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Tag: diplomas

Debunking a Myth – Competency-Based Transcripts Don’t Disadvantage High School Graduates in the Admissions Process

August 23, 2017 by

A transition to a competency-based education system brings with it many small and large changes. In order to serve their students better, districts, schools, and teachers change instructional practices, strategies, feedback, and, frequently, reporting. These changes are made in order to more accurately capture what a student knows and is able to do – how they are performing in relation to rigorous, common, shared expectations. While all of these changes should be made in consultation and collaboration with school communities, in response to the vision that they have for graduates, some of these changes are more visible to them than others. Transcripts represent one of the most visible – and public – of these changes.

The ultimate goal of our system is to graduate students who are college and career ready and prepared for the futures of their choosing. Admission to a college and university is a huge part of that future for many of our graduates, and it is only natural that students and parents will immediately think about the implications that the shift to competency-based education has on college admissions. These concerns can be particularly acute for parents who were served well by more traditional educational systems and those whose students have historically thrived in such conventional academic settings.

The Great Schools Partnership and the New England Secondary School Consortium (NESSC) have worked to address these concerns in a variety of ways. The engagement began by working, over the course of a year, with deans and directors of admission, high school guidance counselors, and principals to create a sample competency-based transcript that would serve as a model for secondary schools to use, change, and adapt to their local context with the assurance that it met the needs of a variety of admissions officials. At the conclusion of this process, the group of deans and directors of admissions requested to continue working together to create a sample school profile, knowing just how critical a clear, complete, brief, easily understandable school profile is in the admissions process. The school profile conveys important descriptive information about the school, its academic program, and its community, and they are customarily included in student applications to colleges and postsecondary programs. The school profile is especially important for admissions staff with fewer resources and limited internal capacity.

Following that process, the NESSC transitioned to gathering a repository of letters from public and private colleges and universities that unequivocally state that students from competency-based systems are not disadvantaged in the admissions process. To date, the NESSC has collected statements from seventy private and public institutions of higher education across New England (including Harvard, Dartmouth, MIT, Tufts, and Bowdoin). These efforts are ongoing and additional statements will be added and are available for download on the NESSC website.

Additional resources about engaging with your community around these questions (and an interview with Nancy David Griffin, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at the University of Southern Maine) can be found here.

Questions about competency-based learning and college admissions are not context specific. They are at least a consideration in every district implementing competency-based learning. In every community, there are students, parents, teachers, and community members who would like to better understand the ways in which this transition impacts the college admissions process. These questions recognize that there are serious flaws with traditional educational systems: the assumption that traditional grades are equivalent school to school and classroom-to-classroom is false. The assumption that earning a high school diploma means that a student is prepared for college coursework and experiences is false, proven wrong by the high rates of remedial course taking across the country. (more…)

The Four Biggest Challenges to Implementing Maine’s Proficiency-Based Diploma

June 28, 2017 by

This post originally appeared at EdSurge on May 30, 2017.

Maine has long been an innovator in education, stemming back to the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Now all eyes are on our corner of the country as we transition from a traditional seat-time high school diploma to a proficiency-based diploma.

Historically, Maine has spurred national, paradigm-shifting discussions about how we “do school.” We have pushed many state districts to make significant policy changes that align with instructional and educational best practices, and have encouraged teachers, administrators, and districts to innovate educational systems design. I believe the new proficiency-based diploma requirements are yet another beacon of educational leadership and innovation, one that will alter our education system in meaningful and lasting ways.

But what exactly are these new kinds of diplomas, and just how difficult a transition do they pose to educators?

First, the basics. In 2012, Maine passed a law requiring that by 2018 all students would graduate with a proficiency-based diploma; the law then went through a major update in 2015-2016. The Maine DOE defines proficiency-based education as an academic assessment approach that requires students to demonstrate mastery of certain skills before they progress to the next lesson, get promoted to the next grade level, or receive a diploma. You can find the official definition here.

To me, proficiency-based education is about drawing lines in the sand of learning. It’s about recognizing that, if traveling to Boston, you don’t say you’re in Boston until you’re in Boston. It’s about knowing who you are, what you know, and what you can do. And, most importantly, where to go next.

There are many challenges facing districts, schools, teachers, students, and communities in this shift to a proficiency-based system of learning. Below are the four I believe loom largest: (more…)

Threshold Concept: Assessment Literacy

June 22, 2017 by

Courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This is the nineteenth article 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 Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency 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 what might be missing.

“Student assessment is essential to measure the progress and performance of individual students, plan further steps for the improvement of teaching and learning, and share information with relevant stakeholders.” – OECD, 2013

Assessment literacy is important for practitioners but it is also important for policymakers and stakeholders throughout the system to understand the roles that different types of assessment play in student learning, how assessment and moderation are used to comparatively and fairly judge student mastery, and how the information generated by assessments can be used toward a cycle of continuous improvement in teaching and learning. The lack of assessment literacy across the system is a major blind spot. Thus, building significant capacity for assessment literacy is needed to advance new competency-based approaches and address tough issues in our current system.

