Tag: competency education, competency-based learning

Chugach School District’s Performance-Based Infrastructure

January 7, 2015 by
2 hydroponics class

Students in Chugach School District

This is the second post in the Chugach School District series. Read the first post here.

I’ve noticed that in the first year of transitioning to a competency-based system, schools often dive headfirst into creating the competencies and rubrics without thinking about the pedagogical platform upon which the entire infrastructure is going to rest. What could be a powerful discussion among educators about what we want students to learn and be able to do can quickly become a bureaucratic process eating up reams of paper.

Not so at Chugach. The spirit of empowerment, student ownership of their learning, and a shared understanding that the schools are preparing students for life, not just graduation, permeated every conversation. Absolutely every conversation.

This post, although long, will cover four elements of the Chugach performance-based system: student empowerment, a system of assessments, the domains of learning (content areas), and preparing students for life.  (more…)

Driven by Student Empowerment: Chugach School District

January 6, 2015 by
Debbie Treece

Debbie Treece

This is the first post in the Chugach School District series. Continue reading the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh posts. 

I’ve never been to Alaska before. All I can say is that it was beyond any and all expectations – as was my visit to Chugach School District (CSD).

I’m sure you’ve heard about Chugach. It’s the first district to transform itself into a competency-based model (or what they refer to as performance-based). It’s the basis of the must-read Delivering the Promise. CSD has stayed the course for twenty years, developing a sophisticated system that provides flexibility to their schools while keeping a firm eye on student achievement and progress. And they aren’t done – they are continually exploring ways to increase access to knowledge, expand hands-on and college/career readiness opportunities, and more.

It’s not easy to see the CSD performance-based system in practice. Seventy-seven percent of their students are homeschoolers, the schools in the Alutiiq communities of Tatitlek and Chenega Bay require boarding a charter flight, and the road to Whittier…well, it goes through a one-lane tunnel where you have to decide whether you want the wheels of your car to fit on top of the railroad track or to the sides, and where you have to be prepared to share the road with moose if the snow gets too deep! (There is also the Voyage to Excellence, a statewide variable-term residential program to expand learning opportunities, which I’ll talk about in future posts.)

I spent three days with the CSD team in order to fully understand their approach – and I am forever grateful for their willingness to share their knowledge and their love of Alaska. I learned so much about performance-based education: how it looks in tiny, rural schools; how it can be structured for Native education; how it supports special education students; and how the infrastructure can be intentionally designed to capture all aspects of learning and student development.

A special thanks to Debbie Treece, Director of Special Education, who organized the tour, answered a thousand questions, and drove me through a wintery-white landscape to Whittier. (more…)

Explorations in Competency Education

January 5, 2015 by
0 me in alaska

In Tatitlek

This post introduces the upcoming series on Chugach School District.

I learned a lot during my trip to Alaska to visit Chugach School District and Highland Tech Charter School. If a moose licks his lips at you, it’s time to back away carefully. Slowly wave your arms if a black bear comes your way. Get on your belly and cover your neck if a brown bear shows more than a passing interest in you. However, there is no advice if you encounter a grizzly! (I did encounter a moose in Anchorage’s Kincaid Park, including a bull, who did, in fact, a bit of lip-licking.)

It makes sense that one of the places that competency education developed is in the Alaskan landscape. Alaska is about the essentials. Alaska requires adaptability. And with the incredible mountains all around, peeking out here and there from the clouds, one cannot be anything other than humble. Humility is the breeding ground for competency education. It is humility that allows all of the adults to become learners rather than decision-makers, experts, and teachers. It is humility that creates school cultures that embrace the concept of ‘not yet.’ Students may not yet be proficient. More importantly, educators may not yet know what students are capable of or how to best support their learning.

It’s this combination of the essentials, adaptability, and humility that is required to go forth to redesign our education system without knowing exactly how the pieces fit together, let alone which pieces are required in the first place. We just know it’s important to do better than we are doing now for the sake of our children.

This is the beginning of a series of posts on my trip to Alaska to visit Highland Tech Charter School (HTC) and Chugach School District (CSD). In this post, I share a bit about my trip and a few of my big takeaways. In future posts, I’m going deep into CSD, as there is so much to learn from them. CSD has been staying the course for nearly twenty years, and we’ll look at how they began the process of transformation; the structure of their performance-based system; the experience of teachers; how they structure their district so that it works for all students and cultures, including the important influence of the Alaska Native culture upon the education system’s development; lessons learned for small, rural schools; and implications for homeschooling.

Three Big Leaps (more…)

Competency Education in Practice: Newfound Regional High School Spotlight

December 29, 2014 by
Bristol, NH Central Square Wikipedia

Bristol, NH Central Square
Wikipedia

This spotlight originally appeared in the CSSR October 2014 Newsletter.

