CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, CompetencyWorks shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

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Getting to Know Students’ Business: A Conversation at Lincoln-West’s Schools of Global Studies and Science & Health

July 10, 2017 by

This is the third of a five-part series on competency-based schools in Cleveland Metropolitan Schools.

Lincoln-West is a large comprehensive school being redesigned into two smaller schools: the School of Global Studies and the School of Science & Health. These two schools are being designed as mastery-based schools. Both schools had only six months under their belt when we visited. They have used the same design principles and design process but have created cultures, learning experiences, and established community partnerships that reflect their themes. For example, students at Science & Health spend time learning in a hospital, and Global Studies offers an array of service learning opportunities. Below are conversations with principals and teachers at the two schools.

A Conversation with Principals

Christopher Thompson, principal at the School of Science & Health, said, “We’ve learned that it is important to be very intentional about onboarding veteran teachers. They’ve learned and worked in traditional schools all their lives. Resetting their orientation and mindset takes time.” Irene Javier, principal at the School of Global Studies, emphasized that the growth mindset is important for students and teachers. “We took advantage of the design process for all of us to reset our mindsets,” she said. “We used the process almost like a meditation so that each person was able to see their new roles and how they could contribute. It’s important to celebrate how much is being accomplished in such a short period of time.”

The process of hiring came up several times. The principals emphasized that attitude is equally important to skills. It’s important to make sure that teachers understand what they are signing up for. Thompson noted, “We found that we needed to look for a specific set of qualities. Teachers need to have a growth mindset for themselves, expertise in differentiation, a positive attitude toward learning and building relationships with students, and strong knowledge of instruction and assessment. Oh, and they need to know the standards.”

Javier expanded, “This looks daunting at first, until teachers understand that there are lots of supports to this structured way of teaching and learning. Essentially we are staging the learning curve. We are intentional about what we want students to learn with clear plans balanced with flexibility because students shape the learning process as well. What’s most important is to always celebrate what teachers bring to the learning process and their accomplishments in expanding their skills.”

Darcel Williams, Program Manager for New School Model, explained, “Principals play a critical role in instruction at any school. However, at a brand new school it is particularly important for principals to be engaged with teachers.” Javier continued, “We have 75 percent brand new teachers and 25 percent veterans. They have different issues. The older teachers struggle because they feel less confident than they have in the traditional system. But they are already saying that the change has been worth it to see students so engaged.” The district has also been helping with building the educator capacity by offering professional learning before the opening of the new schools, much of it introducing and role modeling the new practices.

One week of professional learning was offered in May for the staff of the new schools. During that time they worked together to create curricular maps with their peers. For example, a team might include one ELA teacher, two interventionists, and two bilingual paraprofessionals so that important strategies for serving students with disabilities and those learning English are embedded into the curriculum. Javier smiled in recalling this process, “Teachers can conquer the world when they collaborate.” The curricular maps went through two to three reviews to improve the quality, make connections with the themes of the schools (service learning for Global Studies and hospital internships at Science & Health), and ensure they were organized for students with different sets of skills to be able to make progress. Advisory also created its own ten-week map, including introducing students to learning within a competency-based structure. (more…)

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Bringing Voices Together for Competency Education and Performance Assessment

July 7, 2017 by

Laurie Gagnon

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on June 29, 2017.

Last week was a big week for all those who believe that we can create an education system that meets the need of each child in finding his or her pathway to a successful and productive life. In the field of personalized, competency education, CompetencyWorks and iNACOL’s National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, “convened 100 leading innovators to move the field of competency-based education through the next generation of ideas and actionable outcomes, with a specific focus on equity and diversity.” Closer to home, the Center for Collaborative Education, in partnership with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, released the 46th issue of Voices in Urban Education (VUE) focusing on performance assessment.

As the school year comes to a close, these two events have generated much to follow up on, connecting to work in progress and yet to come. Here are three initial thoughts.

Equity is at the center of this work. Equity needs to both be embedded in all that we do and to be pursued as an explicit intention of our work with its own learning agenda. Among the 100 attendees at the summit, specific attention was paid to racial diversity with 41% people of color participating. Equity was the center of the learning agenda for the Competency-Based Education Summit.

