Tag: school design and models

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

September 20, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicBrian Stack and Jonathan Vander Els are publishing a book on September 27, 2017 titled: Breaking with Tradition: The Shift to Competency-Based Learning in PLCs at Work. Learn more and preorder here.

California’s Lindsay Unified School District

  • Lindsey Unified released a new video on their “learning communities” and how they are transforming public education to support a healthy, empowered and sustainable community.
  • Lindsay released a new podcast, Lindsay Live, which will provide insights into what it takes to succeed in the performance based system.

News

  • New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) program is showing early improvements in the Smarter Balanced assessments over the past two years, with significant improvements for students with disabilities, when compared with non-PACE districts. Read more about this early evidence of student achievement gains in this blog and in this article.
  • In competency-based systems, athletic directors are rethinking what eligibility for sports looks like.
  • The New York Times covered competency-based education in New York City.

On Race and Equity

Colorado’s District 51

Policy Updates

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What to Read to Learn about Competency-Based Education

September 7, 2017 by

I’ve been getting a lot of emails recently about how to learn more about competency-based education. Here are a few ideas to get you started based on my discussions with educators and what I know is available. It seems that more is being produced every day. As you know, CompetencyWorks is dedicated to learning from the cutting edge. So if you have resources that have been effectively used in your district or school, please let us know about them. Even more helpful is to know how you used them and what question prompts you used to spark discussion and reflection. Send them to chris at metisnet dot com.

Why Change?

Competency education is gaining attention. Some of this may be authentic, arising from educators and communities that are frustrated with the traditional system and how it is designed to produce inequity and lower achievement. Some attention may come from people who are interested in competency education because it helps them advance the ideas that they feel strongly about. Some may be required by state policy. And some may see that it is trending and want to make sure they are in the know.

Communities and districts that decide to make the change to competency education usually take the time to understand The Why: why do we want to make a change at all? Converting to competency education requires too much work if you are doing it because you have to or think you should. The districts that are successful in the conversion to competency education feel urgency because the world has changed around us and they need to change their schools. They also feel a moral imperative once they realize that the system is designed to underserve students.

In interviewing district leaders over the past six years, there is a pretty common set of books they have used to engage school boards, their staff, and community members about the reasons there needs to be a change. You can learn more about the process communities use in the section on Ramping Up from Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems. (Please let us know if there are materials you have used successfully to help people engage in The Why.)

What is Competency Education?

The next question then becomes, “What is going to be better than the traditional system?” The following resources should be helpful as the basis of discussion. (more…)

Iteration in Action: The Urban Assembly Maker Academy

August 28, 2017 by

This post and all pictures first appeared at Springpoint on February 6, 2017. This is the fourth in a series on iteration in school design. 

On a recent afternoon at The Urban Assembly Maker Academy, a group of students constructs a miniature car out of a shoebox and detached racecar wheels. The car holds an egg as it rolls down a ramp and two students watch their egg fly out of its cotton-ball harness; another group’s egg is crushed when it hits the bottom. The activity measures students’ mastery of key concepts in physics, like speed and velocity. Using a teacher-designed data tracking form, each group records how effectively their car ferried the egg. Some immediately begin redrafting their designs, taking their cars apart and tweaking the configuration of the components.

This is just one example of the kind of student collaboration that permeates Maker’s section of the Murry Bergtraum campus in Manhattan’s financial district. In nearly every class, you’ll find students huddled over clusters of desks solving problems in small groups. Teachers serve as facilitators, setting the boundaries of projects and guiding students along individualized paths to completion.

By spring of their first year at Maker, some students had already completed several projects to demonstrate mastery of core competencies. They had written their own series of blog posts to narrate their experience in a science project; designed and constructed Braille signage for the hallways; and participated in a “design jam” to brainstorm solutions to community problems. When asked why they chose Maker, students agreed that the opportunity to learn about STEM-based content through projects was what sold them.

Systems to Support Mastery-based Learning

Underpinning each project is a rigorous mastery-based crediting system, designed by Principal Luke Bauer and Assistant Principal Madeline Hackett. The system requires students to demonstrate mastery at least three times before they move on to the next standard or group of standards. Each demonstration of mastery is an “at bat,” and only the three most recent “at bats” count toward a student’s credit attainment. Students must perform at 80% or above on a given “at bat” to earn mastery. Since mastery only depends on a student’s last three “at bats,” a student can “lose mastery” of a given set of standards if they perform poorly on recent assessments. The system pushes students to hone their skills from the beginning to the end of each semester while sending the message that skills and knowledge are never permanently attained. UA Maker explains their approach in this series of videos.

