Tag: mastery-based

Reflecting on The Field of Competency Education: Organizations and Literature

August 22, 2017 by

In the first part of this reflection, we focused on where we started and where we are now. One of the important areas we reflect upon each year is the strength of the field. Each year more organizations enter the field of competency education by adding it to the agendas of their meetings, investing in staff learning about it, and identifying leaders in their networks. Although the slide to the right is certainly missing organizations (and let us know if you want to be included as an organization building capacity around competency education), it gives you a good sense of the strength of the field’s capacity. The collaborative spirit, even with increased competition for resources, continues to be one of the strengths of the field.

One of the challenges in the field we all share in correcting is the lack of diversity in our networks and our leaders. We let a horrible thing happen when we allowed ourselves to have meetings that were all white – it was simply a pattern of white privilege that means we didn’t tap into our collective knowledge and failed to put equity, especially racial equity, front and center in our work. CompetencyWorks is dedicated to making a mid-course correction, but it is something that will require everyone to work together to make the necessary changes in our processes, values, and relationships.

One of the strengths of the field to date is that we have built a strong set of literature that allows people to learn about competency education from different perspectives. Our challenge going forward is to ensure that we refresh the knowledge as we learn more and that we focus in on the issues that are most challenging to ensure that we fill gaps in knowledge. The following slides are included for you in case you want to review the different reports and books that are available. Later this week I’ll continue the strategic reflection with a focus on policy, how our learning is deepening, and what we need to think about to advance competency education.

 

 

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Reflecting on The Field of Competency Education: Where We Started and Where We Are Now

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Every summer, the CompetencyWorks team and our advisors reflect on the progress that is being made and the emerging issues that we see developing. This helps us know where to focus our attention in our daily work, and it is a leadership opportunity for all of us to hear from others from around the country and different perspectives about how competency education is advancing.

This article highlights some of the areas of our reflection and will accompany today’s webinar Competency Education: A Reflection on the Field and Future Directions. For those of you completely new to competency education, you might want to glance at What is Competency Education? as a starting point.

Where We Started and Where We Are Now

There are different starting points for how we tell the story of where we started. Several valuable reports provide slightly different starting points and critical stepping stones, although almost everyone will recognize Benjamin Bloom’s contribution. It would actually be an interesting project to talk to leading innovators and find out the key advances in education they are building upon. For those of you interested, I suggest the following reports to learn more about the foundation for competency-based education:

At CompetencyWorks, our understanding of competency education is that it is a transformation of culture and structure. It is best approached as a district reform to enable students to have the fullest support no matter where they are on the learning continuum, from kindergarten on up to college level. The commitment to all students successfully learning the skills they will need for college, career, and life also requires a strong commitment from leadership – both school board and district level. However, there are many examples of schools within traditional districts being able to implement in a way that is highly meaningful even though there may be some limitations and work-arounds.

Thus, our starting point of competency education often begins in the mid-1990s, where, on one coast, innovators in Chugach School District were transforming their schools in response to Native Alaskan communities demanding that their children be educated. On the other side of the country, innovators were developing Diploma Plus and Boston Day and Evening Academy to re-engage students by focusing on learning and skill-building, not simply accruing credits.

Since then, there have been stages of development – of practice and of policy. The most important thing to remember is that, as a movement, competency education has been educator-developed and educator-driven. For example, the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning, a collaboration of districts, helped to catalyze change in Maine. Lindsay Unified, one of our lighthouse districts that continues to develop and refine their model, launched their transformation in a state that has made no effort to create innovation space. In the past five years, investments have often been directed toward creating new models, including Next Generation Learning Challenges, Opportunity by Design, and XQ schools. Some of the grantees have been intentionally competency-based, while we are seeing some schools inch their way in that direction.

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iNACOL Symposium Competency Education Strand Keeps Getting Better and Better

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Great conversations at iNACOL16.

I just received the list of the #inacol17 sessions and workshops within the Competency Education track and it looks outrageously good. (There are also a number of really great pre-conference sessions as well.)

