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Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England

December 27, 2016 by

treesThis article begins the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England. On January 11th, CompetencyWorks is hosting a webinar to explore K-12 competency-based education policy and practice across five New England states: Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont (with a brief look at Massachusetts). Paul Leather of New Hampshire Department of Education and David Ruff of Great Schools Partnership will join Chris Sturgis in exploring lessons learned from New England.

Competency education is expanding across the country as a means to ensure that all students are mastering the skills and knowledge to be successful in college, careers, and civic life. In the New England region, competency education is developing and expanding at unprecedented rates: about one-third of districts in this region are planning or transitioning toward competency education. This series consolidates insights offered by the hundreds of policymakers and education leaders across the New England region who are leading this transformation and creating competency-based systems to better serve students.

This series begins by looking at why and how the New England region embraces competency education. It then turns to insights into the policy strategies being used across states and analyzes the impact of competency education on quality, equity, scaling, and sustainability. Throughout the series, we will add snapshots of the New England states.

Major Lessons Learned

There are three major lessons learned that need to be taken into consideration by anyone advancing competency education: (more…)

Reaching the Tipping Point in New England

October 4, 2016 by

screenshot-2016-10-06-07-29-30There is so much activity in New England regarding competency education (or proficiency-based or mastery-based) that we thought it would be valuable to take a deeper look to see what we might learn. Today, we’ve released Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England

Two other reports were recently released looking at competency education in specific states:

Reaching the Tipping Point opens with an introductory essay, The Every Student Succeeds Act: A Catalyst for Competency Education At Scale?, by Susan Patrick and Maria Worthen that everyone should read. We’ve also taken more time to describe what competency education is, as there continues to be confusion. Then the paper dives into:

  • an exploration of why the region of New England, with some of the most high-achieving education systems, has embraced competency education;
  • insights into the strategies being used by some of the states; and
  • a reflection on progress towards quality, equity, scaling, and sustainability.

In the appendix, readers will find a synopsis of each state strategy, complemented by short case studies of a few districts and schools.

The bottom line: The major lesson learned from New England is that it takes leadership at the district and local levels to venture forth to transform their districts and state leadership willing to create an enabling policy environment with a suite of supports. One without the other will only get us a bit of the way there.

I want to wrap up this post with a great big shout out to Great Schools Partnership, and the New England Secondary Schools Consortium. There is no doubt in my mind that we wouldn’t have reached the tipping point without their leadership, networking, generosity in sharing knowledge, and willingness to jump into those really messy details. Thanks to David Ruff and the whole team at GSP/NESSC.

State # of Districts (State source or NCES) Number planning or implementing %
Connecticut 164 4 2%
Maine 254 229 90%
Massachusetts 409 1
New Hampshire 99 89 90%
Rhode Island 41 2 4%
Vermont: Half of the districts participated in a training this year. So we use 25% estimate to be conservative.  60 30 50%
1027 355 35%

 

See also:

Laying the Groundwork for Proficiency-Based Learning in Rhode Island

September 30, 2016 by

RI Strategic Plan

This post was previously released and has been updated as Rhode Island moves towards a revised set of state policies to guide their Diploma System. 

Thanks to Lori McEwen, Chief of Instruction, Leadership and Equity at Providence Public Schools and Dana Borrelli-Murray, Executive Director, Highlander Institute for talking with me about how personalized learning, blended learning, and proficiency-based learning are advancing in Rhode Island.

There is a lot happening in Rhode Island regarding education. The communities in Rhode Island seem to be bustling with discussions about how to improve their schools, with much of it focused on personalized learning and blended learning catalyzed by the Highlander Institute. Much less so on how to create proficiency-based systems.

