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Tag: standards/competency frameworks

Exceeding Is More Complicated Than Adding Glitter and Flash

November 29, 2012 by

There are different ideas about the best way to report student progress towards targets, or competencies.  One of the most popular methods is to use a 4 point scale with levels described similarly to the example below:

4 = Exceeds
3 = Meets
2 = Partially Meets or Developing
1 = Does Not Meet or Emerging

In the book Making Standards Useful In The Classroom, Marzano lays out the following scale:

4 = In addition to score 3, in-depth inferences and applications beyond what was taught
3 = No major errors or omissions regarding any simple and complex information/skills that were explicitly taught
2 = No major errors or omissions regarding the simpler information/skills
1 = With help, a partial understanding of some of the simpler information/skills and some of the more complex ideas and processes

In our school, we are beginning to use the following descriptions for performance levels, based on the Marzano scale:

4: Advanced (I can use what I learned in a new way)
3: Proficient (I learned the foundational and complex parts and can apply them)
2: Foundational (I know the foundational parts)
1: Dependent (I can show what I learned with help)

If you are in a school or district that uses a scale like any of the ones above, then sooner or later you and your colleagues need to figure out what it means for students at your particular grade level and in your particular content area to “exceed” on the targets.

I know, I know, someone out there is thinking that in a truly competency-based system a student would never be “partially meeting” or even “exceeding” because as soon as a student demonstrates proficiency for a target they would move on the next level of difficulty in a learning progression.  Unfortunately many of us are not yet working in a truly competency-based system where this is possible. Further, in many cases it is more appropriate to encourage and push students to go deeper with knowledge and applications rather than moving them along to the next target. (more…)

Naming the Elephant

November 28, 2012 by

It’s the elephant in the room. How are we going to help our most struggling students, those more than two years “behind” their expected grade level skills or with significant gaps meet the college- and career-ready standards in the Common Core?

A new report helps us get a grip on the important challenge we are facing in our country. Aligning Competencies to Rigorous Standards for Off-Track Youth: A Case Study of Boston Day and Evening Academy by Jobs for the Future can be used in two different ways to generate meaningful dialogue among state policymakers, districts and schools.

First, it outlines the process Boston Day and Evening Academy (BDEA) used for aligning their competencies with the Common Core, taking into account the academic needs of their student population. The tools and resources that are shared can definitely help everyone expedite their own alignment processes.

Second, it offers a section on Lessons for Educators that can be used as a discussion tool.  BDEA and JFF have the courage to name the elephant.  As you read this section, remember the issue isn’t just about over-age and under-credited students in alternative schools. Most middle school and high schools have students that have entered without “grade-level skills”. So it is a challenge we all share:

Schools serving over-age, under-credited students need to include the mastery of some middle and even elementary school competencies, particularly in mathematics. Of all the lessons learned, the most challenging and concerning for BDEA has been the significant gaps in students’ mathematics knowledge and how to best handle those gaps.

This issue is not unique to BDEA, nor can BDEA solve it in isolation. As districts move toward adopting the Common Core, they will confront the challenge o f how to support schools serving over-age, undercredited students, where students at a fifth-grade mathematics level may sit next to students at the tenth- or eleventh-grade level. Competency-based models enable the kind of differentiation these students need, but the approach is not a panacea. It takes a concerted, coordinated effort on the part of school leaders and teachers to implement.

I am getting calls almost every week now about how to structure accountability systems that account for the elephant. Recently a school called me to talk about how to revise highly qualified teacher policies because their high school teachers either didn’t know how to or wouldn’t effectively teach their students how to do elementary school math. (more…)

Five Things That Changed At My School When We Adopted Competencies

November 15, 2012 by

Jumping into the deep end of competency education

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.

The second best time is now.”

This ancient Chinese proverb sums up my view on why, just three years ago, it was time for my school, Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH, to stop “talking” about making the change to a competency-based grading and reporting model, and why it was time to start “doing it.” With a leap of faith in support of the latest educational research from authors Colby, Marzano, O’Connor, Reeves, Stiggins, and Wormeli, our school community “jumped into the deep end of the pool” of high school redesign. Looking back on this now, I firmly believe it was the best thing we could have done. While we haven’t solved all of our issues yet, I think we are well on our way toward realizing our vision of “learning for all, whatever it takes.”

As you might expect, our leap of faith into the deep end of the pool didn’t happen without some advanced strategic planning and groundwork. In the years leading up to our jump, teachers in my school spent a great deal of time developing common course-based competencies and making sure they were aligned to the New Hampshire Grade Span Expectations (GSEs) and ultimately the common core. They worked in teams to develop common assessments and common rubrics to measure student learning. As a school, we talked about the importance of focusing our professional work on student learning and mastery of competencies. Still, we were only scratching the surface of our potential. We knew that if we truly wanted to impact student learning on a large-scale in our school, we were going to have to operate differently.

Last year, we developed a blueprint to help us become a premiere high school in New Hampshire. We identified three “pillars” of success, and we recognized that if we could do these three things well, then everything else would fall into place:

Pillar One:  Our LEARNING COMMUNITIES work interdependently to advance student learning and academic performance for which we are collectively responsible and mutually accountable.

Pillar Two:  Our STUDENTS ARE ENGAGED in learning tasks and performance assessments that accurately measure learning and mastery of competency.

Pillar Three:  Our community fosters a POSITIVE SCHOOL CULTURE AND CLIMATE for each of our stakeholders that promotes respect, responsibility, ambition, and pride.

