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Tag: federal policy

The Right Work To Do

February 25, 2014 by
the boxes-jason ellingson

Jason Ellingson

The boxes arrived last week. Those boxes stacked high, full of Iowa Assessment test booklets, answer sheets, and directions for administration. They arrived and are sitting against the far wall of my office – not physically, but philosophically in the way. In two weeks, our students will take those tests. They will spend multiple hours over a course of a week filling in bubbles to demonstrate to the federal and state governments that they have grown academically in content areas like reading, math, science, and social studies. There will be no test on grit or perseverance – except their ability to complete the test without creating a pattern on the answer sheet. There will be no test on creativity – unless they do create a pattern on the answer sheet.

All of this will happen in the midst of a year where my district has truly pushed itself to know the learner better to grow the learner better. We have pushed hard to mold ourselves into what our students need, not mold the students into what we need. We have more teachers that ever using data to revise instruction, using standards-based learning, and thinking about competency-based education. We work toward a new goal of personalized learning in our district – and it is exciting, invigorating, daunting, and … the right work.

So, those boxes sit in my office while I have the pleasure of attending a convening hosted by the Nellie Mae Foundation and KnowledgeWork on the federal accountability framework in light of competency-based education. The convening was a great two days focused on assessment, core CBE principles, the role of the federal government in education, and the unintended consequences of building a new framework that is easy to understand (and which may do more harm to CBE than the current one).

The discussion on accountability traveled far and wide. Some of the main points and questions raised included:

  1. We do not want to see competency education mandated from the federal government. We want to have federal accountability policy be structured to enable competency education and its core principles. (more…)

Five Quick Thoughts About Accountability

February 13, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 2.23.47 PMThere is a flurry of conversations about federal accountability policy and assessment going on around the country. You may have heard about it described as accountability 3.0. I had the opportunity to participate in one of the conversations last week and just finished listening to the conversation led by Maria Worthen, iNACOL and Lillian Pace, KnowledgeWorks held today based on their report  A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change. And I’m feeling inspired to jot down a couple of my thoughts:

1. Federal policy must NOT mandate competency education.  We want it to enable competency education and eliminate any elements that inhibit it.  Federal policy can even catalyze it.  But at this point in time, federal policy should not expect everyone to do it. There are several reasons for this. First, any top down, bureaucratic approaches are just inconsistent with the student-centered, do what it takes, spirit of continuous improvement that is essential to personalized, competency-based schools. Second, we don’t have enough research and evaluation to tell us about quality implementation or what we need to ensure that special populations and struggling students benefit.  We just aren’t ready yet.

2. Assessment comes before accountability.  It’s almost impossible to untangle accountability from assessment in today’s policy context.  That’s because the accountability system has required states to have a specific type of assessment system.  This is a huge problem because assessment should be focused on helping students to learn.  Instead we see it as part of the accountability system. I know this is too simple… and all the accountability and assessment experts out there might dismiss this. But I just don’t think we can go where we want to go if we start with the requirements of today’s accountability system driving learning. So I think we need to define what is really important for systems of assessments and then draw from that what might be valuable for any type of accountability system.  Let’s keep our priorities straight by focusing on assessment and accountability not accountability and assessment. (more…)

Are You a Policy Wonk?

February 11, 2014 by

A_K-12_Federal_Policy_Framework_for_Competency_EducationIf you are, then you don’t want to miss the Wednesday, February 12th webinar about the report A  K-12 Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change. The webinar will be held from 2:00p – 3:00p ET. Please register here.

As lawmakers in Washington, DC craft a next generation Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), this report encourages them to take bold steps forward to allow students to advance upon demonstrated mastery and receive the personalized support they need, when they need it. Maria Worthen, Vice President for Federal and State Policy, iNACOL and Lillian Pace, Senior Director of National Policy, KnowledgeWorks will lead this webinar discussing the importance of this federal policy issue as well as how the U.S. education system can evolve to ensure all students succeed and graduate from high school college and career ready. The report’s co-authors will provide a comprehensive vision for supporting state and local efforts to implement student-centered learning. Their presentation will describe the barriers and opportunities within federal education policy frameworks and identify how the federal government is in a unique position to catalyze and scale student-centered learning approaches.