Rhode Island is an interesting case study as it has a thick policy foundation for a proficiency-based diploma and secondary school practices to support personalization, yet I couldn’t find any districts that were committed to creating a K12 proficiency-based system. There are certainly sparks of proficiency-based innovation in Rhode Island. For example, the Met, one of the early models of highly personalized competency-based learning, started in Providence. Blackstone Academy and Blackstone Valley Prep are both proficiency-based, from what I understand. Cumberland High School has made incredible progress by starting with the goal of creating a standards-based grading reporting system and then using it to put all the important pieces in place to ensure consistency and transparency. There are also efforts of after-school programs to use competency-based models to create credit-bearing opportunities outside of school as well as Big Picture Learning’s College Unbound. (It’s possible I just didn’t tap into the right networks. Please, if you are a school in RI converting to a proficiency-based system, let us know.) From what I can tell, this suggests that those districts and schools that want to become proficiency-based can within the state policy context.

Certainly, over the past twenty years, the state has been a leader in establishing a set of policies that support a proficiency-based system. These policies have now been re-organized into a set of regulations called the Diploma System, which emphasizes proficiency and personalization. However, few districts are taking advantage of this…yet. My guess is that we are on the verge of seeing districts in RI begin to realize that they can’t get all their students to graduation-levels of proficiency without increasing the personalization of their schools (focusing on what students need to succeed, not just digitalized content) and converting to a proficiency-based system that helps them monitor proficiency, progress, and pace of their students. (See the story of Connecticut, in which superintendents are the leaders in the effort to introduce personalized, competency-based systems of education.) (more…)

Cumberland High School: Starting with Proficiency-Based Grading

July 13, 2016 by
Alan Tenreiro

Alan Tenreiro

I didn’t get a chance to visit Cumberland High School in Rhode Island, but I did have a fascinating conversation with Alan Tenreiro, CHS Principal and NASSP’s 2016 National Principal of the Year. “Standards-based grading is the linchpin, but transparency is what transforms the system,” he said to start out our conversation. “We began with transparency because you have to think about all the other pieces that have to be aligned behind the scenes to make it work. Transparency creates consistency while also creating autonomy for teachers. These are the elements that are going to create more equity for students.”

Proficiency-Based Grading

CHS has created a proficiency-based grading system that is based on student performance levels while transparently converting into a numerical grade. The performance level rubric is designed to create consistent scoring across all staff members, relying on moderate, strong, and distinguished command of the standard. Students receive feedback on how they can improve their performance.

CHS has also eliminated zeros and the D and F. A video on their grading policy describes how the rubric scores are then turned into the numerical scores used to determine A, B, or C.

Grading What? Measurement Standards

CHS academic expectations are organized around measurement standards. Students are assessed against them. There are about four to six measurement standards for each content area and teachers use common scoring guides. An example of a measurement standard might be demonstrating the use of evidence-based claims in a social studies course. Within the academic departments, teachers have worked to create learning progressions around sub-standards – what are the things students need to know and be able to do in order to meet the measurement standard? (more…)

PASA Forges Ahead with Competency-Based Expanded Learning Opportunities

May 24, 2016 by
PASA

Photo from the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) Website

“It’s hard to design a competency-based afterschool program when none of us have had any experience in our own lives of learning through a competency-based approach.”

So started the conversation with Alex Molina, Brittany Sandbergen, and Ann Durham of the Providence After School Alliance (PASA).

“We have an idea of how afterschool and expanded learning programming can be better aligned with student interests and their schooling through competencies, but we aren’t there yet,” explained Deputy Director Molina. “Competency-based learning can help clarify how students move from point A to point B in an afterschool experience. It can help improve the learning experience to be very clear about what we want students to be able to learn and also become a way of providing feedback to them. The one thing that is clear is that it starts by changing the way adults think about learning.”

How Expanded Learning Opportunities are Constructed

PASA has created very dynamic afterschool programming with the AfterZone (middle school) and the Hub (high school). The Hub organizes Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) that provide high school credit (.5 of an elective credit) to students for learning they do outside of the school day. Some samples of ELOs include mechanical fabrication, Android app design and development, Model UN, and environmental science.