Here are the highlights:

Equity and Competency Education

Performance Assessments

  • Are Performance Tasks Really For Everyone? Designing Rigorous Tasks for Equity and Engagement, Ensuring Every Student Crosses the Finish Line with Antonia Rudenstine, Dixie Bacallao and Sydney Schaef.
  • Performance Assessment as a Vehicle for Transformation with Christine Landwehrle and Bethany Bernasconi.

District and School Conversion

Getting Started

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

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What's new! star graphicThis VUE article, written by Scott F. Marion, Jonathan Vander Els, and Paul Leather, looks at how New Hampshire’s new performance assessment system focuses on reciprocal accountability and shared leadership among teachers and leaders at the school, district and state levels.

Grading and Transcripts

  • This article poses the question, what if your high school transcript didn’t include grades?
  • School District 51 is phasing out valedictorian and salutatorian recognitions for high school graduates, starting with this year’s ninth-grade students. The students who graduate in 2021 will receive recognitions similar to the Latin honor system used in colleges and universities — cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude. School districts across the country are considering the change or have already gotten rid of valedictorian and salutatorian recognitions to focus less on grading and more on broader definitions of student success.

A Spotlight on Pittsfield Middle High School

Updates in New England

News

  • 100+ educators and administrators from 25 schools participated in Thomas College’s conference to innovate for the future of Maine’s education—an example of higher education responding to the changing needs of the K-12 system.
  • According to The Heartland Institute in Illinois, competency-based education is gaining ground nationwide.
  • Districts are recognizing the importance of teachers having time to learn, plan and collaborate.
  • This article shares promising findings from the recent RAND report analyzing Next Generation Learning Challenges schools’ implementation of next gen learning models.

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Incredible Opportunities for Learning and Networking at the iNACOL2017 Pre-Conference

August 21, 2017 by

Each year the competency education strand expands at the iNACOL Symposium, and the sessions for iNACOL2017 are really incredible. I want to go to all of them. Here are the sessions scheduled for Monday October 23rd at the pre-conference. Remember, we’ll have a meet up on Monday evening at the opening reception so you all can meet each other and we can welcome newbies into our amazing network.

Building a Personalized Learning System: Transparency, Culture, and Courage

Rebecca Midles, Mesa County School District 51
Ken Haptonstall, Mesa County School District 51
Leigh Grasso, Mesa County School District 51

Join this interactive workshop to learn how to get started in building a personalized, competency-based education system. This session is designed for leaders of schools and districts in the planning or early implementation phases of personalized, competency-based education. Gain insights into how to build a transparent learning system designed for student success, develop and nurture a culture aimed at continuous improvement, and have the courage to lead systemic transformation of teaching and learning in your school. Access tools from Colorado’s District 51, such as their teaching and learning framework, personalized adult learning hubs, and their social and emotional learning framework, and learn how to modify and incorporate these resources as you begin transition to competency education in your own program.

Using Student Data to Drive Unit Design and Scheduling in a Personalized, Competency-Based System

Doug Finn III, Marzano Research
Bill Zima, Kennebec Intra-District Schools, RSU 2 (ME)

A primary design element of personalized, competency-based education is to get students more engaged in the learning process by challenging them at their appropriate academic level and pace. To effectively manage this outcome, we need to rethink how we use student data. This session will focus on how to better utilize student data in designing instructional units and creating competency-based systems. Participants will have opportunities to engage in discussions dealing with the many facets of unit design and scheduling and explore examples of units and school schedules based on student data.

Building Understanding of Competency Education and Changing Grading Practices

Thomas Gaffey, Building 21
Sandra Moumoutjis, Building 21
Sydney Schaef, reDesign

Are competencies and standards the same? How do you assess competencies? Why do we create rubrics and convert them to points? Should measurement of learning be punitive? In this session, we will dive deep into these questions by providing an alternative approach to traditional grading. Through a series of activities, participants will engage with the Learning What Matters competency model and leave the session with a fresh perspective on how three Pennsylvania urban district schools assess students.

  • Participants will engage in a series of activities to define and illustrate competency-based learning.
  • Participants will use rating tools called continua to rate student work.
  • Participants will be exposed to an alternative grading and assessment mindset that will push their school design efforts forward.

