Tag: competency education, competency-based learning

Just Around the Corner: New England Secondary School Consortium Conference

March 13, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 1.35.44 PMWith interest in competency education growing rapidly, it’s absolutely critical that we make it easier for people to learn about what competency education is, what some design choices are, and some of the prevailing implementation issues surrounding competency education, so that they can develop robust systems that will move the needle.

One opportunity is just around the corner. The New England Secondary School Consortium’s upcoming meeting is highlighting competency-based (or proficiency-based) models from Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.  Below are a few of the schools that will be sharing their learning. If you are attending, we would love to have you share a few of your “a-ha!” moments on CompetencyWorks. (more…)

Which Pilot Do You Want Flying Your Plane?

March 12, 2013 by

apLast week I had the opportunity to deliver the keynote to a large group of school administrators from Oregon at their 2013 State Proficiency Conference, sponsored jointly by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) and the Business Education Compact (BEC) in Portland. I began my talk by sharing with the group how I explained the idea of competency-based grading to a woman, Kathy, whom I shared a plane ride with on my way to Oregon. Kathy was very curious to learn more about competency-based grading. She is a mother of three and lives in the Portland area. Her oldest just graduated from high school and is now in the Air Force. She has another child in middle school and her youngest is in elementary school. As a result, she is very invested in educational reforms that promise to give her children a better future.

To help her understand the competency-based system, I asked her to hypothetically consider how the pilot school was organized that our airline pilot attended. We both agreed that in order to be able to fly our plane that day, he had to have been deemed “proficient” by his pilot school. We can only assume that his school taught him everything he needed to know about being a pilot. I offered her two hypothetical situations about the pilot school, and I asked her to then consider which school she thought was better. (more…)

Wait…Don’t…Oh, missed it.

March 8, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 2.33.03 PMThose who have had the experience of living or working in a large city know the rush of seeing your subway train in the station and believing you can make the dash to the door before they close. Moving and dodging past passengers, you begin to feel great. “I am going to make it,” you think. The crowd begins to cheer. You can already feel the celebration. Will you spike your briefcase or simply do a quick shuffle dance. Then out of nowhere, you smash into something. Your nose is throbbing. After a moment you realize the doors have closed. You can see the driver looking at you with a smile on her face. Not in a mocking way but in an apologetic, “Sorry, the trains must stay on schedule” way. As the passengers glance up, you can sense the sympathy in their eyes. They know that feeling of being on the outside looking in.

The same crushing defeat in our Superbowl of ordinary, time-based challenges could be said for air travel, elevators and rides at Disney World. But it should not be felt by our students in our schools.

Ensuring the Going is Good

February 26, 2013 by

The recent surge in interest regarding competency-based approaches in education — the idea that students advance by demonstrating mastery — has revealed predictable challenges. As with the implementation of any innovative idea, when things get going, it’s important to ensure that the going is good.

Why is this new approach so promising? Competency education is connected to the core concept that academic advancement should be based on firm footing. In our current education system, we move students ahead according to age, and determine success or failure by administering an assortment of high-stakes standardized tests. This process contradicts eons of scientific research that shows people grow, mature and learn at different rates, and best demonstrate their learning in complex ways that most current assessment regimens do not support. (more…)

Assessment All the Time? Why Not?

February 4, 2013 by

1970’s ZOOM from website

When talking with people who are not educators, I often think of Fannee Doollee, a character from the Zoom television series, which ran on PBS in the late seventies, who has a fascination with double letters. Fannee Doollee loves one thing but hates something very similar. For example, she loves swEEts but hates candy (notice the double EE in sweets). Similarly, in my conversation with parents and community leaders, I am always amazed at how they can advocate for one thing while mocking a possible solution.