Designing for equity and from the student experience are inseparable from attaining a quality competency education system. If we want competency education to have different results than our existing sort and rank system, we need to pay attention to racial justice as a key element of equity. In our definitions of success for our students and graduates, we need to explore what it means to be a citizen of a democracy and a global world. Beyond college and career ready, we want every child to be ready for a fulfilling life and to thrive in a multicultural world. That being said, anti-racist education should be included as we redesign and redefine curriculum. Repeating the mantra “all children” is not enough. Colorblind doesn’t work. (more…)

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Amidst Opioid Addiction, Plummeting Morale, One Elementary School Reinvents Itself

July 6, 2017 by

This post and all photos originally appeared at EdSurge on June 19, 2017.

When you enter Parker-Varney Elementary School, you are immediately struck by the relaxed atmosphere. Make your way to the office to check in, and you’ll see students walking by and waving, moving in and out of community spaces with confidence and ease. There’ll be a buzz of excitement in the air, the mark of students highly engaged and doing work that is important and relevant to their lives.

It wasn’t always this way. Four years ago, in 2013, Parker-Varney was listed as a “School in Need of Improvement.” The school had seen five principals in six years and achievement scores, morale and attendance were sinking. Local families were struggling economically, with 72 percent of students qualifying for Free and Reduced Lunch, and across the district, we were battling an opioid crisis (a problem that continues today, with six parental overdoses at Parker-Varney this year alone).

Rather than crumble, however, we chose to embrace change and focus on what mattered most: whole child development. We honored student needs with multi-age classrooms and competency-based projects. As principal, I encouraged the staff to take risks and to rekindle their passion for teaching and learning. Teachers identified problems of practice and prototyped solutions, and focused on what could be done rather than what couldn’t.

At Parker-Varney, we have a saying: “Learning can be messy, and we must work through the mess.” Today, although the walls of the building are the same, the “spirit” and sense of collaboration have transformed.

Here are a few key ingredients to our success. (more…)

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Starting with Design Principles in Cleveland

July 5, 2017 by

Image from the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools Wesbsite

This is the second of a five-part series on competency-based schools in Cleveland Metropolitan Schools.

In its efforts to expand its portfolio of high schools, Cleveland has created four new schools using the Opportunity by Design framework supported by Carnegie Corporation and its partner, Springpoint. We visited two schools in the Lincoln-West building, Global Studies and School of Science and Health, followed by two schools in the JFK building, E3agle Academy and PACT (Problem-Based Academy of Critical Thinking). Each of the schools has a different theme or emphasis, while all draw on the design principles to create personalized, competency-based schools with deeper learning opportunities for students.

The Design Principles and Process

The new schools were developed using the following ten principles.

  1. Integrates positive youth development to optimize student engagement & effort
  2. Has a clear mission & coherent culture
  3. Develops & deploys collective strengths
  4. Remains porous & connected
  5. Prioritizes mastery of rigorous standards aligned to college & career readiness
  6. Personalizes student learning to meet student needs
  7. Empowers & supports students through key transitions into & beyond high school
  8. Maintains an effective human capital strategy aligned with school model & priorities
  9. Continuously improves its operations & model
  10. Manages school operations efficiently & effectively

Schools engaged youth and the surrounding communities to shape their missions and their themes. (See Designing New School Models – A Practical Guide.) (more…)

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June 2017 CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

July 1, 2017 by

Here are the highlights from June 2017 on CompetencyWorks. Happy reading. And let us know if you have questions you want us to delve into!

NATIONAL SUMMI

#CBESummit17

The Summit Starts Today

National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education

(more…)

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What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

June 30, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicSchool Designs

  • Pittsfield School District shares their story of transformation toward student-centered learning in this video.
  • Chicago’s CICS West Belden embarked on a journey to implement personalized, competency-based learning. Learn more about their model here.
  • Navin Elementary School in Marysville Exempted Village School District is committed to personalized learning and doing what’s best for kids. Read an article and watch a video explaining their model.
  • Amidst opioid addiction and plummeting morale, learn how this one elementary school reinvented itself.
  • Some schools use changes in grading to begin shifting the focus on helping all students reach proficiency. Here is a story from North Carolina.

Assessments

Teacher Perspectives

  • When first learning about competency education, teachers often have a host of questions: “Do I plan a different lesson plan for each child?” “How do I manage all the levels?” This article addresses these questions about the practicalities of teaching in competency-based learning systems.
  • A D.C. teacher laid out a bold vision to improve poor student performance in this article. Educators and readers of Washington City Paper have since agreed and believe personalized learning should replace traditional schooling.
  • A high school English teacher penned a response to a recent article in The Federalist which warns against competency education.

