Tag: performance-based

Still Learning from Delivering on the Promise

November 28, 2018 by

This is the sixth book in the series Conversations with Authors About Competency-Based Education.

It continues to be a pleasure to read the story of Chugach School District’s journey of transformation described in Delivering on the Promise: The Education Revolution (DeLorenzo, Battino, Schreiber, and Carrio, 2009). Even though the term competency-based education is not mentioned once in the book, it continues to be one of the best books to date to explain the basics of competency-based education.

Much of the Reinventing Schools Coalition’s approach (purchased by Marzano Research Lab several years ago) still holds true, although we now know so much more.

  • We know much more about the importance of an empowering, inclusive culture in making the new structures of competency education sing rather than dribbling away into a series of checking the boxes.


Pt. England Primary: Understanding Where Students Are

November 27, 2018 by

This is the sixth article in the series Baskets of Knowledge from Aotearoa New Zealand, which highlights insights from a totally different education system about what is possible in transforming our education system. Read the first article here.

In addition to the Learn, Create, Share process developed by the teachers at Pt. England Primary described in the previous articles, another important aspect of the pedagogical approach is to ensure that students are operating at their curricular level. Burt explained, “It gives you the horrors when a teacher isn’t leveling the kids right. There are instant behavior problems when kids are working on the wrong level.” Burt asks that when teachers send students with behavior problems to see him, that they also send the Chromebook with examples of their reading and math so he can review physical artifacts about their learning. He checks to make sure students are engaged at the right level. “It can be as boring as toast with no spread on it if a kid is being asked to do something he already knows how to do or has no idea how to do.” (more…)

A Conversation with Bob Lenz About Project-Based Learning and CBE

November 26, 2018 by

Although I’ve known of the outstanding work of the Buck Institute for Education for over 25 years, I’ve never had a chance to meet the leadership team. Thus, I was delighted to grab an hour with Executive Director Bob Lenz at iNACOL18.

The world of project-based learning (PBL) shares a common challenge with competency-based education (CBE): quality. PBL has been growing its field in a sustained way for decades, with the efforts of the Hewlett deeper learning initiatives bringing an increase of attention. CBE, with roots that stretch back into the 1960s, only started to operate as a field in 2011. In the CBE world, the quality issues are looming so large that it could cause our momentum to buckle.

One of the challenges the field of PBL faces is to get greater clarity on what high quality PBL means in a world where anything that that actively engages students can be called a project or PBL. This has direct implications for schools that are becoming competency-based, as we need to make sure all students have opportunities for deeper learning. A hands-on activity just isn’t the same as deeper learning. Thus, PBL’s quality challenge is our quality challenge.

Below are some of my takeaways from my conversation with Lenz about PBL and its intersection with CBE. (more…)

Competency-Based Education Quality Principle #7: Activate Student Agency and Ownership


This is the eighth article in a series based on the book Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education. You can find the section on Principle #7 Activate Student Agency and Ownership on page 59. The links to the other articles can be found at the bottom of this page and will be updated as they are posted.

What is student agency?

The standard reply in our field these days is “voice and choice.” Certainly, “voice and choice” is a pithy memorable phrase. It also has value in that creating opportunity for students to have voice and choice in their daily lives is a relatively easy practice to introduce in the classroom. (more…)

Competency-Based Education Quality Principle #6: Base School Design and Pedagogy on Learning Sciences

November 21, 2018 by

This is the seventh article in a series based on the book Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education. You can find the section on Principle #6 Base School Design and Pedagogy on Learning Sciences on page 54. The links to the other articles can be found at the bottom of this page and will be updated as they are posted.


If I had a magic wand and could go back eight years, I would make clarifying the pedagogical principles the first step in moving toward personalized, competency-based education. At the time, districts and schools were primarily using engaging the community around a shared vision and purpose as the first step. And it is indeed a powerful and important step. However, when teachers are trying to implement a personalized approach while still believing in fixed intelligence, considering students as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge, and depending solely on ‘carrots and sticks’ to motivate, it’s too easy to come to the conclusion that the approach isn’t effective.

We can’t underestimate the power of the beliefs we bring to our work. They are invisible but shape every thing we do. They are difficult to pin down because they don’t operate in isolation – they are dynamic within our full set of beliefs. And when it comes to bias, we may be ashamed that we carry stereotypes that shape our beliefs about other people and seek to hide them rather them bring them to the surface.

