Tag: competency education, competency-based learning

Potential Pitfalls for Ensuring Equity in Competency-Based Systems

June 9, 2017 by

This is the third blog in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency-Based Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and how we might be able to advance the field.

Even with the best school design imaginable, there is always a concern that inequity will rear its ugly head. We have to be vigilant in identifying where this might occur if we want to ensure competency-based systems live up to their promise. In our discussions with the Technical Advisory Group participants, we identified nine potential issues that may arise in personalized, competency-based systems. By identifying these issues, states, districts, and schools can create mitigating strategies and preemptively use data to look for early trends.

It is important to remember that most, if not all, of the following nine issues are also problematic in the traditional system. The difference is that competency-based schools make them transparent and take responsibility for addressing them. Districts and schools simply can’t ignore these issues and still fully engage students in putting their best efforts forward, reaching mastery, and making progress.

1. Are Pace and Progress Closely Monitored? The primary equity concern related to competency education is the fear that variation in pacing will mean that some students get left behind. However, the reality is that in traditional environments, gaps for students who lack core knowledge and skills already exist, and the time-based structure means these gaps only grow over time. What competency education requires is that we focus on students every day, giving them supports to stay on pace while still allowing them to have a variety of tempos in how they learn and ensuring they demonstrate mastery. The most developed competency-based schools monitor growth of students based on their learning trajectory, not just their pace on grade-level standards. Competency-based schools help students to set goals and teachers to reflect with students to identify gaps in skills that need to be addressed.

2. Are There Adequate Supports for Students to Ensure They Reach Proficiency and Make Progress? States, districts, and schools need to be thinking strategically about the most effective instructional strategies to help students with skill gaps (i.e., performance levels two or more levels below their expected grade level) to accelerate learning. Educators should engage in action research to identify the most effective evidence-based practices. In addition, districts and schools need to become more responsive to students who need additional support, including providing supports before, during, and after the semester. This will require different structures and budgeting strategies.

In competency-based education, students who are at or above grade level are also expected to progress even if it is to standards above their grade level. Thus, systems of supports in districts and schools need to take into consideration strategies to support 100 percent of the students. (more…)

Introducing an Equity Framework for Competency Education

June 8, 2017 by

This is the second blog in a series leading up to the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education. We are focusing on four key areas: equity, quality, meeting students where they are, and policy. (Learn more about the Summit here.) We released a series of draft papers in early June to begin addressing these issues. This article is adapted from In Pursuit of Equality: A Framework for Equity Strategies in Competency-Based Education. It is important to remember that all of these ideas can be further developed, revised, or combined – the papers are only a starting point for introducing these key issues and driving discussions at the Summit. We would love to hear your comments on which ideas are strong, which are wrong, and how we might be able to advance the field.

One of our challenges at the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education is to explore, clarify, and develop recommendations on how to approach and improve equity within a competency-based system. In a competency-based system we assume that there is some level of personalization and differentiation in order to meet students where they are, to build lifelong learning skills, and to engage and motivate students. In the participatory Technical Advisory Group we looked at several driving questions, including:

  • How should we define equity to be meaningful in a personalized, competency-based system?
  • How can competency-based learning systems and schools make outcomes more transparent and take responsibility for addressing equity issues?
  • What do we know about improving equity? What elements should be integrated into competency-based structures? What practices should be integrated into any classroom?
  • How can we work together as a field to ensure that competency-based systems take full advantage of what we know about equity strategies to benefit all students, especially those who have been historically underserved?

The first step was to clarify what we meant by equity. With a reflection on how the concept of fairness or equality has developed in American education, we came to an understanding that equity refers to the strategies – equity strategies if you will – that are used to ensure that all students succeed. After looking at many definitions, we are building upon the definition of equity advanced by the National Equity Project.

Educational equity means that each child receives what he or she needs to develop to his or her full academic and social potential. Working toward equity in schools involves:

  • Ensuring equally high outcomes for all participants in our educational system; removing the predictability of success or failures that currently correlates with any social or cultural factor;
  • Interrupting inequitable practices, examining biases, and creating inclusive multicultural school environments for adults and children; and
  • Discovering and cultivating the unique gifts, talents and interests that every human possesses.