Thought Leadership

(more…)

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National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education

June 29, 2017 by
Chris Sturgis

Chris Sturgis

I’m still processing. I find myself waking up several times a night with my brain spinning through conversations and the notes from the Summit. Here are just two of my personal reflections on the Summit. There will be more to come as I work through all of the notes.

Who is in the Room Matters

In the musical Hamilton, Aaron Burr sings about wanting to be in the “room where it happens.” In advancing any social or education effort, there are many rooms where vision, ideas, goals, and strategies are shaped. In the world of competency education (like many other fields), the people in the rooms have often been all or mostly white. We were super-intentional and goal-oriented in how we planned the Summit to bring in four types of diversity – regional, perspective (teacher to national), expertise, and racial & ethnic. The mix of knowledge in the room was extraordinary, with participants actively listening to stretch across their own perspectives.

In terms of the mix based on race & ethnicity, the first Summit was about 95 percent white. The second one was 59 percent. In order to do this, we had to learn to approach the criteria and process of inviting people as well as the agenda differently. We took a “diversity lens” to just about every decision – what is the impact, how would others interpret, feel, and engage. It all paid off – so I was told by many of the participants. It shaped not only the ideas that were introduced, but the comfort of pushing us forward in thinking about what it means to have equity as the core of competency education.

We all want to be in the room where it happens. What I’ve come to realize is that it really matters who is in the room. Yes, we want people who have power and influence in the room in order to commit to making things happen. But unless we have the right mix of people, it’s likely that we are not going to make the best decisions about what will happen.

What is Competency Education?

(more…)

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The Four Biggest Challenges to Implementing Maine’s Proficiency-Based Diploma

June 28, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on May 30, 2017.

Maine has long been an innovator in education, stemming back to the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Now all eyes are on our corner of the country as we transition from a traditional seat-time high school diploma to a proficiency-based diploma.

Historically, Maine has spurred national, paradigm-shifting discussions about how we “do school.” We have pushed many state districts to make significant policy changes that align with instructional and educational best practices, and have encouraged teachers, administrators, and districts to innovate educational systems design. I believe the new proficiency-based diploma requirements are yet another beacon of educational leadership and innovation, one that will alter our education system in meaningful and lasting ways.

But what exactly are these new kinds of diplomas, and just how difficult a transition do they pose to educators?

First, the basics. In 2012, Maine passed a law requiring that by 2018 all students would graduate with a proficiency-based diploma; the law then went through a major update in 2015-2016. The Maine DOE defines proficiency-based education as an academic assessment approach that requires students to demonstrate mastery of certain skills before they progress to the next lesson, get promoted to the next grade level, or receive a diploma. You can find the official definition here.

To me, proficiency-based education is about drawing lines in the sand of learning. It’s about recognizing that, if traveling to Boston, you don’t say you’re in Boston until you’re in Boston. It’s about knowing who you are, what you know, and what you can do. And, most importantly, where to go next.

There are many challenges facing districts, schools, teachers, students, and communities in this shift to a proficiency-based system of learning. Below are the four I believe loom largest: (more…)

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Adult Learning: Creating Buy-in

June 27, 2017 by

This post and graphics originally appeared at 2Revolutions on May 17, 2017.

Designing and facilitating high-quality professional learning experiences is such important and challenging work. I must admit that in my first year of formally leading professional development, I cried a few times in school bathrooms during session breaks — not so dissimilar to swallowing back tears in the teacher’s lounge during my first few months of teaching in the Bronx. I remembered (and often forgot) lots of mediocre professional development experiences as a teacher. How could I avoid repeating this pattern and actually make a difference with the little precious time I had with busy educators? On a larger scale, this question weighs upon the United States educational system, with much research pointing to huge wastes of time and money poured into largely ineffective efforts to develop teachers. (See TNTP’s The Mirage and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development.)

As the director of learning transformation at 2Rev, I am lucky to be able to pursue my obsession with designing and facilitating effective adult learning as a core part of my role, which has, not surprisingly, helped me learn a lot about what works and what’s most important when it comes to educator professional learning. In my next few blog posts, I’ll share several key principles that we’re arriving upon as we continue to experiment with different approaches to adult learning. Some of these are likely unsurprising and clearly backed by research, yet worth being reminded of. Others are intuitive but much easier said than done. I’ll share these principles with some broad rationale and then drill down into some specific practices and tools that we’ve found to be effective in living out these principles.

Today I’ll focus on a first, and maybe one of the most important, principles: creating buy-in.

(more…)

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