Tag: competency-based learning

Must Read: From Policy to Practice in New Hampshire

May 9, 2014 by
Julia Freeland

Julia Freeland

The Christenensen Institute just released “From policy to practice: How competency-based education is evolving in New Hampshire”. It is a fantastic paper, providing a comprehensive look at how New Hampshire is leading the way in competency education.

One of the things I loved in this paper is the opening section that recounts Steven Spears’ experience at one of the US’s big three car companies, highlighting that assessment can either be used as part of the learning process or as inspection. What goes unsaid in this story is that cars that don’t pass inspection in the traditional factory model still requires another step—they get fixed. In today’s top-down accountability model in education, we inspect—and then still pass kids on without getting them what they need.

The author, Julia Freeland, uses the working definition of competency education developed by innovators in the field (and the one we use here at CompetencyWorks) as an organizing structure for her interviews with 13 schools. This is helpful both in understanding how schools are implementing competency education as well as an overview competency education for newbies who are trying to get their head wrapped around redesigning district systems and schooling to focus on students and their learning, not the delivery of instruction. (more…)

Counted or Not, Doing What Counts in Competency-Based Education

April 29, 2014 by
Eduardo Briceño

Eduardo Briceño

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
– William Bruce Cameron (and on a sign hanging in Albert Einstein’s office)

Competency-based education comes with the risk that we focus only on those competencies that can easily be measured and overlook other competencies that are also critical for success in today’s and tomorrow’s world. If we’re mindful of what students need and design our competency-based systems accordingly, however, we can make competency-based education all it can be.

How we can get into trouble

In a competency-based system, each learner focuses on knowledge and skills at the right challenge level, just beyond what is known, and progresses to the next level upon mastery rather than based on age or time. This makes a lot of sense. It’s how people learn. (more…)

How a District Ended Student Dropouts with Personalized Learning

April 22, 2014 by

This post originally published on EdSurge. Author Roger Cook is the Superintendent of the Taylor County School District in Campbellsville, Kentucky.

1(1)Imagine, if you can, a school where students do not have specific teachers assigned to them, nor do teachers have specific students on their roster.

Imagine a school where students come each day with a list of standards to work on and accomplish–right when they walk in the door. They can go to the teacher of their choice in order to accomplish the completion of these standards. Or, they can do them on their own in any setting they wish, as long as they maintain accomplishing the minimum amount of standards in a minimum amount of time. Some students, for example, may work individually in the media center not having to go to any classroom.

And last but not least, imagine a district at large where the dropout rate is at zero percent.

In this type of environment, students would come and go as they please, but would be required to prove the successful completion of work and pass assessments to demonstrate understanding.

Sound crazy? Not to educators in the Taylor County School District in Campbellsville, Kentucky. In fact, that is our district’s ten-year plan. (more…)

Practitioner Implications in Competency Education: An Interview with Rose Colby

January 8, 2014 by

Rose Colby

This interview originally appeared in the CSSR October 2014 Newsletter.

Rose Colby is a career educator who has worked for the last eight years as a competency-based learning and assessment specialist. She works extensively in New Hampshire schools, as well as more broadly in schools across the country as the competency education movement expands. Colby recently began working with a number of CSSR schools on the development of competencies and the review of grading and assessment practices. We sat down with her recently to discuss the practitioner implications of competency education.

For Colby, competency education (CE) boils down to honoring “wherever and whenever kids do learning based on their personal learning plan.” Through the use of high quality assessment methods, i.e. performance tasks, kids move forward based on demonstrated mastery of course competencies. She is quick to cite the abundance of research: CE is aligned with what cognitive science tells us about how we learn-not the current silo-ing of standards. The following are three areas of focus that Colby suggests for practitioners moving towards these transformational practices: core beliefs; writing competencies; and grading & scheduling. She also shared tips on how to get started exploring this work.

Core Beliefs

For Colby, the traditional instructional model includes: curriculum, instruction, assessment, and grading. A transformational instructional model includes: high quality competencies, performance assessment, personalized learning pathways and dynamic grading. In the traditional model educators approach the educational setting as “here’s what you need to know, and how I’m going to teach it.” In CE, educators consider the experience and mastery that individual students bring to the learning environment to determine a personalized learning progression. Colby believes that what’s best for all kids are practices that are offered to all kids and not particular groups. She worries that too often schools offer these highly differentiated, personalized pathways for kids who are in danger of not graduating, when in fact they better engage all students in their own education. (more…)

Ingenium Schools: A Big City Competency-Based School

June 13, 2013 by
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Ingenium Schools website

Is competency education a reform better suited for rural and outer ring suburbs than urban districts? That’s one of the questions I get asked a lot in the back of the room at meetings. No one ever asks that question during the regular sessions, leading me to think that the question goes beyond the size of the districts, and that the question is actually asking will competency education work in areas of concentrated poverty? Or perhaps, in our racially segregated country, people are using the code word “urban” to mean will it work for African-American students?