CompetencyWorks Releases New Reports on Key Issues in Competency Education

June 7, 2017 by

In advance of the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, CompetencyWorks released new draft reports exploring key issues challenging the field of competency education:

Competency education is expanding nationally – sometimes led by educators at the school and district level, and sometimes introduced by leadership at the state level – to effect change in the purpose of education from sorting students to ensuring that students learn to the levels of college and career readiness. This is an enormous leap with enormous consequences.

To make sure that we were understanding as many of these consequences as possible, CompetencyWorks designed a participatory process leading up to the Summit where practitioners could contribute their knowledge through Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs). Through the TAG process, organizations, schools, and leaders engaged in deep conversations around these issues and shared their collective insights, which we incorporated into these reports. Thank you to the 100+ people who participated in the Technical Advisory Groups to develop the ideas in the paper.  

During the Summit, attendees will discuss these key issues, collaborate on the field’s challenges, and brainstorm solutions and best practices to advance K-12 competency-based education, using these reports to guide discussions. After the Summit, we will revise these reports based on the attendees’ input.

If you didn’t get a chance to participate in a TAG and would like to chime in, please leave comments either here or in one of the blogs based on the papers. It is just as helpful to us at this point to know what you find really helpful or powerful as it is to know what isn’t or what is missing.

Four Emerging Issues in Competency Education


Goodbye ABCs: How One State is Moving Beyond Grade Levels and Graded Assessments

June 6, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on May 16, 2017.

The term “grades” has become almost taboo among some educators in New Hampshire, where seven elementary schools are slowly ditching the word altogether through a program known as NG2. The program—short for “no grades, no grades”—is hallmarked by the schools shifting to a more competency-based assessment structure and removal of grade levels.

Mary Earick, project director for NG2, says the purpose of the program is to create more flexible learning pathways for students through “competency-based multiage schooling,” which allows students to move on to new objectives only after mastering others.

“[NG2] tackles long-standing educational barriers to personalized learning . . . that of ‘Grades,’” Earick writes in an upcoming report on the project. Those barriers include “(1) student assessments that don’t accurately reflect students’ true understandings and skills and (2) methods for grouping students (by age) that often poorly align to their true needs as learners.”

The program follows six key tenets: project-based learning, learner agency, whole person development, blended learning and competency-based assessment. New Hampshire schools participating in NG2 represent urban, suburban and rural parts of the state. While the elementary schools are alike in piloting a “no grades, no grades” structure, each was given flexibility for how it would implement the program specifically.

“We don’t talk about that [grades] anymore,” says Amy Allen, principal at Parker Varney Elementary, a NG2 school. For Allen, moving away from just using the word “grades” has been an important piece of keeping students motivated in the program. So if a first-grade student is attending a kindergarten intervention group, he is not told he is going to a kindergarten class. Instead, he might be going to see “team cooperation.”

Allen says that about 80 percent of the school is participating in the pilot. There are two separate K-2 groupings, one second/third grade group, and a fourth/fifth group. (The other 20 percent of the school, including a standalone kindergarten and third-grade class, are sticking to the status quo.) (more…)

New Hampshire Innovation Studios

June 5, 2017 by

This post and all pictures originally appeared at 2Revolutions.

Depending on the goals of our partners, Discover and Learn Days can take many formats. Innovation Studios are one example. Launched in partnership with the New Hampshire Department of Education and the New Hampshire Learning Initiative, Innovation Studios are half-day workshops at New Hampshire schools that focus on exposing educators and school leaders to innovation happening in their own backyard. Participants explore cutting-edge learning environments that foster personalization, competency-based learning, and student agency and then go on to design prototypes to bring these innovations back to their schools.

Public Will Through Community Engagement

The genesis of Innovation Studios came from New Hampshire’s state educational vision, called NH Vision 2.0, which laid out the foundational goals for the state in 2016 and beyond. One main goal of the vision, is to engage New Hampshire communities in transforming schools in ways that make sense for the kids and families attending them. The NH 2.0 visioning team of state officials, educators, district leaders, business and non-profit organizations, 2Rev, and others, realized that it’s more powerful to help communities create solutions that fit their distinct needs rather than coming to them with an answer. These studios are one mode for how this is unfolding—sparking and encouraging innovation by sharing ideas and approaches that are working in real schools with real kids.