After a series of knowledge-building activities, participants will be exposed to a powerful new approach of using the learning progression as a rating and grading tool. These activities include: basketball dribbling activity, small group continua building, and continua norming. Each of these activities requires participants to engage with each other to understand, create and build consensus. This approach mirrors our on-boarding for new teachers. (more…)

Competency Education and the Complicated Task of Communicating

August 17, 2017 by

Did you see that competency education (the same as mastery-based education) was mentioned in the New York Times? In some ways it is a very helpful article to introduce people to the idea of competency education, highlighting students taking ownership, students engaging more, the opportunity for students to really learn or master the skills and content before moving on, and the focus on growth.

Yet the article also includes examples of the difficulty we are facing in communicating what competency education is about, what it means to have a high quality competency-based school, and the noise from some of the critics. Below is a sample of the conversation I had with the author (in my mind, of course) while reading the article.

Instruction

One of the issues we are facing is that although competency education is primarily a cultural and structural shift, it also has implications for instruction. We know that instruction matters – it matters a lot. You can have strong instructional practices or weak instructional practices in a school. You can have some teachers with strong professional knowledge or some with weak professional knowledge in a school.

What competency education does is creates a structure by which teachers are talking with each other about what it means to have a student become proficient, aligning their assessments and instructional strategies, and exploring what is working and what isn’t working to help each and every student reach proficiency. Competency education, when well implemented, should be igniting the professional learning of the educators.

Competency education does introduce a few important implications for instruction and assessment:

  • Students need to be active learners with opportunity to apply their learning to new contexts (this is what makes it about competencies and not just standards). This means there also need to be assessment strategies that assess students at higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (i.e., performance-based assessment).
  • Instructional strategies need to meet students where they are. Yes, we want to think about grade level standards AND we want to think about where students’ performance levels are and where they have gaps. Then using their professional knowledge and taking into consideration the needs of other students and resources, educators work with students to develop strategies that will help them progress.
  • To the degree possible, summative assessments should be aligned with the depth of knowledge and the learning goals of the students. This may mean organizing assessments to be “just-in-time” with students bringing forward evidence of their learning. A student who has completed a unit at the beginning of the week and believes they have fully learned the material shouldn’t have to wait until the end of the month to move on to higher level work. In other learning experiences, there is going to be value in students working on a large project all with the same due date. But when the curriculum can be organized into more modular units, it opens the door to more flexibility for students.

When I see something like “students work at their own pace through worksheets, online lessons and in small group discussions with teachers” I get worried that either the school isn’t offering enough applied learning opportunities or we aren’t communicating what is happening instructionally in the classroom. First of all, students should know where they are on their own learning paths. Second, teachers are offering instruction through several methods, including individual and small groups, online videos they have made, or perhaps online instruction. In most, most but not all, of the classrooms I have visited, students talk about the use of online adaptive programs as how they practice. Most will say they prefer to learn about new material from their teacher or from a video their teacher made. Third, there will often be choices about how students practice and then demonstrate their learning. Worksheets might be one of them, and I’ve seen students playing games to practice and build math and vocabulary fluency, working on projects, writing essays, and engaging in large, inquiry-based projects that will wrap-up with a presentation. (more…)

Supporting Educators as Ambassadors for Mastery-Based Learning

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Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Forward School District, Pittsburgh, PA

Teachers tell us ‘we know so much more about supporting students, it would feel like malpractice to go back to how we used to teach,’ and parents will tell you the same thing: ‘we never want our students to go back to the other way, because this way leads to independence and real learning.’”

These words from Ellen Hume-Howard, former curriculum director for Sanborn Regional School District (NH), paint a picture of a school community in which parents and teachers speak a common language and pursue common goals for student learning. However, as Ellen is quick to add, this partnership is the result of years of effort. Educators and parents came to value innovations like mastery-based learning because they took the time to forge relationships, build trust, and co-create new definitions of student success.

Ellen is one of many educators in the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) community who has experience in communicating with stakeholders about mastery-based learning. We spoke to three school leaders and the authors behind Communications Planning for Innovation in Education to learn about their communications strategies and particularly the role of teachers in this work. They tell us that communicating effectively about innovations, and especially the “why” behind them, is essential. Classroom educators are the most visible—and powerful—ambassadors for next gen learning models to the broader school community.

