Tag: information systems

Building Field Readiness & Capacity to Personalize

October 16, 2017 by

One of the recommendations that came forth from the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education (the paper with all the recommendations is forthcoming) is that field organizations begin to collaborate at higher levels. There is so much knowledge being produced by schools and districts — we need to create mechanisms to make it easier for educators to access and make meaning of it for their own work. Bravo to 2 Revolutions and their partners in doing exactly what the field needs, exactly at the right time. You can read the original blog at 2 Revs website.

— Chris Sturgis

We are excited to announce that 2Rev — with generous support from a national funder, and through deep collaboration with a range of leading organizations — is spearheading a large-scale effort to make available free, high-quality learning content to help educators gain the knowledge and skills they need to personalize learning for students.

The move toward more personalized, learner-centered approaches is part of the solution we’re all striving toward for kids and families. Unfortunately, most of the field currently lacks readiness and capacity to do the complex work of transformation needed to realize these personalized learning models and systems. The absence of consistent, high-quality content and engagement strategies makes it more difficult and inefficient for states, districts and providers to support efforts to increase field readiness and capacity. Working together with partners, we can help address this gap.

Key Partners & the Content We Are Building Together


New Metrics and Student Engagement System

August 4, 2017 by

It is definitely time for the competency education innovators in K-12 and higher education to be learning from each other.

One of the opportunities for learning from each other is in thinking about information management systems that support student learning and collect what students know and are able to do in some form of a transcript. For example, in skimming the case study on the University of Wisconsin Flexible Option, I found two ideas that can push our thinking forward in K-12.

Metrics on Pace

In the Metrics Framework, the University of Wisconsin identifies three elements of pace:

  • Measuring rate of assessment completion within each subscription period (time) to reach personal educational goals
  • Assessing rate against student’s planned rate
  • Measuring nature of student’s engagement with curriculum

For aggregated student level data, University of Wisconsin is “aggregating average (mean, mode, median) pace through a program. This aggregate should be measured from student matriculation to completion (or other reason student leaves program). Aggregate pace can also be measured yearly. Aggregate pace can also be analyzed by types of students including demographics, professional interests, etc.”

Student Engagement System


Who is Helping You Plan and Implement Competency Education?

September 21, 2016 by

One of the weaknesses we have had in the field is that we haven’t had enough technical assistance providers or Stepping Stonesenough models from which districts can choose. This situation, with its lack of documented results or research on quality indicators, has left us trying to learn from each other without knowing that we are actually learning from “best practices.”

I’m thrilled to say that things are getting a tiny bit better in terms of number of TA providers, and that some have also increased their capacity to better meet the growing demand. Only a few provide assistance on the transformation to a competency-based environment, but districts have mentioned the others because of targeted support that has been instrumental in their process. I’m sure this list (provided in alphabetical order) is not complete and does not include individuals…so please, please, please, add other TA providers you’ve worked with in the comments section and why you would recommend them. It’s also helpful to know about your experience with any of the folks listed below. Where are there strengths? What are the reasons you would recommend them?

2Revolutions: Referred to as 2Revs, this organization has been helping schools using a design orientation in several states including NH including Parker Varney Elementary ,IL, CO and DC.

Center for Secondary School Redesign: CSSR has been a leader in helping secondary schools personalize their schools. They guide schools in reshaping the relationships and power dynamics by engaging youth in leadership roles throughout the school. They are familiar with competency education, but as far as I know, they do not have a specific model that they draw upon. They are well-known for the I3 network on personalization (lots of resources on personalization without using technology) in New England. They have consulted to Pittsfield School District in NH and Springdale, Arkansas.

Competency-Based Education Solutions: This is a new team of technical assistance providers led by Dan Joseph. Joseph was previously principal at James. W. Russell Elementary in Grey-New Gloucester Maine. You can reach Dan at djoseph (at)CBESolution (dot)com.

EL Education: EL Education (used to be Expeditionary Learning) does not specialize in competency education. However, schools are finding that their training can be helpful in developing a high-quality instructional model and aligned system of assessments. Windsor Locks and Kappa International both found their training on personalizing the classroom to be very helpful in making the transition to a competency-based school. (FYI – Casco Bay High School is an EL school that has successfully integrated a proficiency-based structure.) (more…)

On Our Way Toward Integrated Learning Systems

September 14, 2016 by

inacolWe have come a long way in terms of helping the vendors of information systems understand that we need “grading books” that will allow educators to monitor student progress on learning objectives that may be organized in a variety of ways. However, most still do not understand that what we want are student-centered information systems, not standards-based ones. We want to know what skills a student has, and we want to monitor their progress based upon both their own learning trajectory and grade-level standards. Yes, we want students to be on grade level, but if they are missing the important pre-requisite skills, then we want to work more intensively with them to build those skills. It’s a both/and situation.

