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Tag: standards/competency frameworks

Lindsay Unified School District Reading List

November 7, 2013 by

header2I checked in with Tom Rooney, Superintendent of Lindsay Unified, to find out his recommended reading list (some of which was already on their website).

He told me: “The main book to help people realize the vision is Inevitable, Mass Customized Learning by Bea McGarvey.” Other helpful books:

  • Total Leaders by Schwahn and Spady explores five dimensions of leadership, including Visionary Leadership, Authentic Leadership, Cultural Leadership, Quality Leadership, and Service Leadership.


Maybe we should start a CompetencyWorks book group. What have been the most powerful books to help you on your way to competency education?

A Learning Progression To Support Teachers

July 23, 2013 by

photoAll twelve of us sit around the table in our workroom, pouring through the Customized Classroom Facilitator Continuum.  I half skim the paper in front of me, half scan the faces of my colleagues.  On one of my scans I catch my principal’s eye.  He’s scanning too. We finished our first draft of the progression yesterday, and this is the moment when we find out if our work makes sense.  I’m a little nervous.

The teachers in the room with us, the Phase 1 teams, are all taking the first steps towards our vision of customized learning.  It is now April and all of us are tired, a little ragged, from stretching into this first year.  These people are the best people to look at this progression and give us honest, brutal feedback.  And they will.

The Customized Classroom Facilitator Continuum is a learning progression, just like any other learning progression, but for teachers.  A learning progression takes a skill or concept, breaks out the different aspects of that skill or concept, and arranges learning targets from simple to complex.  There are different kinds of learning progressions depending on content and skill, as Fritz Mosher touches on in his CPRE policy brief “The Role of Learning Progressions in Standards-Based Education Reform,” as well as different formats for organizing them.  The Customized Classroom Facilitator Continuum takes the skills and understandings needed to create and support a personalized learning environment and arranges them by the following philosophical lenses: (more…)

Competencies For Competency Education?

May 27, 2013 by

csbouldersmallWith the help of our Advisory Board, Susan Patrick and I have been trying to sketch out a) which competencies are needed to implement competency education and b) what a core set of trainings would look like to support state, district, and school personnel in developing these competencies. We don’t have funding for this, nor do we know of anyone else who has funding – but we think it is important to put these ideas out there as states, districts, and schools charge ahead, and we need to be able to make the best thinking and best resources available.

We have been thinking about creating a set of “badges” based on a framework within which we can capture the essential knowledge and skills. Depending on your role, what you will need to know and be able to do is different.

Our rough draft ideas are below – but we know it’s not quite right.  First the language needs to be inspiring and capture the spirit and joy of learning. Second, the overarching framework doesn’t work quite right. We also have a long way to go to get these key questions right.  We’d love to hear your ideas about how to break this up in a meaningful way for schools and educators. In fact, if you have already started to create a set of competencies  or a badging process for the adults, please tell us about it as we might be able to build off of your efforts.

Initial Draft of Competency Education Badges

Expert (4): I’ve had successful experiences in competency education that produced increased achievement for students and can support my peers.
Experienced (3): I’ve implemented it – it may not be perfect but I’m learning from my mistakes.
Novice (2): I’m working on planning and early implementation right now. Wow I have a lot of questions.
Explorer (1): I’m becoming familiar with the concepts, implications, and design choices.

1.    Engagement and Communication

  • What is competency education?
  • Why is it important?
  • How to engage educators, students, families, and broader communication?
  • How to create an engagement plan? (more…)

The Three-Legged Stool of Competency Frameworks

April 11, 2013 by

three-legged-stoolI don’t know how I missed it, but in February New Hampshire released competencies that will be used as the infrastructure upon which they will out their balanced assessment systems. Remember that, at first, New Hampshire left the decision about competency frameworks for districts to decide. But after a couple of years of local efforts it was clear that with the Common Core it made sense to have a set of default ELA and math competencies – there are 9 for English and 19 for math.  These competencies are overarching across levels to help students and teachers to provide purpose and meaning as students build their skills on specific measurable learning targets such as the standards outlined in the Common Core.

So this is a good opportunity to take a moment to think about what competencies are and why they are important.

What is a Competency?  A competency is a statement of the knowledge, skills and/or behaviors students must master in a specific content or performance area. They explicitly explain the expectation for what a learner should be able to know and do.  A competency statement represents essential, enduring, transferable concepts that are at the upper end of knowledge taxonomies such as Webb’s strategic thinking or Blooms’ analyze, evaluate and create.

Let’s Get REAL

March 7, 2013 by

As we all know, there is nothing better than learning from other practitioners. So Boston Day and Evening Academy’s Responsive Education Alternatives Lab (REAL) is a great opportunity. Registration has just opened for the July 8-11 training in Boston.

The objectives of REAL include:

•    Learn the process for creating competencies that both align to the Common Core and meet the needs of your students;
•    Build benchmarks and competencies and scaffold them into a scope and sequence;
•    Work in content teams and by program;
•    Leave with a work plan that allows you to fully implement competency-based learning and assessment;
•    Become part of a national peer-learning network.