Space for Exploration

Sessions begin with a range of design and learning activities, like this one, which is a play on the periodic table and helps participants identify the skills and dispositions where they shine and those areas where they need support. Creating transformative schools that go beyond academic competencies requires the educators in them to have experiences that tap into these essential skills and dispositions; activities like these are one way into that. After warming up, participants hear from the visiting school about the work they have been doing. Each studio has focused in on a different entry point to innovation: competency-based learning and assessments at Pittsfield Schools, project-based learning at Parker-Varney Elementary School, and student agency at Souhegan High School and Maple Street Magnet School. (more…)

Looking to Ditch Traditional Grades? Here’s How to Get Stakeholders On Board

June 2, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on May 17, 2017.

You know that old interview question: What would change in education if you had a magic wand? For Scott Looney, there’d be no hesitating: He would have every school switch from traditional grading to competency-based evaluations. “They’re more authentic, more meaningful, and more logical,” he explains. “They just make sense.”

Looney is the mastermind behind the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), an organization made up of over 100 private schools. Rather than a traditional GPA, the group imagines a credit-based transcript , with links to artifacts that demonstrate students’ mastery across different competencies. The basic premise is that by providing a more complex and accurate picture of students, academic needs can be better met, colleges can make more informed admissions decisions, and intrinsic motivation will follow.

The MTC is not alone in its mission. An increasing number of schools—including charter and traditional public schools—are making a similar move to ditch traditional grades in favor of a more robust approach to assessing students’ skills. Whether they call it competency-, mastery-, or standards-based grading, the movement aims to improve students outcomes sans As, Bs, and Cs.

But making the switch may be easier said than done. Competency and mastery-based evaluations often require more work from teachers, more self-motivation from students, and less certainty when it comes to the college application process. So how to reap the benefits of competency-based education and make sure parents, teachers and other stakeholders are on board? We check in with the schools in the process of figuring that out.

Spoiler: it may boil down to good communication. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?


What's new! star graphicSchool Designs

Grade Levels

  • New Hampshire is moving beyond grade levels and graded assessments through a new program called NG2 (no grades, no grades), with seven participating elementary schools.
  • Incoming freshmen at Windsor Locks (CT) will be the first class to graduate under a proficiency-based approach, which forgoes letter grades and asks students to demonstrate mastery of skills.

High School Transcripts


Updates in New Hampshire

  • A researcher found that students in PACE districts outperformed their peers in non-participating districts across the board, starting in the second year of the program’s implementation. But the her most notable finding? Special education students in PACE districts did basically as well as students who weren’t on special education plans.
  • Tom Raffio, former State Board of Education chairman, reflects on important changes in New Hampshire’s education system over the last ten years.
  • New Hampshire’s Parker-Varney school released an excellent case study, Putting Kids at the Center: Building Parker-Varney’s Future of Learning, which shares their vision and journey toward competency education.


May 2017 CompetencyWorks Catch-Up

June 1, 2017 by

Getting Closer to the Future of Teacher Learning

May 31, 2017 by

This post and all graphics originally appeared at 2Revolutions on May 12, 2017.

As I discussed in my earlier piece on the future of teacher learning, there is the need to transform what and how teachers learn in school districts, charter management organizations (CMOs), and state systems. While I’m confident from our experiences at 2Rev that there are no cookbook recipes to doing this — since every context, community, and culture is unique and the needs of the adult learners are vast and varied — I’m also confident that people need support to help them move in the right direction. In this post, I share some strategies and tools that have helped us move teacher learning with our partners.

#1 – Design Principles for Adult Learning

Our design principles that we use to drive our adult learning experiences at 2Rev.

Over the past several years, our team has been refining our approach to designing personalized, job-embedded, learner-driven learning experiences that support and coach educators as they transition to future-oriented learning models. Much of our work with adults stems from our growing understanding of andragogy and deeply held beliefs in the importance of mindset as a gateway to transformed learning — why should we ask professional educators to spend time doing something that feels irrelevant to their craft, tangential, and/or is just plain boring or uninspiring?

With that in mind, we created a set of design principles as guideposts for how we think about and plan for adult learning experiences. These principles (right) guide us and serve as a screen for creating an optimal learning experience.

Can you create your own design principles for adult learning? How do these principles align to the principles you consider necessary for high-quality student learning to occur? (more…)

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