Thus, it is over-the-top fantastic that the Nellie Mae Education Foundation has released an RFP for integrated learning systems. Here is the information below. Be sure to read the iNACOL’s Functional Requirements for Integrated Systems to Optimize Learning regardless if you apply or not. (more…)

Anchoring the Learning: A Discussion with Joel Rose at New Classrooms

August 9, 2016 by

AnchorThis is the eighth post of my Mastering Mastery-Based Learning in NYC tour. Start with the first post on NYC Big Takeaways and then read about NYC’s Mastery CollaborativeThe Young Woman’s Leadership School of Astoria, Flushing International, KAPPA International, North Queens Community High School, and EPIC North

Joel Rose and Sue Fine of New Classrooms introduced me to the concept of anchor weights and tethering. I had sought out their insights into how we can better engage and teach students who are missing pre-requisite skills needed for grade level curriculum. (Truly, we need to figure out a shorthand phrase for this phenomena.)

New Classrooms has invested heavily in research and development to create an instructional model that “reimagines the classroom around each student.” Their framework is based on personalized pathways, competency-based learning, valuing relationships, and regrouping based on common needs. It’s a blended model with a combination of live and online instruction. At this point, they have focused solely on math, although they are considering developing the model for other academic domains as well. (Their video on personalizing education is great).

Math is why I wanted to talk to Rose and Fine. I have heard too many educators say that a student who doesn’t understand numeracy, fractions, and a host of other skills is going to have a difficult time – impossible, even – to learn and apply algebra. So why are we having students take algebra over and over? Are they building their pre-requisite skills, or is this some form of torture to take the same class over without any hope of learning it? The challenge facing competency-based school as well as any type of school is how to help student learn the grade level skills and learn the pre-requisite skills so that they begin to backfill all the skills they are going to need for higher and higher level work. (more…)

Building 21’s Competency Dashboard

March 14, 2016 by
Thomas Gaffey

Thomas Gaffey

This is the second post about my site visit to Building 21 in Philadelphia. Read the first here.

I had a fascinating conversation with members of Building 21’s design and instructional coaching team, Sydney Schaef, Sandra Moumoutjis, Thomas Gaffey, Angela Stewart, Laura Shubilla, and Chip Linehan. At times I started to explode in giggles of excitement as we spoke about their insights and information management system. B21’s work is invaluable for us to tackle the elephant (i.e., respond to students who have multi-year gaps in their skills). Part of their solution is one of the most student-centered information management systems to support their personalized, competency-based process I have seen.

As described in the first blog, B21 is highly personalized, with students working in their zone along the continua of performance levels for each competency. In order to both monitor progress and measure grade-level performance, they knew they needed an information system that would fully support students and teachers. They visited a number of schools across the country and looked at many of the best information management systems designed for competency-based education. Even those that were the most interesting didn’t reflect their values or design. Most were still course-based, and often with a feel of checklist after checklist. Furthermore, the costs were high, and most weren’t open-source. Thus, despite all the advice to never build your own, they found a partner in Jarvus and their product Slate. (FYI, Ed Surge has a nice piece about the product. Matchbook Learning has used Slate as the platform for their information system Spark, and the U School (sharing space with B21) and the Science Leadership Academy also are using it.)

Designing a Powerful Student-Centric Information System

I wondered aloud how they were able to find a company that seemed to “get CBE” when so many of the vendors keep reproducing courses as the center of their architecture. Gaffey offered, “Get a bunch of twenty-two to twenty-six-year olds and they can do anything. The problem is the folks over thirty think they know what a student information system is.” His statement gets to the heart of the issue – what does a student information system look like in a student-centric, personalized, competency-based system?

Gaffey explained, “There were several things we wanted that traditional SIS and grade reporting systems have been unable to do. First, we want to make sure that learning across the school can be tracked. Second, we focus on mastery. This means we want students submitting multiple pieces of evidence of their learning in multiple contexts. Third, we want to be less course-oriented, more performance-oriented. Fourth, we want to make sure that students can see their growth and progress. Finally, we want everything to feed into a meta-profile for students.”