An important concept in assessment today is related to the concept of comparability. Comparability is defined as the degree to which the results of assessments intended to measure the same learning targets produce the same or similar results. This involves documenting the reliability of judgments and not assuming that comparability is stable over time or invariant across multiple subgroups such as English language learners and special education students.1

There are unique circumstances in the U.S. education system that have driven the need for much greater degrees of comparability than is true in most other nations. When the federal government became involved in K-12 education with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, it was in direct response to deep inequities that remained even after school segregation. Because of the history of inequities in education offerings among student groups, concerns for equity are much greater than in many other countries, which drives, to a significant extent, the degree to which we need to take greater care that measures are fair and have common meaning among students, schools, and districts.2 This drives the prevalence of standardized tests in our country, causing the concept of assessment to often be conflated with the end-of-year, statewide, summative accountability tests.

Practitioners working deeply in competency-based learning models realize quickly how our K-12 education systems lack systems for calibrating the quality of student work, so we know that fundamentally there is significant consistency across schools and systems. As much of a systems challenge as this would appear across the states in the U.S. today, building professional educator capacity and policymakers’ understanding of assessment literacy is fundamental to shifting to personalized, competency-based systems at scale and focusing on equity.

A common misconception about assessment literacy is that it is only about how to interpret standardized test results. In contrast, assessment literacy is a much broader and more significant concept. The New Zealand Ministry of Education defines assessment literacy as:

“the possession of knowledge about the basic principles of sound assessment practice, including its terminology, the development and use of assessment methodologies and techniques, and familiarity with standards of quality in assessment. The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning, as both student and teacher respond to the information that it provides. Information is needed about what knowledge, understanding, or skills students need. By finding out what students currently know, understand, and can do, any gap between the two can be made apparent. Assessment is the process of gaining information about the gap, and learning is about attempts to reduce the gap.”

Personalized, competency based learning requires us to reorganize systems around doing what it takes to ensure every student is attaining mastery, rather than the ranking and sorting them into high achievers and low achievers that is created through variable A-F grading practices. Redesigned systems will need to build capacity for clear evaluation criteria to make valid and reliable comparisons of students’ progress against outcomes (commonly understood outcomes) using evidence and common rubrics.

Thus, progress isn’t measured by ranking and sorting kids against each other, or through grading “curves,” but instead for each student to measure their evidence against articulated, high-level, common expectations of success and with clear depictions for what success looks like. This process of developing clear expectations for common proficiency levels is a key part of a “calibration.” Calibration is a process that allows two or more things to be compared via a common standard (e.g., a weight in the physical sciences or commonly scored papers in an education system). The purpose of common performance tasks given to students by different schools and districts is to serve as a “calibration weight;” a way to compare the way one school or district scores students on the common task, with the way other schools and districts score those same students’ work. In order to use the common performance tasks as calibration weights, districts need to re-score other districts’ common performance tasks. Calibrating expectations as well as grading and scoring processes for learning goals, is very important in competency-based learning systems. Calibration may involve groups of educators who collaborate and develop consensus around rubrics for scoring student work. The calibration process makes scoring student work consistent and more aligned to the standards upon which rubrics and scoring criteria are based, as well as creating reflective processes focused on improving student learning.

In addition to calibration processes for consistently and accurately evaluating student work, assessment literacy also includes knowing which assessments are appropriate for what purpose (e.g., formative, progress monitoring, or summative). This idea of common expectations, and evaluating evidence against common standards and rubrics to build and evaluate comparability across schools and systems, requires careful  moderation of assessment practices across the system and perhaps across the state level. Professional development of educators to assess student evidence using calibration processes and developing rubrics with scales for evaluating performance tasks against criteria, is central to building the capacity needed in a competency-based education system. A competency-based learning system that offers personalized pathways for students to meet learning goals and learning targets must rely on multiple forms of evidence against common standards and expectations.   (more…)

Threshold Concept: Certifying Learning

June 21, 2017 by

This is the eighteenth article 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 Fit for Purpose: Taking the Long View on Systems Change and Policy to Support Competency 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 what might be missing.

How is it possible that our education system still graduates many students who lack basic reading and math skills when they hold a high school diploma? Unpacking what a diploma means and how we might re-envision this qualification is crucial to inform short-term policy conversations. The United States has made significant progress in improving high school graduation rates over the past decade. However, far less attention has been given to what the diploma signifies. Today, the only thing we can know for sure about a high school graduate in most U.S. school districts is that they have put in the required seat time in the requisite courses. When schools are passing students along and graduating them with major gaps in skills and knowledge, they are doing them a disservice. Sadly, we are not being honest with our high school graduates when we tell them that their diploma means they are ready for the next step. Students who require remediation in college courses are less likely to persist and graduate. Those who directly enter the workforce and lack the basic communication, problem solving, collaboration skills, and habits of learning, may face unemployment.  

