Providing Flexible Pathways and Personalized Learning Options for All Students

November 1, 2018 by

This is the third in a three-part series from Andrew Jones, director of curriculum at Mill River Unified Union School District in Vermont.

A central feature of Vermont’s Act 77 and the Educational Quality Standards is that students have access to personalized learning opportunities and flexible pathways to graduation. In many traditional schools, there are only a few avenues for students to follow. Without credits, meeting graduation requirements through non-traditional formats is actually easier, as long as those opportunities are tied to certain proficiencies. Through flexible pathways, students are not hamstrung to take specific courses or follow a predetermined course. At Mill River Unified Union School District, we looked for ways to completely rethink what it means to learn and go to school. (more…)

Supporting Teachers with Making Sense of Proficiency-Based Learning

October 31, 2018 by

This is the second in a three-part series from Andrew Jones, director of curriculum at Mill River Unified Union School District in Vermont.

For many teachers, proficiency-based learning (PBL) is a significant shift from past practice. Though certain aspects of PBL are familiar to some teachers, putting proficiency into consistent practice can be a heavy lift. This shift requires new knowledge and skills, while simultaneously jettisoning numerous past practices. Building teacher capacity is a central requirement for ensuring the successful implementation of PBL. Without time to make sense of the shift and opportunities for new learning, teachers will not be sufficiently prepared to make substantive changes to pedagogy.

At Mill River Unified Union School District (MRUUSD), intentional educational infrastructure is leveraged to build teacher understanding of proficiency-based learning so as to ensure equitable outcomes for students. A district-wide teacher learning system supports our ongoing effort to implement PBL practices K-12. Making up this “educational infrastructure” are several key elements, including: instructional coaches, collaborative work time, and curriculum tools.   (more…)

Transparency: Operating with a Clear Instructional Vision to Put Policy into Practice

October 30, 2018 by

Andrew Jones

This is the first in a three-part series from Andrew Jones, director of curriculum at Mill River Unified Union School District in Vermont.

Mill River Unified Union School District (MRUUSD) is a small, rural district located in southwest Vermont. Made up of four K-6 schools and one 7-12 union middle/high school, MRUUSD, like most districts in Vermont, is actively engaged in the implementation of proficiency and personalized learning practices. Act 77 and the Educational Quality Standards (EQS), enacted in 2013 and 2014 respectively, are state policies that require elements of personalized learning and proficiency-based learning, including the provision that high school students earn their diplomas based on proficiency and not credits starting with the graduating class of 2020. Mill River School District has embraced these policies as an opportunity to improve student outcomes while simultaneously providing more equitable experiences for all students. Framing our work toward proficiency is a district instructional vision. (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…)

Capacity in Vermont: If You Build It, They Will Change

March 28, 2018 by

For Vermont, the key to creating a personalized proficiency-based system is capacity building that provides flexible entry points for professionals and opportunities for collaborative learning. As with students, Vermont’s system of support presumes that all educators come from different places and learn in different ways, and that the most powerful learning happens in collaboration.

This coming Spring, Dr. Andrew (Andy) Hargreaves and Allison Zmuda will be leading professional development sessions in Burlington, Vermont in support of implementing the state’s proficiency-based, personalized learning policies — Education Quality Standards (EQS) and Act 77 — with fidelity. Their presentations are sponsored by the Agency of Education’s Vermont Professional Learning Network (VT PLN), in partnership with the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE). There are four interconnected strands to VT PLN work — the Digging Deep series, Vermont Stories, self-paced courses, and Collaborative Learning Groups (CLGs) — each with the goal of strengthening instructional practice and bringing together educators to address opportunities and challenges implementing EQS. (more…)

Multiple Measures Data and Reporting in Vermont and California

March 13, 2018 by

This post originally appeared at iNACOL on February 14, 2018.

In personalized, competency-based education, schools should have far better data to support student learning, provide greater transparency and analyze and continuously improve on their practice through data and reporting with multiple measures. Likewise, states can consider how to present multiple measures of student learning and school quality with advanced data visualization to provide families with rich, easy to understand information.