In 2005, New Hampshire became the first state to abolish the Carnegie Unit and mandate that by SY ’08-’09 all high schools measure credit according to students’ mastery of course competencies rather than seat time. CSSR works with a number of New Hampshire schools through the i3 NETWORK to build the pedagogical and leadership capacity to take on this transformational work. Newfound Regional High School is one of those i3 NETWORK schools.

Newfound Regional High School | Bristol, NH

The school motto, “working to provide a personalized, competency-based education for every student,” is deeply engrained in the work the school has done to implement competency education and aligned performance assessment. School Redesign Coordinator Jim LeBaron is quick to emphasize the dramatic cultural shift that is taking place within the building, but acknowledges that for educators: “seeing kids engaged and taking ownership of learning is a big win for getting educators on board.” The road to where they are now has not always been easy and LeBaron offered up several tips for schools looking to do similar work:

Writing Competencies

Having departments work together to determine overarching competencies within their disciplines is superior to individual subject areas developing their own competencies. These overarching competencies allow for more interdisciplinary work, thematic projects, and a more vertically aligned pathway through the content areas. At Kearsarge, the autonomy of classroom teachers to develop their own unit plans and the autonomy of individual students to personalize their own learning pathways was maintained. By not prescribing performance tasks aligned to the competencies, students are expected to choose how they will demonstrate mastery. (more…)

When the Stars Align in Support of Learning . . .

December 22, 2014 by
Karla Phillips

Karla Phillips

This post originally appeared at the Foundation for Excellence in Education on December 8, 2014.

There is one key area where K-12 and higher education policy intersect—teacher preparation. Higher education needs college and career ready graduates while K-12 turns around and asks for better equipped teachers.

I think it’s safe to say that there is broad agreement on the importance and impact a great teacher can make—a point confirmed by evidence and reiterated in Joel Klein’s new book. However, the debate continues over fundamental policies such as who should teach, how they should be trained, and how to ensure that graduates have the skills they need for the classroom. This debate is sure to be resurrected now that the U.S. Department of Education has released new proposed regulations on teacher preparation programs.

Maybe there is a common K-12 and higher education reform effort where the stars can align? I think it’s competency-based learning. (more…)

Competency Education Can Address Readiness Gaps—But Not Alone

December 19, 2014 by
Equity in Competency Education

Equity in Competency Education: Realizing the Potential, Overcoming the Obstacles

This post originally appeared at Jobs for the Future on December 4, 2014.

My youngest brother’s senior year of high school—in a public school in New Jersey—was also my first year running a competency-based high school for over-age and under-credited youth in St. Louis. It is hard to describe just how different his experience was compared to my students’.

My brother attended one of the best public high schools in a state known for its high marks in public education and student achievement. In his final year of high school, he took a handful of Advanced Placement courses, served as student body president, played drums in the school band, wrestled, and still found time to work at the local pizza shop and connect with family and friends. He was accepted into Harvard University and decided to go.

By contrast, most of my students came from schools known as “dropout factories.” These students had significant academic catching-up to do. We did not have demand for AP courses, nor did we have time for robust extracurricular activities.

The starting point of my brother’s and my students’ senior years paints a stark picture of deep and persistent inequities that many young people in under-resourced communities face. In my brother’s case, his age and stage of learning matched. My students, all of whom had transcripts that said they were juniors and seniors, rarely had the full scope of academic, social and emotional skills they needed.

I was reminded of these glaring oppositions when I read Jobs for the Future’s Equity in Education: Realizing the Potential, Overcoming the Obstacles, part of a competency-based education research series produced by its Students at the Center initiative. (more…)

A Construction Kit for Personalized Assessment of Competency-Based Learning

December 18, 2014 by
mc2

From the MC2 Charter School Website

This post originally appeared December 15, 2014 at Q.E.D. Foundation.

“What Changes in the Learner Are You Trying to Cause?”

Our perspective at QED is that competency based learning is first and foremost performance based, which means assessments – and assessment literacy – are essential, even more essential than the curriculum. Years ago, (1990, long before it became a rallying cry for Common Core opponents), Grant Wiggins identified assessment as “the Trojan horse” of education restructuring, or the means to “adapt schools to meet the needs of learning.” (Ed Week, 10/10/90)

Citing Ralph Tyler’s Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction at a much more recent training (July, 2014, Lambertville, NJ), Wiggins exhorted educators to “honor the Ralph Tyler idea that you don’t design backward from the curriculum, but from the learner being different: what changes in the learner are you trying to cause?” (more…)

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