There are scholarships available to all registrants by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

If you want to know more about Boston Day and Evening Academy, check out Making Mastery Work, Aligning Competencies to Rigorous Standards for Off-track Youth: A Case Study of Boston Day and Evening Academy
and the wiki.

Where Things Can Go Wrong

March 1, 2013 by

csbouldersmallIn the last three days, in three different meetings, I’ve been asked to summarize what I’m learning about competency education. In yesterday’s meeting with RTT districts I shared the following list of things people starting off in competency education need to think about earlier than later in their process…i.e. this is a place where implementation can go wrong.

1) Start With The Students:  We think a lot about college and career readiness, Common Core curriculum, and what we expect students to know and do.  If we want to get students there then we need to start with where they are.  This means when students enter your school, doing assessments to understand where they are on their learning progression and what gaps they have is essential. Teachers will need to do pre-assessments when students enter their classroom to understand how they are going to need to differentiate, group/regroup.

This is one of the game-changing dynamics of competency education. At today’s meeting with Race to the Top districts this kicked off a huge conversation. Once you do this we can no longer ignore the fact that some students are 2,3, 4 or 5 years behind or don’t have the prerequisite skills they need to do the grade-level curriculum.  Scott Benson, Gates Foundation referred to this as the “design and accountability challenge of our time “.  I call it the Elephant that we’ve been successfully ignoring for decades.  There are many ways of trying to accelerate learning…but we haven’t been systematic in researching this so that districts and schools can be sure they are deploying resources most cost-effectively. (more…)

21st Century Skills and Designing Competencies

January 23, 2013 by

andrew miller

Competencies provide a unique opportunity to truly teach and assess 21st Century Skills. While there are many 21st Century Skills out there, the 4Cs (Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication) are probably the most prevalent. As I wrote in a blog on the Huffington Post, many educators run up against the wall of true assessment of 21st century skills in our traditional Education System. Many districts are not comfortable putting “grades” to 21st Century Skills, but as we move towards competencies, all educators will not only have be comfortable, they will have to embrace them with open-arms. (more…)

A GPS for Competency Education

January 9, 2013 by


We are now starting to see whole networks of schools move towards competency education.  The Asia Society, which has 34 schools in their International Studies Schools Network (ISSN), has four schools (Newfound Regional High School in Bristol, NH; Sharpstown International School in Houston, TX; and two schools in Denver, CO – the Denver Center for International Studies and the Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello) working together to build a Graduation Performance System (GPS) as the basis for a mastery-based system that awards credit based on proficiency in core courses.  They are designing the GPS with an eye towards integrating anywhere/anytime learning opportunities that include community- and digitally-based learning environments.


The ISSN has a focus on preparing students for global competence, with an activist dimension, that includes but goes beyond the Common Core and our national focus on college and career readiness


The ISSN schools have organized curriculum and learning pathways into 6 core subject disciplines and 4 domains of global competence (investigate the world, recognize perspectives, communicate ideas, and take action). They continue to use grade-level benchmarks as a way of organizing learning progressions and assuring proficiency along the way.

Competencies are designed with “I Can” statements. For example: I can develop a mathematical model that fits a particular situation. This means that I can use mathematics to create a representation, description, or quantification of some aspect of a situation. It also means that the model should use all the relevant data and information provided. (more…)

Wading into the Water: Curriculum Design for Competency Education

January 2, 2013 by

from Making Mastery Work

The section on Curriculum and Instruction in Making Mastery Work: A Close-Up View of Competency Education is chock full of insights into the dynamics of setting up and sustaining a competency-based school.

It’s not surprising (but still frustrating) to learn that the curriculum publishing industry “has yet to wade successfully into the waters of competency education[…]”  This means that teachers are “being stretched to develop and adapt curriculum and formative assessments[…]” So clearly when planning for competency education it’s worth it to take some time to see if you can borrow other schools’ curriculum and assessments as a starting point. It probably won’t meet your teachers’ preferences exactly, but it is often easier to adapt than to start from scratch.

So what makes curriculum for competency education different than traditional time-based curriculum?  Here are a few things that jump out of the report:

Design for Significant Scaffolding:  In a competency-based school, instruction is provided at the targeted levels for each student, not at the level they should supposedly be at because of their age or grade-level.  So the curriculum needs to be able to reflect that. As highlighted in an early blog post, this is an issue at any school serving low-income students or whose parents didn’t go to college, not just alternative schools. (more…)

When Is It Competency Education? And When Is It Not?

December 14, 2012 by

Photo by Jorge Machado

It’s getting popular. Many schools claim to be using competency education. Does offering adaptive software or blended learning immediately make a school competency-based?

It’s getting confusing. Blended/online learning and competency education are often used interchangeably, even if the blended learning is being used in a totally time-based system.

What to do?  We need some common language. So here is a first cut using a competency-based grading model. (A note: I use course to describe a unit of learning and level to describe a band of learning along the full K-12 learning progression, which we refer to as grades such as 1st or 10th grade in the time-based system) :


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