The system took a few iterations to become what it is today. Originally, students had to complete five “at bats” to achieve mastery. When that proved too cumbersome, Bauer and his team trimmed it to three. Additionally, when ready-made tech products UA Maker launched with did not seamlessly accommodate the mastery system, Bauer’s team had to awkwardly adapt those systems to make them function properly. A few months into their first year, school leadership opted to ditch the ready-made tech solutions for a DIY combination of Google docs and hard copy records. Eventually, UA Maker hired a developer to build their own tech system, which allows students and staff to quickly access a snapshot of where any student stands on their mastery journey at a given time.

Much of Maker’s early professional development, as Bauer describes it, focused on developing open communication between students and teachers around what students know and what their “at bat” scores mean. One teacher, with Bauer’s support, has been coaching students to take ownership of their collective mastery of standards. Students are encouraged to say to themselves and each other, “Hey, as a class, we don’t know this. We’re not clear on “X” content piece, so let’s figure this out by the end of class.” This kind of self-awareness and collective accountability can only happen in an environment of transparency and rapid feedback. As Bauer describes it, “the narrative of a course” must be clear to everyone, from teachers to families. (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

August 22, 2017 by

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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Iteration in Action: PACT Academy

August 8, 2017 by

This post and all pictures first appeared at Springpoint on January 30, 2017. This is the third in a series on iteration in school design. 

If you ask one of the 200 students at PACT High School about grades, one of the first things you’ll hear is “we can’t fail here.” That’s because this high school is designed to foster positive youth development through strong relationships between students and adults.

It’s also because PACT does not give failing grades. Instead of an “F,” students receive the designation “not approaching proficiency.” This remains on a student’s transcript until they master the content in their course, which they can continue to work towards throughout their high school experience. This mastery-based approach means some students can be working to master standards from their first year after they’ve already moved onto their second year coursework. Others are able to skip ahead—in courses like Health, math, and science—using one of several available tech tools and with teacher supports. In the words of one student, “if you don’t get something, you work on it until you master it.”

Positive relationships to support mastery-based learning.

PACT opened in fall 2014 as part of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s participation in Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Opportunity by Design Initiative, and has since nurtured a strong culture of mastery-based learning supported by positive relationships between students and adults. This approach permeates the school, from everyday interactions to instructional policy. At PACT, students have an active voice in shaping both their learning path and the school’s design. For example, at the end of its first year, students expressed a desire to reorganize the instructional day to achieve a better balance between hands-on projects and online learning. Principal Reynolds and his team listened to students’ concerns and, beginning in the school’s second year, retrained teachers to give students more voice and choice in choosing and participating in projects.

In addition to giving students a voice in their education, PACT has a laser focus on ensuring students are college and career ready. On any given day, students can be seen working on a variety of projects: running cars down ramps to measure velocity and friction, or creating a multimedia presentation about a “turning point” in their life for their English class. In each project, students are measured based on how well they have mastered problem-solving, communications, and presentation skills that will truly prepare them for college.

The PACT team is committed to helping each and every student succeed, despite challenges they face academically and personally. For example, the majority of PACT families make less than $20,000 a year, and many students care for younger siblings and extended family members. Principal Reynolds says that the pressure of street affiliation and gang violence is ever-present, particularly for young men in the community.

Knowing this, the PACT team works hard to create an environment where students can open up about their concerns and responsibilities. In the words of one student, “I have a voice here. I joked my way through sixth and eighth grade, but this school and its teachers changed my view of things.” PACT hosts several after-school activities geared toward giving students choice and agency, including theater, astrophysics, and a girls’ empowerment club called “Cover Girl.” The school’s staff has cultivated an awareness and responsiveness to challenges students face. Teachers like Mr. Hurt, an English teacher for first-year students, realize that, “for many kids, their day starts after they leave school. My goal is to give them something positive to think about when they leave us, and hopefully to help them make good decisions.” (more…)

Iteration in Action: Eagle Academy

August 3, 2017 by

This post and all pictures first appeared at Springpoint on January 11, 2017. This is the second in a series on iteration in school design. 