To explore the key role teachers play as communicators, we tapped into the knowledge and experience of NGLC school leaders and other innovators to help us answer these questions:

  • Why are classroom educators so important to the work of communicating about innovative teaching and learning?
  • What kinds of support should schools provide to educators to do it well?

Classroom Educators Tell the Story of “Why?”

With another school year about to begin, educators are working full tilt to get ready. Principals are preparing professional learning activities and reviewing student data, while teachers are counting supplies, planning lessons, and setting up their classrooms. The “back to school” season is a tradition, a familiar part of the rhythm of teaching and learning familiar to parents from when they were in school.

However, the more schools engage with mastery-based learning and other student-centered, personalized innovations, the less learning looks like it did when parents were students. In place of rows of students at desks, we see groups collaborating around a table on a student-designed project. Instead of “all eyes on the teacher” as the sole repository of knowledge, we see learners setting goals and making choices as they navigate personalized pathways. Traditional letter grades give way to mastery-based measures, like the competency badges used in Elizabeth Forward School District (PA) or Sanborn schools’ “running report card.” Even time-honored concepts like “grade level” become less distinct.

Like other innovative schools, CICS West Belden has committed to a personalized learning model with new goals for student learning. “Those days are long gone when just doing the work put in front of you was enough, either in school or as an adult,” Colleen explains. “Now it’s about helping students know who they are. Once a child can articulate what kind of a learner they are, what makes them curious, there’s such a different investment in learning. Kids take the wheel.” (more…)

The Mission and the Message

August 16, 2017 by


How we found our ‘why’
and how we’ve used it to create urgency and

common purpose in our community’s quest for greater educational equity.

By Julianna Charles Brown, Jeremy Chan-Kraushar, Joy Nolan, and Patrick Williamson of Mastery Collaborative, a program of New York City Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness

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Any school that has embarked on shifting to mastery-based teaching and learning can tell you that messaging and mission are vital to this complex endeavor—which affects every aspect of teaching, learning, assessment, and school culture. A clear and powerful mission inspires all stakeholders to connect to and invest in the work more deeply and authentically. Without a clear mission, the work of a school or any organization is susceptible to a lack of focus, resistance from within, and confusion in implementation. As a leader, it’s hard to call the shots without a guiding mission. As a member of a community, it is necessary to have clarity about what’s happening and why.

A strong mission statement articulates the ‘why’ that powers the work. Great missions connect the day-to-day operations of an organization with a desired larger impact, and ideally, all stakeholders can contribute to its creation. Once a strong mission is developed, it should then become fundamental to the way you speak about your work. When taking on large and complex endeavors—like transitioning away from traditional education to mastery-based models—the ‘why’ must be meaningful and inspiring enough to justify the sustained focus required to accomplish multidimensional school change over several years’ time. In working with our school partners, we help to co-create communications materials and provide training that supports school leaders and staff in talking to parents, students, community partners and others about their school’s mastery-based systems. We also model the kind of mission-driven communications that practitioners can use to think about their own communications approach.

How we found our ‘why’

We started the Mastery Collaborative (MC) in 2015-16, to form a community for dozens of schools across New York City that were implementing mastery-based shifts in relative isolation. We dedicated that first year to creating a lively community of practice with and for member schools, and learning from them about mastery implementation models around the city. While visiting schools, we noticed a distinct feel in more advanced competency-based schools. There was positive energy in the air, and there was a shift in the adult/student power dynamic—as one school leader put it, “Students here have lots of choice and freedom, and lots of responsibility to their own learning and to our school community.”