Since the adoption of our pillar model, we have made some great strides toward becoming a premiere school. Here are five ways our school has changed since we went to a competency-based model: (more…)

Target Practice

October 22, 2012 by

I work in a school moving towards a vision of customized learning.  I work closely with our “phase 1 teams,” the eight teachers in our building taking the first giant-steps closer to that vision.  I work with all the other teachers in our building too, all of them at varying levels of comfort with and understanding of performance-based practices.  I work with them in their classrooms.  I work with them in planning meetings.  I work with them in our professional development sessions. I work with them in short copy-room consultations. I work with them at multiple-day workshops.

Without fail, at some point when I am working with an individual or a group, not matter what the context of or reason for our work, the conversation bumps into the question “What is the learning target?”” Well, sometimes it feels like more of a crash. I ask this so often that it is practically my catch phrase .  What I want them to do is clearly articulate is the end goal of their instruction.  It can totally change the direction of a conversation about learning and teaching.

Crystal clear learning targets are the terra firma of any effective feedback, instruction, or assessment.  Learning targets are literally what you want your students to aim for. A good learning target is a single, measurable statement of what a student is expected to be able to do or know and does not include any assessment language. All learning targets can be categorized as either procedural or declarative knowledge.  Procedural targets always begin with “The student is skilled at…” It involves knowing how to do something. Declarative targets always begin with “The student understands…” Using Declarative knowledge involves knowing about something. Every content area has knowledge in both categories, but the balance may be different.  Think English Language Arts vs. Social Studies. Here are some examples to help you process that: (more…)

Setting up a Competency-Based System: The Authoring Process

October 3, 2012 by

If and when your institution is ready to move into the next steps of transitioning to competencies from set time, I have compiled a list of things that we have learned over the better part of a decade. I hope that these can assist your stakeholders in the authoring and implementation process.

School wide or Subject-wide:
In creating a competency based system, one of the first decisions to be discussed is the idea of school wide competencies, (the same 3-5 for all classes) or content wide competencies (3-5 for English, 3-5 for Mathematics courses, etc.) Understanding that different content structures are going to assess knowledge and skills differently, there are pros and cons to each. You should just make sure that the buy-in for the shift is there.


What the Learning Sciences Tell Us About Competency Education

August 8, 2012 by

At a recent meeting sponsored by iNACOL to think deeply about competency and assessment, we talked about what impact the last few decades of learning science should have on doing the best job planning and using competencies for learning.

The good news is the learning science lines up with the idea of personalizing instruction, and the pace of instruction, for individual learners:  they’re likely to be more motivated, and more successful, if they can work and master at different rates, doing different things, to get to the same competencies.

However, not every way you could conceive of making learning personalized is likely to match how learning and expertise actually work.  Let’s look at a few examples of how learning science can guide us: (more…)

Webinar on Designing Competencies

August 6, 2012 by

Sign up on the CompetencyWorks e-list to get the early release of the CompetencyWorks briefing paper The Art and Science of Designing Competencies with insights from practitioners across the country.

In addition, you can join us for a webinar on Designing Competencies on August 23rd at 3 pm eastern.  This webinar is designed to offer you a chance to explore the topic in more depth.  Kim Carter, Q.E.D. Foundation and Steve Kossakoski, Virtual Learning Academy Charter School will provide an overview on their processes and be available to answer questions.  Register now at iNACOL for this free webinar.

What Kids Tell Us About Why Competency Matters

July 10, 2012 by

Ask a student about how they learn. You will get many different responses as every child is different.  From a high school student, “I want to have a choice in studying what interests me.” Other kids say, “I want to get extra help from teachers when I need it and move ahead when I am ready, not wait for everyone else.” How  do we give them different pathways to learn?

From a student in Colorado: “What if school could be more like video games? You advance when you master a level, then move to the next level.”

This last student was in a competency-based learning environment – where students can move on when they demonstrate mastery and move at their own pace.  This is how the student communicated “competency education” to adults, “what if school could be more like video games?” (more…)

Portability and Access

July 6, 2012 by

David Domenici at the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings has been visiting state juvenile justice leaders this spring exploring how they are providing educational services in youth detention facilities.  He has been identifying barriers to ensuring young people who are in the juvenile justice system have access to education, an absolutely critical component for reducing recidivism.  In last month’s newsletter he describes the time-based Carnegie unit’s “especially pernicious impact of this framework on young people in the juvenile justice system, who are older and significantly credit deficient.”

In this month’s newsletter David goes on to highlight two challenges young people face when they are transitioning back from secure settings: (more…)

Is the Creation of Competencies Unnecessary Work?

June 28, 2012 by

Josh GriffithWhat is a competency?  Many people say competencies are what students are to know and be able to do.  If that’s the case, don’t we already have competencies in the Common Core standards?  The standards in the Common Core are what every student is to know and be able to do.  Why are we creating something new by grouping the standards and benchmarks from the Common Core differently?  I have heard a lot of people mention within their blogs and on Twitter the importance of personalizing the learning.  I have also heard that competencies are to be a higher-level than standards and more enduring.  If we begin to group all of the standards and benchmarks from the Core for our students, are we making the system more rigid and allowing for less personalization?

Here’s an idea…  What if we allowed our students to group the standards and benchmarks in a way that makes sense to them, fits their personal interests, and supports their vision of their future?  They would all still have (more…)

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