At E3agle Academy, a public high school in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, students support one another in mastering rigorous, college-ready standards. With a personalized approach and a focus on social justice, students are encouraged to connect classroom content to their experience in the real world, and to move at their own pace along a sequence of clear benchmarks.

Principal Lennox Thompson describes the school’s approach as fundamentally student-centered. “I want to give students benchmarks so they can track how they are progressing. This lets them stay on top of their work so they don’t fall behind and then get overwhelmed,” he says. To facilitate this, E3agle places students into groups of 10-12 to form “advise-aeries” (an aerie is an eagle’s nest). Advisors deliver students’ personalized schedules, and serve as a hub for messages to and from students’ core subject teachers.

On a recent visit, students were learning about proportions in a co-taught immersion math class. A teacher was leading a lesson on body image, anchored in an activity measuring Barbie’s body proportions. Students broke into groups and measured their own body proportions before presenting on their findings: How do normal body proportions compare to Barbie’s, and what does that say about body image? The activity gave students an opportunity to develop mastery of math and social studies skills—first in a group setting, and then individually.

E3agle’s underlying belief is that young people—even those who are entering high school with significant gaps in skills and knowledge—know themselves and can be trusted to make positive choices about how they use their time and energy. Teachers and administrators understand that for many students, the structural mechanisms of promotion between freshman and sophomore years must be more fluid, and that some students will take more time to finish courses than others. For students, the awareness that mastery of content—rather than “seat time”—is what matters has compelled them to take charge of their learning like never before.

Supporting mastery-based learning

To drive home the message that learning—rather than class standing—is what matters most, E3agle combines freshmen and sophomores in some courses like English and Social Studies, where the gradient of skills is more fluid. Recently, on a recent afternoon in an English class, freshmen helped sophomores analyze song lyrics to find evidence of characterization. When asked, nearly every student could articulate the exact competencies they were working toward. They knew the end goal and how they would work toward it.

English teacher Eleanor Salzbrenner describes a student named Marco*, who struggled in his first year, to manage his time and coursework. This year, says Salzbrenner, with attention and support from his teachers—and lots of opportunities to continue to work toward his mastery goals in each of his classes— “he’s almost chasing [us] down the hallway, saying ‘I need to get this done!’” (more…)

Iteration in Action: Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design

August 1, 2017 by

This post and all pictures first appeared at Springpoint on January 11, 2017. This is the first in a series on iteration in school design. 

On a typical day at the Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design (DSISD), groups of four or five students are reading different novels in ELA class. They discuss the characters and plots of their books, record standards-based observations and respond to questions on their Chromebooks. One group is predicting a protagonist’s next moves, and another is using context clues to infer the definitions of key words.

The curriculum, designed by English teacher Stephanie Price, allows students to move through the course in two distinct, yet intertwined, paths—some are in AP English and others are in Intro to Lit (the equivalent of a standard ninth-grade English curriculum). Students can opt into whichever path they want, and rather than being in the same path for an entire year, they have an opportunity to move between them at the beginning of each trimester. If a student wants more of a challenge or is improving quickly, she can opt into AP English after just a few months. To read more about Ms. Price’s classroom design, see here.

Student-driven design decisions

When DSISD opened, it didn’t feature this kind of deeply integrated differentiation. Originally, students spent the majority of their time working individually to master online course material. The curriculum was mastery-based, but—according to students—it wasn’t engaging. Alex, a student who chose DSISD for its emphasis on student agency, thought there should be more time for direct instruction. So Alex, along with a few other student leaders, took action. As Alex describes it, they “held the principal captive” to discuss “how students are learning. Not necessarily what they were learning, but how.”

Principal Daniel Medved remembers the conversation differently. Because his team had designed a space for student leaders to share their feedback on the model, they were comfortable articulating their desire for more direct instruction. In response to their concerns, Medved adjusted DSISD’s model to support teachers in rewriting their lessons to incorporate more direct instruction alongside personalized projects. The shift gave students the tangible instructional benefits they asked for, but it also sent a powerful message: As one student said, “if you [have feedback] and you talk to Principal Medved about it, and it’s reasonable, then he will do everything he can” to make a change.

