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CompetencyWorks is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency-based 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.

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65 Years On: A Reflection on Brown v. Board and Educational Equity

May 17, 2019 by

Supreme Court Building

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post originally appeared on the iNACOL blog on May 16, 2019.

“Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.” – Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Today marks 65 years since the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the seminal civil rights ruling outlawing school segregation.

Since the ruling, American public school systems have wrestled with how to ensure equality for students regardless of race or background. However, equality cannot be achieved when the structures and systems were designed to disadvantage students of color. It is not enough to allow access to our public schools; we must question whether the opportunities, supports, and resources provided to students are what they need and set them up for success. Today we need to ask ourselves how are we creating equitable learning environments where all students can succeed.

“Treating different things the same can generate as much inequality as treating the same things differently.” – Kimberlé Crenshaw, law professor, UCLA and Columbia Law School

Despite dramatic improvements in education over the last century, the one-size-fits-all, delivery-of-curriculum, time-based system simply doesn’t work as well as needed. In fact, the traditional system was designed to rank and sort students through a combination of practices that bolster or reduce grades based on behavior and tracking systems that set different expectations for students, often based on their income or race. (more…)

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Active Learning through Expeditions and Internships at Four Rivers

May 14, 2019 by

This is the final post in a series about Four Rivers Charter Public School, an EL Education school in western Massachusetts. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Busy Classroom, Lots of Activity

Four Rivers invests great energy and creativity in developing active learning activities, which are central to the EL education model and an essential strategy for building student motivation and engagement. In their Core Practices document, EL Education explains, “Our approach to curriculum makes standards come alive for students by connecting learning to real-world issues and needs. Academically rigorous learning expeditions, case studies, projects, fieldwork, and service learning inspire students to think and work as professionals do, contributing high-quality work to authentic audiences beyond the classroom.” Expeditions also include working with peers and making positive changes in the students’ communities.

Consistent with the goals of competency-based education, these activities often emphasize application and creation of knowledge, along with developing college and career success skills. They are also well-suited to meaningful, varied, and often performance-based assessments.

Learning Expeditions

Expeditions are key curricular structures in EL schools and can bring in all of the active learning strategies just mentioned, although not every expedition uses every strategy. An expedition on addiction and brain sciences was an innovative collaboration between the 10th-grade biology teacher and the school’s health and wellness teacher. Some of the expedition’s biology standards included “I can explain the functions of the different parts of the brain” and “I can explain the connection between neurotransmitters and feelings of happiness and depression.” The wellness standards included “I can discuss the role of community and human connection in relation to my wellness.”

These and other standards led to a wide range of activities such as a lab on the effects of caffeine consumption on the circulatory and nervous systems; expert talks from people who have struggled with addition, a psychotherapist, and a local physician and addictions expert; and participating in a high ropes course on the campus of a community college that borders Four Rivers. (more…)

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Empowering Teachers as School Leaders at Four Rivers

May 7, 2019 by

This is the second post in a series about Four Rivers Charter Public School, an EL Education school in western Massachusetts. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Four Rivers is making a deliberate shift toward distributed leadership, with teachers taking greater responsibility for leadership at the school level, not just in their own classrooms. Both teachers and administrators are enthusiastic about the initial results.

Four Rivers StaffIn traditional schools, authority is hierarchical. This can produce a culture of compliance that works against teachers taking initiative for school-level improvements. Distributing leadership helps to manage the complexity of competency-based schools, promotes leadership opportunities for educators, and builds structures and culture for collaboration, as explained in Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing, and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education. Cultivating empowering and distributed leadership is also one of the quality principles for competency-based education.

A shift toward teacher leadership at Four Rivers happened in late 2017 when Principal Peter Garbus and Assistant Principal Susan Durkee attended an EL Education leadership institute on this topic. Excited about implementing what they had learned, they recruited three teachers who had each been at Four Rivers for more than a decade to join them in forming an instructional leadership team. One teacher was from each of the school’s three grade-level tiers (7-8, 9-10, and 11-12). The team met last summer to make initial plans and then attended an EL Education leadership institute together in the winter to increase their understanding of effective strategies.