How can the high school diploma align to a more comprehensive definition of success?

For the purpose of this series, let’s consider core concepts that may need to be unearthed as design flaws in our current system which may be missing from current debates. The term “curriculum redesign” is a common concept emerging in global education systems which is fundamentally asking the question, “what do our students need to know and be able to do” — especially with respect to a more holistic notion of student success for the future. Whether a community conversation or a state conversation, the idea of engaging communities and families in conversations around what is different, and around what students need to know and be able to do is increasingly important.

What do we need to think differently about a broader set of outcomes? These would include considerations for academic knowledge and skills, and competencies such as learning how to learn, lifelong learning which includes how to set goals personally, academically, professionally and attain them, learning important social emotional skills, empathy, compassion, cultural responsiveness and understanding. Lastly, it includes navigating an increasingly complex world with problem-solving, communication, and self efficacy skills to actively engage in civil society and democracy.

The fundamental question curriculum redesign attempts to answer What should students learn to succeed in the 21st century?” From Asia to Europe, from Australia and New Zealand, to Africa and India, and across the provinces of Canada there is a deep and complex debate taking hold in each community around what students need to know and be able to do. Conversations in policy in the United States around what students need to be prepared are happening around standards and graduation requirements; however, they are based on limited definitions of success centered around content proficiency. States can begin to engage districts and communities around what students need to master for true preparedness, and the implications for rethinking outdated accountability models. We need to think about redesigning education with new models of active, inquiry-based pedagogy to move forward with more holistic, learner-centered, competency-based learning models that help students gain the knowledge and skills they need to thrive after high school graduation. Once local communities have a shared understanding of what student success looks like, they can drive state-level understanding of curriculum redesign and the implications for new accountability models, new designs for assessments, new school models and building systems capacity (and better coherence). (more…)

What Is a Proficiency-Based Diploma?

June 18, 2014 by

By far, this news piece on Maine’s proficiency-based diploma is the best I’ve seen at explaining what we mean whScreen Shot 2014-06-16 at 11.09.05 AMen we say proficiency-based learning or competency education. The big point is that we know ask for 4 math courses to graduate rather than being proficient in them.

We still need to get our explanations down to an “elevator speech”.  We’d love to hear how you explain what proficiency-learning is? (or whatever term you use in your school and state).

Performance-Based Assessment in Action

May 20, 2014 by

Originally posted May 16, 2014 at gettingsmart.com.  For more on Danville’s overall approach see District Transformation in Danville.Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 7.09.43 AM

Close your eyes and imagine an innovative school, a next-generation school that excels at preparing students to thrive in college and career. Picture a school that engages students in rigorous and authentic project-based learning opportunities, a school that has developed ways to get technology into the hands of students in a way that connects to its goals around next-gen teaching and learning. You’re probably imagining a flashy high-tech building situated in well-resourced district with dollars to spare. You’re probably thinking “Sounds good, but my district can’t do this because of [insert your reason here].”

My guess is that you’re not picturing a traditional school district in the middle of Kentucky. My guess is you’re probably not picturing a building that was built in 1912. My guess is you’re probably not picturing Bate Middle School in Danville; but you should be. (more…)

A Tale of Two States

April 9, 2014 by

taleoftwostates-mapI had a quick conversation with Sal Khan last month that really highlighted the importance of the questions, What do we think competency is? and How do we measure it?

The different ways we think about competency and what we want for our students is one of the underlying issues causing confusion in the field. It also has powerful implications for whether we are going to help students develop higher order/deeper learning skills.

If you think that competency education is completing a course of study on adaptive software (FYI – this doesn’t meet the field’s working definition) or getting a certain score on the SAT, you will make different design choices than if you think competency is being able to apply skills in new contexts.  Another way to think about this is using the knowledge taxonomies: If you think competency is at Level 2 Comprehension, the way you design your schools is really different than if you set it in general at Level 3 Analysis or Level 4 Knowledge Utilization. So if we are talking about proficiency-based diplomas and competency-based credits — How do we know when a student is competent?

This issue jumped out when I saw that New Mexico is implementing an Alternative Demonstration of Competency for students who can’t pass the high school exit exam. New Mexico is on a slow road (think snail) to personalized, blended, and competency education, so I was curious to know how the State was thinking about competency (click here for overview of policies).  Usually, I wouldn’t refer to exit exams within the realm of competency education because they have nothing to do with transparency of learning progressions, empowering students to own their own education, providing adequate supports and time, and making sure students reach proficiency each step of the way. My personal analysis is that high school graduation exit exams are policy hammers used by state government to get schools to do better by kids, but in fact, they knock kids down as they try to enter adulthood without a diploma.  In reading the details of the Alternative Demonstration of Competency, however, it sounded so much like Colorado’s new proficiency-based diploma policy and its emphasis on cut scores that I thought it best to highlight it here. Perhaps New Mexico is backing its way into competency education? (more…)

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