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Aurora Institute

CBE Student Information Systems, What Do We Want Them To Do?

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Josh Griffith

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Lead Change and Innovation

Josh GriffithIf you could build a student information system for a Competency Based Learning System what would it be able to do?  I have been thinking a lot about this lately and have been wondering if there is something out there that will do everything we need.  Or does something new need to be built? Below I outline everything that I would like to see in a student information system.

1) Log progress and mastery of standards, benchmarks, and competencies.

I say progress because it would be great to see what standards, benchmarks, and competencies a learner is currently working on as well as how long they have been working on them.  It would be nice to see a percentage bar notifying what percentage of the standards or benchmarks have been completed for a competency or course.  With the inclusion of a percentage bar it would make it much easier to see when a student is struggling because they have stopped making progress.  It would also be nice to have a time stamp indicating when they started working on those specific standards, benchmarks, and/or competencies.

I mentioned mastery as we need a way to log which standards, benchmarks, and competencies have been mastered.  I still have questions as to how these should be logged.

2) Standards based report card: Point system vs. Binary vs. Letter Grades

I believe letter grades should be out in a CBE system.  The conversation has to be changed to learning as opposed to a letter.  Many people are arguing for a point system, while others are arguing for a binary system, (they either mastered it or didn’t).  At this point, I am in favor of the binary system.  If CBE is truly time as the variable, and learning the constant, binary systems seem to make the most sense to me.  I feel as though we need to set the bar where we want students to be and not accept anything less than proficient.  After we have set the bar, we should never permit anything less and provide all the support and time needed for the learner to meet that level.

3) Log learner progress

This probably looks like a given, but I think the organization could change drastically.  What would the system look like to support what we are wanting?

Are we recording standards, benchmarks, or competencies?  Do we record them all?  Do we record standards and competencies separately or together as a group?  Do we record standards and benchmarks at all or just focus on the competencies?  My thoughts at this point are that we should record the standards and competencies separately.  I also feel that the competencies should be extremely broad such as Solves Problems Logically for math, Communicates Effectively for language arts, or whatever the main focus is for each course.  We might even want to think about allowing the learners to develop their personal competencies and just use the standards and benchmarks as a gauge for what they know and are able to do.  I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks we need for this section.

4) Student proposals for learning and demonstration of mastery

The information system needs to have the ability for learners, to write and present proposals for learning experiences and demonstrations of learning to their facilitators.  I would also like to see a way for the facilitators to approve or deny and write comments back to the learner on what needs to be improved for the approval of the proposal.

I see CBE as a great spring board for personalized learning.  If we present learners with the expectations of what they are to know and be able to do, then give them the freedom to seek the knowledge and understanding in a way that fits their personal style, interests, and beliefs; learners will become completely engaged and own their learning.  In order to make this happen, facilitators will need to support learners as they find their personal ways of proving competency in the standards.

5) Digital portfolio

Learner portfolios have been proven to be beneficial in the learning process for all learners.  Portfolios are also a great organizational tool for learners to access their previous projects and assessments.  If they came across a standard or benchmark they didn’t see earlier and realized they had already demonstrated mastery of that from an earlier project or assessment, they could present that to one of their facilitators to prove competency.

What if grades cease to exist?  I believe learner portfolios would become essential in the college admissions process if this occurred.  The portfolios would be a great tool for admissions to look and learn not only about the learner’s quality of work, but also about the learner’s personality and interests.

6) Early warning systems

The system will need to have a notification system if a learner is not progressing at an appropriate pace, or a way to schedule support time with a facilitator. Learners and facilitators could work together to come up with an estimated project/assessment completion date and then log this date in the system.  The system could then send a message to the facilitator and learner letting them know when they are getting closer to the date and if they have passed it.  It would also be nice for the learner and facilitator to have the ability to request and schedule meeting times for support when needed.

7) Discussion forums

Students need to be able to have conversations with each other and teachers around their learning.  If the system gave learners and facilitators the ability to have open conversations around learning for everyone to see, students would have another way to learn from each other and might be more open to sharing their thoughts and ideas.

8)  Contact information

Phone numbers, addresses, emails, etc. of students, parents, teachers, community partners.

9) Manage contacts and interactions

We will need the ability to log parent/guardian/and learner contacts.  I included the learners as it is possible that a learner is learning somewhere other than the four walls of their school.  It will become essential for facilitators to keep track of these interactions.

10) Behavior management

A behavior/referral system to log unwanted behaviors as well as actions taken to correct the behavior. I feel as though with more engagement students will act out far less, but there will still be unwanted behaviors that need to be dealt with.  An easy to use system would be nice for this.

11) Scheduling

In a personalized system students might still want to take classes the traditional way and these times should be made available for them, as well as an easy system for counselors and administrators to schedule these for them, or for learners to schedule for themselves.

12) Parental engagement

Parents need a way to view their child’s progress and communicate with facilitators easily.  It could just be a parent portal as well as a private chat option similar to Facebook.

A couple of systems that I have recently viewed are Edustruct and Project Foundry.  Edustruct is set up with an interface very similar to Facebook.  It is user-friendly and focuses a great deal on conversation tools within the program.  Project Foundry has a strong focus on the Core and National Standards and allows students to make proposals for projects/assessments tied to the standards.

I am very excited to start the work around debating and deciding exactly what we want in our information system as I feel it will begin to focus the conversations around what Competency Based Education looks like.  At this time we are all over the place and if we can find some commonalities within a system like this we might begin to get a feel of what we are all wanting.  I invite others to comment on additional things they would like to see supported or to offer suggestions as to what they feel is not needed.  I do not pretend to hold all the answers, and it is only by working together we are going to get this right.

Josh Griffith is principal at Middle/High School at Collins-Maxwell Community School District in Iowa. Josh started off his career as a math teacher where he taught high school mathematics at Hoover High School in Des Moines Iowa. According to Josh, “It was here that I began to experiment with proficiency based learning. It became clear to me that this was not enough and that the current system didn’t allow it to become what I wanted or felt students needed. Last year I completed my masters degree for educational leadership through Viterbo and I am now the principal of the Collins-Maxwell 6-12 building. I am passionate about personalized learning and creating a system that will support the needs of every individual within it. I am also a husband and father of two girls and enjoy every second I get with the three of them. I hope that I am able to create a working system of personalized learning in time for my two girls to experience the benefits of it.” You can read more from Josh here