For example, last week I found myself at a round table with eight influential community members. Then it happened. One of the leaders begins talking about her granddaughter in Virginia and how the school gives students a chance to “do over” an assignment until they get it right. She looked at me and pleaded, “Bill, tell me your school does not do that.” All heads nodded in support, and then slowly turned toward me. Enter the image of Fannee Doollee; “They love having students prePPed, but hate giving them time to learn.” (more…)

Put Your Thinking Hats On – It’s VSS Time

from disneyworld.com

from disneyworld.com

Hi all —  iNACOL has opened up its process for presentation proposals for sessions at the Virtual Schools Symposium. The theme of this year’s symposium will be “Transforming to Student-Centered Learning.”

As you may know, iNACOL organized a strand of presentations on competency education last year. This year we want to make it even better by being a bit more strategic – by finding out what topics people want to learn about as well as pro-actively constructing a set of presentations that build upon each other.

So first step – can you use the comments section (or email me) to list any topics you would really like to see covered at VSS? We videotape some of them so they can be used later as well.  Or, if you are already working on a presentation proposal, let us know so we can coordinate around it and avoid duplication.

The conference will be held from October 27 – 30, 2013 in Orlando, FL at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. The Request for Presentation Proposals (RFP) is currently available on the conference website. To access the RFP and submit your presentation, please visit http://vssrfp.inacol.org.  The deadline for submitting presentation proposals is March 25, 2013.

Productivity and Progress

January 21, 2013 by

from Making Mastery work

In the report Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education, the authors highlight four findings on information management systems used by the ten schools in the Proficiency-based Pathways Project:

  • Performance tracking is often the first priority for competency education system building. A simple system can go far, but there is still far to go.
  • Schools must often—still—straddle traditional and competency education systems.
  • Neither packaged courseware products, which have little flexibility, nor learning management systems that allow for maximum customization but offer no content, meet teacher needs for online curriculum delivery systems.
  • A human system needs to work in tandem with the performance data system

Most importantly they remind us that “even though a student or teacher can go online and track performance, people need to figure out how to use that powerful information effectively.”

The report goes on to give examples of how the schools are managing all the data on student learning that is generated, making sure that there is transparency so students see that data as well, while deploying resources to either retrofit time-based products or convert into time-based structures. (more…)

Making Mastery Work

November 13, 2012 by

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF) is releasing Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education today. You can find the report here. The report, authored by Nora PriestAntonia Rudenstine, and Ephraim Weisstein, examines several issues through the collected experiences of the ten schools that participated in the Proficiency-based Pathways Project (PBP)  with co-funding from NMEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The PBP grantees are Big Picture Learning, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Diploma Plus, Expeditionary Learning, MSAD #15 otherwise known as Gray -New Gloucester District in Maine, National Center for the Education and the Economy, and Vergennes School District.

Making Mastery Work provides insights into how the schools, all of which have different approaches and are at different stages of development as a competency-based model, are aligning their schools around learning. Topics include the creation of a transparent mastery and assessment system, time flexibility, curriculum and instruction, leadership for competency education development, and the role of data and information technology in a competency-based education model. We’ll be offering webinars in January – March 2013 on these topics so you can hear from the innovators directly. Or check out the wiki to see examples of the tools they use. Stay tuned!

In Making Mastery Work, the authors provide the key characteristics of competency education.  This is an important addition to our understanding as it helps us to better comprehend the nature of competency education and guide us in implementation.

Key Characteristics of Competency Education

1) Students progress at own pace

  • Transparent system for tracking and reporting progress;
  • Flexible, learner-centric use of time, often beyond standard school day and year; and
  • Explicit methods for providing additional support or opportunities for learning

2) Graduation upon demonstration of mastery of a comprehensive list of competencies

  • Courses designed around set of competencies aligned with Common Core State Standards;
  • “Credit” awarded upon mastery of competencies associated with course or smaller module, based on summative assessments; and
  • Transparent system for tracking and reporting progress

3) Teachers skilled at facilitating differentiated learning environments

  • Frequent formative assessments provide real-time feedback to students and teachers on progress toward competencies and help guide instruction; and
  • Development of robust approaches to supporting students as they move through competencies, especially those who progress slowly

What do you think?  Are these the key characteristics that you think about? Are there others you think should be included?


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