What States Are Using Multiple Measures for Reporting Data and Continuous Improvement?

This post highlights how Vermont aligns multiple measures to the state’s student-centered learning priorities and to guide continuous improvement. This post also highlights California’s multiple measures dashboard as an example of providing information to different education stakeholders in the state. (more…)

Vermont: Comprehensive Policies of Personalization and Proficiency-Based Learning

February 27, 2017 by

This is the sixteenth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

Instructional practices shall promote personalization for each student, and enable each student to successfully engage in the curriculum and meet the graduation requirements… Schools must provide students the opportunity to experience learning through flexible and multiple pathways, including but not limited to career and technical education, virtual learning, work-based learning, service learning, dual enrollment and early college… Students must be allowed to demonstrate proficiency by presenting multiple types of evidence, including but not limited to teacher- or student-designed assessments, portfolios, performances, exhibitions and projects.
– VERMONT EDUCATION QUALITY STANDARD

 

vermontVermont understands that personalization and proficiency-based education go hand-in-hand. In order to allow greater flexibility, schools need processes in place that create greater accountability for students to reach proficiency and make progress.

Authority from several governing bodies was needed in order to put into place a comprehensive policy that could serve as a platform for a personalized, proficiency-based system. In 2013, the Board of Education approved the Education Quality Standards, which went into effect the next year, while the state legislature passed Act 77 to expand flexible pathways.

Implementation Support

The combined power of these two policies has created a clear message that the state is taking a new direction. However, local control is respected in Vermont (as in most of the other states). Thus, supervisory unions have substantial leeway in how they organize a personalized, proficiency-based system. The Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) is providing substantial support in the form of training and sample resources, with the understanding that the supervisory unions will develop systems that reflect their communities and build upon their strengths.

Vermont hopes to help supervisory unions and schools reach a deep understanding that can help them launch implementation efforts through a seminar series organized by the Great Schools Partnership. The series includes sessions on proficiency-based learning, personalization, flexible pathways, student work and norming, grading and reporting, community engagement, assessing transferable skills, student voice, instruction, and graduation. To date, more than half of the state’s supervisory unions have participated in the training.

Supervisory unions receive $22,000 for teams of five-to-seven people who participate for two days per month over the course of the school year. The strategy is that at least one member will be trained as a facilitator to support implementation and to train others. The next step is for teams to create implementation plans. In addition, the AOE has created a number of tools to support supervisory unions and schools as they think through the questions they will need to answer for implementing each of the policy elements.

Other efforts that are supporting schools in developing personalized, proficiency-based systems include New England Secondary School Consortium’s League of Innovative Schools, the Vermont Professional Learning Network, and Partnership for Change, which is providing support to Winooski and Burlington. (more…)

On Scaling Competency Education: Equity, Quality, and Sustainability

February 1, 2017 by

This is the tenth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

The early lesson from New England is that the scaling strategies for competency-based education require a combination of schools and districts that have the courageous leadership to convert to competency education and state leadership willing to commit to goal-oriented policies supported by long-term capacity-building strategies. Again, over time and as more states move forward, we are likely to learn about where there might be additional issues that need to be addressed. In particular, districts and states need to consider equity, quality, and sustainability.

Equity

amy-allen-quoteEven though equity resides at the very heart of competency-based education, it still requires an unrelenting commitment to challenge institutional patterns, individual bias that creates lower expectations, and strong management practices that can lead to much greater responsiveness. The focus on equity should be found in the accountability designs within school, district, and state systems and processes as well as the schoolwide instructional philosophies and strategies.

Although states are trying to increase responsiveness through embedding expectations that schools and educators respond to student needs, conversations with educators across New England suggest that courageous leadership is still needed. Under the pressure of the end-of-year accountability exams, too many schools and educators, even in the most developed competency-based districts, are still providing grade-level curriculum to students even if they have already learned the content or are lacking the prerequisite skills. In addition to leadership, we will need to engage a broad range of expertise, both practitioner and leadership, to identify the best ways to help students fill skill gaps without falling back into the trap of tracking.