“Teachers should and need to be involved in leadership of the school, and that’s got to focus on students’ learning,” Garbus said. The teachers on the leadership team have played key roles in planning and leading the school’s professional development work, which began with creating the faculty work plan. This focused on enhancing curriculum and advancing three school-wide key learning outcomes developed collaboratively by the faculty—that students should become strong investigators, critical thinkers, and communicators; effective learners; and ethical people who contribute to a better world.­

The school’s focus this school year was to promote those key learning outcomes by enhancing the curriculum and deepening student engagement. Their first step was (more…)

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Webinar: An Introduction to K-12 Competency-Based Education

May 2, 2019 by

iNACOL WebinarCompetency-based education—also referred to as mastery-based, proficiency-based, or performance-based education—is a system of education designed to equitably ensure that all students develop the knowledge and skills they will need for college, career, and life. This webinar will answer the most frequently asked questions about why competency-based education is important, how it relates to personalization, what makes an effective competency-based model, and what policies need to be in place to support it.

Join us on Thursday, May 23, 3:00-4:00 p.m. ET for an introduction to competency-based education in K-12 systems. The presenters are:

You can register for the webinar here.

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Using Global Best Practices for School Self-Assessment and Action Planning at Monmouth Middle School

April 29, 2019 by

Cover of Global Best Practices ToolThis is the second post in a series about the Global Best Practices (GBP) tool from the Great Schools Partnership. It is an outstanding, free resource that offers a practical, step-by-step process for assessing schools to inform school improvement plans. It focuses on characteristics of high-performing schools and can help facilitate shifts toward high-quality competency-based practice.

The first post gives an overview of GBP. This article shares how GBP has been used by Monmouth Middle School in RSU2 in Monmouth, Maine. Their work advances several of the quality principles for competency-based education, such as developing processes for ongoing continuous improvement and organizational learning.

Developing a Self-Assessment and Action Plan

Principal Mel Barter explained that Monmouth, a school with grades 4–8, used Global Best Practices when they had a multi-year coaching and professional development contract with the Great Schools Partnership. She was a teacher on the school leadership team at the time, and they had a new principal who wanted to conduct GBP’s self-assessment and develop an action plan.

After recording their performance strategies and evidence for each GBP dimension, teachers scored the school on each dimension. The school’s leadership team used these scores to draft an action plan during the summer and presented it to the whole staff in the fall. Staff members volunteered to take leadership on the parts they were most interested in.

The Action Plan “got traction quickly. It made it so easy to talk about challenges and how we could make important changes,” Barter explained. “Having the Great Schools Partnership coaches was amazing. They did so much for us, and we still use their protocols.”

The full action plan for all GBP dimensions is available here. School culture was one priority area (more…)

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Defining Financial BOLDNESS in Innovative School Plans

April 25, 2019 by

Magnifying glass with dollar signThis post originally appeared on the Afton Partners blog on March 5, 2019.

School teams around the country are creating and implementing innovative academic models, bringing a personalized approach to student learning. Afton has engaged with hundreds of schools as they build these plans, encouraging innovative financial thinking alongside. In many competitive public and philanthropic grant programs, one of the rubric components that Afton has used is for “financial boldness”. Grantees are expected to demonstrate some form of bold thinking around resourcing and expenditures. But what does “financial boldness” mean?

To us, “financial boldness” means thinking outside of the traditional funding and expenditure box. Bold financial plans may:

  • Contemplate innovative or unique sources of sustainable funding, such as partnerships, in-kind community supports, or even identifying flexibilities associated with existing funding streams, such as Title funds or instructional materials funding.
  • Create a new approach to sustain operations by incorporating innovative uses of resources, such as unique staffing structures or uses of space. This includes changes to roles and responsibilities, including for in-classroom staff, and for new approaches to professional development.

(more…)

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Building a Powerful School Culture at Four Rivers

April 23, 2019 by

This is the first post in a series about Four Rivers Charter Public School in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Walking into the high school building recently at Four Rivers Charter Public School, an EL Education school where I used to teach, the first thing I saw was this sign:

Note on WallThe sign epitomized the thoughtfulness, caring, and powerful teaching around school culture and social-emotional learning that run deep at Four Rivers. It helped students understand the impact of actions that they might not have considered. Writing “Tina” rather than “the custodian” highlighted that everyone is an important member of the school community. The sign was visually appealing, consistent with the school’s strong culture of quality and aesthetics. Notably, it hadn’t been torn or defaced. The wording was polite, not authoritarian, surely a more productive approach for encouraging student reflection and ownership.

Four Rivers was founded in 2003 as an Expeditionary Learning (now called EL Education) school, a national model that strongly promotes competency-based practices. Located in Greenfield, Massachusetts, in the state’s rural northwestern corner, the school has 220 students in grades 7–12, drawn from Greenfield and many surrounding towns.