We hope that once again the chat room on the webinar will be a place that you all can meet each other, sharing your ideas and resources.

This webinar is free to attend.

Ensuring Practice Informs Federal Policy

September 3, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 6.10.17 PMDuring ACHIEVE’s Competency-based Pathways Working Group meeting today, Lillian Pace from KnowledgeWorks provided a quick update on federal policy incentives, barriers and issues surrounding competency education.  This post includes information shared during the meeting including 1) questions and concerns raised by policymakers and 2) examples  of how competency education is being integrated into federal policy.  At the end I’ll share my concerns about possible unintended consequences of having increased policy discussion at the federal level.

1) Policymaker Questions and Concerns

The four topics below come up over and over again as policymakers and advocates try to get their heads wrapped around competency education. They are important for us to think about as we strengthen our communication efforts and prioritize our efforts.

A)   Equity: “Won’t a self-paced approach just widen the achievement gap?”

B) Capacity: “Do states and districts even have access to the type of assessments and personalized learning tools to ensure quality implementation?”

C) Accountability: “If we provide states and districts with the flexibility to design new accountability systems aligned to competency, how will we ensure comparability and rigor?”

D) Teacher Evaluation: “What does teacher evaluation look like in a competency-based setting? Who is the teacher of record?”

2) Examples of Federal Policies


A)  Innovation Funds Race to the Top, i3, RTT-District: There was strong demand for competency education: 75% of the winning RTT– D applicants included competency-based elements

B) White House Proposal for High School Redesign: The proposal includes the following language: “Redesigned high schools will move away from the traditional notion of seat time and focus instead on the knowledge and skills needed to successfully transition from high school to college and careers.” See the Fact Sheet: Redesigning America’s High Schools; USED 6/7/13 (more…)

Streams of Innovation — Update on Federal and State Policy

June 21, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-06-21 at 8.22.22 AMIt’s getting hard to stay on top of all the advancements and initiatives related to competency education. We used to have pockets of innovation.  I’d say we now have streams of innovation – new school models, new districts starting the transition to competency education, and new policies.  There is definitely a growing worry that policy may be creeping ahead of practice. It’s important to make sure that practice is advanced enough to be able to inform policy – otherwise we risk new systems that reinforce practice where it was yesterday rather than what it is going to look like in three years.

Here is a quick update on some of advancements in policy at the federal and state level:


The Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013 (S.1094) introduced by Senator Harkin and passed by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) includes a section for a Competency-Based Assessment and Accountability Demonstration (See Section 4909).  The bill would authorize the Secretary of Education to provide eligible entities with the authority to incorporate competency-based accountability into the State accountability system for a period of 3 years.

Catalyzing Competency Education:  You probably know that these major federal reform initiatives open the door to competency-based or mastery-based learning models.  KnowledgeWorks has made it easy to get on top of what the winners of RTT and I3 are doing related to competency education in their second policy brief Federal Innovation Competitions: A Catalyst for Competency Education.  If you work in federal or state policy, I consider it a must read.


The Tough Question: What is the Federal Role in Competency Education?

May 6, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-04-30 at 7.10.40 PMOver the past few years we have seen a groundswell of interest and adoption of competency based models for learning. At least 40 states have one or more school districts implementing one of these models and a growing number of states have begun serious conversations about how to redesign their system to ensure students have the extra time, multiple pathways, and supports they need to master content and skills. But despite this paradigm shift, a major road block lies ahead: federal K-12 policy.

At KnowledgeWorks, we have decided to dive head first into this challenge. Last week, we released our first policy brief on competency education titled: An Emerging Federal Role for Competency Education. Our goal is to help policymakers understand the elements of federal law that make it difficult for states to redesign their systems to support competency education at scale.

Here are the accountability barriers we identified in the paper: (more…)

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