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Aurora Institute

Competency-Based Education Quality Principle #15: Develop Processes for Ongoing Continuous Improvement and Organizational Learning

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Evaluate Quality

This is the sixteenth article in a series based on the book Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education. You can find the section on Principle #15 Develop Processes for Ongoing Continuous Improvement and Organizational Learning on page 96. The links to the other articles can be found at the bottom of this page and will be updated as they are posted.

I think that one can argue that every school, whether it is a traditional school or a personalized, competency-based one, should have processes for continuous improvement in place. It only makes sense that any organization should be in the process of improving. However, traditional schools and school systems are highly bureaucratic in nature. The emphasis is much more on compliance than it is on an organizational drive toward excellence.

Our schools operate in an environment with layers and layers of policy, regulation, and reporting. These layers and layers of governance often create cultures of fear and mistrust. Thus, creating a strong continuous improvement and organizational learning culture, structure, and processes requires leadership. It may be the personal leadership of a teacher who uses formative assessment data to improve his own skills in learning how to help students develop the metacognitive and emotional skills to self-regulate their thinking and behavior. It may be the departmental leader who looks deeply at the data to identify that there are gaps in the domain-specific instructional approaches of teachers. Or it may be the organizational leadership of the principal or the superintendent who takes the courageous stance that they are going to do what’s best for students and manage the compliance requirements as needed.

The point is: In a bureaucratic world, truly engaging in organizational learning and continuous improvement can’t be separated from leadership.

Leadership is going to require the field of competency-based education to overcome the quality problem we are facing. We need to be aggressive in seeking feedback to help us see where our implementation isn’t as effective as it should be. We need to own the problems of practice rather than letting others use them as a way to undermine our efforts.

As a field, we haven’t gone far enough to develop the type of management reports that educators in different roles will need. We are still using reports that are primarily generated with the grade-level orientation. It takes work and a willing vendor to be able to develop the types of reports that can offer new insights about opportunities for improvement in a school and classroom. Some schools dedicate a room to organizing student data in ways that are helpful to developing interventions and then reflecting whether they made a difference for a student or group of students. These are rapid-cycle improvements that build the capacity within a school about how to optimize learning for students. If a funder is looking for something to fund, a continuous improvement network among competency-based schools would be incredibly valuable, especially if it was to produce a stronger understanding of the measurement tools and data analytics that are most helpful in driving learning and quality.

One of the steps districts and schools need to be putting into place is a rapid feedback system to make sure that the new practices being implemented are making a difference. Are you working on creating a more inclusive culture? Then do some quick surveys to see if students and teachers have a deeper sense of belonging. Are you working on helping to build more trust and collaboration among teachers? Then ask them how they are feeling and to give examples of a way that they have collaborated that is more meaningful than in the past.

And, yes, we need to be paying close attention to the student experience of learning. Do students feel that they have access to support when they need it? Do they feel that they are being challenged and what they are learning is relevant in some way to their life? Can they describe how they are becoming a better learner? Although it’s important to monitor academics, both growth and achievement levels, balance it with all the other important aspects of learning. Competency education is organized around three sets of knowledge and skills: academic knowledge, the ability to apply it, and the capacity to be a lifelong learner. Remember, measure what matters.

Read the Entire Series:

  1. Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education
  2. Purpose-Driven
  3. Commit to Equity
  4. Nurture a Culture of Learning and Inclusivity
  5. Foster the Development of a Growth Mindset
  6. Cultivate Empowering and Distributed Leadership
  7. Base School Design and Pedagogy on Learning Sciences
  8. Activate Student Agency and Ownership
  9. Design for the Development of Rigorous Higher-Level Skills
  10. Ensure Responsiveness
  11. Seek Intentionality and Alignment
  12. Establish Mechanisms to Ensure Consistency and Reliability
  13. Maximize Transparency
  14. Invest in Educators as Learners
  15. Increase Organizational Flexibility
  16. Develop Processes for Ongoing Continuous Improvement and Organizational Learning
  17. Advance Upon Demonstrated Mastery