One of EL Education’s five core practices is “school culture and character,” a practice that Four Rivers focuses on intensively. Promoting a school culture of growth, empowerment, safety, and belonging is also essential for shifting to high-quality competency-based systems. The Four Rivers Student and Family Handbook says, “School culture is shaped by the accumulation of thousands of day-to-day interactions.  How students are with each other, how teachers are with students, how students are with teachers, and much more all contribute to creating culture.” Four Rivers has many strategies to build school culture and character; two of them—community meetings and restorative circles—are described in this article. (more…)

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What Happens When You Really Listen? Student Voices and Reshaping Policy

April 18, 2019 by

This post originally appeared on EdWeek’s Next Gen Learning in Action blog on March 25, 2019.

Student Explaining Work to Adults

Educators and policymakers spend a lot of time asking, “How can we better serve our students?” We hold convenings, we compile data, we collect surveys and evaluations. But how often do we ask the real experts: the students themselves?

Based on our current education system, it’s clear we haven’t been listening deeply enough. That’s why Future Focused Education and the Assessment for Learning Project created a touring student-voice exhibit. The “If You Ask Me…” gallery is an interactive, augmented reality experience that brings student interviews to life through any smartphone. It is the culmination of a 1,000-mile road trip, visiting eight districts across New Mexico and interviewing over 45 students. We asked students directly: “How do you learn best?” and “What would you change if you were in charge?”

What Did They Say?

The student interviews surprised and delighted us. We heard from 3rd grader Ben Malden, who said, “School would be more fun if we played more math games” and 12th grader Lily Camunez, who said, “When all the students are really engaged, it’s a room full of energy that wants to learn.”

Their responses troubled us, too. Twelfth grader Jacob Gutierrez said, (more…)

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Project Example: Mobile App Design at Urban Assembly Maker Academy

April 16, 2019 by

Students Working on Laptops at UAMAThis is the fourth post in a series about the Mastery Collaborative in New York City. Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this article.

Whether you’re already deeply engaged in competency-based learning and assessment or just starting, it’s helpful to see how other teachers who are doing this work are structuring their units. After our recent visit to Urban Assembly Maker Academy, a Living Lab school in New York City’s Mastery Collaborative, the design teacher shared one of his unit plans and student work. This blog post discusses the unit and aspects of the Definition of Competency-Based Education and the Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education that it illustrates.

The unit plan on mobile app design from Teacher Gerry Irizarry’s prototyping course is here. This course is part of UA Maker’s digital media sequence, one of their two approved Career and Technical Education pathways. The unit plan begins with naming the design outcomes (here called “standards”) that are being assessed, such as:

  • I can demonstrate the application of the design process to define and solve design problems.
  • I can demonstrate purposeful arrangement of text and image for a creative layout: size, shape, location, and resolution.
  • I can demonstrate an understanding of a target audience.
  • I can demonstrate the ability to give constructive criticism & feedback.

Mobile App Design Project Components

The project summary section of the unit plan describes an “entry event” intended to increase student engagement by personalizing it to their experiences and interests. First students write a list of their favorite mobile apps, then the group discusses the lists together. This leads to a discussion of the most popular music apps and the pros and cons of each, and finally a more general discussion of what makes apps successful and popular (or not).

With students’ knowledge about apps activated and deepened, the work becomes more individualized, with each student selecting profiles of at least two target buyers (based on factors such as (more…)

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Registration Is Open for the 2019 iNACOL Symposium

April 15, 2019 by

Announcement of 2019 iNACOL Symposium

Attendee registration is now open for the iNACOL Symposium held on October 28-31, 2019 in Palm Springs, California. This year’s theme is “Shining a Light on the Future of Learning.”

Register to attend the iNACOL Symposium here.

iNACOL’s annual conference is the premier learning conference for those driving the transformation of education systems and accelerating the advancement of breakthrough policies and practices to ensure high-quality learning for all. Experts, practitioners, educators, policymakers, researchers, and innovators gather and work to transform education.

The iNACOL Symposium includes tracks for competency-based education, assessment for learning, leadership, professional development, policy and advocacy, quality assurance, human capital, community engagement, research, and many more.

Symposium Conference Hall

Register to attend the iNACOL Symposium by 11:59 p.m. ET on July 10, 2019 to receive special early-bird discounts on attendee registration.

For questions, please contact the iNACOL Symposium team. We look forward to seeing you in Palm Springs. (more…)

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