. Their reflections within this particular article are specific to their developing understanding of the importance of Work Study Practices within their classrooms, and how the assessment of Work Study Practices is no longer considered just once at the end of a marking period. This change in mindset has proven to have an impact on not only how we assess WSP, but how integral it is to the learning process itself. (more…)

From “Shock and Awe” to Systemic Enabling: All Eyes on New Hampshire

January 4, 2016 by

This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on December 11, 2015.

The successful, bipartisan (what?) effort to revamp the nation’s core set of K-12 education laws essentially puts an end to one generation-long era of school reform – let’s call it Standards Push – and ushers in the next.

How Policy and Systems Trigger the Ways We Behave

SA1

Next Gen Learning Challenges (NGLC) graphic

It’s too soon to label this new era, but there is a growing sense of what it needs to reflect. Of all the From This/To That tables I’ve seen lately, this one from Education Reimagined, an initiative of Convergence, developed over 18 months of effort by a committee composed of union leaders and libertarian philanthropists and advocates of every stripe in between, seems readily on the mark: (more…)

How My Understanding of Competency-Based Education Has Changed Over the Years

December 8, 2015 by

StairsNext week, I am excited to be sharing the work that my team and I have done in New Hampshire on competency-based education with a group of South Carolina educators as part of the Transform SC institute on Meeting the Needs of Every Student With Competency Based Progression. My preparation for this institute has been an opportunity for me to reflect on what has now been a six-year journey with competency education with Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH. This past week, our school district was recognized for the second year in a row as a “leader in competency education” by Tom Vander Ark’s organization Getting Smart, noting that Sanborn was one of 30 School Districts Worth Visiting in 2015. (more…)

It All Starts with Strong PLCs

November 2, 2015 by

BarbellJonathan Vander Els, principal at Memorial Elementary School, wrote a thoughtful piece about the power of professional learning communities in transitioning to competency education for ALLTHINGSPLC. In it, he described how the key questions guiding PLCs have shaped the progress of Memorial in re-tooling its system to ensure students are successful.

1.) What is it we expect our students to learn?

  • Our teachers are now crystal clear about what students are expected to know and demonstrate. This should never be a mystery, and through backwards design planning, the outcomes for any unit are established and made clear to learners.
  • Our teachers’ increased understanding of competencies ensures a guaranteed and viable curriculum. Our district has high-leverage competencies that guide the learning for our students. Underneath the umbrella of the competencies and within the assessment itself, teachers identify the leverage standards that will be assessed within each assessment.

2.) How will we know when students have learned it?

  • Team-designed rubrics outline precisely what students are expected to know. Competency is the ability for students to transfer their learning in and across content areas. Therefore, our teachers provide real-world problems and cross-curricular assessment opportunities for students to demonstrate this transfer of knowledge to other applicable situations.
  • Team-created common assessments are the driving force behind gathering data specific to each student’s progression of learning. This information is then collaboratively analyzed to inform the next instructional steps and learning pathways for each student.

3.) How will we respond when some students do not learn? (more…)

Extended Learning Opportunities and Equity

November 1, 2015 by

rfaREL-Northeast and Islands sponsored a webinar on October 21 highlighting new research from Research for Action, with the support of funding from Nellie Mae Education Foundation. The report is called Preliminary Results from a Two-Year Study of the Effects of Extended Learning Opportunities on Student Outcomes in New Hampshire.

The goals of the study of high schools in New Hampshire are three-fold:

  • Understand the variation in Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) implementation and participation across the state.
  • Assess differences between the behavioral and academic performance of students in ELO courses compared to students in traditional courses.
  • Understand how ELO participation impacts performance of historically underserved students.

With two guiding questions:

  • How does ELO participation effect key short-term and long-term student outcomes?
  • What school-level factors influence the quality of ELO implementation, student ELO participation, and outcomes?

Given that New Hampshire is in the process of becoming competency-based, with credits expected to be awarded based on what students learned rather than time, the question about school factors could be quite interesting. As in any state moving to competency education, districts and schools are in different stages of the conversion process, with some approaching it as a transformational process in which new values and assumptions are embraced within the system and others seeing it more as a technical reform. Taking into account the degree and quality of implementation of CBE, might there be a difference in the impact of ELOs on student learning?

The study included over 3000 ELOs with a breakdown of online courses (66 percent), community-based experiences (23 percent), and school-based independent projects (11 percent). During the webinar, Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner at NH’s Department of Education, noted that in the past year state policy has changed so that online courses are no longer considered ELOs. He also explained that going forward, students doing an ELO is going to be considered a requirement rather than an opportunity.

The types of credits earned were 4 percent credit recovery, 30 percent core courses, and 69 percent electives. The fact that some schools do not allow ELOs for core courses may have implications for the findings.

Some of the findings included: (more…)

Charting the Future of Competency-Based Education Policy

September 10, 2015 by

ChartingThis post originally appeared at the Clayton Christensen Institute on September 8, 2015.

A few weeks ago, during a webinar hosted by the Northeast College and Career Readiness Research Alliance, New Hampshire’s Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather outlined his state’s strategy in order to continue to develop competency-based education approaches. Leather is a leader in the world of competency-based education policy and his current efforts mark an important harbinger of how these policies must evolve over time.

Those looking to expand competency-based education should take note: not once did Leather mention the word “seat-time.”

