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…)

Building 21’s Competency Dashboard

March 14, 2016 by
Thomas Gaffey

Thomas Gaffey

This is the second post about my site visit to Building 21 in Philadelphia. Read the first here.

I had a fascinating conversation with members of Building 21’s design and instructional coaching team, Sydney Schaef, Sandra Moumoutjis, Thomas Gaffey, Angela Stewart, Laura Shubilla, and Chip Linehan. At times I started to explode in giggles of excitement as we spoke about their insights and information management system. B21’s work is invaluable for us to tackle the elephant (i.e., respond to students who have multi-year gaps in their skills). Part of their solution is one of the most student-centered information management systems to support their personalized, competency-based process I have seen.

As described in the first blog, B21 is highly personalized, with students working in their zone along the continua of performance levels for each competency. In order to both monitor progress and measure grade-level performance, they knew they needed an information system that would fully support students and teachers. They visited a number of schools across the country and looked at many of the best information management systems designed for competency-based education. Even those that were the most interesting didn’t reflect their values or design. Most were still course-based, and often with a feel of checklist after checklist. Furthermore, the costs were high, and most weren’t open-source. Thus, despite all the advice to never build your own, they found a partner in Jarvus and their product Slate. (FYI, Ed Surge has a nice piece about the product. Matchbook Learning has used Slate as the platform for their information system Spark, and the U School (sharing space with B21) and the Science Leadership Academy also are using it.)

Designing a Powerful Student-Centric Information System

I wondered aloud how they were able to find a company that seemed to “get CBE” when so many of the vendors keep reproducing courses as the center of their architecture. Gaffey offered, “Get a bunch of twenty-two to twenty-six-year olds and they can do anything. The problem is the folks over thirty think they know what a student information system is.” His statement gets to the heart of the issue – what does a student information system look like in a student-centric, personalized, competency-based system?

Gaffey explained, “There were several things we wanted that traditional SIS and grade reporting systems have been unable to do. First, we want to make sure that learning across the school can be tracked. Second, we focus on mastery. This means we want students submitting multiple pieces of evidence of their learning in multiple contexts. Third, we want to be less course-oriented, more performance-oriented. Fourth, we want to make sure that students can see their growth and progress. Finally, we want everything to feed into a meta-profile for students.”

Here are some of the very cool things that B21 is working toward using a combination of Slate and robust Google Docs: (more…)

Breaking out of the Boxes at Building 21

March 9, 2016 by

B21This is the first post about my site visit to Building 21 in Philadelphia. Read the second here.

Of all the schools and districts I’ve visited over the past four months, it has taken me the longest to write about my visit to Philadelphia’s Building 21 (there is also one in Allentown) because their ideas just blow me away. I’ve had to take time to absorb them and figure out how to describe them to you. I’m guessing I still don’t fully understand the rationale and implications of some of their design decisions. The team at B21, led by co-founders Laura Shubilla and Chip Linehan, have been so intentional, so thoughtful, so focused on drawing on what we know is best for helping adolescents learn, and so out of the box. As districts both big and small make the transition to competency-based education, Building 21 is one to watch as it cuts the path toward new ways of structuring how we organize learning and advance students.

A few of the big takeaways from my visit to Building 21 are:

  • Designing for students with a broad spectrum of skills and life experiences
  • Cohesive competency-based structure with a continuum of performance levels
  • Two-tiered system to monitor student progress
  • Information system that is designed to be student-centered and teacher-enabling (see tomorrow’s post)

This post will hopefully be helpful in explaining B21. However, if you are interested, I highly recommend taking thirty minutes to look through the Competency Toolkit and the Competency Handbook. They’ve done a fantastic job at making their model accessible for students, parents, teachers, and all of us who want to learn from them. (more…)

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