While the AfterZone is designed for younger students to explore and try out lots of different experiences, the Hub was created for more in-depth experiences for high school students. It is organized to provide a central system for young people to access learning opportunities not currently available within their schools or to learn about content within applied, real-world experiences. The Hub’s ELOs provide a wide range of experiences, including: Young Voices (leadership development); Chrysalis-App Design (computer science for young women); Improv (acting and storytelling); Rocketry (engineering flying machines and then teaching middle students to do it); iPhone App and Game Design; Model UN; Art+Design Lab in partnership with RI School of Design Museum; and Take CoMMAnd (martial arts). (more…)

Check Out State and Local Policies at Great Schools Partnership

May 4, 2015 by

Great Schools PartnershipWhat an incredible resource on State and Local Policies the Great Schools Partnership has put together regarding competency education/proficiency-based policies!!!! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

They’ve organized state statutes regarding high school graduation requirements, state learning standards, proficiency-based learning, and multiple/personalized learning pathways for their member states of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. I’ve cut and pasted them for you here – but if you come looking for information in six months, go directly to their website to make sure you have the up-to-date information. You can find other really helpful resources there, as well. (And remember, proficiency-based education is K-12. When some people see the emphasis on high school, as is the case in these resources, they believe that it is only about older students. It’s not – its just that some states have either led with high school or with graduation requirements that put the emphasis on high school.)

Connecticut

High School Graduation Requirements
Chapter 170, Boards of Education, Sec. 10–221a. High School Graduation Requirements (more…)

100%

June 5, 2014 by

New England ConsortiumOne hundred percent of the public institutions of higher education in five states have endorsed proficiency-based education. That’s right — 100%.

The New England Secondary School Consortium (NESSC) announced that all the public colleges and universities as well as three private colleges in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont have endorsed proficiency-based education. That’s 55 colleges and universities.

I recently talked with Cory Curl from ACHIEVE about their meeting last week with higher education representatives and competency education leaders. She reported that there was general agreement that proficiency-based transcripts should not be a problem as colleges are used to receiving and making sense of all kinds of transcripts.  She also said there were several higher education associations at the meeting that are considering raising competency education at their meetings to get further support and acceptance for proficiency-based transcripts.

The conversation with Cory touched on what it is going to take to get elite colleges to endorse proficiency-based education. She suggested that a specific ask, such as a statement on their admissions websites that clearly states that they accept proficiency-based transcripts, might be considered rather than trying to get endorsements. Elite colleges, being elite. tend to avoid engaging in and advancing specific education reforms or participating in state-level efforts.

So I think it is safe to say we are making steady progress at addressing a fear, some considered a barrier to be overcome, about competency education. We are continuing to get confirmation that competency-based transcripts are not going to impact college admissions. We just have to keep working to get more colleges and universities in other parts of the country to sign on, or at a minimum say they’ll accept proficiency-based transcripts. One of the very easy things all of us can do is start to lay the groundwork by sending a letter to the president and trustees of our alma mater encouraging them to clarify on their admissions web page that they accept competency-based transcripts. Hopefully other intermediary organizations will take on the leadership role that NESCC has shown in engage higher education in other states and regions.  I’m sure NESSC would be glad to share their process and road bumps. (And bravo to all of you that facilitated the conversations and coordinated the endorsements).

FYI: The press release from NESSC was full of great quotes that others might find handy in their work: (more…)

ELO and CBE: A Match Made in Heaven

July 18, 2013 by
From RIAPA website

From RIAPA website

Once upon a time, I was involved in the school-to-work effort and one of the constant, churning complaintswas the difficulty employers, schools and community organizations had in talking to each other – different values, different timeline, different jargon. And oh those acronyms….how we stumbled over them again and again.

As I’ve talked to people across the country, such as Adam Greenman, from the Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance (RIAPA), I’ve started to wonder: Can competencies become a common language between students, schools, community organizations and employers?  I’m starting to think the answer is YES!

Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) are opportunities for community-connected learning experiences that earn credit within and beyond the traditional classroom.

Competency education may in fact offer a way to bridge these different sectors in a number of different ways. First, the academic competencies that students are working on can help drive project design at internships. Think about it – our schools aren’t really designed for knowledge utilization – that is the 4th level on Marzano’s taxonomy of knowledge.  Maybe the real-world is where students are going to be able to demonstrate they can really apply what they learned. (more…)

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