Although New Hampshire’s bold mandate in 2005 eliminated the Carnegie Unit from the state’s high school graduation requirements, a decade later Leather’s concept of statewide competency-based policy goes far beyond eradicating the credit hour. Rather, Leather and his colleagues are working on building out pilot projects and systems of support that will usher in new school models centered on a wholly new vision of education that includes (1) competency-based pathways, (2) performance assessment, (3) learning pathways and (4) dynamic grading. Some of the state’s initiatives to build this new model are included in 2Revolution’s latest detailed report on New Hampshire, New Hampshire Goes First: A Vision to Scale Competency-Based Education across a PreK-20 System.

New Hampshire’s example should caution state policymakers against taking too simple a view of competency-based reforms. Too often, we talk about competency-based education as a one-off effort, a tweak to the existing system. Frequently, indeed, we talk about competency-based education as a thing that education officials can adopt, rather than a new philosophy that will touch every aspect of an education system. (more…)

How Competent Are We at Competency Education?

August 6, 2015 by

Below is the presentation I prepared for the New Hampshire Education Summit on the topic How Competent Are We at Competency Education? (here is link to video)

What a pleasure it is to be here in New Hampshire – the well-spring of competency education. When Susan Patrick, my partner in co-founding CompetencyWorks, and I did the scan of competency education in 2010, we found that there were pockets of competency education across the country. However, there was only one state – and that state was New Hampshire – that had the foresight, courage, and leadership to set a new course for their schools and for their children. Now look at you, setting the course for federal policy by having the courage to imagine a new way for the state and districts to co-design a system of quality assurance – what we used to call state accountability.

State Policy Snapshot

Competency education is spreading across the country. As soon as CompetencyWorks updates this map, we hear of another state taking a step forward. For example, in June, Idaho and Ohio both decided to invest in pilots. However, the thing that convinces me we are going in the right direction is that districts, without the help of any enabling state policy, are converting to competency education – Lindsay in California, Warren and Springdale in Arkansas, Charleston in South Carolina, Henry and Fulton in Georgia, Freeport in Illinois, and Lake County in Florida. (more…)

It’s Simply Buzzing in New Hampshire

August 5, 2015 by

innovation2:15 pm ET

I’m sitting amidst 500 very energetic educators from all around New Hampshire (it’s 2 percent of the teacher workforce). To get access to the 2015 New Hampshire’s Educator Summit, districts had to be willing to send a team of people that had identified problems of practice to drive their learning….and it is just electric in the room as we wait for Virginia Barry, Commissioner of Education to launch the meeting with the introduction of the New Hampshire 2.0: A Blueprint to Scale Competency-Based Education Across a P-20 System.

The event is around six strands: Competency-Based Education, Community Engagement, Co-Teaching, Data Literacy, Early Childhood Education, and STEM. Several folks who are part of the CompetencyWorks network are leading sessions, including Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements; Rose Colby, consulting superstar; Jonathon Vander Els, Principal of Memorial Elementary School, Sanborn Regional School District; Scott Marion, the Center of Assessment; and Joe DiMartino, Executive Director, Center for Secondary School Redesign. Other presenters include Lindsey Lapointe, Epping Middle School and Monique Temple, Maple Street Magnet School (emphasizing inquiry-based and project-based learning). I wish I could go to every session!

3 pm ET

Here are a few highlights so far:

Building a Big Voice: Bill Duncan, member of the NH School Board, spoke to the need to tell families, community members, and political leaders from the most local to statewide positions about their experiences in the classroom in an effort to build out a big voice to support schools and teachers. We need to get to the people who know and can influence those who have the decision-making power to stay the course.

From Improving the System We Have to Creating the One We Need: Virginia Barry kicked off her discussion with a video giving voice to teachers and students who are using extended learning, project-based learning, and place-based learning. There was an interesting story about a class in Surry Village Charter School using their own community to learn about the civil rights movement, finding a local leader, Jonathon Daniels, who was murdered while trying to register African-American voters in Alabama. (more…)

Assessing Work Study Practices in a Competency Education School

July 19, 2015 by
Brian Stack

Brian Stack

Introduction

Five years ago, when my high school first implemented its competency education model, we as a faculty reached consensus on our purpose of grading. We believe that the purpose of grading is to communicate student achievement toward mastery of learning targets and standards. Grades represent what students learn, not what they earn. This helped us establish a common set of grading practices that every teacher agreed to use in their classrooms. They include things like the separation of formative and summative assessments (with formatives carrying no more than 10 percent weight for an overall course grade), the linking of summative assessments to performance indicators which link back to competencies in our grade book; the use of reassessment; the use of a 4.0 letter rubric scale for all assignments and assessments; and the separation of academics from academic behaviors. This article will focus on this last grading practice – from how we developed our academic behaviors to how we assess them and how we are using these grades to better prepare our students for their college and career futures.

At my school, we believe in the importance of separating what it is we want our students to know and be able to do (academics) from academic behaviors like working in groups, participating in class discussions, and meeting deadlines. While we firmly believe these behaviors are critical to academic achievement, comingling them with academic grades does not give us an accurate picture of the level of achievement our students have reached with their academic course competencies. When we first proposed this idea five years ago, separating behaviors was a big mind shift for many of our teachers who were accustomed to giving participation points as part of a course grade or taking points off of an assignment when they were turned in after a deadline. Early in our design phase we were charged with the task of finding a meaningful way to hold students accountable for these important work study practices without compromising the purity of our academic grades that we set out to establish. (more…)

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