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Aurora Institute

Competency Education in Practice: Newfound Regional High School Spotlight

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Anna Fazekas

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

Bristol, NH Central Square Wikipedia
Bristol, NH Central Square

This spotlight originally appeared in the CSSR October 2014 Newsletter.

In 2005, New Hampshire became the first state to abolish the Carnegie Unit and mandate that by SY ’08-’09 all high schools measure credit according to students’ mastery of course competencies rather than seat time. CSSR works with a number of New Hampshire schools through the i3 NETWORK to build the pedagogical and leadership capacity to take on this transformational work. Newfound Regional High School is one of those i3 NETWORK schools.

Newfound Regional High School | Bristol, NH

The school motto, “working to provide a personalized, competency-based education for every student,” is deeply engrained in the work the school has done to implement competency education and aligned performance assessment. School Redesign Coordinator Jim LeBaron is quick to emphasize the dramatic cultural shift that is taking place within the building, but acknowledges that for educators: “seeing kids engaged and taking ownership of learning is a big win for getting educators on board.” The road to where they are now has not always been easy and LeBaron offered up several tips for schools looking to do similar work:

Writing Competencies

Having departments work together to determine overarching competencies within their disciplines is superior to individual subject areas developing their own competencies. These overarching competencies allow for more interdisciplinary work, thematic projects, and a more vertically aligned pathway through the content areas. At Kearsarge, the autonomy of classroom teachers to develop their own unit plans and the autonomy of individual students to personalize their own learning pathways was maintained. By not prescribing performance tasks aligned to the competencies, students are expected to choose how they will demonstrate mastery.

Building Capacity of Teacher Leaders

One thing LeBaron wishes they had leveraged earlier from the involvement with CSSR’s i3NETWORK is leadership training. Teacher leaders from every department meet regularly on the Performance Assessment Team or the Culture Change Group. These educators are expected to return to their departments to facilitate the transformation process, including regular peer observations in colleagues’ classrooms. Establishing teacher buy-in and facilitating a major shift in practice was something many teacher leaders were not prepared to do.

One area where Newfound truly shines is Performance Assessment. Newfound educators now hold as a core belief that mastery can be shown in multiple and different ways with different students. The Performance Assessment Team has developed protocols around the assessments they write; meets regularly to look at student work; and regularly engages in structured sessions to validate and calibrate assessment tools. Performance Assessment is a part of learning in all classrooms and culminates in the completion of a Senior Project as a graduation requirement.

The shift to competency education requires a major shift in belief structures not only for educators and students but for the broader community as well. While LeBaron candidly speaks to the bumps along the road, he is proud to acknowledge that “the whole tenor of the building has changed – students have a great deal of ownership over education and school in ways they didn’t have before.”

Learn more about Newfound here.

Anna Fazekas is a school change coach with The Center for Secondary School Redesign. Ms. Fazekas began her career in education as a high school science teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. She is the co-author of: First Response: A Guide to Designing and Delivering Classroom Interventions (2013) and Building a Pathway to the Future: Maximizing High School Guidance and Advisory Support (2011). Ms. Fazekas also edited CSSR’s i3 New England Network Technical Assistance Platform, an interactive online resource that tells the five-year story of school transformation in thirteen schools in the i3 New England Network for Personalization and Performance. Anna can be contacted at [email protected]