It is true that many of the district-wide reforms, supported by the work of the Reinventing Schools Coalition, started in rural districts and have taken hold in rural and suburban districts.  However, we now have a proof point that the very same model is taking root in south Los Angeles at Barack Obama Charter School (BOCS). And they are getting results – last year they had a 150 point gain in one year based on the California Standards Tests.   (more…)

The Power of Principals

June 10, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 11.35.25 AMMaine’s Center for Best Practices has released a new case study The Power of Principals — I consider it a must-read for anyone starting down the path of proficiency-based education.  It’s the story of how Regional School Unit 20 has advanced toward personalized, proficiency-based learning over the past three years. Here are my three big takeaways:

1) Three important questions to guide design.  The case study starts with the story of Searsport District High School. After losing its accreditation and getting a federal Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration grant, they began transitioning to standards-based reforms. In redesigning their school, Searsport District High had focused on two questions:

  • What should kids who graduate from Searsport District High School know and be able to do when they graduate, and
  • How shall we design curriculum, assessment, instruction, and reporting to ensure that they do know?

The case study explains: There was a third question, though, that they hadn’t yet addressed: What will we do if a student does not know what they need to know?

In response to this question, Searsport devised its system of academic interventions… The intervention system developed two branches:  skill-based interventions, for when the student was not getting a standard or learning target, and behavior-based interventions, for when the student was choosing not to complete assignments.  In both cases, it was seen as essential that the intervention occur as soon as possible after the need was recognized, certainly during the same day.  Check out the flow chart on page 5. (more…)

Getting Your Feet Wet Reading List

May 29, 2013 by

tulum-374The question came up the other day, what are the best 2-3 short readings for someone that hasn’t been exposed to the idea of competency education to read?  Susan and I were talking about this and we came up with the following (below).

We’d like to know what you use to engage people in thinking deeply about competency-based, proficiency-based, performance-based, or mastery-based learning.  We are keeping a Recommended Reading List up to date…so please forward helpful resources to us.


Getting Your Feet Wet Reading List

1) To Learn About What’s Wrong with the Traditional System

In The One World School House, Sal Khan provides two easy to read chapters containing historical insight and information about the fundamental flaws in the traditional system. In  the chapter “The Prussian Model,” he describes how the structure of today’s schooling developed with its grade levels, calendar, semesters, and daily schedules. In “Swiss Cheese Learning,” he outlines the flaws in the problem, emphasizing that even our A+ students end up advancing with gaps in their knowledge that may create significant challenges later on. (more…)

Should Every Student Be in A Competency-Based System?

April 22, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-04-19 at 11.52.39 AMIn a discussion with Lilian Pace from KnowledgeWorks this morning, the fascinating question of whether every student should be in a competency-based system  or whether it should be an option for students came up.

This led to a discussion of whether competency education is a specific school design, instructional model or a systemic framework.  In a policy environment that encourages choice and personalization, we of course don’t want to establish one-size fits all school designs or instructional approaches. (And I certainly don’t think competency education is a school model or instructional approach). However, as a systemic framework, is competency education something we want for everyone?

The only way I know to answer this question is to walk through it step by step:

1) Should a student be provided with education that responds to where they are in their learning progression?

It’s the Goldilocks answer.  If the curriculum is too easy or too hard, frustration, boredom and disengagement occur. We want the curriculum to be “just right” – at and above the level where students are in their learning progression so they are challenged.  The zone of proximal development, if you will. (more…)

Rethinking Teacher Evaluation for the Competency-Based Grading & Reporting Environment

April 17, 2013 by
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from Making Mastery Work

Introduction:  Rethinking the Effectiveness of the Dog & Pony Show Model
During my first three years as a high school math teacher in Massachusetts back in the early 2000s, I had grown accustomed to having an administrator in my classroom observe as I taught a math lesson. As a new teacher I was required by district policy to be observed at least three times per year. Both my administrator and I knew how the drill worked:  We would pick a date and a class for me to be observed. We would meet in advance to talk about what I was planning to teach. During my observation I would make sure to use innovative teaching strategies or cooperative learning activities with my students. We would meet after the lesson to talk about what went well and where I could improve. The administrator would write up a narrative, I would sign it, and it would be filed away. The process would then repeat, and repeat, and repeat. Over my first three years I had nine observations. Once I reached my fourth year, I was considered tenured and thus my observations went down to one every other year. This means it would have taken me an additional eighteen years of teaching before I would have completed another nine observation cycles.

I don’t think my experience in this regard is unique, as many school districts used and still use a model very similar to this one. As I reflect back on that experience as a new teacher, years later, I don’t think I ever remember actually using anything that came from my evaluations as a way to improve my own teaching. Don’t get me wrong, my pre- and post-conferences always yielded great advice. My administrator and I always had great discussions about my lessons. We never really talked about my teaching. What I did on a day-to-day basis as a teaching professional to impact the lives of my students wasn’t easily observable during the dog and pony show, the name I had given for the act of preparing an observable lesson that would showcase all the innovative teaching strategies I could cram into a ninety-minute block. (more…)

Collegiate Endorsement of Proficiency-Based Education and Graduation

March 22, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 1.56.25 PMWe all know higher education plays a big role in designing and institutionalizing competency education, including alignment of admissions policies, increased access to competency-based dual credit courses, and teacher preparation, as well as building competency-based systems within their own organizations.

We are starting to see higher education formally take on this responsibility.  Here are two examples (and let us know what is going on in your state):

1) Today, March 22 at the High School Redesign in Action Conference, 25 institutions of higher education in New England have formally endorsed proficiency-based education. These institutions include: (more…)

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