Registration is now open for the 2019 iNACOL Symposium! Register Now

Tag: over-age undercredit students

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…)

A Reflection on the Field of Competency Education

August 19, 2015 by

GraphEach summer, CompetencyWorks takes a bit of time to reflect on where we have come from, accomplishments, and emerging issues. Our advisory board is absolutely instrumental in this process, helping us to understand nuances and variations across states.

Below are the highlights of our discussion this year. It’s long, but I think sharing in detail is worth it, especially as each week people contact us seeking help in understanding the field. Please, please, please – we would love to hear your insights and understanding of where we have come from and what we need to think about in terms of advancing competency education. It’s the richness of multiple perspectives that allow us to be as strategic as possible.

I. How Are We Doing in Terms of Expansion?

When we wrote the first scan of the field in 2010, there were only pockets of innovation across the country, each operating in isolation. Five years later, eighteen states are actively pursuing competency education through a range of strategies including proficiency-based diplomas (ME, NH, CO, AZ), integrating competency education into the education code (VT, NH), innovation zones (KY, WI, CT), pilots (OR, IA, OH, ID), and task forces in partnership with districts (SC, WY, OK, HI, DE). Federal policymakers are now familiar with competency-based education in the K12 and higher education sector, with ESEA policy discussions considered pilots for new systems of assessments.

Districts are converting to competency education across the country, with or without state policy enabling the change. In addition to the northern New England states, which have strong state policy initiatives, districts are converting in AK, AR, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, MI, and SC.

New school models are developing that push beyond the traditional organization of school to high levels of personalization, including those at Summit Public Schools, Building 21, Virtual Learning Academy Charter School, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Making Community Connections Charter School, EPIC North, and Bronx Arena. Schools for the Future has recently announced record-breaking results in its first year of operation.

Some people think the rate of expansion is too slow. Personally, I think we need to really “get it right” – robust competency-based structures, high levels of personalization so our most historically underserved populations of students are thriving, upgraded instruction and assessment aligned to higher levels of knowledge, and effective use of online learning – before we worry about the speed of expansion. Let’s practice what we preach. We are in the midst of huge learning as we deconstruct the traditional system and put into place a more vibrant, personalized system, and it may take us a bit of time. It took us well over 200 years to create the traditional system, and its rituals are deeply rooted into our own personal lives. I don’t think it is a problem if it takes us a few more years to get it right.

The Results from our Early Adopters: The early adopters are now three to four years into implementation (with the exception of Chugach School District, which has been using a competency-based model for nearly two decades). Many have developed the systemic framework within a traditional agrarian, course-based model, which means that at first glance, it appears there is little innovation…until one looks deeper to see the benefits of greater personalization, student agency/voice/choice, consistency of proficiency scales across the school, and greater responsiveness to students who are struggling. (more…)

Colorado Takes Another Step Forward with a New School in Denver

March 19, 2015 by
Happy Haynes

Happy Haynes, DPS Board President

Colorado is an interesting state to watch as it takes steps – both big and little – toward competency education. Home to Adams 50, the courageous district that moved forward because they knew that there had to be something better for their students, it’s one of the only states to have established a policy for a proficiency-based diploma – by the start of the 2015 school year, every district in the state must pass guidelines so that by 2021 students will meet or exceed minimum thresholds for college and career readiness. These guidelines will “signal proof of competency … rather than merely completion of seat‐time requirements.” (Read more about the graduation guidelines here.) To support this ambitious work, the CO Department of Education has a study group on competency education, including a site visit to Lindsay Unified.

Now Denver Public Schools is taking a step forward with a new competency-based high school. (more…)

APEX Academy: A Diploma Plus School

December 16, 2013 by

173339Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit with Alfonzo Paz, Assistant Principal at  Academic Performance Excellence Academy, better known as APEX Academy.

APEX is co-located in a large high school in East Hollywood with 330 students from a mostly Latino community with pockets of Armenian, African-American and Asian families. APEX is a Diploma Plus (DP) school, a model developed over 15 years ago. Interestingly, APEX, a charter school, started as a district-run school, but budget cuts began to impact the quality of their school — not so much because of reduced resources but because they ended up with teachers that didn’t share the vision of competency education. The underlying issue was with union policy that gave teachers the right to teach the way they want. How could they have a competency-based school if teachers refused to be competency-based in their instruction, assessment and grading?