Quality

The field is currently challenged by not having enough research and evaluation on the quality indicators for competency-based districts and schools to determine the elements that will lead to a high-quality model or effective implementation. This task is further complicated by what might be called waves of innovation that take place once districts become competency-based: As educators and schools become more intentional about what they want students to know and be able to do, there are efforts to build assessment literacy; build the capacity for performance assessments to support the development of higher order skills; develop stronger instructional strategies based on learning progressions; introduce practices that support student agency, voice, and choice; integrate more personalized learning practices; and introduce digital tools and online learning. Thus, schools and districts are taking different paths with different sequencing as they build the full range of capacities needed to operate a high-quality competency-based system. (more…)

We Have a Proficiency-Based Diploma. Now What?

January 27, 2017 by

This is the ninth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

rihs-diplomaThe trust in the conventional education system has been undermined by the tradition of awarding diplomas to students who do not possess the skills needed for college and careers. It has been possible in many districts to receive a diploma even though students are still reading at the elementary school level. In order to eliminate this practice of passing students on without the necessary skills, states are introducing policies that set the expectation that students will demonstrate proficiency at an agreed upon performance level in order to receive a diploma (i.e., a proficiency-based diploma).

The proficiency-based graduation policies developed in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont appear to be high-leverage in terms of engaging districts; however, the diploma policy cannot stand alone. It is one thing to say that a diploma must be proficiency-based and an entirely different thing to create a system that will ensure students are making progress toward a diploma throughout each year of school. Even with proficiency-based diploma policies, states will find that they need to take additional steps to fully engage and support districts in ensuring that students can actually reach graduation-level proficiency.

First, there must be a strategy to engage all the districts beyond the coalition of the willing. For example, until Maine engaged districts through a self-assessment of their progress in implementation and offered flexibility in setting their own deadlines within state guidelines, there were many that had not yet demonstrated a commitment to change. Second, states may want to expedite the process by helping districts understand the elements of personalized, competency-based systems and/or the implementation process. Maine provided training opportunities early on and Vermont has complemented their policy with training for supervisory unions. Rhode Island used a more prescriptive approach in requiring secondary schools to implement a set of practices. (more…)

Putting the Pieces Together to Build a Competency-Based Statewide System

January 25, 2017 by

This is the eighth post in the series Reaching the Tipping Point: Insights on Advancing Competency Education in New England.

New England states have a variety of reasons for turning to competency-based education: higher expectations than ever before, the demand for skills that prepare students for an ever-changing world, and an understanding that the traditional system has become a stumbling block to the future of their children and the strength of their communities.

Below are a few highlights of the statewide system-building efforts that are taking place in New England.

  1. Proficiency-Based Diplomas

cross-curricular-skillsThe proficiency-based diploma policies developed in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont appear to be high-leverage in terms of engaging 100 percent of districts; however, the diploma policies cannot stand alone.

One of the variations across states is the number and types of domains that are included in the diploma policy. Maine has specified that students must demonstrate proficiency within eight domains, while Vermont and Rhode Island only require six. All states have included set state-level cross-curricular skills and offered resources to districts to help them develop a structure and build capacity. (For more on proficiency-based diplomas, stay tuned for the next blog in this series.)

  1. Calibration

How can parents be confident that their children are making progress and becoming proficient in all the skills they will need to graduate ready for college and careers?

What needs to be in place within the system itself so that students, parents, college admissions, and employers can have full confidence in the diploma?

These are the types of questions that must be addressed in redesigning the education system. As discussed previously, one of the most important elements needed to create a competency-based system is to create mechanisms that can calibrate (also referred to as moderation or tuning) what it means to be proficient for specific standards and competencies and at specific performance levels. If teachers, schools, districts, and states do not have a shared understanding of what it means to be proficient, then variability and inconsistency will continue to corrode the reliability of schools and undermine efforts to eliminate the achievement gap. (more…)

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