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Aurora Institute

Bringing Voices Together for Competency Education and Performance Assessment

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Laurie Gagnon

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

Laurie Gagnon

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on June 29, 2017.

Last week was a big week for all those who believe that we can create an education system that meets the need of each child in finding his or her pathway to a successful and productive life. In the field of personalized, competency education, CompetencyWorks and iNACOL’s National Summit on K-12 Competency-Based Education, “convened 100 leading innovators to move the field of competency-based education through the next generation of ideas and actionable outcomes, with a specific focus on equity and diversity.” Closer to home, the Center for Collaborative Education, in partnership with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, released the 46th issue of Voices in Urban Education (VUE) focusing on performance assessment.

As the school year comes to a close, these two events have generated much to follow up on, connecting to work in progress and yet to come. Here are three initial thoughts.

Equity is at the center of this work. Equity needs to both be embedded in all that we do and to be pursued as an explicit intention of our work with its own learning agenda. Among the 100 attendees at the summit, specific attention was paid to racial diversity with 41% people of color participating. Equity was the center of the learning agenda for the Competency-Based Education Summit.

Designing for equity and from the student experience are inseparable from attaining a quality competency education system. If we want competency education to have different results than our existing sort and rank system, we need to pay attention to racial justice as a key element of equity. In our definitions of success for our students and graduates, we need to explore what it means to be a citizen of a democracy and a global world. Beyond college and career ready, we want every child to be ready for a fulfilling life and to thrive in a multicultural world. That being said, anti-racist education should be included as we redesign and redefine curriculum. Repeating the mantra “all children” is not enough. Colorblind doesn’t work.

Performance assessment is an integral part of effective competency education. Performance assessment is a powerful entry point to rethink teaching and learning and to rethink systems for how students demonstrate what they know and can do. Performance assessment is a key process for producing and documenting both formative and summative evidence of student learning in a competency education system. While performance assessment can be implemented within a traditional system, as practice deepens and performance assessment is used with fidelity (e.g., with capstone and portfolio systems), the process naturally leads to rethinking traditional approaches to curriculum, promotion and graduation, and reporting. Performance assessment and competency-based principles are aligned. They are working together to shift teaching practices, school culture, and systems as seen in the NH Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) work.

Communication matters deeply. As one of many organizations working in the competency education field, we need to share our work and understand how others are approaching the same elements of quality. Educators cannot transform the system alone. The more we coordinate, the more likely we will be able to create the multiple pathways that schools, districts,and states need to create high quality personalized, competency-based systems that produce different results – that are equitable and fair. With the public as well, clear messaging about how competency education can shift us away from student ranking and towards a world where every person reaches their full potential in their own way.

One lesson coming out of VUE 46 and the National Summit is this: It’s time to apply what we know from work to date to implement fully and build momentum for positive change towards competency education and its essential corollary, performance assessment.

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Laurie Gagnon is the Director of the Quality Performance Assessment Program (QPA) at the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) in Boston, MA. Laurie is a key designer of the QPA model, which she has worked on since its inception in 2008, and she is leading the program’s expansion in her current role, which has done work in over a dozen states.

During the research phase she authored a qualitative study about learning from performance assessment entitled Ready for the Future: The Role of Performance Assessments in Shaping Graduates’ Academic, Professional, and Personal Lives. She was also a contributing author to Quality Performance Assessment: A Guide for Schools and Districts which describes the QPA process, designed to benefit the entire learning system, by always keeping student learning at the center and engaging educators in designing practices that align curriculum, instruction and assessment, based on evidence of what and how students are learning.