Here are some of the very cool things that B21 is working toward using a combination of Slate and robust Google Docs: (more…)

Red Bank Elementary School: Teaching Students, Not Standards

February 3, 2016 by

This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the second in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. Begin with the first on five big takeaways and follow along with: #2 teaching students instead of standards, #3 teacher perspectives, #4 student perspectives, and #5 parent perspectives.

Red Bank Elementary offers a great example of how districts can take a big step toward high quality competency education by allowing schools to move ahead when ready. It’s also an example that schools can go far down the path when districts don’t hold them back from innovating.

It says a lot about the leadership at Lexington School District that they have been supportive of Principal Marie Watson and the team at Red Bank as they took the enormous step five years ago to work with the Reinventing Schools Coalition to transform their school into a personalized, competency-based school. Susan Patrick and I had just completed the scan of competency education five years ago and hadn’t even started imagining CompetencyWorks at that time. It’s this kind of district leadership, to support innovation wherever it develops, that is needed to transform medium and large districts.

Red Bank Elementary is in the Lexington, South Carolina district a bit outside of Columbia. The school serves a socioeconomic mix of 580 students with about 56 percent FRL. The school has a bilingual Spanish Immersion program serving 30 percent of the students. Many of the families were hard hit by the flooding in the fall of 2015. Another thing you should know – South Carolina has its own set of standards, called the College and Career Ready standards, that have been described to me by one educator in my travels in the state as a “tweaked version of the Common Core.”

What’s Happening in Red Bank Classrooms

Red Bank is entirely organized around learning and leadership (leadership is a district initiative). It starts before you even walk in the door of the school with a sign for students coming in late: “Parents please check in at the office, learning has begun.”

The dominant feeling is of a quiet joy mixed with a good dose of respect, hope, and aspirations. There are lots of hugs, constant reminders of the qualities of leadership that everyone is aspiring to, and clear, clear, clear focus on learning. Staff are unified by a commitment to do better for kids and to intentionally improve their school based on a clear set of values and understanding of learning and teaching. After spending a few hours at Red Bank, I just wanted to do my personal best (it may have been the sign that says Everything you need is already inside you that gave me that lift).

Red Bank has taken many of the rituals of personalized learning that I’ve seen in other schools, mixed it with the The Leader in Me program, and then lifted it up into almost every aspect of the school. For example, two students, Hunter and Reilly, gave me a tour of the school, guiding me through hallways named Kindness Avenue, Creativity Lane, Perseverance Path, and Compassionate Way. Hunter and Reilly talked to me about what they like to study, when they like to do their work on a computer and when they like to work in a group, and how they get to make things, “really make things, like windmills” in STEM class. (more…)

Red Bank Elementary: Five Big Takeaways

February 2, 2016 by

2015-11-16 08.46.17This post is part of the series Competency Education Takes Root in South Carolina. This is the first in the series on Red Bank Elementary in Lexington School District. Follow along with: #2 teaching students instead of standards, #3 teacher perspectives, #4 student perspectives, and #5 parent perspectives.

Amazing that a five-hour site visit at Red Bank Elementary School with Principal Marie Watson, her staff, and the students could produce so many big takeaways.

Teaching Students, Not Standards: At one point, Watson referred to the difference between standards-based and competency-based education. I asked her how she differentiated these two phrases, which are often used interchangeably. Her insight was so powerful that I’m now embracing it myself. She said that in standards-based systems, the schools teach based on the grade level. The focus is on the standards. Competency-based is about teaching students, starting where they are in their own development and academic level and then ensuring they reach proficiency on the standards. You start with the students. (This is the concept that most of the vendors of grading and tracking systems can’t seem to get their heads wrapped around. They keep creating systems based around the standards in a grade level or course.)

Intentional Blending: There is a lot of talk about models in the world of blended learning, but much less about pedagogy and how the instructional delivery choices reinforce it (or not). The team at Red Bank starts with pedagogy and building a shared understanding of how students learn as well as the implications for teaching before they make choices about products and apps. They think about whether products will support the development of higher order skills (they use the 4 Cs – creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking – as the criteria for making purchasing choices).