DSISD students feel that they’re part of a dynamic community that responds rapidly to their needs and gives them room to grow. According to another student, “I used to have the mindset that once I turned in a paper and got a grade, it was done. The greatest thing about this school is that you can always make yourself and the grade better.” (more…)

What’s New in K-12 Competency-Based Education?

June 30, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicSchool Designs

  • Pittsfield School District shares their story of transformation toward student-centered learning in this video.
  • Chicago’s CICS West Belden embarked on a journey to implement personalized, competency-based learning. Learn more about their model here.
  • Navin Elementary School in Marysville Exempted Village School District is committed to personalized learning and doing what’s best for kids. Read an article and watch a video explaining their model.
  • Amidst opioid addiction and plummeting morale, learn how this one elementary school reinvented itself.
  • Some schools use changes in grading to begin shifting the focus on helping all students reach proficiency. Here is a story from North Carolina.

Assessments

Teacher Perspectives

  • When first learning about competency education, teachers often have a host of questions: “Do I plan a different lesson plan for each child?” “How do I manage all the levels?” This article addresses these questions about the practicalities of teaching in competency-based learning systems.
  • A D.C. teacher laid out a bold vision to improve poor student performance in this article. Educators and readers of Washington City Paper have since agreed and believe personalized learning should replace traditional schooling.
  • A high school English teacher penned a response to a recent article in The Federalist which warns against competency education.

Thought Leadership

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What’s New in K-12 Competency Education?

June 2, 2017 by

What's new! star graphicSchool Designs

Grade Levels

  • New Hampshire is moving beyond grade levels and graded assessments through a new program called NG2 (no grades, no grades), with seven participating elementary schools.
  • Incoming freshmen at Windsor Locks (CT) will be the first class to graduate under a proficiency-based approach, which forgoes letter grades and asks students to demonstrate mastery of skills.

High School Transcripts

News

Updates in New Hampshire

  • A researcher found that students in PACE districts outperformed their peers in non-participating districts across the board, starting in the second year of the program’s implementation. But the her most notable finding? Special education students in PACE districts did basically as well as students who weren’t on special education plans.
  • Tom Raffio, former State Board of Education chairman, reflects on important changes in New Hampshire’s education system over the last ten years.
  • New Hampshire’s Parker-Varney school released an excellent case study, Putting Kids at the Center: Building Parker-Varney’s Future of Learning, which shares their vision and journey toward competency education.

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Encouraging Learning Risks and Growth

May 2, 2017 by

This is the fourth and final post on Student-Focused Learning in Springdale, Arkansas.

We want students to take learning risks and press themselves to learn and achieve beyond the minimums we expect and require. We know that after they leave us, their success will greatly depend on their ability and inclination to take responsibility, make commitments, and push themselves to risk, learn, and grow without always having to be pushed.

Yet, the traditional design of schools is based on assumptions of compliance, responding to the direction of adults and meeting the expectations of others. More than one hundred years ago, when the American public school system was designed, these conditions made sense. Most students would leave school and enter a workforce where compliance, following directions, and meeting external expectation were most of what was required.

The world has changed and will change even more in the decades today’s students will spend in the workforce. In an era of learning and innovation, success will require commitment, curiosity, creativity, and courage to act, even when not all elements and implications of the situation are known. Preparing today’s learners for their future asks more of us and them than the legacy design of schools can deliver. We must create a new set of learning conditions, expectations, and supports if we hope to have our students leave us ready for their futures.

This reality was reinforced for during a recent conversation with students at the Don Tyson School of Innovation (DTSOI) in Springdale, Arkansas. The conversation also gave me hope and confidence that it is possible to create these conditions and position students to take risks, venture beyond their experiences, and engage their world inside and outside of school with courage and commitment. The students were freshmen and sophomores who are learning in a very different environment than most adults experienced.

Interestingly, the students emphasized the importance of having adults around them who care deeply about them and their success, make risk-taking safe, allow mistakes and missteps to be part of learning – not embarrassing or shameful actions – and hold high expectations for their learning success. As one of the students explained, “We know that teachers here are in our corner. They want us to succeed, but don’t expect us to be perfect.” Another noted, “When we try something and it does not work out, or we fail, they are ready to listen, talk, and help us figure out what to do next.” (more…)

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