I first learned about competency education when I was a program officer at the Mott Foundation during a site visit to one of the earlier DP schools (you can read more about Diploma Plus in Making Mastery Work). So I was thrilled to learn about how Diploma Plus had advanced during my visit to APEX.  DP is designed to work in a variety of educational settings depending on the focus, mission and need of the school or program. I’ve seen it mostly in alternative schools serving over-age and undercredit students.  However, APEX is what I call an “inclusive” high school – it is set up as a regular four-year high school but enrolls students no matter what their educational experience, including re-enrolling after dropping out. Here are a few of the highlights of my visit:

Structure: The DP model doesn’t have age-based grades. Instead it has three phases –  Foundation, Presentation, and, Plus. The Foundation phase is focused on getting students skills up to 10th grade level as many start with gaps in skills as far back as 4th or 5th grade.  Paz explained that APEX had split Presentation Phase into two sections as students were coming from so far behind and needed a sense of progress. Presentation is focused on helping students build up a portfolio of the work emphasizing performance tasks and assessments. Students in the Plus Phase participate in internships, college courses, and community action projects in order to support their successful transition to life after high school. (more…)

When the Math Doesn’t Work

October 16, 2012 by

Last week there was a great piece Why Students Who Underperform Drop Out on the PBS Newshour.  Ray Suarez interviewed Stephanie Krauss, Shearwater  Education Foundation, Victor Rios, Professor, UC Santa Barbara and Adam Steltzner, NASA Curiosity Mission.  It was an interesting group with Krauss and Rios being former dropouts and Steltzner almost not graduating. The conversation was primarily on how to re-engage students who have gone “into the wilderness”.  In the midst of this conversation Krauss raised the issue of seat-time and competency education. Watch the show or you can check out Krauss’s discussion on seat-time below.

(more…)

Boston Day and Evening Academy: A Learning Organization

June 22, 2012 by

This is the third post in the Boston Day and Evening Academy series. Continue reading the first and second posts.

This final post on Boston Day and Evening Academy(BDEA) offers some of the big takeaways and lessons learned from my site visit.

Beatriz Zapater & BDEA student

Process for Designing Competencies: Beatriz Zapater, Head of BDEA, explained that “We always start with the curriculum frameworks. In Massachusetts, the standards feel like a telephone book with long lists of what we expect students to know. We can’t teach a phone book—we don’t have time. So we go in search of the most important ones. Common Core offers anchor standards so that makes it easier.” Alison Hramiec, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, continued by saying, “We ask ourselves three questions: 1) What is essential for all students to know and be able to do in each section of the Common Core?  2) What are the essential components of those skills and knowledge we are asking students to demonstrate?, and, 3) How can we scaffold this learning through the scope and sequence?

Zapater further suggested that “Schools develop a framework of common language around the language used in rubrics (BDEA uses not yet competent, competent, and highly competent), scope and sequence, and extra support. Otherwise it becomes a Tower of Babel, and you risk focusing on things other than student learning.” (See definitions used at BDEA on the wiki.)

(more…)

Boston Day and Evening Academy: Where Competency Education is Good Teaching Practice

June 21, 2012 by

This is the second post in the Boston Day and Evening Academy series. Continue reading the first and third posts.

During my site visit to BDEA, Alison Hramiec, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, explained that at BDEA “competency is synonymous with good teaching practice, with clear rubrics and discussion around student work. Competency education instills a sense of ownership in the learning process for teachers and for students. Learning comes alive.” Below are a few highlights of the BDEA competency education model.

Competencies, Benchmarks, and Assessments: BDEA defines competency as “able to demonstrate understanding and application of specific skills and content independently, multiple times, and using the correct vocabulary.” BDEA uses three levels: basic competent, competent, and highly competent.

BDEA uses benchmarks to organize learning and monitor progress. They do not use traditional grades or traditional grade levels. Their students earn benchmarks; each benchmark has a rubric. The Individual Learning Plans with the benchmarks for math, science, and humanities can be found on the wiki. (more…)

WordPress SEO fine-tune by Meta SEO Pack from Poradnik Webmastera