In these schools, students regularly described what they were learning and why and were able to pinpoint how they could improve; we were seeing the self-confidence and assurance of students who valued school and felt they belong there, who were were empowered to own their learning—and we were seeing educators who believe in the young people they work with, and who understand that power is not a zero-sum game. Helping students find their power as learners only makes a class more compelling and powerful for them. Giving up a position as a lecturer at the front of the room only means finding more power as a facilitator of students’ learning. By the conclusion of MC year one, a hypothesis was forming: that there was a unique connection between mastery-based shifts, culturally responsive practices, and equity. To share out these ideas, we made program videos such as Why make the shift to mastery-based learning? and How does mastery transform school for students and teachers? (more…)

Much Ado About Mastery-Based Transcripts: What Schools Need to Know and What They Can Do

August 15, 2017 by

From University of Wisconsin Flexible Options

As more and more schools across the United States make the transition to proficiency-, competency-, or mastery-based systems* of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting, one question often comes to dominate conversations in community after community: How will mastery-based grades and transcripts impact students when they apply to college? In fact, this question can become so emotionally urgent for some students and families that it can render all other issues—including all the many advantages and benefits of mastery-based learning—effectively invisible.

Over the past decade, the Great Schools Partnership and the New England Secondary School Consortium have worked with hundreds of districts, schools, colleges, and universities across New England and the country on a wide range of issues related to mastery-based education, grades, and transcripts. After thousands of hours of conversations, meetings, interviews, presentations, workshops, and working groups, we’re confident we’ve learned a thing or two about the topic.

Here’s what you need to know about navigating the transition to mastery-based transcripts in your community.

The Facts

In the many conversations and meetings we’ve we had with colleges and universities, admissions officers have repeatedly told us—unequivocally—that mastery-based grades and transcripts will pose no problems whatsoever for applicants to their institutions. In fact, many of these institutions—including some of the most highly selective institutions in the world, such as Harvard and MIT—have provided public statements expressing this position. And the New England Board of Higher Education even published a position paper on mastery-based transcripts and college admissions that affirms what admission officers have been telling us for years: there is no cause for concern as long as sending schools provide some basic information and context explaining their systems.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Concerns about mastery-based transcripts are largely unfounded. And more often than not, they are based on assumptions that are easily dispelled. In general, admissions offices will happily discuss any concerns that school leaders, guidance counselors, and prospective applicants and their families may have. If you have questions, pick up the phone. Or read this interview with Nancy Davis Griffin, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at the University of Southern Maine—she will tell you a lot of what you need to know.
  • College and university admissions offices receive—and always have—a huge variety of transcripts, school profiles, and other academic records, including transcripts from international institutions, foreign-language schools, home-schooled students, and countless non-traditional educational institutions and programs. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say that there is actually no such thing as a “traditional” transcript, given that admissions offices have been receiving a huge variety of transcripts, and from every corner of the globe, for generations.
  • Colleges and universities simply do not discriminate against applicants based on the grading system or transcripts of their sending school, as long as the school’s documentation clearly presents and describes its policies, programs, and practices. If a postsecondary institution happens to have a specific admissions requirement that is not directly addressed in a school’s standard transcript or school profile, they typically contact the school to request the necessary information. If any information gaps emerge over time, schools can then modify their transcripts and profiles to include the required information.
  • As long as the school profile is comprehensive and understandable, and it clearly explains important information such as the content and rigor of the academic program, the technicalities of the assessment and grading systems, and the characteristics of the graduating class, then admissions office will have no problem understanding the transcript and properly evaluating the strength of a student’s academic record and accomplishments—after all, this is what they do, quite literally, thousands of times of every year.
  • Secondary schools use so many different systems for educating, categorizing, assessing, grading, ranking, and tracking students—and always have—that these many diverse systems can only be fully understood when a school clearly articulates how its policies work and submits a comprehensive school profile. A course title, grade, GPA, or class rank, for example, doesn’t mean much unless the admissions office also has the “key” (e.g., the school profile) it needs to understand how the system works and how the applicant performed in that system.
  • The rigor and quality of the school’s academic program, and understanding how an applicant performed in that system, matters much more than class rank or artificial “rank-enhancers” such as weighted grades (in fact, many admissions offices will “unweight” weighted grades). An admissions office wants to know that applicants have been intellectually challenged, that the school’s courses and learning experiences are rigorous, that the applicant performed well in those courses, and that the applicant is prepared to thrive academically in their program. The irony: If well designed, a mastery-based transcript will actually satisfy all of these admissions needs far better than so-called “traditional” transcripts.

What Schools Can Do

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