Competency Education for the Littlest Ones: Red Bank has one kindergarten class serving four-year-olds and one serving five-year-olds. Watson and the kindergarten teachers helped me to think about how important it is to understand the developmental stages of children and their brain development, especially when it is impacted by poverty. Watson explained, “Some students haven’t had exposure to colors or how to write their name. Some have rarely had books read to them. The idea of letters is totally new to them. It is their developmental stage that shapes whether they take off once they become exposed to new ideas and new skills, or whether they are going to take more time to build these early foundational skills. We have to pay attention to how their memory is developing as well as their motor skills. Some students may take three or four years to reach the level of development they need to become strong readers and learn their numbers with enough fluency that they can thrive in mathematics. We often see them take off and catch up at this point.”

This makes me wonder: Would it be useful to make the interplay between development and standards more explicit for teachers and parents so personalized learning trajectories could be created? If a student’s brain hasn’t developed enough to memorize 1-100, why would we expect them to do so? Wouldn’t it be more valuable to help them strengthen their skills at memorization first? Or perhaps what we need are bands or benchmarks rather than grade-level standards? (more…)

Merit Prep: Where Students Feel Safe to Learn

November 9, 2015 by
Ron Harvey

Principal Ron Harvey

This is the first post taking a look at Merit Prep. For part two, visit Non-Linear Progressions and Culture of Safety.

I am deeply grateful for the time the team at Merit Preparatory Charter School spent explaining their school, the model, their sparkling information system, their school culture, how to accelerate learning for students who have not been previously well-served by public education, and what they are learning about turning around schools. This post will be followed by another with some of my big takeaways.

Thanks to Laura Shubilla, a long-time friend, colleague, and co-founder of Building 21, for joining me on a site visit. Listening to her perspective helped me better understand Merit Prep, reminding me how important it is to do joint site visits.

The Challenge

What is truly amazing about Merit Prep and the Matchbook Learning approach is that they are pushing hard to create a personalized, competency-based, blended model. And they are doing it with the most student-centered starting point…making sure kids feel loved, cared for, and safe. They are also doing it in an area of concentrated poverty in Newark, NJ, where kids face multiple challenges day in and day out. Matchbook began working to turn around Merit Prep last year, thus they are still in the process of reshaping the culture and expectations while simultaneously working to get the design of the school just right.

The Team

I met Sajan George at the Competency-Based Pathways Summit in 2011. I was instantly impressed by his commitment to finding solutions for our lowest performing schools in our most economically challenged cities. Soon after the summit, he launched Matchbook Learning, and I’ve been watching its development ever since. What was interesting in meeting the team of Merit Prep staff (Ron Harvey, Principal and Jason Lewis, Director of Culture) and the Matchbook Learning leadership team (George; Nithi Thomas, Director of Instructional Technology; John Polk, Chief Operating Officer; Laurance Specht and Tiffany McAfee, Directors of Personalized Learning; Al Motley, Chief Technology Officer; and Dr. Amy Swann, Chief Learning Officer) is that the same level of leadership, courage, commitment, and love of children is held by all. It was such a treat to be in a room of warm, brave-hearted people. As I told them, I think they are going to be leading the way to help us transform schools in big, broken-down districts.

Culture of Safety

The Merit Prep team takes culture-building very seriously. They start by ensuring that students feel safe and cared for, and that learning is at the forefront of any decision. Given that they are introducing an entirely new set of values, there is also an emphasis on high expectations and being “firm, fair, and consistent” to rebuild trust and respect. I’ll write more about their school culture in the second post on their school. (more…)

Multiple Pathways to Competency-Based Education?

October 26, 2015 by

ClassroomLast summer we published Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders based on interviews with ten districts across the country. There were strong similarities about the major steps these districts used in converting their systems from time-based to success-based. What was interesting was that most of the districts had converted without a big investment of education technology or use of blended learning.

There are more and more districts interested in competency education, but they have different starting points. Many of them have already made the transition to blended learning and are more comfortable with students working on different units or skills. I’ve also visited one district, Eminence, which started with design thinking. (University of Kentucky dLAB, led by John Nash, is bringing design thinking into the schools in the Bluegrass State.) This has raised a bunch of questions for me about how these districts might find their way to competency education. Will they follow the same implementation process or will they forge a different way to a competency-based system? And if they do forge a different way, will this lead to different understandings of competency education and new designs? Or will these districts miss important steps and encounter new challenges?

Technical or Transformational?

A few people, all of whom I have the utmost respect for, have suggested that we need to document the different models of competency education in the same way we talk about the models of blended learning. I see the value of modelizing (Is that a word? If not, it should be. ), but I also see a huge risk in that it allows people to see competency education as a technical reform.

And we at CompetencyWorks don’t think it is. (more…)

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