“One of the biggest changes is from assuming that the stand and deliver approach to learning in which teachers deliver curriculum and students are expected to just give it back on tests actually works. We are inching along in our understanding that scholars have to be active learners and that we need to build on what they already know. We can’t assume what they know – we need to discover it. Without the data, we are at risk of just making up stuff and spinning our wheels. If you are making me learn letters when I already know them, you are not helping me reach my potential.” – Cynthia Lamkin, Lead Learner, Otken Elementary School, McComb School District, MS, 2018


Pt. England Primary: Manaiakalani, The Hook from Heaven

November 20, 2018 by

This is the fifth article in the series Baskets of Knowledge from Aotearoa New Zealand, which highlights insights from a totally different education system about what is possible in transforming our education system. Read the first article here.

A little background before I describe Pt. England Primary’s pedagogical approach and strategy for accelerating learning. New Zealand’s education system is designed around the assumption that students enter school at different points in their learning and development, and that learning does not occur in the same way or same pace. There are eight curricular levels outlined in the New Zealand National Curriculum that are bands stretching across three years with the expectation that students will be learning within those bands at a given age.  

However, every educator I spoke to except two, Russell Burt, principal of Pt. England Primary, and Andy Kai Fong, principal at Haeata Community Campus, to some degree assumed that students who started at a lower level would end up at a lower level upon leaving school at the end of Year 13.   (more…)

What to Do When the Field Goes “Mustard”

November 15, 2018 by

This is the seventh in a series on problems of practice. (Check out the articles on gradingattendancepace, individualized learning, granularity, and late work.) We are interested in hearing from readers about other problems of practice they’ve seen or are struggling with in implementation.

What do we call the stage of field development when the so-called “experts” and expert organizations are providing inadequate, weak, or even bad advice? Several Google searches didn’t come up with an answer, so I’m going to call it the “mustard” stage… As in, we aren’t performing at the level needed to fully support districts and schools – in other words, we “aren’t cutting the mustard.” (more…)

Competency-Based Education Quality Principle #5: Cultivate Empowering and Distributed Leadership


This is the sixth article in a series based on the book Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education. You can find the section on Principle #5 Cultivate Empowering and Distributed Leadership on page 48. The links to the other articles can be found at the bottom of this page and will be updated as they are posted. For more on equity, see Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to implement or sustain a personalized, competency-based system through top-down bureaucratic approaches. You can’t simply write a memo to tell schools and educators how to change their practices. You can’t tell people to change their beliefs and assumptions. The change process requires engagement. Engagement requires trusting relationships and time for dialogue and learning. Trust is developed and demonstrated by listening to, investing in, and respecting the ability of others to make strong decisions. Thus, districts and schools making headway in creating competency-based systems will usually refer to the importance of empowerment and distributed leadership that give schools and educators more autonomy. But autonomy doesn’t mean the individual makes all decisions. Rather, it refers to decisions being made closer to and involving the people who are being impacted. (more…)

Step by Step Our Field Builds Its Capacity for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

November 14, 2018 by

Equity Principles (Click Image to Enlarge)

At iNACOL a few weeks ago, people from three different organizations came up to me to tell me about their progress in building organizational capacity around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Some are making steps in building diverse candidate pools that are leading to greater diversity on staff. Some are starting to use an equity lens to review decisions. Some are turning the equity framework developed through the National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education into tools to use with their networks.  

I think a good example of how our field is moving step by step (let’s be honest, there are still way too many panels of all white people or equity added as the last bullet point rather then integrated into the core of our work) is from NGLC. In their latest Practitioner Guide, they recount their story toward building their organizational capacity around equity: (more…)

Starting the Competency-Based Education Journey…Again

November 13, 2018 by

I spent 10 years of my career working in a high school that successfully transitioned from being very traditional to one that is now competency-based. Although in reality the work is never really complete, it’s still satisfying to look back and celebrate just how far you’ve come. For those of us in the competency-based education (CBE) trenches, we know that changing the way people think about teaching and learning isn’t easy. It’s difficult to let go of long held beliefs about how schools should operate and how classrooms should be run. The transition to a CBE model also takes time. Educators must commit to years of hard work in order to make CBE a reality.

Not long ago I hit the professional reset button and accepted a position in a district that was just beginning to develop a CBE system. I knew that going back to the “old way of doing school” would be difficult, but like a true CBE educator I was eager to apply what I had learned in my previous setting to a new one. However, no two schools are alike and no transformational journey is the same. (For school leaders who are looking for a prescriptive path or a step-by-step manual to CBE, you’re out of luck, those don’t exist.) Instead of creating a CBE “to do” list, I spent a considerable amount of time observing current practices and gaining an understanding of what was already working. Three themes emerged from my observations that could be universally applied to any school embarking on the path to CBE. (more…)

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